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Monday, February 27, 2017

A Valentino Dug Up

Beyond The Rocks (1922) Found Under Euro Rock

Illicit Lovers Behind, Husband In Front (at Right) --- A Given In Anything By Glyn 
The mating of eagles, as in Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson (hold on --- shouldn’t her name go first?). Swanson lamented in late years that Beyond The Rocks was apparently lost, which by reason should have been and stayed so, but turns out there was a world class hoarder across the Atlantic with nitrate tucked safe away (not altogether --- it was deteriorating). So which is nuttier --- art or film collectors? And what of stamps, comics, butterflies? Whatever gets Beyond The Rocks back out there will serve, and even where the wait is ninety years and then some, that’s worth it for up-dredge of fresh Rudy. Story basis was Elinor Glyn, who maybe we should reevaluate, but that would mean reading her novels, so nix at this outpost. I do have a Photoplay edition for Beyond The Rocks, of which thickness is daunting. This movie could have had Valentino and Swanson throwing pies and still made a fortune, so intense was popularity they shared (and curiosity we've had since). She pulled Paramount oars better than he, Valentino from beginnings a chaff to authority. That was mostly for wife-nag at home, plus influence of others who had his ear (June Mathis a positive force, ones like Nazimova less so). Poor Rudy seemed a 20’s master at wrong moves.

A Ceremonial Sword For Madame Glyn --- She'd Wield It Right Through The Silent Era

Period Poofery a Must For Rudy, Even If It's Only a Flashback Sequence

The era was rife at folks marrying unwisely, only to have a right partner come along post-vows. Here it’s Gloria selling soul and body to a rich old “duffer” (so-called by titles) who you can’t imagine taking her abed. Along comes Rudy, twice to rescue from death, first drowning, then falling off a mountain. How else could Gloria show gratitude? Except she doesn’t, idea (hers) that they must rise above their mutual desire to do the “right thing,” movie shorthand for self-denial. Is this what we wanted in 1922, or were viewers more of a mind to see Rudy and Gloria throw caution to winds? Noted today, and maybe then, is fact he wears clothes better than she. Valentino was true sartorial resplendence. That’s one of big reasons he clicked. Plus the way Rudy moved in clothes. American men were bums beside him, ongoing basis for hating the hapless guy. Valentino was too often an onscreen object to gaze at, he and comptroller Natasha (the wife) scoffing at parts that would mirror the way his fans wanted their star. Few lead men went so against the grain of public preference as Rudy.

Many a Furtive and Longing Glance Exchanged in Beyond The Rocks. Here is One.

Some of Beyond The Rocks nitrate is eaten away. Infest begins in a couple of scenes and then get worse before relenting. It’s spooky to see already distant-from-us Rudy struggling against rot in the very frame that confines him. Makes me think of fate that stood in wings, but not much longer, for Valentino himself. What a contrast between he and Swanson. She'd last a seeming forever, even unto The Beverly Hillbillies and an Airport movie, while Rudy would fade before films could capture his voice. To be a real legend too often means dying young. If Beyond The Rocks had been just a rediscovered Gloria Swanson vehicle (there are plenty of those missing), there would have been considerable less interest. Valentino is the elixir here, Beyond The Rocks closing us in on nearly full account of his starring vehicles. What’s left to find --- A Sainted Devil, all of The Young Rajah, a few left of the early ones? I recall the Portal Publications poster repro of A Sainted Devil, bought for a dollar and hung in my boy room. Will I be around long enough to see that one rescued and restored?


Blogger Unknown said...

It is a miracle we have this though it sure is a film I'm not fond of. THE YOUNG RAJAH and A SAINTED DEVIL are on the top of my list as films I one day hope to see complete.

Valentino remains the most under rated of all the stars as well as the biggest. No one has captured the public as he did. Wish there was a better copy of MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE than the one currently floating around. There HAS to be a better copy.

10:42 AM  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

Must admit I’ve never quite understood Gloria Swanson’s heyday appeal . Such an odd looking creature – and – to me - her acting style is full of exaggerated surfaces, mucho energy, little interior weight. Obviously millions adored her in the twenties but I’ve never quite understood it. And I love silent films. For me, the Italian divas of the teens (Lyda Borelli and Pina Menichelli) are more glamorous, Garbo and Negri more exciting, Davies and Constance Talmadge better comediennes, Louise Brooks sexier, Clara Bow more endearing (and sexier), Eleanor Boardman, Edna Purviance, Colleen Moore and Doris Kenyon more naturalistic, Corinne Griffith more luminous, Fannie Ward more intriguing, Lillian Gish, at once affectingly human and yet ethereal . I love them – and so many others – but Swanson, no. I wish Jeanne Eagles had been able to recreate her stage triumph , “Rain”. I’ve seen her in the 1927 silent “Man, Woman and Sin” and she’s superb. And Joan Crawford has some knockout moments in her talkie version. But Swanson’s (Oscar-nominated) stint as Sadie Thompson does nothing for me. Having said all that, she’s absolutely fantastic in “Sunset Blvd”. Maybe the greatest piece of casting in film history. I’m not suggesting she was a Norma Desmond in real life. But somehow the totality of Swanson’s history and persona – her particular assets and liabilities, physical, emotional, and artistic - made her the perfect choice for that role. None of her other talkies work – but in “Sunset Blvd”, she somehow achieves tragic, human grandeur . And we’re talking start to finish. This was a genuine, beautifully conceived and crafted piece of work, undeniable confirmation of Swanson’s status as an inspired artist. How many performers come near that level of greatness even once? I’d have definitely given her the 1950 Oscar. And that year boasted an incredibly strong actress field, only some of whom snagged nominations. Bette Davis ( “All About Eve”) and Eleanor Parker (“Caged”) were just the tip of the iceberg. By the way, if you watch the DVD of “Beyond the Rocks”, make sure you check out the bonus feature film, “The Delicious Little Devil” with Mae Murray from 1919. Despite that treacly title, it’s a real delight. Murray’s lively and charming and Valentino’s in it too. Definitely more fun than the movie it’s supposedly supporting.

