The 100th anniversary of the release of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) next month calls for further celebration — so here’s a contemporary synopsis and analysis I discovered last year while researching the Silent Era spectacular. For those who never saw the film it’s a really great intro. And for those who did, a sweet refresher, as to the main features of this main of all main features. For anyone interested, it was located on pages 63 and 64 of the Photoplay Plot Encyclopaedia, written by Frederick Palmer, and published by his Palmer Photoplay Corp., in 1922.
“THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE.”
(Metro production; all-star cast; adapted from the novel of Vicente Blasco-Ibanzez, by June Mathis; directed by Rex Ingram.)
While in no sense a prologue, the opening scenes of the story in South America prepare the way for the tragic drama which is enacted later in Paris and on the Marne. Madariaga, the Centaur, the enormously rich old cattle herder of Argentina, lusty and lustful, whose daughters have married outside of their own nationality, is the undisputed ruler of his broad acres and army of servants. He hates his German son-in-law. Toward his younger daughter’s French husband he has an entirely different feeling. But the German is the father of three sturdy sons, while the Frenchman’s wife has only presented him with a daughter. Madariaga does not relish leaving his vast estate to Karl Von Hartrrott’s sons. When Julio Desnoyers is born, the old Argentinian is so overjoyed that he embraces Marcelo, the boy’s father. Until the hour of his death, the old Centaur lavishes all his affection upon Julio and takes him with him on wild debauches in the towns, as soon as he is old enough to accompany his grandfather.
At the old Madariaga’s death, the estate is divided and all of his family go to Europe to live, the Von Hartrott’s in Germany and the Desnoyers in Paris. Here Julio’s father sets up an expensive establishment and buys a castle on the Marne, and becomes a collector of costly antiques. Julio, true to his training by his grandfather, begins a gay life and opens a studio where he paints pictures and entertains his friends and his models.
One of his guests is Marguerite Laurier, the youthful wife of the elderly Monsieur Laurier. Julio falls desperately in love with her and Marguerite returns his passion. Her husband discovers what is going on, and drives his wife from his home. Then comes the outbreak of the war and Laurier enlists at once, but Julio still continues his painting and his gay life. The sight of Marguerite putting on the garb of a Red Cross nurse does not arouse him, but when he sees her attending a blind soldier and recognizes the man as he husband, he commences to feel the call of war. Enlisting at last, he is sent to the front.
Meantime his father, learning of the advance of the Germans toward Paris, goes to his estate on the Marne, only to be captured by German soldiers and have his castle
turned into the headquarters of the officer in command, Von Hartrott being one of the lieutenant-colonel’s staff.
Julio and his cousin meet at night in a ditch between the lines. Both have been sent on dangerous missions. They recognize each other, but the game of war must be played to the bitter end. Both fire at close range and fall dead, side by side. Marguerite determines to stay with her husband before she learns of Julio’s death, the blind man having forgiven her. Later the father and mother of Julio meet a stranger in the graveyard who leads them to their boy’s grave. “You knew him?” they ask? “I knew them all,” replies the stranger, pointing to the thousands of graves. The symbolism is unmistakable.
As compelling, sincere, beautiful, as Blasco-Ibanez’ literary classic, this screen classic stands out,—a splendid exponent of the cinematic art. It is a powerful story, powerfully delineated. The action runs the whole gamut of the human emotions from bitterest tragedy to lightest satire and most fantastic humor.
The story’s dramatic quality makes itself felt early,—in the initial situations of the plot, where the seeds of hatred and of potential conflict are sown between the two sons-in-law of Madariaga. Steadily throughout the action, this dramatic force increases its momentum until it culminates in the soul-stirring encounter of the two youths—the son of the German, and the son of the Frenchman, on the field of battle. This racial antagonism, which is developed in a sound psychological way, is what gives the story its epic impact.
The theme: the upward struggle of humanity, is vivified and made concrete through the symbolism. The four horsemen, enemies of mankind,—Pestilence, Famine, War and Death, on their gigantic chargers, trample over the trivial concerns of mortals, strewing disaster and destruction in their wake. The idealism of a suffering world is symbolized in the character of the quiet, thoughtful Russian, the philosopher who speaks of peace and brother-love. He is “the stranger” that comes forth to meet the bereaved parents, the Christ who “knew them all.”
The tremendous situation VI (“Disaster”), is, patently, the foundation of this plot. VII (“Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune” is used with great pathos when the bewildered Desnoyers is made a prisoner at his own castle. ix (“Daring Enterprise”) enters at several points in connection with the war incidents. Upon XIII (“Enmity of Kinsmen”) is based the climax. XX (“Self-sacrifice for an Ideal”) motivates the action of several of the characters. The love element brings XXII (“All Sacrificed for a Passion”) into play. The tragedy of the story is expressed through XXIII (“Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones”). The action is dramatic from beginning to end.
“The Four Horsemen” is a screen play that deserves study and re-study. The structure is not weakened but rather strengthened by the lapse of time, for it would be impossible to show the onward sweep of a world cataclysm more briefly, and, at the same time, as convincingly. The dramatic construction is good: the plot progresses logically to a logical termination. The characterizations cannot be improved upon. The characters, while typifying certain racial proclivities, are distinct individuals, with personalities of their own. Such material as the infidelity of the heroine, Marguerite, might be condemned because of censorship regulations, in a story less strong than this. Here, the sin of the young lovers is purified through suffering, and idealistic sacrifice. The boy turns bravely to face his death, the girl as bravely to face duty. The ending is tragic, and rightly so: it is an ending that grows out of the story itself. The terrible devastation is unforgettable. But there is hope and optimism too,—in the wistful, loving face of “the stranger.”
As long as the World War is remembered, it is safe to prophesy that this faithful screen version of it will endure.
And endure it has! I want to thank you for taking the time to read this intelligent 1922 synopsis and analysis of The Four Horsemen… Personally I like it very much. I hope you did too. At the time of writing I’m busy with completing my look at Rudy, Joan, Jack and Blanca, which will now be the March post. Swiftly followed by my entry for a Blogathon. There’s much to say about Valentino in 2021; and as the months pass I’ll be saying it. Do join me!
As the year 2021 is the 100th anniversary of the initial release of the Silent Era classic, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), I felt it would be a nice exercise to look into its inception and progression, and create a detailed Timeline. Something attempted only once before, I believe, by Leonard H. Gmuer.
As can be seen, the process by which this ambitious screen spectacular reached fruition, was a lengthy, yet straightforward one. And included are all the significant contributors, the many steps taken to make it possible, and, as much daily production information as was available to me.
Respected British Film Historian, Kevin Brownlow, has labelled it: “the first modern film”. And, though this might not, as he suggests in his Intro. to Gmeur’s Ingram biography, exactly be a compliment, it is a production that, despite the quality of others in 1920, stands alone. So plainly being: “… dazzling technically as it was aesthetically.” Here, then, is that Timeline:
Vicente Blasco Ibanez, prolific Spanish Author, and Creator of the novel, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, later transformed into the silent cinematic masterpiece, is born, in Valencia, Valencia Province, Spain, on January the 29th.
June Mathis, Stage Actress, turned Scenarist, turned early, pioneering, female Film Executive, who will be the Scenario Writer of the first true screen adaptation, is born, June Beulah Hughes, in Leadville, Colorado, USA, on June the 30th.
Rex Ingram, Silent Era film Actor, turned Story Writer, turned pioneering Silent Era film Director, who will direct and supervise the first true screen adaptation, is born, Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock, in Dublin, Ireland, on January the 15th.
Rudolph Valentino, Exhibition Dancer, turned Silent Era Film Actor, turned International Screen Heart-Throb, who will portray Julio Desnoyers, in the first true screen adaptation, is born, Rodulphus Petrus Philibertus Raphael Guglielmi, in Castellaneta, Puglia, Italy, on May the 6th.
Alice Terry, Silent Era Film Actress, and future Wife of Rex Ingram, who will portray Marguerite Laurier in the first true screen adaptation, is born, Alice Frances Taaffe, in Vincennes, Indiana, USA, on July the 24th.
Ibanez travels to South America, to lecture for a few months, but remains several years. While there, he plans a series of fifteen novels about all the individual nations, including Argentina. (Only one, Los Argonautas, was published.) During the half decade he spends some time living as a Cowboy. Establishes a small town, Cervantes, in Patagonia. And enjoys several experiences he will later use when writing The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
On the 2nd of July, ambitious, eighteen-year-old Irishman,Mr. Reginald I. M. Hitchcock, later Rex Ingram, an Artist, arrives in the U. S. A., as an ordinary passenger, on board the RMS Celtic. He will work that year at a freight yard, then, in 1912, study for a period at Yale. In 1913 and 1914 he will commence his acting career, shifting from Vitagraph to Edison, and then back to Vitagraph.
On the 23rd of December, aspirational, eighteen-year-old Italian,Signor Rodolfo Guglielmi, later Rudolph Valentino, masquerading as a Marchese, arrives in the U. S. A., as a First Class passenger, on board the S. S. Cleveland. He will quickly spend all his money, struggle for sixth months, then, secure a position as a Dancer For Hire, at Cafe Maxim, in New York. Working all of 1915 and half of 1916 as an Exhibition Dancer.
World War One commences, on the 28th, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire declares war on Serbia; following the assassination, the previous month, of its Imperial Heir, by a Serbian at Sarajevo.
By the 4th, the declaration has led, one by one, to the involvement of Russia, Germany, France and Britain. (With Italy initially remaining neutral. And the Ottoman Empire joining in October.)
From the 6th to the 12th, Germany, on the one side, and France and Britain on the other, fight the First Battle of the Marne, to the East of Paris. This important early conflict will feature in the yet-to-be-written The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Ibanez will later lecture in North America about the writing of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. How, thanks to his friendship with the French President, he was allowed to visit the trenches at the front, with the General commanding the Fifth Army. And how he was the first civilian to visit where the battle he was to write about occurred.
According to a later interview (with a Reporter for THE RICHMOND PALLADIUM, printed on Thursday, October 30th, 1919), Ibanez first thinks of writing The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in this month.
Vicente Blasco Ibanez spends the entire year formulating the planned novel in his head.
Metro Pictures Corporation, the organisation that will eventually produce and distribute the silent film version of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, is founded, by: Richard A. Rowland, George A. Grumbacher, James B. Clarke, Joseph W. Engel, Louis B. Mayer, Otto N. Davies and James A. Fitzgerald.
By the Spring of 1915, 23-year-old Rex Ingram, previously an Actor (as Rex Hitchcock), and more recently a Photo Play Writer, has begun to assist established Fox Film Corporation Director, J. Gordon Edwards. (In the Autumn he will be employed as a Director (with his own Assistant) by World Film Corporation.)
By late 1915, June Mathis, former Actress, has begun working as a Scenarist for Metro Pictures Corp. in New York, under Department Head, Arthur James. (Mathis will, with each passing year, become more and more important and influential. Eventually becoming the Scenario Department Head herself.)
According to a later interview (with a Reporter for THE RICHMOND PALLADIUM, printed on Thursday, October 30th, 1919), it will take Ibanez just four months to complete The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (Apparently writing 18 hours a day.)
In the Summer, 21-year-old Rudolph Valentino, still Rodolfo Guglielmi, gets his first taste of film-making, when, in return for a few dollars a day, he works as an Extra, in The Quest of Life (1916). He will repeat the experience three further times this year, in Seventeen (1916), The Foolish Virgin (1916), and Patria (1917).
Debout les Morts!
At some point late in the year, a short film based on Ibanez’s recently completed work is issued in France, with the title: Debout les Morts! (Which translates, approximately, as Standing Dead.)
In the June 23rd edition of MOVING PICTURE WORLD, Arthur W. Courtney reviews The Blood of the Arena (1917), a Spanish film (by Cosmos-Kinema), that interprets, for the screen, Ibanez’s same titled 1908 novel.
P. Malaver and J. Sobrado de Onega, the creators, have some success with it in Mexico. And it perhaps indicates, to anyone paying attention, that the Author’s work has cinematic potential. (The Blood of the Arena will be re-interpreted by June Mathis, for Famous Players-Lasky, in five years, with Rudolph Valentino starring as the Toreador Juan Gallardo.)
