Even 80 years after his death,
Rudolph Valentino is still a household name, a person that symbolizes sex
appeal and animal magnetism. When many of his contemporaries have
been long forgotten, Valentino still endures. The fact that he only
made a handful of films before his untimely death only adds to his mystique.
Flicker Films has put together a very impressive collection of the star's
work and released it on DVD. Valentino: Rediscovering an
Icon of Silent Film is a two disc set the presents four films, two
of which were previously considered lost. In addition there is an
incredible amount of bonus material including stills, songs about Valentino,
and several shorts.
The Young Rajah (1922): This
is a lost film, with only fragments still existing. As the opening
text piece states, this isn't a restoration but a compilation. Production
stills, parts from two trailers, and a section the of the film from that
still exists as a 16 mm reduction print, were pieced together along with
"newly created photographic inserts", letters the characters receive that
help advance the plot, to reproduce the movie. There are extra titles
inserted to fill in the holes in the story which were taken from Paramount's
Judd (Rudolph Valentino) grew up on a farm in Connecticut. Unbeknownst
to the young man however, he isn't just a simple farmer. He's really
the heir to the kingdom of India, and was taken away to the US when a usurper
took his father's throne. As the royal highness, he has psychic abilities
that let him see into the future, a family trait that was granted to him
by the God Krishna.
Armed only with 'several hundred thousand dollars' worth of rubies that
arrived with him from India, Amos goes off to Harvard where he's the start
of the crew team. Getting into a fight with someone who didn't make
the team one night, Judd's mystic abilities cause him to duck just in time
and his attacker perishes.
Amos then falls in love with Molly Cabot (Wanda Hawley), but things
don't go smoothly between the two. Though Molly loves Amos, she can't
be with him since he's not white. To make matters worse, the usurper
discovers that Amos is the rightful ruler of the throne and sends assassins
to murder the young man.
Made right after Blood and Sand and only a year after his biggest picture,
The Sheik, it's really hard to judge this as a film, since there is only
the last third of it still exists. The first section of the movie
flies by quickly, and viewers can't help but realize that they're missing
a lot. The fight scene near the beginning is told through still and
naturally wasn't very exciting, especially when a title card had to explain
that the villain fighting Valentino lunges at him with a chair, misses,
and falls out an open window to his death. The narrative is very
choppy and speeds up or slows down depending on how much film is available.
said that, the creators did a very good job with what they had. Viewers
can get a taste of how this movie must have played back in 1922, but only
a taste. As presented here, the movie comes across as a bit silly.
The writing seems sloppy (the usurper in India just happens to get an American
paper from Cambridge, Massachusetts which describes the fatal fight Amos
had, and by that account deduces that the man in question can see the future,
and therefore is the young prince) and the ability to see the future comes
across as hokey. That would probably still be the case if the full
movie were available, but of some of the early India scenes along with
the spectacle of the ball (with costumes designed by Valentino's wife at
the time, Natacha Rambova) would have made the movie much more pleasing
to watch and the absurd aspects of the plot wouldn't have been emphasized
as they are here.
There are some interesting aspects to the film however, especially the
way race is treated. In 1922 American wasn't a place of tolerance
when it came to race relations, but this film puts forth the proposition
that skin color is only superficial. At one point Molly states "I
couldn't marry a man that was not of my own people, no matter how much
I - I loved him." She's torn by this however and deep down knows
that it isn't the right thing to do. In another section Amos preaches
religious tolerance too. When Molly asks him why he has a Bible,
the Torah, and a Koran all opened he says that they are many roads leading
to one God. A very progressive outlook for 1922.
A/V: The still images look great,
nice and clear with a lot of detail. The existing film however is pretty
rough. The contrast is fairly poor and the image is very soft.
There's only so much that restoration can do, and while the people at Flicker
Films in association with TCM tried don't expect a video quality on par
with other prominent DVD releases.
The score was composed and performed by Jon C. Miralis and he does his
usual wonderful job. The piano music is scene specific and does a
good job of matching the mood of the film.