12:19 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

The thing about this film is that the restoration was done with a disregard to potential audiences. The version with titles in English is visually unappealing and unpleasant to watch as the Dutch titles of the surviving print which should have been recreated. The story is quite boring and the music composed for the video edition follows suit in order to put people to sleep.

It is difficult to understand the appeal these stars had back in the early 20s. Reading the movie magazines from Brazil, Uruguay (actually, Argentina for Latin America) and Spain that are online for free and where I keep lifting image after image that in many cases are not available for English only readers. But in those days everything was far more difficult than what it is today. The only way to collect movies, legally, were the Pathé-Baby 9.5mm editions which were not cheap and this is how many movies have survived. Then, there are magazines that were more affordable and created an illusion or impression about movies and their stars which have today more interest than the films they were actually promoting.

Everything was more inaccessible than today. It was actually more difficult to produce a movie and the fact is that most of the silents feel static and detached from our times is because the an industry was being established.

We are completely out context when appreciating old films. Many things that I myself used to see in the 70s that were popular at the time, today are frankly unwatchable and unappealing. Also for instance, I grew up learning about Marilyn Monroe but today only a handful of her movies managed to resist contemporary eyes.

Interest in these museum pieces is constantly shrinking. I don't know who does actually cares about Valentino, his films and his life beyond people like me who were given things like this on broadcasting stations for free and not on on-demand or pay-per-view contraptions.

At least, thanks to Gloria Swanson, even though she is not the great star she may have been in her heyday, we got a few melodies written for her movies that are unquestionably far more popular and still heard today. Here is an example: the main theme for one of her lost films:

2:10 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Anyone notice that"Rudolph" is misspelled in those ads -- and they differ from one another?

6:26 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Valentino's correct name in Italian is "Rodolfo", which is also correct in Spanish and I think in Portuguese as well. In these languages they always used "Roldolfo".

In English, he was frequently credited as "Rodolph" (or "Rodolpho") at the beginning of his career and the spelling switched to "Rudolph" in the last part of his career in order to provide him with an anglicized version of his name.

2:54 PM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

I got this dvd awhile back - I need to watch it and see if I can spot Ray Bourbon.

I've been doing research on Bourbon since the 1990s. He was a vaudeville and nightclub performer that broke into the business in bit parts in movies in the 20s. You can see him in the opening of Valentino's "Blood and Sand" - Ray is the young matador that is gored by a bull and comforted by Valentino as he dies.

Bourbon was a female impersonator and pioneering gay comedian, working in nightclubs until the 1960s, when he was arrested for murder in Texas. While in prison, he wrote his memoirs. I have a copy of the members and he devotes a lengthy section to his work in silent pictures, including the big parties during the production of DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" that got he and several others dismissed from Paramount.

Here's what Ray had to say about "Beyond the Rocks":

" Usually, if the job was a little rough for the girls, some of the men in stock were sent to the make-up department, then to wardrobe, and they did the parts the girls wouldn’t or couldn’t play.

Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino were making a picture called Beyond the Rocks. They were shooting most of it on a yacht in Catalina bay. They tried the first few days with the stock girls, but they’d get too seasick and just couldn’t make it. Finally, Bill Boyd and myself were called with one of the other stock men and we had to play very English ladies on the yacht.

To say the least, the picture was a stinker. Swanson and Valentino hated each other. They both hated the director. And the director hated them and everyone else because he was so seasick. He’d spend half of his time bent double over the rail.

Gloria Swanson was holding her own in the seasickness department and so was Valentino. I knew Valentino was going to do something to upset Swanson – I could tell by his expression. I had worked in several other pictures with him and I was fully aware of his sense of humor.

One mid-afternoon came the big love scene between Swanson and Valentino on the deck, both leaning against the rail. They moved in for the kiss. Swanson broke away screaming and swearing about Valentino eating so much garlic that she couldn’t get her breath. Bill Boyd and myself walked away quickly – we didn’t dare let them see us laughing.

Shortly, everything quieted down. Swanson and Valentino went to their respective rooms and the makeup men made the repairs.

However, Valentino took some Limburger cheese and rubbed it all around his mouth. Then, he wiped off just enough so that the stink would stay. He was powdered down and he and Swanson were ready to try the scene again.

The director had them move into position and started the scene. They moved slowly to each other – then, the kiss.

Swanson started trying to break away from Valentino. The harder she fought, the more tightly he held her. She finally broke away and heaved all over Valentino and herself. He let go of her. I thought for a moment she was going all the way over the rail. I’ve never seen anyone that sick – Valentino was covered with vomit, from his collar right on down to the deck. But, he didn’t loose his reserve. He just turned away from her and went to his room. Bill Boyd looked at me and then we both made a rush for the rail. Now, it was our turn to be sick.

Swanson slowly rose up, turned around, and got her breath. She was screaming with rage.

“It’s not bad enough with the garlic – now he’s been eating SHIT!” she screamed as she went back over the rail.

That was the last day they tried to shoot any more scenes on the yacht. The director ordered the yacht back to Long Beach and they finished the picture in the studio."

6:39 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

WOW, CoolCat. What a story! --- and what a scamp Rudy apparently was. Thanks for bringing it to us.

6:47 AM  

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