The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)
I am embarrassed to admit that until tonight, I had never seen a Rudolf Valentino picture in its entirely; only sepia-toned clips in histories of film documentaries and such. Neither did I know that The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the movie that catapulted Rudolph Valentino to stardom, was about the Great War, my favorite subject next to old movies, the centenary of which, combined with this blog, will make me insufferable to all who know me between August of this year and November of 2018.
ANYway. The epic begins in Argentina on the vast cattle ranch of wealthy landowner, Madariaga, who came to the country from Spain as a poor young man to make his fortune, and make it he did. He also made a lot of little mixed-race Madariagas in the village, while his two legitimate daughters live in the manse. Each of these daughters has married a man from another country. The eldest, Elena, married a Frenchman, Marcelo Desnoyers, who skipped out of France to avoid serving in the Franco-Prussian War. Madariaga loves this guy.
The second daughter, Luisa, married a German guy called von Hartrott (a comparatively svelte Alan Hale) and has three bespectacled, crew-cutted Teutonic boys. The von Hartrotts are concerned because Elena is about to have a baby and if it's a boy, Madariaga will deem him the heir. Sure enough, she has a boy and there are sour grapes all around. The boy, Julio (Valentino) grows up to be a spoiled, gorgeous womanizer (like grandpa, except for the loveliness) who can cut a pretty hot Latin rug.
After the patriarch dies, everyone is surprised to learn that he did not leave his fortune to the favored grandson, but split it evenly between his two daughters, we know not why. This causes the French and the German families to leave Argentina and relocate to their respective native lands. Julio becomes an artist and lives on his mother's money in a studio filled with half-naked models, a male secretary, and a philosophical Russian living above him.
Julio begins an affair with lovely, married Marguerite (Alice Terry, real-life wife of the film's director, Rex Ingram). All of this is complicated by the looming war, which is beginning to interfere with Julio's sex life, making shopping difficult for his father and girlfriend, and really upsetting the upstairs Russian.
The war begins in earnest after the intermission (the film is 2.5 hours long) and we find Desnoyer senior's castle filled with Germans, one of whom is Wallace Beery playing an unpleasant drunk (surprise surprise). Marguerite becomes a nurse and decides to go back to her husband after he is wounded in combat. Julio joins up, which makes his father very proud, and we learn that it is possible for Rudolph Valentino to look Even Hotter with a day's growth of beard.
Valentino really was a beautiful man. When he and Alice Terry are kissing and such, you really get the sense that he knows his way around and that he quite enjoys it. Similarly with the tango. Homina.
The war scenes are compelling and those four horsemen show up a few times and it's really creepy and effective. There is also a great deal of humor in the picture, which was surprising and excellent.
June Mathis, the first female film executive at MGM, was the woman responsible for bringing Valentino to director Ingram's attention. She also wrote the screenplay, cast the film, and had a major role in its production.
All in all, an excellent start to what promises to be yet another memorable festival.