Archive for the ‘Rudolph Valentino’ Category

Blood And Sand

24 Oct

Blood and Sand – directed by Fred Niblo. Romantic Melodrama. 80 minutes Black and White 1922.


The Story: A cobbler’s son becomes a Spanish matador, marries his true love, and then is made the plaything of a rich masochist widow.


Well, there he is, Rudolph Valentino, looking pretty good in a suit of lights. He was the screen lover of all time, and women went mad for him. It’s a bit hard to see why. Not because he isn’t good-looking or a good actor, for he is both, but because you have to grow up with someone to become that sort of mad fan of them. Your sexual maturity has to correspond with theirs. You have to see something in them at just the moment when you need to see it, and become entranced with its reappearance from film to film.

Valentino has a somewhat fleshy face, a beautiful mouth when it’s in repose, a long jaw line with perfectly flat cheeks, the right one adorned by a little scar, a thick nose, a brow high and broad with long eyebrows which bracket his eyes like eaves. The eyes are large, long, wide-set, and the left eye is slightly larger than the right. He has a great ass. He uses his figure for effect, but he never uses his looks for effect.

As an actor he has the problem all actors of that era had, which was to hold emotion in place to make the sure the story was being spelled out. This created by a false tension, almost as tableau. But otherwise he is easy in his work, natural, interesting in his choices and details, and you remain attentive to him because the camera dotes on him, since he is, after all, the focal character. It’s his story.

It’s a story which never works because no actor can actually play the ignorance and country bumpkin naiveté required as the basis for the character as he gains in worldliness, wealth, and sexual access. Tyrone Power years later is flaccid in the role; Anthony Quinn should have had the part, instead of the gigolo to Donna Sol, played by the incontestable Rita Hayworth.

Nita Naldi in the part in the present film doesn’t quite stack up as a femme fatale. She is matronly of figure and so the relationship between her and Valentino doesn’t wash, although Valentino is excellent in the emotional outskirts of the part. It’s one of those tempestuous relationships you have to suppose it is true because the story depends upon it and says it is true and because it is acted out in front of you.

But as a parable the story plays beautifully and always will. Valentino is 27. His technique is modern, and, more, you actually want to engage with him. It is the sine qua non of big movie stars, and the only reason to watch him now. He is rare. He died at 31.


Beyond The Rocks

12 Oct

Beyond the Rocks — directed by Sam Wood — subjecting herself to the needs of her family the lady marries for money, but falls for a valiant aristocrat — oh dear!  Black and white, silent, 1922.

* * * * *

Gloria Swanson was an odd looking little person, with a big hatchet face, cruel lip rouge, and a dazzling overbite. Rudolph Valentino’s eye makeup would make a tall man topple. The oddity of their apparitions on screen matched nothing in the movie goer’s daily life. Swanson was no taller than a footstool and had no figure. True,Valentino had beautiful shoulders and looked super in suits. But what was their appeal? It was, I think, that acting was in their bodies, and their contemporaries were young when they were young. For these two acting was a matter of embodiment. Swanson was a movie star at — what? — age 14 or 15? She was never a jeune fille. Essentially she was not a leading lady either, but a star soubrette. (Jean Arthur is the type. So is Reese Witherspoon) But the point is she could act because she could respond inwardly and naturally to what was being thrown at her. She was real. Valentino, being a male, was going to be a less good actor than she, but he had the same ability to respond. In this picture, there is a moment in a garden in a dream scene from the 18th Century in which he takes her hand and kisses it and lays his cheek upon it. It is one of the great moments in all cinema. No  wonder the ladies fell for him. Such vulnerability is as rare as rubies. You’d have to go to Montgomery Clift’s dance with Anne Baxter in Hitchcock’s “I Confess” to see again how a heartthrob is created in one moment forever. I found the film fun, and I expected it to be expected and it is, so that’s all right. The accompanying material is wonderful. The story of the Collier Brothers man who owned the long-lost print is exceptional. Swanson’s voice-over on the re-run holds the key to acting for all actors: she believed! Listen to her, and never forget.


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