Monday, March 22, 2010


John Gilbert is the title character, a playboy swashbuckler in the court of King Louis XIII; we first see him dueling with the husband of one of his mistresses, and later we get a sequence showing him passing out locks of his hair to his female admirers as though they were on an assembly line. Roy D'Arcy, another playboy, bets Gilbert that he won't be able to conquer the lovely Eleanor Boardman--specifically, he must get her to agree to marry him. He takes the bet, but then the King won't let Gilbert leave the court, so he sneaks out and, with the King's man after him, disguises himself as a rebel on the run. As it happens, Boardman's family is in sympathy with the rebels and when Gilbert falls from Boardman's balcony during his first seduction attempt, he is nursed back to health and sheltered by the family. Slowly, he also wins her heart, and she his. They go through a spiritual marriage ceremony in the woods (she says they are married "in her heart") but when he starts to explain that he is not who she thinks he is, she turns him in as a traitor. During the trial, D'Arcy recognizes him but refuses to speak up. No matter: Gilbert is able to escape the gallows at the last minute, fights D'Arcy in a duel, and finally wins Boardman.

This is certainly Gilbert at the peak of his career: handsome, dashing, sexy, athletic, and just as grand a swashbuckler as Douglas Fairbanks was. This film was considered lost for over 70 years until a nearly complete print was found just a few years ago. A missing reel has been reconstructed and the whole thing plays quite well, and looks good considering its age. There's an interesting love scene played out in a canoe on the water passing under a row of willow trees, and the climactic escape is superb. A fun adventure, but one that makes me sad at the loss of a talent like John Gilbert at the age of 38. [DVD]

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