In 2005 this film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, after being restored by Nederlands Film Museum and the Hagheflim Conservation. At completion, there were still parts of the film unable to be repaired, but for the most part, an amazing service was performed for this film.
'Exactly what was all the fuss about Rudolph Valentino', I wondered, as I added the film to my queue. Typically when I think of silent movies, I envision the jerking movements and ridiculous facial expressions which epitomize that era of film. This has always detracted from their appeal. It's difficult to be invested in a serious storyline when everyone is wearing severe makeup and moving in an equally clown-like fashion. In the beginning of this film, the makeup is an issue, but seems to soften as the movie progresses. The restoration has normalized the speed, revealing the intended drama rather than a farce.
Valentino plays opposite Gloria Swanson in “Beyond The Rocks”. Gloria's character, Theodora is a young woman being pressured into marrying a wealthy man by her older sisters. Her sisters play on her devotion for her father, manipulating her into a choice that will ensure the entire family's financial stability. Lord Hector Bracondale (Valentino) rescues Swanson after her rowboat capsizes, and there's a spark there. He certainly has the money, but the general consensus is he's not the marrying type. Instead, she marries Josiah Brown, a portly gentleman much older than Theodora.
Hector and Theodora cross paths in society, though, and the initial attraction grows. Swanson's husband is a kind man, though aging and not in the best of health. When a near tragedy places Theodora in danger, Hector's in the role of hero once again. Over time, it becomes impossible to deny they've fallen in love. Theodora has developed an affection for her kind Josiah, though. She won't betray her vows. When she finds herself in a situation of terrible temptation, she does everything she can to remain a faithful wife.
Through no fault of Hector and Theodora, Josiah becomes aware of his wife's feelings for this other man. He's heartbroken and makes a decision which will ultimately take him out of this love triangle.
What surprised me most about this film was the directing. With normalized speed, I was able to become interested in the fate of these characters. The story line flowed through the development of the relationships, with a glaring exception at the end. It was rushed and convenient, cheating the film and the audience from a satisfying conclusion.
This was the only film that Valentino and Swanson worked together on. Ms. Swanson would say that this was one of her favorite films from the silent era.
Valentino was arrested twice. Both arrests were in connection with female relationships. The first time seemed to be a case of revenge. Valentino testified on behalf of a friend, Blanca de Saulles, at her divorce trial in 1916. Her infuriated husband, John, had connections and Valentino was arrested on vice charges. Eventually Valentino would leave NYC to avoid any additional scandal from this friendship after Blanca killed her ex-husband by shooting him 5 times in 1917. Valentino was charged with bigamy on the occasion of his second arrest. California law required a year to pass after a divorce before either spouse could remarry. His first marriage to Jean Acker ended in divorce, having never been consummated. He failed to wait the full year before marrying Natacha Rambova in Mexico and was charged with bigamy. After waiting the appropriate amount of time, he and Natacha were legally married.
Rudolph Valentino died 4 years after this role at 31 years old; complications from a ruptured ulcer. At the time of his death, he was dating Pola Negri, a sultry actress. She claimed to be his fiancee, puting on an outrageous show of grief at his funeral. She threw herself onto his open casket, sobbing and fainting. The public found it distasteful. Her career suffered from the backlash.
On the other side of the world was his ex-wife, Natacha. Exchanging telegrams in those final days, Nathacha believed a reconciliation was in the works. She refused to leave her room for 3 days following his death.
The DVD service that provided this movie to me was paid for with my own funds. I was not compensated to write a review.
Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino
Beyond the Rocks