16 December 2011

Latin Lover: Rudolph Valentino

The handsome grin of Rudolph in his last film, "The Son of
the Sheik", before his untimely, tragic death at the age of 31.

Decided to turn on my old interest for the silent era once again. Began with legendary, Italian-born, dead-too-young superstar Rudolph Valentino. First, "The Sheik" (1921) and then "The Son of the Sheik" (1925). The latter better than its prequel. More realistic acting and less dramatic, wide-eyed facial expressions. Also quite humorous with some short, endearing chit-chatter scenes (without intertitles) between the lovers that almost look unscripted. And Rudolph did a good job portraying both father and son, giving both roles character and independence to stand out for themselves. In one scene they're brought together in the same room,  and I'll have to say that it's rather well made and edited. Definitely, more realistic than when the two Lindsay Lohans were brought together in the 'fantastic' "The Parent Trap". That sort of shoots down the arguments that they couldn't make special effects back then, right?

On next was the breakthrough for young Rudolph (though perhaps most famously known for "The Sheik") in "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (1921). It wasn't as memorable as the others, I admit, though the story was fine, a bit dragging at times, but always with a couple of smoldering looks from a thoughtful, lovesick Valentino.

Then I saw "The Eagle" (1925), with a re-appearance of the heroine, Vilma Bánky, from "The Son of the Sheik", once more the beautiful love interest of our handsome hero, Rudolph. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of this film. Definitely a lot more flow in the storytelling, the 'lines' and the expressions, less stagy and more tender than most silent movies, and added a good deal of humour, which Rudy didn't lose one bit. He was great! I actually found myself laughing at his sweet little gestures among all the dramatic stuff that was going on. Vilma did it rather fine too, despite the usual fainting and hand-wringing, and she looked gorgeous! Saying that, I also feel I need to stress how Rudolph appeared on the screen...! Pardon me - but holy smokes! Seeing all those muscles flexing in "The Son of the Sheik" was far jaw-droppingly enough. Can't really blame the ladies of the 1920s for fainting and going into mass hysteria (or in my case sighing loudly) at the sight of him. I've always found all that 'Latin Lover' stuff a bit tacky and ridiculous but after having seen his movies ... boy, I've been wrong! And now, realizing that Rudolph was already fatally sick during the production of "The Son of the Sheik" and that it was released posthumously, it's still hard to fathom that such a beautiful, virile young man should die so soon and quickly.

Aren't they pretty together?
Vilma Bánky and Rudolph Valentino
in "The Eagle", 1925, his second last film.

Lastly, I finally got to see "Beyond the Rocks" from 1922 (gee, was it hard to find!); Rudy's only pairing with fellow silent screen legend and goddess, Gloria Swanson, a film once thought lost but luckily retrieved in 2003. And what a treat to see those two starlets together! It's a battle of screen presence with these two magnetic creatures! And excuse me, has Rudy looked any better than in this film!? Not so much muscle flexing, more like: 'Damn, did he look nice in 1920s' clothing! In any kind of (or non-existing) clothes, really!' His sophisticated facial expressions are also very sweet and rather understated in this one. Golly, could that man show how to be in love or what with all those smoldering looks going on..! And I guess the whole wide-eyed-wide-grin routine was just a way to appear 'barbaric' in "The Sheik"..? Oh well, I'm just glad to appreciate all of his features at any given chance, 'cause hey, what's there not to like?

Here's some more Rudy eye candy from "Beyond the Rocks" (go see it and you'll agree):

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