Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Derring-Do Of A Vanished Era

Rod La Rocque Shows How To Swash as The Fighting Eagle (1927)

Talking pics that mocked, or paid "affectionate" tribute, to the silent era, would often re-stage sword duels where under-cranked heroics roused both laughs and memory of long-past movie-going. Singin' In The Rain, Dreamboat, and more recent The Artist convinced us that here was voiceless action in a nutshell, but how close were simulations to the real thing long out of circulation? The Fighting Eagle and survivors like it might provide an answer. Rod La Rocque as cavalier lead seems ripe for later parody, as few romancers from the 20's date so floridly, the very name La Rocque seemingly contrived to dress a marquee, and yet that was the name he was born with. How often might providence gift someone with so splendid a label as "Rod La Rocque"? He'd thrive long as titles did talking for him. With sound, however, came ruination, for Rod's was a voice utterly lacking in expression, less like a film star than your neighbor selling brooms for the Rotary Club. Whatever glamour clung to La Rocque was stripped too by shifting taste in screen idols. He'd hang on, work from time to time, and stay lifelong wed to Vilma Banky, their ceremony an ultimate of Hollywood artifice that disguised true commitment beneath. La Rocque had keen insight into fame and fleeting nature of same, his interview in The Real Tinsel outstanding among many in that collection of celebrity chats.

The Fighting Eagle came toward a finish for silents, being produced by Cecil B. DeMille for the independent company he had established after leaving Paramount. DeMille had to watch pennies in his own shop, so farmed out direction for The Fighting Eagle (Donald Crisp gets the credit) and kept spending to minimum. We might speculate as to C.B.'s creative contribution, even as period-set action and costume flavor suggest guiding hand of the epic-maker. DeMille was distracted by business matters, his indie output vying for dates at better theatres (more detail in Scott Eyman's fine DeMille bio). As with Fairbanks vehicles and the last couple Valentino did, The Fighting Eagle was not to be taken too seriously. Critics noted with approval a light touch brought to bear on this yarn built around Napoleon-era intrigue, Rod La Rocque a young braggart who gets in hot water for claiming close alliance with the Emperor. The Fighting Eagle is fun sampling of programmers that satisfied fan-base in 1927, its berth shared at most venues by live vaudeville, plethora of short subjects, or music recital. In whatever mix, here was amusement typical of its day, aided by extras to fill an evening's time and money's worth. DVD's are available here and there, thanks to the film's PD status.


Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers Rod La Rocque:

Rod La Rocque was a fairly prolific actor, but I recall seeing him in only one film, “One Romantic Night,” made in 1930, in which he partnered Lillian Gish in her talkie debut. Gish is very good in it, but the film itself is disappointing, mostly for the changes that were made to its source material, a play by Ferenc Molnar entitled “The Swan,” apparently to accommodate a more modern sensibility. In the play, a princess becomes infatuated with a tutor to her royal house, though he is a commoner — it is her first love -- but in the end she accepts her betrothal to the prince regent in order to fulfill her obligations to her family and her people. She will be like a swan, graceful when seen from a distance, floating serenely on still water, though awkward on land, like a goose, with but one song, which it shall sing only at the moment of death.

Some scenes in the movie remain true to the play, and these suggest how much better it could have been. Gish's approach is such that I can imagine Grace Kelly having watched her in it before she played the role in the 1956 remake, which was much truer to the play, as suggested by its title, “The Swan.” In this film, however, the prince regent becomes the epitome of a more self-indulgent time, and, as embodied by Rod La Rocque, is a sneering, sarcastic presence with little respect for the old traditions, save how they can be manipulated for his pleasure. By the end, the princess throws over the tutor, but not in sacrifice to honor and obligation. Rather, she runs away with the prince in his motorcar, when seemingly both of them will be abandoning the throne and its link to the people on earth and heaven above. I appreciate how stiff Conrad Nagel is as the tutor, but for the princess to forsake all, even the appearance of love, for such an obnoxious personality as played by La Rocque, renders the story utterly without meaning.

12:10 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Saw "One Romantic Night" long ago on TCM. I saw the ending as the princess being tricked into doing her duty; the planned match is taking place but she's made to think she's choosing passion instead of just following orders.

Yes, it does play as the clumsy fake ending it is. But it's not a new twist by any means. A frequent romcom gimmick is the rich boy or girl pretending to be poor, or pretending to go broke, so the lover won't doubt his/her own motives. Likewise elders who fake disapproval knowing it'll do more than active encouragement.

"The Swan" has a pretty nervy ending for a big romantic epic. The Princess doesn't get a happy ending OR a nobly tearful one. Alec Guinness as the prince is pleasant and affably compliant; he basically tells her a life without passion can be perfectly agreeable, so where's the tragedy?