In the Autumn, Alice Terry, currently known as Alice Taffe, works, in return for a few dollars a day, as an Extra, in Alimony (1917). And, according to legend, encounters Rodolfo Guglielmi, who is also an Extra. By 1919 she will emerge as a player of small parts — for example, in Wally Reid’s The Love Burglar (1919).
It is announced, that E. P. Dutton & Co., publishers, are preparing the publication, in America, of an English translation of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a new work by Ibanez. (The novel has already been released in Europe – Spain, Italy, France, etc. – the previous Summer.)
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is published in the United States and unleashed on the public. The authorised translation is by a woman named Charlotte Brewster Jordan. And the novel is priced at $1.90 (which is equivalent to $32.70 in 2020/2021.)
Reviews of the late August U. S. publication of the Book of Revelation inspired novel are universally laudatory. In the BOOKS AND THE BOOK WORLD section, of The Sun on Sunday, on September 1st, 1918, a full page review is headed: “‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ Is a Work of Genius From the Hands of the Greatest Iberian Novelist.”
By the close of the year The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a history-making Best Seller. With the first edition triumphing, despite its lengthy title, North Americans not knowing the Author, the price, the phrasing and the number of pages. According to The Sun on Sunday, on December 29th, 1918, over 70,000 copies had so far been sold.
After issuing an English translation of his new novel, The Shadow of the Cathedral, Ibanez’s American publishers re-publishThe Blood of the Arena as Blood and Sand, and prepare Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) and La Bodega (The Saloon) for publication. As a consequence his standing in the country improves further still.
It is reported that Joe Weber is negotiating with E. P. Dutton & Co., Ibanez’s U. S. publisher, with the hope of securing the dramatic rights to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (These talks come to nothing.)
NOTE: it is later revealed, in Motion Picture News, that multiple negotiations had been occurring.
Such is Ibanez’s notoriety, that a Reviewer of La Bodega, in The Sun on Sunday, states: “We used to think Spain was Carmen. This was wrong. It is—now, at any rate—Vicente Blasco Ibanez.” Further:
“Colossol and sinister shapes shadow the pages of his novels. The air is hallucinated. Unlikely persons talk with passionate vision of social utopias. …. It is, nearly always, transcendent art. The novelist paints what he sees; no man could do more and none should do less.”
It is reported Vicente Blasco Ibanez will travel to the States to lecture at Columbia University.
In an interview, conducted with a Journalist in France, Ibanez reveals his plans to write a novel about the U. S. A. Also, that the themes of his lectures, during his tour, will be: how he came to write The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; how Europe regards the United States; and how to write a novel.
Late in the month, on the 27th, according to a report on the following day, Vicente Blasco Ibanez arrives in the country.
On Friday, October 31st, Ibanez visits the New York offices of the Fox Film Corporation, and views there a copy of Evangeline (1919), directed by Raoul Walsh. (Any negotiations entered into with William Fox are ultimately unsuccessful.)
In the evening, on Monday the 3rd, Senor Blasco Ibanez makes his first public appearance in the States, when he lectures in the auditorium of the Horace Mann School, at Broadway and 120th Street, New York. The theme is Spain’s role in World progress. According to a report in THE EVENING WORLD, the following day, he informed his audience that his books were the product of Spain. Also saying: “… that the future of the world lies in the Americas, where the sons of Spain and England will be supreme.”
On the 5th, it is reported that Ibanez dismisses both the typewriter and dictation, as useful when writing a novel.
On the 7th, VARIETY reviews Clara Kimball Young’s comeback vehicle, Eyes of Youth (1919). Though he fails to be listed as a cast member, and is overshadowed by Gareth Hughes, Rudolph Valentino’s performance will convince June Mathis of his suitability to portray key Horsemen character, Julio Desnoyers.
On the 9th, an interview in The Sun on Sunday, Vicente Blasco Ibanez throws light on the German characters in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Revealing how, before WW1, many Spanish-speaking Germans had made a life for themselves in Argentina; learning Spanish in the Fatherland, in preparation for their move to South America.
During the afternoon of Monday the 10th, Senor Blasco Ibanez makes his second public appearance, when he speaks about The Spirit of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, at Aeolian Hall, in New York. This second talk, to a mainly Spanish-speaking audience, is reported about, as follows, in the NEW YORK TRIBUNE, on Tuesday, November 11th, 1919:
“He spoke of the early days of the war in Paris, when it seemed as if the world was about to pass away: the deserted boulevards; the closed shops. He felt as if he were in Pompeii, or some other city of the dead, he asserted. Then he went to the battlefield of the Marne. It was there that he had the vision of his four horsemen, and many of the characters of the book he subsequently wrote were drawn from life.” (From Page Three.)
NOTE: in an interview, printed on December 3rd, the Writer reveals that Marcelo Desnoyers (the Father of Julio) is based on someone he had known in Argentina.
On the 16th, an interview conducted with a Spanish-speaking Journalist is published, in which Senor Ibanez reveals that Blood and Sand will be transformed into a play, and that the stage and film star, Lionel Barrymore, will probably portray Gallardo in a filmed version. He also explains to the Reporter that a number of (un-named) film concerns are already interested in adapting his works. That he is currently negotiating with them. That if the screen versions of his novels are a success, he will return, annually, with cinema-ready projects. And that his next work is about a Spanish woman who travels to the United States to go into Motion Pictures.
On the 17th it is announced that Metro Pictures Corp. has secured the rights to the novel. (Showing that Ibanez was keeping very quiet about it on the 15th.) The conclusion of the negotiations allows the company to adapt The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for the screen in the U. S. A., and, to distribute it nationally and internationally. Metro Pictures has also optioned: Mare Nostrum, Blood and Sand, and La Bodega.
In their 29th of the month issue, Motion Picture News reports, that pressure from hundreds of American exhibitors, for a picturization of Ibanez’s novel, forced the company’s hand.
At the start of the month of December 1919, June Mathis arrives in New York, for a month-long working vacation. Her plan, is to rendezvous with Vicente Blasco Ibanez somewhere – Chicago or Cleveland – convenient to him, as he’s embarked on his lecture tour.
Maxwell Karger, the Metro Pictures Director-General, announces that The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will be a Screen Classics production. (In other words: no expense will be spared.)
In their 27th of the month issue EXHIBITORS HERALD announce that Karger has begun to make “selections for the cast”.
So popular has The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse book been with Americans, during the past twelve months, that it is now, according toTHE NEW YORK CLIPPER, in its 125th edition.
On January the 2nd, VARIETY reveals that Marcus Loew, of Loew’s, Inc., is imminently about to purchase, outright, Metro Pictures Corp. The deal is publicly stated as being the result of a fallout between the Director-General, Maxwell Karger, and the Treasurer, Joseph (W.) Engel. The rumours will prove true. And have far-reaching consequences for all those involved in the creation of The Four Horsemen…
On January the 3rd, it’s reported, in Camera!, that Mathis has just arrived back in Los Angeles, after having met with Ibanez in Chicago, very late in December, while on her way West. Following a bad start – her lack of Spanish or French disappointed him – they had warmed to one another. And, during their 90 minutes together, reached an understanding about the way forward. June explaining she had read the novel and made a mental outline; so there was, as yet, no anticipated script. Vicente making some “wonderfully inspirational suggestions” and demonstrating his “knowledge of the making of motion pictures”. Miss Mathis listening to Senor Blasco Ibanez speak of Argentina and the pre-War Paris Tango Craze. Ibanez also telling her, through his interpreter, that he knew of her having “picturized” Out of the Fog (1919) and To Hell With the Kaiser (1918), and that he could see them collaborating on other novels. And that he would see her in California later in the month. (It would be February before they saw one another.)
NOTE: Vicente Blasco Ibanez’s unknown “suggestions” are noteworthy. And his stressing of the Tango Craze suggests he and he alone originated the idea of a dance sequence.
On January the 10th, in the first of several contradictory announcements, it’s reported that the company Director-General, Maxwell Karger, will depart from L. A. on the 19th, and travel to New York, where he will commence preparations for the filming there of The Four Horsemen… (after a six week break in Florida). Accompanying him will be George McGuire, M. P. Staulcup and June Mathis.
NOTE: the flurry of announcements this month regarding Karger, hint strongly, between the lines, at serious issues between the top executives at Metro Pictures Corp. Issues previously confirmed.
Marcus Loewofficially acquires Metro
On January the 12th, Marcus Loew, of Loew’s, Inc., signs an agreement to purchase Metro Pictures Corp. Snapping-up the financially troubled company outright. And promising to be the international distributor of 25 motion pictures annually.
NOTE: this takeover, and the ensuing cash injection, is what makes the creation of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) a possibility.
On January the 20th it’s announced that Maxwell Karger will head East with Marcus Loew and Richard A. Rowland in order to prepare the shooting of the film there.
On January the 22nd, on his way to Los Angeles, Vicente Blasco Ibanez lectures (on the Spirit of the Four Horsemen) at the University of Arizona at Tucson. As the Author speaks no English, as before, his words are first spoken by an Interpreter.
On January the 31st, (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD, reveals that the new Owner of Metro Pictures Corp., Marcus Loew, of Loew’s Inc., is heading West with Richard A. Rowland and Joseph W. Engel, to confer there, with William E. Atkinson and Maxwell Karger. It is then expected, as previously stated elsewhere, that Karger will head East to prepare the supervision of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which it’s planned will be shot on the Atlantic Coast.
On February the 7th, Motion Picture News, reports that Senor Ibanez is expected within days at the Metro Pictures Corp. studio, in Hollywood, to look over the work, thus far, of Miss Mathis. At about the same time, Richard A. Rowland will be present, due to the absence of Max Karger, who was not yet returned to the West Coast. The trade publication states that production would commence that month — which it didn’t.
NOTE: Karger did return West before again heading East.
At some point soon after his arrival, Vicente Blasco Ibanez is filmed in a short scene on a set recently used for The Cheater (1920), for a pre-release promotional trailer, for the eventual The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse film. Alongside VBI in the short promo., are: Mathis, Karger, Rowland, Loew and Viola Dana (good friend of Valentino). Source: (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD.
NOTE: the survival status of this promo is unknown and it’s presumed lost.
In their February 21st edition EXHIBITORS HERALD reveals that the recent illness of Ibanez has slowed script progress.
In the February 28th edition of (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD, a whole page (1447), is devoted to the news that Metro Pictures Corp. has serious expansion plans. (Metro to Build Big Studios in East; To Get More Stars and Scenarists.)
The February 28th issue of Motion Picture News indicates that The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was originally projected to be completed and released by May 1920. (This was clearly not just wishful thinking, but also, poor projection on someone’s part.)
NOTE: the same edition states that the motion picture will be filmed on the East Coast.
Late in the month, it’s announced that Scenario Department Head, June Mathis, has completed the script for the filming of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (This is the first draft.) Vicente Blasco Ibanez having personally assisted her while in California.
NOTE: what this first draft looked like and contained is unknown. Certainly the scenario altered a great deal as the months passed.
On the heels of the (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD piece, Marcus Loew, the new Owner of Metro Pictures Corp., trumpets his intentions in an announcement that’s widely reported in the trade press. He will invest $15,000,000 in the company. , $2,000,000 of which, will be spent on a new production facility, at Long Island.
NOTE: the death knell is sounded at the studio, for Mathis (and also Nazimova), when he states, that due to the rising cost of plays and books, original material will, in the future, be created by Bayard Veiller.
Following a summons, Rudolph Valentino arrives in New York, ready to answer questions about his detention in September 1916; and, to discuss his suing (in 1917) of the publications that reported it. No doubt aware of the filming of Ibanez on The Cheater (1920) set, and the fact that the production is moving along swiftly and no Male Lead has yet been cast, while there, he approaches Maxwell Karger, who had been present at his wedding to Jean Acker, in early November 1919.
NOTE: according to Liam O’Leary, Ingram’s original Biographer, the project was briefly shelved.
Rod La Rocque, Antonio Moreno, Francis McDonald and Carlyle Blackwell.The men that Valentino beat to the part of Desnoyers. See below:
While at a loose end Valentino secures roles in two productions. The Thug, later retitled The Wonderful Chance (1920). And Stolen Moments (1920). These will be his final pre-fame films.
