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Friday, March 30, 2018

Valentino Nearing The End


Rudy A Loser at Love in Cobra (1925)

Rudolph Valentino as apostle of gloom, just the way viewers in 1925 didn’t want to see him, so Cobra flopped, massively it’s said. This was an independent project for Rudy, but money wasn’t his, for he had little of that, being debt-ridden as was case for most of time he’d been a star. RV stood for extravagance we associate with idols of yore, buying antiquity on oversea jaunts like he was C.F. Kane, indulging expansive tastes of anchor wife Natasha Rambova. They were kaput by time Valentino did final few that were maybe his best, The Eagle and Son of the Sheik. UA chief Joe Schenck fronted costs for Falcon Lair just to cinch the deal (RV retreat and final address). Cobra and weaker ones before put Rudy’s boxoffice in hazard. He played against type and eschewed action plus smolder his legions liked. They’d been burnt on frankly peculiar stuff Rambova cooked up. She was perceived no good as creative mentor, and what misdirected him to wear a slave bracelet in homage to her? Was Rudy too henpecked, or merely considerate, to balk?




What’s good about Cobra is low-key Valentino doing emotional scenes, plus humor, to belie nostril-flare of the first Sheik and parts of others where weak direction were more to blame than him. Rudy’s face is fuller in Cobra, oncoming maturity that reminds me of Ricardo Cortez by the mid-thirties. Seeing Cobra leaves little doubt of RV thriving at precode had fate spared him. Speech would have been no barrier, as he spoke four languages and had but mild, if pleasing, accent (more French than Italian, said some). What rescue there is of Cobra comes courtesy Valentino. The picture had been rushed due to another project flaking out (The Hooded Falcon, treatment by Rambova, and over $100K blown w/o one scene shot). Art direction by William Cameron Menzies is another plus. Cobra if nothing else is polished in best sense of silents reaching technical apex before takeover of sound. There is an Image DVD from years back, derived off prime elements. A Blu-Ray or HD stream of Cobra could do wonders.

2 Comments:

Blogger Donald Benson said...

The moment has probably passed, but an accurate Valentino biopic would be something to see. He doesn't really fit the stereotype attached to female sex symbols, innocent beauties chewed up by Hollywood and the vulgar public. H.L. Mencken wrote a famous and sympathetic piece about him. The incident that riled Valentino in Chicago was a mocking news story about cologne for men -- illustrated with a faked photo of Rudy applying it. The straight young Italian was fighting mad:

https://allaboutrudy.org/2014/03/07/valentino-by-h-l-mencken/

My first real encounter with Valentino was an article about his death and funeral in American Heritage, back when it was a hardbound magazine. Titled "The Over-Loved One" (a joke I didn't get till years later), it detailed exploitation that included an early run of the funeral procession for the benefit of press photographers. Newspapers with front-page coverage of the event hit the streets before the real procession even began. Later, the great "Hollywood" series did an episode about Valentino. Ben Lyon, evidently a friend, was still annoyed at Pola Negri's self-promotion. She supposedly wanted to cover the coffin with a floral blanket that spelled POLA in flowers.

Gene Wilder's wildly uneven "The World's Greatest Lover" crosses the Valentino legend with Fellini's comedy "The White Sheik". Valentino appears as, literally, a living legend. He does not speak; helping a drunken Wilder walk he can't help but make a tango out of it. But he is a kindly ghost, helping Wilder win over his own Valentino-besotted wife.

4:19 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer appreciates Rudolph Valentino:


I wonder if people today realize what a phenomenon Valentino was? The best known of his films tend to be the campiest, with extravagant performances unrelated to any reality other then the legitimacy of sexual expression for its own sake. Certainly this was electrifying at the time. No doubt that alone should commend him to audiences now, except that nothing dates more rapidly than what was once considered daring. A sample of dialog from "The Sheik": She: "What do you want of me?" He (with a sneer): "Are you not woman enough to know?" I'll admit that I've sometimes wanted to be in position to deliver his line, even for amusement, but the times being what they are and me, being what I am, the occasion has never presented itself.

His better performances, in films such as "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," "Son of the Sheik," and, apparently, "Cobra," which I have not seen, are strong, virile, and passionate, yet not without nuance. I don't know that they justify the reputation he enjoys, but they do justify the reputation he should have. That he doesn't have a larger body of work of this sort is probably the result of his liaison with Natacha Rambova, the former Winifred Hudnut, nee Shaughnessy. Her contribution to his career was not entirely negative, in that she possessed a superb profile complementing his own, which was displayed to advantage in that well-know double portrait of them, and there are a number of exotic stills featuring Rudy sans clothing but not without pearls or a beauty mark, though they were taken from films that might otherwise be unwatchable, assuming that they are available at all.

Since he does have an enduring reputation, however flawed, he was perhaps fortunate to have died when he did, just before the tide of his popularity had begun to ebb, and while the sentiment for one who died too young lent a certain poignancy to the lingering sparks of sexual excitement. Apart from that, he might be no more than a curiosity, a fragrant souvenir of a bygone era, but he may also be an artist worthy of reappraisal.

7:14 PM  

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