4:06 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Warner Archives offers ONE ROMANTIC NIGHT on a nice quality DVD. Greenbriar visited the film in 2007:

Also THE SWAN in 2010:

7:55 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer responds to Donald Benson:

I’m afraid that I’ll have to disagree with Mr. Benson. In the new ending provided for “One Romantic Night.” the princess has not willingly chosen honor and obligation over what she imagined was love, but has instead chosen a facsimile of that love. While she may yet find that she has entered into the very life she had rejected, it will not be by choice or for the reasons given her in the play. Thus, all the poignancy of the original has been lost for a cheap substitute. Indeed, her preference for such a conniving prince as portrayed by Rod La Rocque, with his teeth bared in a wolfish grin throughout, only emphasizes the emptiness of the choice she makes.

As for “The Swan,” it was audacious for a film of its time and prestige, in that it preserved the theme and ending of Molnar’s play, which itself hearkened back to the mores and manners of a time already passing. The prince, though affable and charming, is unwilling to give himself over to love or passion. He is content with the routine of royal life and the petty evasions he takes from it. Marrying the princess would have been, for him, just one more royal duty performed. It is the Professor’s ardor for the princess that awakens his own love for her. The coda of the film, with its image of the swan, gliding majestically upon the water, yet remote and distant, with but one song, and that sung only at the moment of death, is spoken of by the prince to the princess. Knowing her now, he also knows that the life she was born to cannot help but be one of sacrifice, especially when she has come to understand what romantic love can be like. Even so, she takes his hand as they walk into this life together

There is the poignance of the story, for there is the tragedy which underlies it.

5:56 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Replying to Mr. Mercer:

You're seeing "One Romantic Night" with modern, more thoughtful eyes. I'm pretty sure the studio INTENDED their clumsy rewrite to play as a happy, upbeat ending. Lots of movies, especially old romantic comedies, turn grim on even cursory examination. Audiences weren't demanding depth, and rarely got it. Even now, we tend to turn a blind eye to shaky fadeouts unless the film really presses it, as in the closing shots of "College" and "The Graduate".

We know how the Civil War will end, yet we accept Keaton's moment of glory at the end of "The General" unironically. The brilliant tag on "Some Like It Hot" ignores that Curtis seduced Monroe under a fake millionaire identity; there's no real reason to think he won't just be the next broke musician to abandon her. Comic heroes especially tend to carry the day by some outrageous fluke or even deviousness; you're not supposed to ask how this is going to translate into a future.

Comics and romcom heroes (and, very occasionally, heroines) often win True Love for no other reason than they want it so much; Langdon's fixation with Joan Crawford in "Tramp Tramp Tramp" is creepy on reflection; what does she possibly see in him on first meeting? In "The Gold Rush", Charlie's feelings for the dance hall girl are not reciprocated; what she feels is pity and some guilt when she sees the party he prepared for her -- but we buy that it somehow becomes love. Heroines (and, very occasionally, heroes) frequently fall for whoever *deserves* them as determined by the script, no matter how unsuited or irrational (this goes back to fairy tales, where princes and princesses exist to be earned by strangers). Sometimes it happens before the movie gets going: the pretty ingenue who inexplicably stands by the hapless clown until he blunders into a victory. "The Cameraman" actually persuades us that this girl is attracted to Keaton -- here a plausible boyfriend for a secretary -- in an awkward, natural romance complicated by an existing boyfriend. But when she thinks the other guy saved her life, she accepts that he won her -- that's How It Works in movies, even though "The Cameraman" gently implies she didn't arbitrarily transfer all her feelings to her false hero.

Resistant objects of pursuit are encouraged to have sudden and convenient changes of heart; once in a while a pursuer will be abruptly and implausibly improved by love -- playboys are especially susceptible when confronted by a Nice Girl. The prince in "One Romantic Night" turning "American" was meant to be seen as a positive transformation. It wasn't that much worse than a hundred other "happy endings" served up in earnest, and maybe better than a few.

This is what happens when writer's block deflects me from what I *should* be writing.

1:28 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021
  • May 2021
  • June 2021
  • July 2021
  • August 2021
  • September 2021
  • October 2021
  • November 2021
  • December 2021
  • January 2022
  • February 2022
  • March 2022
  • April 2022
  • May 2022
  • June 2022
  • July 2022
  • August 2022
  • September 2022
  • October 2022
  • November 2022
  • December 2022
  • January 2023
  • February 2023
  • March 2023
  • April 2023
  • May 2023
  • June 2023
  • July 2023
  • August 2023
  • September 2023
  • October 2023
  • November 2023
  • December 2023
  • January 2024
  • February 2024
  • March 2024
  • April 2024
  • May 2024
  • June 2024