At the start of the month June Mathis arrives in New York to discuss her script and the production at the Metro Pictures Corp. offices. Her return to the city is expected to be a lengthy one. “It’s like being home again!” she’s reported as having said. Just an hour after her return she’s at work at her desk. (Source: (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD 05/06/20.)
NOTE: it’s during this two week stay that she meets with Rudolph Valentino and offers him the role of Julio Desnoyers. His salary is initially fixed at $100 per week, but, will climb during the shoot to $350 per week. (Source: REX INGRAM Master of the Silent Cinema, Liam O’Leary, The Academy Press (1980.)
On June the 10th, it is revealed that The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is to be shot on the West Coast, rather than the East. (Source: Wid’s DAILY, 10/06/20.)
On June the 16th Mathis departs New York and heads West to oversee the filming of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Karger remains firmly in the East.
NOTE: we don’t know when Rudolph Valentino eventually followed her; but it would’ve been by late June/early July at the very latest.
Research has revealed that June Mathis employed what was termed: the shooting on paper method. In essence, planning with her team, far in advance, how the picture would be shot. And while this was not her invention, she was certainly a pioneer of the technique; which required: technical knowledge, clear thinking, the power of visualization, and a rounded conception of the film prior to camera work. (Source: A HISTORY OF THE MOVIES, by Benjamin B. Hampton, Covici Friede 1931.)
Filming finally commences towards the end of the month. (The 20th.) It will be a four month/16 week long shoot. July to August to September to October to November 1920.
On July the 4th it’s reported that the commencement of filming is imminent. It has already been decided that it will be: “… a Rex Ingram production.” Production and story issues are acknowledged. Mathis will be advising Ingram. And the casting is almost complete. Thus far some of those cast are: Maurice Costello, Stuart Holmes, Alice Terry, Frank Losee, Rudolfo Valentino, Brindsley Shaw and Nigel de Brullier.
NOTE: Costello and Losee didn’t remain part of the large cast.
The Director is quoted as having said: “… if you make your human angle interesting it doesn’t matter where or when you lay the scenes of your story.” The Scenarist is quoted as having said: “… incidents, both dramatic and along comedy lines, growing naturally out of situations, are to be created…”
On July the 5th, the Los Angeles EVENING HERALD reveals that John B. Seitz [sic] will be in “command” of ten camera men and their cameras during the duration of the shoot.
NOTE: Seitz’s middle initial was F. And it would actually be 14 cameras.
On July the 7th, Wid’s DAILY announces that Alice Terry has been selected as the Female Lead, Marguerite Laurier. (Valentino is mentioned but not his part.)
On July the 10th The Four Horsemen… is projected to be completed and ready to screen by October. (More wishful thinking.) (Source: (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD.)
Also on July 10th, in the same trade publication, June is quoted extensively. She praises Rex, calling him “one of the greatest directors”; reveals that her adaptation is faithful; that Julio will be a “society tango dancer”; and the most important scenes are to be: “…those depicting the Battle of the Marne.”
Also on July the 10th, JuneMathis is likewise quoted in Motion Picture News, in a piece that’s a part of a six page look at Metro Pictures Corp. and the near future for the company. She reveals that Maxwell Karger was originally meant to be in charge in New York but already has several productions underway. And that it was he that hired Rex Ingram (undoubtedly as a result of her pressing him to do so).
NOTE: the July announcement that Bayard Veiller is to be made Metro’s Western Chief of Production, and in charge of supervising “all literary material considered for screen translation”, will’ve been a body blow for June Mathis. She will eventually exit as a result.
On July the 17th it’s reported that Pomeroy Cannon has been signed to play Madariaga.
Also, on July the 17th, Motion Picture News reveals that Rex Ingram is completing filming of Hearts Are Trumps (1920), with “eighteen cast members”, at the old San Juan Mission at San Juan Capistrano, California.
NOTE: it appears, that Ingram went straight from directing Hearts Are Trumps (1920), to directing The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921).
On July the 19th it’s revealed that 10,000 sheep at a Bakersfield ranch will be utilised for an outdoor Argentine scene.
On July the 24th, it’s reported that the experienced C. S. Widom, formerly at Goldwyn Pictures Corp., has been employed as special Costumier for the film.
On July the 27th, Wid’s DAILY reports the fact that Rudolph Valentino has been cast as the Male Lead, Julio Desnoyers.
On August the 1st, it’s reported that Great War Veteran, Captain Robert de Couedic, of the Blue Devils, a recipient of the Croix de Guerre, has been engaged by Rex Ingram to: “… drill the French battalions that will participate in ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.'” The article suggests that Ingram, formerly of the Royal Flying Corps, may direct by flying over the giant set in a plane. (The engagement of Couedic was previously reported, in July, in the LOS ANGELES EVENING HERALD.)
NOTE: this report, doesn’t mention the fact, that the German extras were trained by a German army Veteran, Curt Rehfeld. (Source: REX INGRAM Master of the Silent Cinema, by Liam O’Leary, The Academy Press (1980)). This was something that Paul Ivano, good friend of Rudolph Valentino, pointed out in his interview for the Thames Television series Hollywood (1980). Ivano was himself drafted-in (on Valentino’s recommendation) to advise those constructing the French village.
On August the 7th it’s announced that Walter Mayo has been secured to be the Art Director. (Source: EXHIBITORS HERALD, 07/08/20.)
On August the 14th Motion Picture News announces that production is: “… going forward without delays.”
By mid. August the interior scenes in Argentina are almost complete. And part of the crew and cast are at Bakersfield shooting exterior scenes. While construction continues on the Desnoyers’ chateau, and nearby small village (created to be destroyed), the art studio scene will be shot. By this point “A miniature army of carpenters has been working in double shifts for weeks…” to prepare the castle and the habitation. (Source: the STOCKTON, DAILY INDEPENDENT, 18/08/20.)
That accuracy is of the utmost importance, is underscored by a report that Rex Ingram, June Mathis and their military advisors, are consulting actual French war communications and a battle map.
On August the 21st, (THE) MOTION PICTURE NEWS reports, under the heading Strong Cast for Ibanez Film, on how Rudolph Valentino has been “summoned from New York”, to portray key character Julio Desnoyers. As follows:
“Rudolph Valentino has been summoned from New York, to play the part of the hero, Julio Desnoyers, who develops into a tango king in Paris in the dance frenzy that preceded the opening of the war in 1914. Mr. Valentino was selected from Miss Mathis’s recollection of his playing with Marjorie Rambeau [sic] in ‘The Eyes of Youth’ [sic]; he realized her ideal of the youthful Julio—a poetic, dreamy type of twenty-three years.”
NOTE 1: this is seemingly the first mention of the fact that Mathis recalled his brief appearance, as Clarence Morgan, opposite Clara Kimball Young in Eyes of Youth (1919), and that because of this he was selected, as he “realized her ideal”. It definitely precedes any reports about Ingram’s control of casting. And, his own claims (such as the one in Behind the Screen (1923)), that it was he that was responsible for his inclusion. (Though obviously Rex had seen Rudy around over the years and remembered him.)
NOTE 2: Valentino will prove himself to be: “a hard-working conscientious actor.” From: REX INGRAM Master of the Silent Cinema, by Liam O’Leary, The Academy Press (1980).
It is later reported, that for the scene set in a port cafe/dive bar, shot at some point in August 1920, 500 men were gathered from San Francisco and Lower California to add colour and atmosphere. Few were willing to discuss their pasts. And Mathis apparently dubbed the studio: “The Port of Missing Men.”
On August the 28th, Carroll H. Dunning, V. P. of Prizma, Inc., makes a public pitch to Metro Pictures Corp. in the pages of Motion Picture News, for the inclusion of a colour sequence/sequences in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Specifically the apocalyptic four horsemen scene.
NOTE: they were successful in their overture.
Also on August the 28th, Motion Picture News reports, that all of the exterior Argentine work is completed and that interiors, “which require almost all members of the cast.” are next to be captured.
Some time in late August, dailies/rushes are screened of the impressive dance scene, in the Argentine cafe/dive bar. A taste of this scene, which isn’t in the original novel, is then sent to the Author, Ibanez, for approval. (Source: (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD.)
On the subject of the cafe/dive bar scene Rex Ingram a little later said the following:
“Of course it was obvious that he was the exact type for the young tango-hero of the story. Even after I started with him, though, I had no idea how far he would go — not at the very first. But, when he came to rehearsing the tango, Rudy did so well that I made up my mind to expand this phase of the story.”
On September 11th, while shooting continues, the film, as would be anticipated in line with industry norms, is announced as being a Fall release. This was obviously not to be.
In the same edition the following appears:
“Rudolph Valentino is a familiar figure to the early rising residents of Hollywood, California. Not that Mr. Valentino arrives home when others are preparing to greet the rising sun. But the handsome Metro player, who is enacting the leading role in the colossal picturization of ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’, by Vicente Blasco Ibanez[,] goes for a horseback ride every morning before starting work.
“Mr. Valentino, who is an expert horseman, has a handsome mount which he will use for many scenes of this sensational Ibanez story. He has been rising at five o’clock each morning to beat the rising thermometer.”
NOTE: by this point in the filming of The Four Horsemen…, it’s been realised, for some time, how amazing the cafe/bar scene is, and, Valentino’s performance in it. And from August/September he begins to be built up as a Star.
On September the 18th, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is listed with other releases, as due to be issued on October 1st, 1920. (This is not to be.)
On September the 25th, the Battle of the Marne scenes are yet to be shot, according to the issue of (THE) MOTION PICTURE NEWS published on that day.
In the same issue it’s reported that Alice Terry has worked almost every day in front of the cameras. Her few days off have been spent with: “… her tailor or her dancing instructor.”
Also in the same issue, it’s revealed that Vicente Blasco Ibanez is pleased with the still shots and footage, sent to him for approval. The material in question is of a diseased Argentine port and the interior of a cabaret. The piece suggests there was originally more to the segment. And that the dance between Julio and his partner ended in a kiss which lasted for 75 feet of film.
NOTE: in Rex Ingram: Hollywood’s Rebel of the Silver Screen, by Leonhard H. Gmuer, epubli (2013), there’s a story of the kiss, between Rudolph Valentino and Beatrice Dominguez. As follows:
“Rudolph Valentino, playing in Metro’s production of ‘The Horsemen of the Apocalypse’, [sic] was told by Director Rex Ingram to kiss the Castilian beauty until he said halt. Valentino started in and kept it up while the cameraman turned 75 feet. When it was over Valentino said: ‘Now don’t you think we ought to rehearse it and get it a little more nearly perfect?’ [To which] Rex Ingram said: ‘You’re excused.'” (Source: Ray Davidson, Little Trips to Los Angeles Studios, The New York Dramatic Mirror, August 14th, 1920.)
Early in the month, the November issue of MOTION PICTURE CLASSIC hits newsstands, and inside, Rudolph Valentino is the subject of a lavishly illustrated two and a bit pages. (Pages 18, 19 and 75.) Titled, Enter Julio!, with photographs by Shirley Blanc of L. A., the C. Blythe Sherwood profile/interview, is a light-hearted, yet informative look at the Hero of the yet-to-be completed The Four Horsemen…
On October the 9th, it’s reported that Wallace/Wally Beery has been added to the cast, and that he will portray Lieut.-Col. Von Richtofen. (Source: Motion Picture News.)
On October the 16th Motion Picture News announces that Rex Ingram has concluded filming of The Four Horsemen… This seems unlikely considering other reports. (See above and below.)
Curiously, the same issue reveals, that a “portable power plant” is to be used for night-time shooting in about three weeks.
The week beginning Monday, October the 25th, the Battle of the Marne scenes are shot in the Hollywood Foothills. (Source: (THE) MOVING PICTURE WORLD, 30/10/20.)
In a report, by GIEBLER, the following month, in MOVING PICTURE WORLD, the filming of the German invasion of the French village is described. The Director had organised a switchboard with lines running to 100 points. And from it, Ingram could request the collapse of a roof, the falling of the church steeple, or the explosion of a shop front with ease. A siren being used to call a halt to the firing, from a nearby battery, so that the smoke could clear, ready for further destruction.
