Saturday, 10 June 2017

Rudolf Valentino Films

I came across a couple of Rudolf Valentino films on DVD recently. Of the two, Blood and Sand was the one I wanted to see, because it was one of his most famous films - and when I was growing up in Lancashire, when a man wanted to swear but didn't want to use real swearwords in front of the children, "Blood and Sand!" was a phrase that could safely be used, taken from the film, and the later re-make with Tyrone Power.
Although it was 1922, and silent films had been around for a while, the film makers didn't seem to have caught on to having the cast list at the beginning of the film. Instead, the name of the actor who had just appeared was written on the next caption card.
It was also noticeable that actual bull fighting scenes were kept to an absolute minimum - not many special effects in those days (and being a film stuntman was incredibly dangerous!). Some scenes may have been from a real bullfight, with a huge crowd and the bull fighters seen in the middle distance. Close ups of Rudolf Valentino in the bull ring showed him posing with the sword and cape, and that was about it.
The real action was going on out of the bull ring, where cocky Juan Gallardo has a meteoric rise to fame and fortune, marries his childhood sweetheart Carmen, and is seduced by the wicked Donna Sol. He's out of his depth in society and he knows it - but he still keeps going back. When Carmen finally finds out what he's been up to, his apology to her is one of the lamest possible, some rubbish about having a "good love and a bad love" - but since this is a film made in 1922, all Carmen can do is turn away and quiver tragically.
In emotional turmoil, Juan goes to fight in the last bull fight of the season.... It's all very tragic, and I can see why it was popular enough for a re-make in 1941, but it really hasn't stood the test of time.

I had never heard of The Eagle, made in 1925, but I enjoyed it a lot more than Blood and Sand.
In this, Rudolf Valentino plays a dashing young Russian lieutenant - and he was a pretty good actor, because Vladimir Dubrovsky is quite different from Juan Gallardo. He comes to the notice of the Czarina when he heroically stops a runaway carriage (using the Czarina's own horse - a good example of stunt work as the rider jumps onto the lead carriage horse at a gallop). The Czarina invites him to supper, and obviously intends to seduce him - at which he takes fright and runs away. This wasn't what he signed up to the army for! His captain is fortunately on hand to take his place at supper, and the Czarina soon issues a warrant for Vladimir's arrest for desertion.
Meanwhile, the wicked Kyrilla has taken over the family estate, the sort of chap who keeps a bear in the cellar to feed his enemies to, and Vladimir arrives just in time to find his father dying in a peasant's cottage. He vows vengeance, gathers a band of peasants together, and basically becomes Robin Hood.
Then the bandits, without their leader (now known as The Black Eagle), capture Kyrilla's beautiful daughter (and her aunt, but they let her go again immediately!). I liked her! As the bandits pursued the open carriage, she was standing up and fighting them off with a horse whip! She is, of course, the girl who Vladimir rescued in the runaway carriage at the beginning of the film.
So he takes the place of the French tutor who has been sent for to teach the beautiful Mascha, and gets inside the family home, and into a delightful battle of wits with Mascha, played by Vilma Blanky. She has her suspicions that she's seen the handsome French tutor before....
It all comes to an exciting climax when The Black Eagle is unmasked, escapes with Mascha, and runs straight into a troop of soldiers who arrest him for the desertion at the beginning of the film. The Czarina signs his death warrant - but first, he is allowed to get married, and the general who is to carry out the sentence is Vladimir's old captain....
So it all ends happily for the lovers, but not so good for the poor peasants who have to carry on putting up with Kyrilla's rule over them.

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