Preparations for the four horsemen sequence are reported on in Motion Picture News. As mentioned, previously, by June Mathis, the inspiration is a rare Albrecht Durer etching. This rarity has been supplied, by Arthur Denison, a Collector.
At the close of October, Alice Terry manages to finally secure a short break, and travels to Big Bear Valley for a few days. (Five according to EXHIBITORS HERALD.)
Late in the month Marcus Loew witnesses some important scenes being shot during his stay in the West. (Source: Motion Picture News, 06/11/20.)
According to the same edition, by this point (the end of October/start of November), Rex Ingram has been directing the Battle of the Marne scenes for a fortnight.
NOTE: according to MOVING PICTURE WORLD, in their issue on the 30th, Ingram himself expected to take just one week to film the battle scenes. With 5,000 people correctly dressed. And with all of the necessary equipment.
On November the 13th, it’s announced that Metro are planning to work with Composer Louis [F.] Gottschalk. (Source: EXHIBITORS HERALD.)
On November the 15th The Los Angeles Times reveals that filming of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse has finally concluded. And that all that remains is for the allegorical scene to be shot.
On November the 20th, more details emerge about the collaboration between Metro and Louis Ferdinand Gottschalk, the Great Nephew of Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Gottschalk, already experienced at creating music for films (with D. W. Griffith and others), will compose totally original music, to accompany the action from start to finish.
It’s likely that well before the end of the month of November cutting (or editing) has begun. If the cafe/dive bar scene was viewed as early as August, no doubt this was an ongoing process; and, for speed, selections were made as the shooting rolled along.
The 14 individual cameras, shooting from varied angles, sometimes all at the same time, have captured approximately 500,000 feet of film; an amount which would obviously take a long time to view. 18 or so days, it’s estimated, or 2/3rds of a whole month, at the rate of 8 hours per day
At the start of the month, Metro Pictures Corp. reveal, in a press statement, some interesting facts about the production. As follows:
Rex Ingram is reported as having stated, that producing The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on the West Coast, has meant that it cost half what it would, had it been produced on the East Coast. An announcement which was expected to encourage producers to remain in California. (Source: the LOS ANGELES EVENING HERALD, 20/12/20.)
NOTE: Ingram doesn’t appear to credit Mathis and her shooting on paper method with helping to keep costs lower than they may’ve been. ($800,000.)
On December the 22nd a film poster design competition is announced. The first prize is $500. And the closing date is January the 15th, 1921.
In their December 25th edition EXHIBITORS HERALD profiles 27-year-old Rex Ingram. The tone he strikes is a modest one. And he alludes to seeking one day to give up directing to be a Sculptor.
On December the 31st a large advert. appears in VARIETY that puts Ingram front and centre. (See above.)
For the entire month the film has been in the hands of the cutters and editors. Exactly when cutting commenced is unknown. Likewise when it concluded. Yet commence and conclude it did.
Across the United States and the World publicity begins to appear for what will be promoted as A Million-Dollar Screen Production. Meanwhile cutting continues.
NOTE: the Editor, Grant Whytock, will produce three negatives; from which the prints will be created.
At some point, either late in December, or, at the start of the month, June Mathis and Bayard Veiller “clash” at the West Coast studio. A clash that’s been brewing since his instalment as Western Chief of Production the previous year. (Source: VARIETY.)
On January the 12th, Mathis and Ingram depart for New York, with “the first completed print” of the film. (They will spend approximately six weeks in the city.)
On January the 16th Wid’s DAILY devotes it’s front page to The Four Horsemen… and to Ibanez. Stating the novel has so far sold about one and a half million copies in the USA. And that an estimated four and a half million citizens have read it.
Rudolph Valentino is featured with Alice Terry,and what appears to be Virgina Warwick, in an advert. for Victrola, in PICTURE-PLAY MAGAZINE. (See above.) Charles Carter’s text makes much of his dancing in the film and provides a thumb nail sketch of his life up to that point.
On January the 29th Camera! reports that The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is expected to be ready by February.
On February the 5th it’s revealed that The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will be presented at the Astor Theatre from February the 20th. This doesn’t happen. (Source: Motion Picture News.)
The same report details how a print is being sent to Vicente Blasco Ibanez, in Southern France, via London; where it will first be viewed by Metro’s British Distributor, Sir William Jury, of Jury Imperial Pictures.
On Monday, February the 7th, it’s reported that there will be a private screening of the film, at the Ritz Carlton hotel in New York, on Thursday, February the 10th. This preview is to present it to the East Coast executives and to detect any issues that require fixing. (The presentation is staged by Hugo Riesenfeld.)
On February the 17th, it’s announced in Wid’s DAILY, that The Four Horsemen… will begin an indefinite run at the Lyric Theater, on March 7th, 1920.
“Ingram’s ‘Four Horsemen’ A Pictorial Triumph“
On February the 20th Wid’s DAILY reviews the film. On the whole the review is favourable, with just a couple of intelligent criticisms. About the dance scene the Reviewer says the following:
“… the tango dance in the slums of Buenos Aires; possibly the best dance ever put in pictures…”
The New York Premiereand the L. A. premiere
On Friday, March the 4th, Wid’s DAILY reports that the opening of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse has been brought forward, to Sunday, March the 6th, 1921. And that the top priced tickets for the premiere are $10 each. ($145.00 or so in 2020/2021.)
On Sunday March the 6th, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse premieres at the Lyric Theater, New York. According to VARIETY, on the 11th, “the house was jammed.” (Once more the presentation is managed by Hugo Riesenfeld, who, according to VARIETY, clothes it: “… with artistic musical and vocal features.”)
NOTE 1: it would seem that compositions created under contract by Louis F. Gottschalk were framed/arranged by Riesenfeld. (Oddly Gottschalk’s name isn’t mentioned.)
NOTE 2: June Mathis cables Rudolph Valentino to tell him of the success of the film on the East Coast. (Source: Natacha Rambova.)
$4,500 – $65,000 currently – is taken on both the Monday and the Tuesday. And $10,000 – $145,000 currently – in advance bookings on the Wednesday.
On March the 7th and 8th, the first proper screenings, approximately 1,500 people are turned away on both days, as the theatre fills to capacity.
However, on March the 7th, an anonymous Reviewer, writing for the New York Tribune, is matter-of-fact. The “long heralded film” was more or less literally translated and lacked the smoothness of the magic story-telling in the original. The best moments, while worthwhile, were isolated and sporadic. And it was the Beast and the quartet of horsemen that were the “outstanding feature”. The musical accompaniment heightening their effectiveness. Further:
“It is a spectacle first and foremost. The human interest is secondary.”
On the same day, in the THE NEW YORK HERALD, another unknown Writer present is more laudatory. For them the money spent had delivered a: “… memorably successful picture.” With: “… the shimmer of actual life …. and the pulse of battle…” The attention to detail was noted. And the audience reaction – regular applause – recorded. The Reviewer particularly enjoyed Valentino’s portrayal of Julio. (Finding him a natural and forceful actor who looked Argentinian.) And felt the direction of the many cast members by Ingram to be masterful. Further:
“Though somewhat protracted toward the end, it meets the threefold demands on a picture—dramatically, scenically and pictorially—keeping the emotions strung up until the final rush from the theatre.”
On Wednesday, March the 9th, at 8:30 p. m., The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) has its West Coast premiere, at the Mission Theater, at Broadway, Los Angeles. For the entire day the medium-sized venue is closed, to prepare for what would be termed, a “gala performance”, by the LOS ANGELES EVENING HERALD on March the 8th.
As well as “the 32 principals appearing in the picture”, the gala performance is attended by “stars, directors and officials of the film industry”, and members of the general public. Rudolph Valentino is accompanied by Natacha Rambova who later recalled the following:
“When that evening came, every star in the Hollywood firmament gathered at the theater, an impressive audience, yet many, I knew, had come to scoff and say, ‘I told you so!’ The picture colony was sceptical. The film had been made at unheard-of expense by a new, almost unknown director. With a woman at the head of it and an unknown actor in the lead, what could one expect of it. It would be the ruination of the Metro Co.
“During the running of the film not a sound could be heard in the theater, except here and there a stifled sob as the story unfolded. About the middle of the picture Rudy reached out and took hold of my hand, which he held tightly in his own until the end. I knew he wanted to feel that there was just some one who cared and understood. We were both weeping from mingled emotions—joy at success, which was now assured, and sorrow from the tragedy of the story.
“It was finished. A moment of hushed silence was followed by a thunder of applause. Rudy was almost swept off his feet by the crowd, who thronged to congratulate him, many of whom he did not know. It was spontaneous appreciation of a thing well done.
“But his one aim was to reach the door. He wanted to be alone. I understood. During the ride to my bungalow I don’t think a word was spoken—just a brief ‘Good night’—and he left me for his own bleak little apartment.”
I want to thank you for reading this Timeline through to its conclusion — no small feet, it must be said. I hope that it’s been as enjoyable to peruse as it was to compile; filled, as it is, with interesting nuggets, some old, some new, but all throwing light on one of the greatest films ever created. Most sources are included in the text or added as a link. However, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask them and I’ll do my best to answer. See you again in February!
Wonderful it is, to be invited to contribute to the April 3rd to 5th, 2020 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon, hosted by Paul, from Silver Screen Classics. As His Fame Still Lives is focused monthly on Rudolph Valentino, it’ll come as no surprise that it’s one of his films that’s the subject. Which one? Well, read on and see!
It’s amazing, considering his on-screen persona, that Rudolph Valentino appeared in only two motion pictures that were adaptations of great classic works. After all, this was a Twenties Super Star that veritably dripped with: emotion, romance, tragedy and history. All of his post fame vehicles – there were fourteen in total – are seemingly crammed, at least in our minds, with everything that makes a written work eternally appealing; which, according to Esther Lombardi, is: “… love, hate, death, life, and faith…” In visual terms, we think of him classically — in fact, he was promoted thus. Astride a horse. On a throne. Brandishing a rapier. Masked. With Terry, Ayres, Swanson, Lee, Naldi, Daniels, D’Algy and Banky in his arms. Ageless, spine-tingling, resonant, reverberating imagery.
And yet, as I stated, just a pair. And from the same company and unleashed in the same year. Of these two productions, The Conquering Power (1921), based on Eugenie Grandet (1833) by Honore de Balzac, and Camille (1921), based on La Dame aux Camelias (1848) by Alexandre Dumas fils (both, incidentally, modern interpretations), I choose the latter. Not only is it, in my opinion, the better tale, it’s also the superior movie. And, as it has at it’s heart, as the Star and Anti-Heroine, the distinct, larger-than-life Silent Era personality, Alla Nazimova, it guarantees to be something of an information confetti bomb. (NOTE: while it’s true that the basis for, The Eagle (1925), Alexander Pushkin’s Dubrovsky (1841), is of the classic period, I don’t include it, due to it not only being an unfinished work, but also, because Pushkin wasn’t a novelist of the stature of either Balzac and Dumas fils. Also, it hasn’t reached the same heights, in terms of adaptation; as a ballet, an opera, or a play, for example.)
It was on Page Six of their Saturday, December 18th, 1920 edition, that Camera! THE DIGEST OF THE MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY revealed, in a brief sentence, that Alla Nazimova’s next vehicle for Metro Pictures Corp. was to be Camille. Her planned super-production, Aphrodite, based on the 1896 Pierre Louys novel, had been put to the side, and was expected to follow. According to the Star’s Biographer, Gavin Lambert, this change was due to the Director-General, Max Karger, being: “… shocked to discover just how perversely erotic and violent a movie…” had been outlined. Far more likely in my opinion is that it was shelved simply because Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount had secured “world rights” twelve months previously. Besides, a tale based on the brief life of a consumptive Prostitute, who’d died in Paris, in 1847, wasn’t exactly Sunday School territory. (Lynn Gardner’s excellent 2003 look at Dumas fils’ inspiration can be enjoyed here.)
Regardless of the reasons that La Dame aux Camelias was settled on – most likely at the suggestion of June Mathis – there’s little doubt the great Diva Nazzy sought to revive her flagging film career. To this end, it was seemingly decided, early in production, that the adaptation would break with previous picturizations (of which there had already been many), by being set in the then present day. And, that it would also, as Michael Morris points out in his biography of Natacha Rambova, Madam Valentino: The Many Lives of Natacha Rambova (1991), “… reflect the latest developments in European architectural and fashion design.” Something which wouldn’t only assist with promoting the motion picture, but also: “… foster in American film audiences a greater appreciation for art itself.” Nazimova’s other means of refreshing herself, was to secure a Leading Man of note, namely: Rudolph Valentino.
Valentino, who’d already completed work on the The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), the yet-to-be released Metro Pictures Corp. film that would make him a Star, was busy filming Uncharted Seas (1921), when he was brought to the attention of his future Wife. A moment she described in detail, exactly a decade later, in her serialized look at his life and career, and their life together: The Truth About Rudolph Valentino. ‘Mlle. Rambova’, who’d been been tasked, by Nazimova, with the design of both the costumes and the sets of Camille, hadn’t failed to notice her future Husband around the studio. Known to all as ‘The Wop’, he was an: “… aggressive, affable young man …. who, with his friend Paul, a young Serbian cameraman, was always under foot, determined to be seen.” (Natacha later heard from him that he’d bet Paul (Ivano) she would notice him one day. And that her chilliness and remoteness was a challenge.) Further:
“The introduction finally came while Mme. Nazimova, whose [Art Director] I was, was searching for a leading man. For weeks she had been combing Hollywood for the proper Armand for her “Camille.” Dozens of aspirants had applied, but something was wrong with each of them, until we had well nigh despaired of a hero. Then June Mathis, who had written the script of “Four Horsemen,” told us of the young Italian who had played Julio in that picture and whom she considered a genuine find. She suggested we give him a trial. Without much hope, we agreed to look him over.
One day, in Hollywood, the door of my office opened to admit Nazimova, followed by a bulky figure dressed in fur from head to foot. I had a glimpse of dark, slanting eyes between brows and lashes white with mica, the artificial snow of the camera world. Down his face perspiration was streaming in rivers, to complete the ruin of his makeup. The effect was not impressive. Here, I thought, is the very worst yet.”
Rambova goes on the explain how the “polar bear” shook her hand (a little too firmly), “apologized for his appearance”, and revealed that he’d been standing in the sun for two long hours “making close-ups of an Arctic scene”. Before dashing back, he asked her to: ‘Please say a good word for me to madame.’ Despite having noticed his “dazzling smile”, and having received, before his departure, a click of the heels and a polite bow, Natacha continued to be sceptical; that is, until they were forced together to see if anything could be done about his “patent-leather” hair. As she revealed later in the relevant installment: “The Armand of our script was an unsophisticated French boy from the provinces, who certainly had never seen hair pomade.” After much protestation, Rudy was persuaded to shampoo his locks, and then further persuaded to have his hair curled. “When finished the effect was not so bad.” Natacha explains. Adding: “Madame was delighted and even Rudy grew amenable when he saw the result of the screen tests. There was nothing he loved like characterization; to be all dressed up for a part fired his romantic imagination. It was agreed he should be our new leading man.”
Rudolph Valentino certainly had before him a great opportunity to become a character and to be dressed up. Likewise, there’s no doubt that, despite her waning popularity, the chance to work with the legendary Nazimova was indeed a once-in-a-life-time one. One which would enable him to improve himself, as well as to rise up a level in the business. Did Alla – Peter or Mimi to her friends – communicate to him what she communicated to Gladys Hall and Adele Whitely Fletcher in late 1921? That she’d planned never to portray the Lady of the Camellias until she had: “… forgotten how she had seen ‘Camille’ played.”? It’s hard to say. Certainly, she knew in him, as we see when we view it, that she’d found the sort of Armand Duval that her persona, Marguerite Gautier, could love. Yet, if she thought that she could overshadow the rising Star, and make him secondary to her, she was very much mistaken.
Camille (1921) commences with beautiful opening titles that immediately set the tone. The Camellia bordered text, after informing us METRO PRESENTS Nazimova, tells us, upfont, that it’s a modernized version. And then, after revealing that it’s Directed by Ray Smallwood, give us, one-by-one, the names of the triumvirate of women in reality responsible for the film. The Writer, June Mathis; the Art Director, Natasha Rambova; and the Star Producer, Nazimova. Interestingly, the tight cast of nine is headed by Valentino, as his name appears first in the list, followed by the other principals. Portrayed by: Rex Cherryman, Arthur Hoyt, Zeffie Tilbury, Patsy Ruth Miller, Elinor Oliver, William Orlamond and Consuelo Flowerton. With Alla’s main character, strangely, at the very end. If this was purposefully done, due to Rudolph’s fame by the time of release, or, was because he’s the first of the two main players to appear, is hard to say. Either way, it’s symbolic of her coming tumble from the top. (It could be that the version accessed was the later re-issue.)
After explanatory and scene-setting titles, the camera iris opens on an astonishing and eye-catching, fluid, marbled theatre staircase, apparently partly inspired by the style of Hans Poelzig’s recently completed, The Great Playhouse, in Berlin. At least two hundred extras descend the staggering construction. And soon we’re zooming in on Armand Duval and his good friend, Gaston Rieux; played, respectively, by Rudolph Valentino and Rex Cherryman. The pair chit-chat part of the way down as their fellow theatregoers pass them by.
We next see La Dame aux Camellias, Alla Nazimova, as she passes through an archway at the top of the steps, and pauses by the marbled parapet surrounded by men. An intertitle tells us: She was a useless ornament—a plaything—a bird of passage—a momentary aurora. This is an important moment already, as, when Camille is spotted by Gaston, and then by Armand, his friend, we see the instant fascination of the naive provincial with the decorative, and plainly worldly Marguerite. We also see Nazimova’s main character dressed in a striking, sheer, Aubrey Beardsleyesque, long-sleeved coat, covered in flowers, with a dramatic and over-long train, that appears to be edged with fur at its end.
When introduced on the staircase Marguerite is playfully dismissive of the – to her eyes and to ours – guileless new comer. As is her nature, she toys with him. And, after hearing that he’s a Law Student utters her first discernible line: “A law student? He’d do better to study love!” Armand is visibly pained, and yet remains so irresistably drawn to her, that, when the next character introduced reveals that the departing Camille will be hosting a supper party, he requests they go, which they do.
In a review, in the December edition of Motion Picture Magazine, Adele Whitely Fletcher declared, that she believed the settings: “… detracted from the characters and the action.” And it can be said, that the next scene, the party, is probably the best example of this competition between the decor and the players. The iris expands, this time, on the entry vestibule of Marguerite’s up-to-the-minute abode. And through a shimmery, see-through curtain, we see the Hostess and her animated guests arriving. After the curtain is parted, and they all pass through, we’re in the reception room; a space which forces the eye to move from the piano, to a pouf, to a rug, to an arch, to a day-bed, then back again, as the invitees enter before depositing themselves. (Rambova’s creativity hasn’t, however, yet run riot!)
Alla’s Marguerite escapes her pursuer (Hoyt’s Count), after being framed, nicely, in the largest arch of all, the dramatic, glass-doored entrance to her boudoir. Once inside, she manages to have a brief rest – her Servant, Nanine, tells her she’s ill and needs to call a Doctor – before the arrival of Rudy’s Armand, Rex’s Gaston and Tilbury’s Prudence. She initially looks exhausted, as she surely is, however, her look into the mirror, suggests an individual trapped, and unable to escape the whirl and tired of it. Yet emerge she must, and she does so, ready to entertain those gathered — something she’s clearly done many times before. Here, I love how she casually flicks the switch that instantly brings to life all of the decorative lights that edge the third archway; which is how a seated area, immediately to be put to use, is accessed. For me, the switched-on lights echo the way in which she switches on her own inner illumination, before exiting her bedroom.
The glassed-in alcove, with its food and drink laden tables, is where action is focused for the next few minutes. Armand, Gaston and Prudence arrive in a subdued manner, which contrasts nicely with the earlier, much more numerous arrivals. The party’s in full swing already as Marguerite rises to greet the trio. Then, learning that the muted and nervous Duval is crazy about her, she’s once more flippant. Saying to him, as she’d said already to her Lover, the Comte de Varville: “Not until you put a jewel in my hand.”
The supper party continues. Camille is frivolously solicitous of Armand, much to the distaste of the Count, who throws down his napkin angrily. Gaston, meanwhile, behaves like an expectant pet with Prudence, who denies him a forkfull of food at the last minute. To placate the unhappy Count, Marguerite Gautier rises from the seat she shares with the smitten youth, stands tall and breaks into a tributary, but unsatisfactory rhyme. Both the wording and her subsequent behaviour fail to alter the mood of her Sponsor. And, as she drains dry her glass, we see the fuming Count and the puzzled, confused Student Lawyer to her right. Two pathways: the current and the future.
An autobiographical song from the Hostess follows, which is interrupted by the arrival of Pasty Ruth Miller’s, Nichette; who, we discover, thanks to an intertitle: “… used to work in the dressmaking shop with Marguerite.” Alla and Patsy Ruth’s series of kisses on the lips are noteworthy here. As is her defending of her, against the really rather pathetic/sweet onslaught of Rex, as Gaston. Who, despite his drunken state, realises he needs to be more considerate and polite. (A look, here, between Cherryman and Miller, is all we need to see to know that something will develop between them.)
Next, both the intoxicated Gaston and the infatuated Armand are prevented, by Camille, from departing. The Hostess dances with Armand’s friend (much to the annoyance of the Count). The others occupy themselves. Then, the opening of a window, for air, induces a serious coughing fit, and Marguerite’s forced to retreat to her bedroom. Armand sees that she’s unwell and watches powerless. He approaches a drunken Prudence and says: “She is ill!” However, Prudence isn’t concerned, and tells him that: “She is always ill. Just when we are enjoying ourselves on comes that cough and our fun is spoiled!”
Feeling forced to act, Armand enters her sanctuary, and moves towards her once inside. It’s here, while outside the others distract the irate Count, by playing Blind Man’s Buff with him, that we have some of the most important exchanges between to two. Armand entreats her to allow him to call for help. Camille begs to differ. And warns him about who and what she is. Telling him to: “… forget that we have ever met.” At this he throws himself at her feet, saying, plaintively: “I wish I were a relative—your servant—a dog—that I might care for you—nurse you—make you well!” Again, Marguerite attempts to dissuade him, but fails. She accepts that he’s the key that unlocks the door to her prison cell.
It all reaches a terrific, dramatic peak, when Count de Varville finally breaks free from captivity, and bursts into Marguerite Gautier’s room, to discover her entwined with the young Law Student. He rages. She rages. While Armand Duval looks on, clearly pleased that she’s found the courage to break her chains, and to take control of her destiny. In a trice the partygoers – she calls them a “sponging pack” – are leaving. Allowing them to be alone together. And to enjoy a somewhat awkward embrace and kiss on which the iris this time closes.
The next, middle section of the film, is simpler, less artificial and almost dreamlike. We see the happy couple in an orchard in the countryside. (It’s plain that living away from the capital is agreeing with Camille.) Armand has bought and brought to Marguerite, the gift of a book; an antique leather-bound copy of Antoine Francois Prevost’s, Manon Lescaut, a story of doomed lovers. She asks him to inscribe it for her, and then to read it out loud, which he does. Which then leads to an extended imagining of action in the novel, almost a film within a film, with Alla Nazimova as Manon Lescaut, and Rudolph Valentino as Chevalier des Grieux. Except, that the imaginings are spoiled by Camille suffering a presentiment, where she sees herself and Armand as the cursed couple.
After being joined by the newly engaged Gaston and Nichette, who perhaps present to us an alternative, less unlucky union, the action moves from Spring to Summer. Marguerite is living quietly in a conventional house – in sin or not we can’t know – and preparing to sell her belongings, in Paris, to provide sufficient funds for her future. Prudence, who’s visiting her, presents a gift of fresh Camellias with the Comte de Varville’s card inside of the box. Yet Camille isn’t impressed. And tells her to: “Take them back to Paris, Prudence! They have no place in this house!” Prudence is then unsuccessful in trying to make her see sense, and return to her old, more certain if less free existence. An existence, for all its serious restraints, that will soon be seen to be more solid and dependable, than the one which has been hastily fashioned with her Student Lawyer Amour.
The arrival of William Orlamond’s Monsieur Duval, the Father of Armand Duval, is the point at which we see the bubble pricked with a pin. In a nutshell, the Parent requests that the Courtesan relinquish her hold over his son. Telling Marguerite: that the future happiness of both his children is at stake, due to the scandal created by her becoming involved with Armand. Learning, from him, that his daughter’s imminent marriage is in jeopardy, she seeks some way out, and suggests disappearing for a while. When this isn’t found to be acceptable, she falls to her knees, to beg that Armand not be taken from her. Yet she is answered by the Father with: “There is no future for your love—you must give him up!”
I’d say, that within the confines of this drawing room, constructed at the Metro Pictures Corp. plant, for the purposes of the movie, we get a very good idea of Nazimova’s style of performing on the stage; and see, I believe, her best acting in the entire film. How she moves about simply in her plain house dress, carefree, and focused on a new life. How she deals with the irritation of the Intruder Prudence. How she expects the arrival of Armand in the automobile and hides childishly and excitedly under a blanket. How she reacts when she sees that it’s not him but his Parent. And how she battles the inevitable, and finally accepts there’s no way forward, only the way back to who she was and is. We also see fine early acting on the part of Valentino; who arrives at the residence recently abandoned by Marguerite, and discovers her note, written in on the Count’s calling card in tiny but clear handwriting. (In a nice touch their cars pass on the road in the rain.)
In Part Three of her revelatory 1930 serialization, The Truth About Rudolph Valentino, By Natacha Rambova, His Wife, Natacha explained to her readers how Rudy prepared for an emotional scene, particularly during the creation of Camille (1921). As follows:
“I remember particularly one scene in ‘Camille,’ the high point of the picture. It is where Armand, grief-stricken by Camille’s death, rushes to her apartment, where an auction is being held of all her private things. Here he sees and bids on a book he had given her years ago and which she had kept until the last.
Before doing this scene Rudy asked if he might go away by himself for a moment; then he returned and the camera started clicking. It wasn’t interrupted once. When the scene was finished tears were streaming down the face of every one of us, from director to prop boy. As for Rudy, later, I found him in a chair behind the set, head buried in his arms weeping like a child. This wasn’t make believe grief but real emotion.”
That a change is wrought in Armand Duval, is apparent immediately the camera iris expands on the Hazard d’Or; which an intertitle’s informed us, is: “… the smartest gaming place in Paris.” It’s now Autumn, and we see him gambling, immaculately dressed, his hair slicked, and with a beautiful girl on his arm. The female, named Olympe, brilliantly portrayed by Consuelo Flowerton (of the Ziegfeld Follies Spring Frolic of 1920), clings to him in a vampish manner. Another intertitle explains that she is: “… a new Daughter of Chance, whose golden beauty bade fair to rival ‘the Lady with the Camellias.'” And we believe it!
It’s here that we should pause to consider what’s certainly Natacha Rambova’s most incredible interior. The dark, light-absorbing concave room, features, again, a series of arches that draw the eye. The central arch is a performance space, or mini stage, that’s covered by a cobweb scrim, behind which exotically dressed females perform strangely. Above, is another, smaller arch, where a group of African American musicians busily play their instruments; no doubt cranking-out Jazz. And the arches to the left and right are curtained with a gorgeous semi-sheer material that features iridescent woven leaves.
It’s through the right-hand curtained archway, that the Count and Camille enter the space and pause. De Varville points out to Marguerite her former lover at the gaming table. And wickedly says to her: “Look at your broken hearted lover!” This first view of Duval for months is too much, particularly when Armand sees that she sees him, and lays his hand, sensually, on Olympe’s bared back. The close-up of Alla Nazimova is filtered and strongly lit. Yet we see her pain. And then she covers her face with her beautiful feather fan. While the Comte de Varville descends the steps into the sunken room, to place bets and gamble, she retires behind the curtain, just as she did, earlier, at her home.
Sometime after, needing a break from the table (where he’s been enjoying a serious run of luck), Armand Duval parts the curtain behind which Marguerite Gautier is resting, and gets a shock, when he sees her alone and seated there. She, in turn, is startled, as she senses a presence and turns and sees him standing. What follows now is pure Silent Era acting. And from two of the greatest screen personalities of the period. The pair must convey, without words, what they think and feel, and they do. The few words spoken are provided as intertitles. But we barely need them, so perfectly do Nazimova and Valentino express themselves with movements, gestures and facial expressions alone.
Despite toing and froing, and Armand’s desperate attempt to win her back, Camille can’t find the strength to go against her promise to his Father. When she says aloud that she promised she wouldn’t be with him, he believes her to be talking about a promise to the Count, and demands that she: “Say that you love him and I will leave Paris forever!” With deep regret and without feeling she says exactly that. He then drags her out of her hiding place and into the gaming room and denounces her. Humiliating her further by tossing his winnings in her face — a sensational moment, perhaps the most sensational in the entire picture. After a brief flicker of remorse he declares he’s through with her and with Paris and departs. Allowing the Comte de Varville to move-in, and to claim and kiss openly, and triumphantly, Olympe, Marguerite’s successor.
We’re now presented with the extended death of Alla Nazimova’s Marguerite Gautier, known also, as Camille and the Lady of the Camellias. To modern eyes, certainly to mine, this is a somewhat static, and undoubtedly indulgent section. (And for some at the time it was as well.) The passing of nearly 100 years hasn’t made Nazimova’s preferred ending – going totally against the actual written conclusion – any more sympathetic or powerful. In fact, it’s done the exact opposite. And yet, it’s what it is, and must be accepted as it is, and seen in the context of the times. (For a lot of cinemagoers it would resonate a great deal, many of them having watched loved ones die, similarly, in the recent Flu epidemic. And tears were no doubt shed in that more sentimental time.)
For ten minutes, prone, in her stylish bed, Camille approaches the end of her life. While Nanine, her faithful Servant, attempts to make that end as comfortable as she’s able. Yet, Nanine is powerless to keep at bay a group of bailiffs, who represent her creditors and have arrived to satisfy a Court Order. Thus Marguerite is subjected to a final humiliation when they arrive to look over, assess, catalogue and remove her earthly belongings, so that they can be sold to pay-off her debts. To make the interminable exit more palatable we’re given a flash-forward, rather than a flash-back, of Armand receiving from Camille a heart-felt final epistle. And, after the cruelty of the bailiffs entering her room and their attempt to take every last thing from her, including the copy of Manon Lescaut, given to her by Armand, she’s visited by a distraught but tender Gaston and Nichette, who’ve just married that day. Already in a state of delirium, The Lady of the Camellias utters some final, coherent words: “Do not weep, Gaston. The world will lose nothing. I was a useless ornament—a plaything—a momentary aurora.” Surrounded by the pair of newlyweds and Nanine she then expires; while gently calling out the name of Armand, and seeing himself and herself as they were during their affair.
It was, perhaps, the review in the September 24th, 1921 edition, of industry title, Motion Picture News, that best summed-up the starring vehicle at the time. Lawrence Reid, the reviewer, was forthright and upfront about the fact that the great Nazimova had: “… come into her own again with this modern version of Dumas’ tragedy of passion.” And had been given “a picture worthy of her expression” by June Mathis. An adaptation that was: “… intact except for the final ending.” Reid believed this to be a flaw and said so. In his review, he wonders about the reason; if it was “the shadow of censorship”, or maybe “recourse to a happier ending”, not knowing that it was, in fact, a conscious decision on the part of the Star, to diminish the impact of her co-Star and make herself the centre of attention. (Something others in the business heard of and communicated.) Yet, despite his powerful and moving performance being edited out, Lawrence Reid saw that Rudy had acted his heart out — and said so. As follows: “She is forced, however, to share honors in many of the scenes, with Rudolph Valentino, who demonstrates that the art he flashed in ‘The Four Horsemen’ was not a thing of the moment. He makes Armand a brooding, silent volcano of love who suppresses his desires until the supreme moment. His restraint is highly commendable.” (Watching it through it’s hard to argue.)
I fail to agree with the assessment, in Episode Six of Hollywood (1980), that: “The most impressive thing about Camille was its sets.” Impressive though they most definitely were, and highly talented and ahead-of-her-time Rambova absolutely was, there’s so very much more to the production. Noteworthy, alone-and-by-itself, is the fact that this was a realization driven along by three ambitious women, and in a period when very few females were able to steer anything at all in the film-making sphere. The acting of both Nazimova and Valentino, is, at many points, as already detailed, superb, and very representative of the skill of performing in a silent super feature at that time. And the supporting players – Rex Cherryman, Zeffie Tilbury, William Orlamond, and Consuelo Flowerton, particularly – are exemplary in my opinion. Of course it’s a period piece. Of course it’s not the greatest of the great silents. Of course it lacks not only the original tinting but also its original music. And yet it stands the test of time. Still entertains. Still moves us and makes us marvel. What bland, derivative, churned-out contemporary creations are going to be able to do that a century from now? Very few!
First of all I want to thank you for reading this 5,000 word post through from start to finish. I hope that it’s been as enjoyable to read as it was to research and write. This contribution, to the April 3rd to 5th, 2020 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon, will be followed by another diversionary piece, before I return, in May, to Jean Acker. I hope you’ll join me for that, later in the month, and I urge you, in the meantime, to check-out the other contributors to this marvellous exercise, at Silver Screen Classics, here: https://silverscreenclassicsblog.wordpress.com/
On His Fame Still Lives this October I’ll be posting about A Sainted Devil (1924). Writing about this lost Valentino spectacular, for Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount, has required me to research very deeply. And, naturally, that research involved reading, in its entirety, the basis for the film: the Rex Beach short story Rope’s End. A tale the like of which I’ve never read before; featuring, at its heart, a personality like none I’ve ever encountered. However, before we tackle not just the sensational story, but also the equally sensational protagonist that lives and breathes on the pages, we need to pause, briefly, and see what was going on in the life of Rudolph Valentino.
By the Summer of 1921, after less than twelve months, Valentino had moved on from the pre M-G-M Metro Pictures Corp., the studio that had made him a Star, to Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount. At his new studio, where he became a Superstar, in The Sheik (1921), and was then utilised, in quick succession, in Moran of the Lady Letty (1922), Beyond the Rocks (1922), Blood and Sand (1922), and The Young Rajah (1922), he became seriously dissatisfied. His dissatisfaction arising from a combination of: low salary, several broken promises, and a general lack of control and poor material.
What followed was his extended One Man Strike; which lasted a whole year, from 1922 to 1923. A twelve month spell, when, prevented from appearing in any motion picture, he danced his way across the US with his second wife, promoting Mineralava beauty products; published an exercise book and a collection of poems; and even attempted, unsuccessfully, to become a singer. By the Summer of 1923, however, he’d reached a settlement with his employer. And, after a lengthy trip to Europe, followed by another, briefer one, he returned to work at the start of the next year, in an ambitious adaptation of Monsieur Beaucaire. (A short 1900 novel by Booth Tarkington.)
The question of what would follow the expected Smash Hit of Beaucaire – in the end it wasn’t the massive success they thought – wasn’t answered quickly. Much time passed and many possibilities were rejected before the Beach story was settled on. Thanks to Natacha Rambova, his former wife, who, in 1930, published The Truth About Rudolph Valentino, her version of their life together, we know a great deal about the making of what was to become A Sainted Devil. And what we aren’t told by her we can discover from other sources. However, let’s return to the production later, after we’ve enjoyed looking at the inspiration. (Actual text is in bold.)
Beach’s brilliant yarn opens with the following paragraph:
A round moon flooded the thickets with gold and inky shadows. The night was hot, poisonous with the scent of blossoms and of rotting tropic vegetation. It was that breathless, overpowering period between the seasons when the trades were fitful, before the rains had come. From the Caribbean rose the whisper of a dying surf, slower and fainter than the respirations of a sick man; in the north the bearded, wrinkled Haytian hills lifted their scowling faces. They were trackless, mysterious, darker even than the history of the island.
After this great opening, the atmosphere established to the point where we can almost smell it, we now survey the scene. A thatched roof, on four posts, food spread upon a table, and a candle, undisturbed by even a whisper of a breeze, burning quite steadily. Close by another “thatched shed” under which soldiers are gathered ’round a fire. And about, in the “jungle clearing”, huts that have seen better days in which men can be heard talking.
We’re next introduced to the Villain: “Petithomme Laguerre, colonel of tirailleurs, in the army of the Republic…” Seated at the table, in his blue and gold uniform, disappointed with the food he just ate even more than the lack of plunder in the village. He mulls over the day from the comfort of a grass hammock that, like the property, belongs to a Julien Rameau.
We then receive some context:
On three sides of the clearing were thickets of guava and coffee trees, long since gone wild. A ruined wall along the beach road, a pair of bleaching gate-posts, a moldering house foundation, showed that this had once been the site of a considerable estate.
These mute testimonials to the glories of the French occupation are common in Hayti, but since the blacks rose under Toussaint l’Ouverture they have been steadily disappearing; the greedy fingers of the jungle have destroyed them bit by bit; what were once farms and gardens are now thickets and groves; in place of stately houses there are now nothing but miserable hovels. Cities of brick and stone have been replaced by squalid villages of board and corrugated iron, peopled by a shrill-voiced, quarreling race over which, in grim mockery, floats the banner of the Black Republic inscribed with the motto, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.”
Once Hayti was called the “Jewel of the Antilles” and boasted its “Little Paris of the West,” but when the black men rose to power it became a place of evil reputation, a land behind a veil, where all things are possible and most things come to pass. In place of monastery bells there sounds the midnight mutter of voodoo drums; the priest has been succeeded by the “papaloi,” the worship of the Virgin has changed to that of the serpent. Instead of the sacramental bread and wine men drink the blood of the white cock, and, so it is whispered, eat the flesh of “the goat without horns.”
But where is Julien Rameau? Hanging by his wrists from a nearby tamarind tree! Soon Petithomme Laguerre speaks to him. Saying:
“So! Now that Monsieur Rameau has had time to think, perhaps he will speak,” said the colonel.
Yet Rameau’s reply is the same one he’d been giving since the beginning of his torment: that he has no riches. Growing increasingly bored, the colonel tells a subordinate, named Congo, to: “… bring the boy!” And also “a girl”. And we subsequently learn they are man and wife. And that the man is named Floreal.
Congo “and another tirailleur” duly appear with young Floreal Rameau and his equally youthful wife. Both have their hands tied behind their backs. The husband is silent. His wife is in tears.
Now we’re supplied with a good description of the Anti Hero:
Floréal Rameau was a slim mulatto, perhaps twenty years old; his lips were thin and sensitive, his nose prominent, his eyes brilliant and fearless. They gleamed now with all the vindictiveness of a serpent, until that hanging figure in the shadows just outside turned slowly and a straying moonbeam lit the face of his father; then a new expression leaped into them. Floréal’s chin fell, he swayed uncertainly upon his legs.
“Monsieur–what is this?” he asks Colonel Petihomme Laguerre. And then commences a conversation between the Captor and the Captive. The Aggressor wants their money. And the Victim reiterates that there’s none.
When his wife agrees with him Laguerre notices her beauty:
Her arms, bound as they were, threw the outlines of her ripe young bosom into prominent relief and showed her to be round and supple; she was lighter in color even than Floréal. A little scar just below her left eye stood out, dull brown, upon her yellow cheek.
Floreal’s young wife is disgusted by Laguerre, but is forced to reveal her name, which is Pierrine. When he asks her to tell him where their riches are hidden she replies:
“I know nothing,” she stammered. “Floréal speaks the truth, monsieur. What does it mean–all this? We are good people; we harm nobody. Every one here was happy until the–blacks rose. Then there was fighting and–this morning you came. It was terrible! Mamma Cleomélie is dead–the soldiers shot her. Why do you hang Papa Julien?”
Then her young husband becomes hysterical and begs on his knees for mercy. Telling the Colonel to take what they have: “fields, cattle, a schooner”. However their evil Tormentor hasn’t been listening. And, instead, has been eyeing Pierrine. Which makes Floreal even more desperate:
Floréal strained until the rawhide thongs cut into his wrists, his bare, yellow toes gripping the hard earth like the claws of a cat until he seemed about to spring. Once he turned his head, curiously, fearfully, toward his young wife, then his blazing glance swung back to his captor.
Now Floreal Rameau’s worst fears become reality. Despite his attempt to appeal to their Tormentor, Petihomme Laguerre, Laguerre orders orders his men to beat Floreal’s poor father, while he takes the son’s wife into his personal custody, to perhaps suffer a fate worse than death. Floreal Rameau flings himself in front of the Colonel but fails to stop him. And now watches, helplessly as his wife is led away and his father is brutalized:
Floréal shrank away. Retreating until his back was against the table, he clutched its edge with his numb fingers for support. He was young, he had seen little of the ferocious cruelty which characterized his countrymen; this was the first uprising against his color that he had witnessed. Every blow, which seemed directed at his own body, made him suffer until he became almost as senseless as the figure of his father.
His groping fingers finally touched the candle at his back; it was burning low, and the blaze bit at them. With the pain there came a thought, wild, fantastic; he shifted his position slightly until the flame licked at his bonds.
Colonel Laguerre returns to see if the torturing of Julien Rameau is effective. Not noticing that the son, Floreal Rameau, is burning his restraints with the candle on the table. After telling Floreal that he’ll be guarded during the night, and then dealt with the next day, he departs; having: “… an appetite for pleasanter things than this.”
Floreal then cries out to no avail:
“Laguerre! She is my wife–by the Church! My wife.”
Congo and Maximilien, the two subordinates of the Colonel, talk between themselves about the fact that they believe there’s no money. They then decide they’ll kill Floreal’s father, take “the boy back to his prison”, and get some rest. While Congo attends to the old man – who’s not surprisingly expired – Maximilien approaches the son in order to lead him to where he’ll be kept prisoner. Telling him, as he does so, that he’ll be shot tomorrow.
Yet, the desperate, ingenious Floreal, who has by now freed his hands, deftly removes Maximilien’s machete from its sheath. After mortally wounding the unsuspecting owner he then pursues his fellow trooper/’tirailleur’, Congo, who’s head he cracks open, like: “… a green cocoanut, with one stroke.”
Floreal Rameau has time to cut down the body of his dead father but is soon aware that the other men are seeking out their weapons. Thus, as they begin to shoot at him, he quickly disappears into the jungle, as they continue to fire blindly. Laguerre almost fails to subdue them and the first part of the tale ends thus:
The road to the Dominican frontier was rough and wild. All Hayti was aflame; every village was peopled by raging blacks who had risen against their lighter-hued brethren. Among the fugitives who slunk along the winding bridle-paths that once had been roads there was a mulatto youth of scarcely twenty, who carried a machete beneath his arm. In his eyes there was a lurking horror; his wrists were bound with rags torn from his cotton shirt; he spoke but seldom, and when he did it was to curse the name of Petithomme Laguerre.
After the horrifying, blood-soaked opening, Rex Beach tells us what happened to Floreal in the aftermath. How he became resident in the neighbouring country. Gave himself a new name. Learned the language. And became a Seaman. (He had, it seems, been “born of the sea”.) Furthermore:
But he could not bring himself to utterly forsake the island of his birth, for twice a year, when the seasons changed, when the trades died and the hot lands sent their odors reeking through the night, he felt a hungry yearning for Hayti. During these periods of lifeless heat his impulses ran wild; at these times his habits changed and he became violent, nocturnal.
Inocencio Ruiz, as he’s now known, is shunned by women and by men. And people talk of him suspiciously. The suspicious talk is wonderful:
“This Inocencio is a person of uncertain temper. He has a bad eye.”
“Whence did he come?” others inquired. “He is not one of us.”
“From Jamaica, or the Barbadoes, perhaps. He has much evil in him.”
“And yet he makes no enemies.”
“Um-m! A peculiar fellow. A man of passion–one can see it in his face.”
Our Anti Hero’s homeland, Hayti, has, we discover, become peaceful again. And the man that he hates is now ‘General Petithomme Laguerre, Commandant of the Arrondissement of the South’. Inocencio hears of this and departs in a shady Barkentine. He cruises the Caribbean “seeing something of the world and tasting of its wickedness.” After twelve months, at Trinidad, he acquainted himself with a “Portuguese half-breed”, the Captain of a Schooner. Inocencio was eventually promoted to Mate. And then, after a gambling session, won the ship from the “half-breed”.
We’re next in Colon (Panama). During what the author terms ” the French fiasco” of “De Lesseps”. (This information means the story is set in the 1860s and 1870s.) There in “the wickedest, sickest city of the Western Hemisphere”, he:
… heard the echo of tremendous undertakings; there he learned new rascalities, and met men from other lands who were homeless, like himself; there he tasted of the white man’s wickedness, and beheld forms of corruption that were strange to him. The nights were ribald and the days were drear, for fever stalked the streets, but Inocencio was immune, and for the first time he enjoyed himself.
Solitary Inocencio thinks of Hayti and Pierrine. And we’re informed that:
In time the mulatto acquired a reputation and gathered a crew of ruffians over whom he tyrannized. There were women in his camp, too, ‘Bajans, Sant’ Lucians, and wenches from the other isles, but neither they nor their powdered sisters along the back streets of Colon appealed to Inocencio very long, for sooner or later there always came to him the memory of a yellow girl with a scar beneath her eye, and thoughts of her brought pictures of a blue-and-gold negro colonel and an old man hanging by the wrists. Then it was that he felt a slow flame licking at his tendons, and his hatred blazed up so suddenly that the women fled from him, bearing marks of his fingers on their flesh.
Inocencio Ruiz sails for weeks with his Motley Crew. Often visiting the Haytian coast for no reason. He hears gossip about Petithomme Laguerre who has plans one day to be the President. This stirs him to action. And, with the help of “a French clerk in the Canal offices”, he composes an extremely clever letter to His Excellency, General Petihomme Laguerre, Commandant of the Arrondissement of the South, Jacmel, Republic of Hayti. In the communication the Clerk recommends Ruiz. And tells the ambitious Laguerre that there are 200 rifles available at a good price. And that Inocencio is prepared to meet him and discuss the sale.
Antoine Leblanc, the letter writer, expresses doubts about the scheme. But Inocencio Ruiz, the former Floreal Rameau, is adamant. And says, dramatically:
“When I die I shall have no enemies to forgive, for I shall have killed them all,” he said, simply.
We now move to conclusion. Inocencio’s ship, the Stella, arrives at Jacmel, Hayti, and drops anchor. An anchored “Haytian gunboat” worries him, as he hadn’t counted on it being present.
A band was playing in the square, and there were many soldiers. Inocencio did not go ashore. Instead he sent the letter by a member of his crew, a giant ‘Bajan’ whom he trusted, and with it he sent word that he hoped to meet His Excellency, General Laguerre, that evening at a certain drinking-place near the water-front.
We then are told by Beach:
The sailor returned at dusk with news that set his captain’s eyes aglow. Jacmel was alive with troops; there had been a review that very afternoon and the populace had hailed the commandant as President. On all sides there was talk of revolution; the whole south country had enrolled beneath the banner of revolt. The gunboat was Laguerre’s; all Hayti craved a change; the old familiar race cry had been raised and the mulattoes were in terror of another massacre. But the regular troops were badly armed and the perusal of Inocencio’s letter had filled the general with joy.
Captain Ruiz goes to the rendezvous early and sits drinking rum while waiting. (Due to “his threatening eyes” he’s unmolested.) An “older and infinitely prouder” Laguerre finally arrives in a “parrot-green” uniform. “With age and power he had coarsened, but his eyes were still bloodshot and domineering.” They greet each other:
“Captain Ruiz?” he inquired, pausing before the yellow man.
“Your Excellency!” Inocencio rose and saluted.
Ruiz isn’t recognised by Laguerre and a discussion ensues. Eventually the Captain persuades the General to accompany him alone to view the merchandise. They then depart for the Stella:
The moon was round and brilliant as they walked out upon the rotting wharf-all wharves in Hayti are decayed-the night had grown still, and through it came the gentle whisper of the tide, mingled with the babel from the town. Land odors combined with the pungent stench of the harbor in a scent which caused Inocencio’s nostrils to quiver and memory to gnaw at him. He cast a worried look skyward, and in his ungodly soul prayed for wind, for a breeze, for a gentle zephyr which would put his vengeance in his hands.
Inocencio rows the unsuspecting Petihomme out to the Stella:
… as they neared the Stella a breath came out of the open. It was hot, stifling, as if a furnace door had opened, and the yellow man smiled grimly into the night.
The crew of the Stella are amazed to see the General. But their Captain reveals nothing to them of his plan. The ‘Monsieur le General’ is guided towards the cabin. And this is then followed by: “… the sound of a blow, of a heavy fall, then a loud, ferocious cry, and a subdued scuffling, during which the crew stared at one another.”
Afterwards Inocencio emerges and gives orders for them to set sail. A faint breeze means the ship moves slowly, but surely, and Inocencio seats himself upon the deck-house, and drums “his naked heels upon the cabin wall.” Furthermore:
He lit one cigarette after another, and the helmsman saw that he was laughing silently.
Dawn broke in an explosion of many colors. The sun rushed up out of the sea as if pursued; night fled, and in its place was a blistering day, full grown. The breeze had died, however, and the Stella wallowed in a glassy calm, her sails slatting, her booms creaking, her gear complaining to the drunken roll. The slow swells heeled her first to one side, then to the other, the decks grew burning hot; no faintest ripple stirred the undulating surface of the Caribbean. Afar, the Haytian hills wavered and danced through a veil of heat. The slender topmast described long measured arcs across the sky, like a schoolmaster’s pointer; from its peak the halyards whipped and bellied.
“Captain!” The ‘Bajan waited for recognition. “Captain!” Inocencio looked up finally. “There–toward Jacmel–there is smoke. See! We have been watching it.”
Their Captain nods. He knows that the ship approaching them is the “Haytian gunboat” that he saw at Jacmel. His crew are uneasy and demand to know who the man is that was brought aboard the night before. When they discover his identity they’re aghast. But Inocencio is unfazed and tells “the Bajan” to locate a new rope, make it: “… fast to the end of this halyard and run it through yonder block.”
Captain Ruiz then returns to General Laguerre in the cabin:
Laguerre was sitting in a chair with his arms and legs securely bound, but he had succeeded in working considerable havoc with the furnishings of the place as well as with his splendid uniform. His lips foamed, his eyes protruded at sight of his captor; a trickle of blood from his scalp lent him a ferocious appearance.
Gradually Inocencio reveals to Petihomme not only who he is but also what his captive’s fate will be. The conversation goes as follows:
“All Hayti could not buy your life, Laguerre!”
Some tone of voice, some haunting familiarity of feature, set the prisoner’s memory to groping blindly. At last he inquired, “Who are you?”
“I am Floréal.”
The name meant nothing. Laguerre’s life was black; many Floréals had figured in it.
“You do not remember me?”
“N-no, and yet—”
“Perhaps you will remember another–a woman. She had a scar, just here.” The speaker laid a tobacco-stained finger upon his left cheek-bone, and Laguerre noticed for the first time that the wrist beneath it was maimed as from a burn. “It was a little scar and it was brown, in the candle-light. She was young and round and her body was soft–” The mulatto’s lean face was suddenly distorted in a horrible grimace which he intended for a smile. “She was my wife, Laguerre, by the Church, and you took her. She died, but she had a child—your child.”
The huge black figure shrank into its green-and-gold panoply, the bloodshot eyes rested upon Inocencio with a look of terrified recognition.
Inocencio Ruiz, now Floreal Rameau once more, further torments his former Tormentor. And then takes him on deck. Petihomme Laguerre is briefly hopeful when he sees the smoke rising from the gunboat in the distance. But before he can finish what he’s saying his Captor slips the new rope around his wrists. Then a dramatic moment:
“Give way!” he ordered.
The crew held back, at which he turned upon them so savagely that they hastened to obey. They put their weight upon the line; Laguerre’s arms were whisked above his head, he felt his feet leave the deck. He was dumb with surprise, choked with rage at this indignity, but he did not understand its significance.
The sailors haul Laguerre higher and higher into the air until: “… his feet had cleared the crosstree.” Then:
“Make fast!” Inocencio ordered.
Laguerre was hanging like a huge plumbob now, and as the schooner heeled to starboard he swung out, farther and farther, until there was nothing beneath him but the glassy sea. He screamed at this, and kicked and capered; the slender topmast sprung to his antics. Then the vessel righted herself, and as she did so the man at the rope’s end began a swift and fearful journey. Not until that instant did his fate become apparent to him, but when he saw what was in store for him he ceased to cry out. He fixed his eyes upon the mast toward which the weight of his body propelled him, he drew himself upward by his arms, he flung out his legs to break the impact. The Stella lifted by the bow and he cleared the spar by a few inches. Onward he rushed, to the pause that marked the limit of his flight to port, then slowly, but with increasing swiftness, he began his return journey. Again he resisted furiously and again his body missed the mast, all but one shoulder, which brushed lightly in passing and served to spin him like a top. The measured slowness of that oscillation added to its horror; with every escape the victim’s strength decreased, his fear grew, and the end approached. It was a game of chance played by the hand of the sea. Under him the deck appeared and disappeared at regular intervals, the rope cut into his wrists, the slim spar sprung to his efforts. In the distance was a charcoal smear which grew blacker.
As Laguerre nears destruction Inocencio counts. Taunts him from below. And reminds him of his past victims. And then:
A cry of horror arose from the crew who had gathered forward, for Petithomme Laguerre, dizzied with spinning, had finally fetched up with a crash against the mast. He ricocheted, the swing of the pendulum became irregular for a time or two, then the roll of the vessel set it going again. Time after time he missed destruction by a hair’s-breadth, while the voice from below gibed at him, then once more there came the sound of a blow, dull, yet loud, and of a character to make the hearers shudder. The victim struggled less violently; he no longer drew his weight upward like a gymnast. But he was a man of great vitality; his bones were heavy and thickly padded with flesh, therefore they broke one by one, and death came to him slowly. The sea played with him maliciously, saving him repeatedly, only to thresh him the harder when it had tired of its sport. It was a long time before the restless Caribbean had reduced him to pulp, a spineless, boneless thing of putty which danced to the spring of the resilient spruce.
Once dead, Laguerre is lowered, and slipped into the still sea. We then have a beautiful sentence:
The sky was glittering, the pitch was oozing from the deck, in the distance the Haytian mountains scowled through the shimmer.
And the story ends thus:
Inocencio turned toward the approaching gunboat, which was very close by now, a rusty, ill-painted, ill-manned tub. Her blunt nose broke the swells into foam, from her peak depended the banner of the Black Republic, symbolic of the motto, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” The captain of the Stella rolled and lit a cigarette, then seated himself upon the cabin roof to wait. And as he waited he drummed with his naked heels and smiled, for he was satisfied.
Reading through Rope’s End, which I’ve obviously abbreviated, without removing vital components, there’s no doubt it was a superb tale. And it’s easy to see why Natacha Rambova and Rudolph Valentino felt it would be an exciting vehicle for him. Featuring, as it does, an exotic central figure, in a foreign, tropical location; plenty of tension, with many opportunities for serious dramatic acting, and emoting; changes of scene and also changes of costume; a cast of interesting supporting characters; and the triumph, if in a dark, very twisted way, of good over evil.
Naturally there were several obstacles to be overcome. It was unthinkable, at that time, due to racial prejudice, that Rudy could portray a ‘Mulatto’. While he’d certainly already embodied a desert Sheik, a coarse Spaniard, and an Indian Prince, each time this had been made acceptable in some way. (Usually by revealing he wasn’t, in fact, completely ethnic.) Also, for the same reasons, there was no way any African American could play opposite him, as a foe. And, lastly, there would need to be an adjustment when it came to the wife that dies. Possibly by showing a happy life before the arrival of the soldiers and giving the audience flashbacks throughout. Or by reuniting them at the conclusion. (In the original she dies giving birth to Petihomme Laguerre’s child.)
In The Truth About Rudolph Valentino, in 1930, Rambova was clear, that before Valentino departed for a short break in Florida, in May 1924, he’d been very happy with the script. According to Natacha, that submitted and approved narrative, was: “… centered about a revolution in South America, full of the color, fire and dramatic situations that had characterized ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’, the plot was motivated by war…”
This all shows, that while Forrest Halsey, who’d already adapted Tarkington’s Beaucaire, had shifted the action from the Caribbean Islands to Latin America, and at the same time most likely dumped the sea going sections, he’d very much preserved the uprising that was the reason Floreal/Inocencio becomes vengeful. What the “color, fire and dramatic situations” exactly were is a mystery. No doubt the adapted character was a wandering, rootless individual (on dry land rather than at sea), that found himself in a series of compromising situations. Natacha Rambova’s mentioning of TFHotA (1921) suggests this.
Having undergone significant, yet satisfactory alteration, it was therefore a shock when the script was further altered during Valentino’s absence. Rambova explains that: “… after the story had been accepted, bought and paid for, the powers behind the throne suddenly decided that for the sake of international policy (or expense) all traces of war must be eliminated. In other words, the very reason for the story, the spinal column of the beast, was amputated. What remained were a few fragmentary incidents strung together by a threadbare plot and given the title ‘A Sainted Devil’.”
Moreover: “I objected loudly to this mutilation of a fine story; it took all of the pep from the picture. I predicted it would be a failure. But my objections were promptly overruled and, rather than cause more trouble, I sank into quiescence. It was the last picture of our contract with Famous Players and we didn’t want more litigation. Anything for peace!”
If we accept her version – I do by-the-way – Rope’s End had gone from being an extremely exciting, if vicious, work, with a simple to understand central character, shifting against a series of visually exciting, exotic backdrops. To a still relatively exciting, perhaps less bloodthirsty storyline, with, again, a simple to understand central character, operating in a colourful, fiery and dramatic world. To, finally, a lacklustre story, devoid of meaning, with a motiveless, certainly unchallenged central character, moving from scene to scene in an environment that was unexceptional.
Personally, with the necessary changes mentioned earlier, I visualise, without difficulty, Rudolph Valentino as Floreal Rameau. I see him as the unworldly, virginal, defiant young Husband. I see him, on his knees, helpless and begging for mercy. I see him transforming and becoming, when given no alternative, instinctive, animal and a murderer. I see him as the forever-changed, lonely unsatisfied drifter; as a fugitive who broods about the past and lives in the moment. I see him as the Master of the Stella with his ugly crewmen. And lastly, I see him, face to face with his wicked adversary, fully prepared to punish him, for the deaths of his mother, and, his father and wife.
It’s a great shame that Famous Players Lasky/Paramount couldn’t or wouldn’t see him as Rameau too. That they made the decision to drastically alter the “accepted, bought and paid for” adaptation. That they put production costs and expediency before great art and good storytelling. That they decided, after all, not to let bygones be bygones. For me, it’s obvious Rudy was denied the opportunity to surpass himself, in The Four Horsemen…, The Sheik and Blood and Sand. Yes, the times were against him, yet that was as nothing compared to having his employers not fully on his side. Immediately afterwards, though they didn’t know it for about another year, the Valentino’s were no longer a Hollywood Power Couple. Backing down over A Sainted Devil (1924), would lead to them being given the run around about The Hooded Falcon, which was never realised. Cobra (1925), which was to follow A Sainted Devil, was Valentino’s second – third in the opinion of some – flop in a row.
The issues that surrounded the adaptation of Rex Beach’s Rope’s End, 95 years ago this year, are of interest to me, and I hope they’ve interested you. If not, at the very least, I’m sure you enjoyed, at least a little, getting to know the story on which it was based. If, like me, you’ve come to appreciate the main character, then my time hasn’t been wasted. It’s possible you may even feel, as I do, that there was a great opportunity for Valentino to excel that he was denied. As explained at the very start I’ll be looking fully at the film A Sainted Devil (1924) this Autumn. Maybe you’ll join me for that? I do hope so! Enjoy the the Reel Infatuation Blogathon, today, tomorrow and Sunday. It’s wonderful to be given the opportunity to be part of it!