Stolen Moments (1920/ reedited in 1922):
There's a bit of history to this film. In 1919, before he was a big
star, Valentino married Jean Acker, which was a big mistake. Acker
was an actress under contract at Metro and lesbian. She was Nazimova's
lover, but was also involved with another actress, Grace Darmond.
Needless to say, things got a bit sticky and Jean was worried that her
career would be ruined if word got out. When Valentino proposed after
knowing her for only a few months, she saw a solution to her problem and
Valentino apparently didn't know his wife was a homosexual, but when
she locked him out of their hotel on their wedding night, he must have
suspected that something was wrong. He tried to talk to her, but
nothing he said made any difference. Heartbroken he left Hollywood
and headed east where he made a couple of pictures. Stolen Moments
is one of them, made for Select Pictures. It was a six reel feature
and Valentino had a supporting role as the villain.
The year after this movie was released, Valentino hit it big.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) made him a star and The
Sheik (1921) made him a super-star and household name. Select
Pictures realized that it had gold in its vaults. They took the six
reel film and edited it down to three reels, cutting out as much as they
could while leaving in all of Valentino's scenes. They then changed
the billing and released it as a Valentino picture. This shortened
version is the only one that still survives, and only as 16mm reduction
plays a wonderfully sinister rogue in this film; Jose Dalmarez, a famous
author from Brazil. (He even wears a mustache, so you know that he's
just no good.) When he moves in next to Vera Blaine (Marguerite Namara),
the woman falls in love with the dashing and exotic writer. She writes
him love letters and encourages her. When she mentions marriage,
he laughs, saying that their love is above such quaint notions as marriage.
Crushed, she leaves and marries Hugh Conway (Albert L. Barrett).
Time passes and Jose returns. Running into Vera again, he wonders
out loud what her husband would think of her old love letters. He's
willing to give them to her, but only if she'll sleep with him. When
she says no, she scratches his face and flees with the love notes, but
when he turns up dead soon after, poor Vera is the prime suspect.
This was a good, if slightly melodramatic film. Valentino was
great as the reprehensible cad Jose. He was villainous without being
over the top. Marguerite Namara, who was originally the star of the
movie, over acted and looked too old to be playing a young thing after
25 year old Italian. She looks like she has 10-15 years on him, and
that made it a bit hard to swallow.
Given that this is a condensation of a movie originally twice as long,
the film flows pretty well. There are some abrupt scene changes and
it's not hard to tell that some events took place during Jose's absence
that were excised, but overall this abbreviation works pretty well and
it's a lot of fun to see Valentino play the villain.
A/V: The image is windowboxed with
an aspect ratio of 1.27:1 and comes from a 16mm reduction print.
Because of that the details aren't crisp and the image is fairly soft.
The contrast is acceptable but not outstanding. Highlights are sometimes
washed out but this isn't a huge problem. The soundtrack was another
fine piano score written and performed by Jon C. Miralis.
A Society Sensation (1918/ reedited in 1924):
This is the earliest film in the collection and another example of a film
cut down to emphasize Valentino's part after he became famous. Originally
running five reels, this version was cut down to only two, and like Stolen
Moments, it's not too hard to see where the cuts were made.
(Carmel Myers) is the daughter of a seaman, Captain Harry Fairfax, and
the rightful Duchess of Deerford. At least that's what the Captain
thinks. He doesn't have any proof that they are royalty, but he has
a lawyer working on it. In the mean time he sends Margaret off to
become a society lady.
While staying with a rich matron, Margaret sees a swimmer in trouble
and goes to his rescue. It turns out that she saves Richard Bradley
(Rudolph Valentino), the heir to a fortune. The two quickly fall
in love, but when Margaret discovers that her father was wrong and that
they aren't royalty, she runs away knowing that they can never marry.
But things never end that simply, especially in a romance film.
This is fine for what it is, a short melodrama, but it really doesn't
stand out from all the similar romance movies made at the same time.
Valentino does a good job as a romantic lead, though he really doesn't
have much screen time. The director certainly knew what to do with
Rudolph however and introduces him into the picture by having him walk
out of the ocean in a bathing suit. Even today he looks pretty good.
The film also features an early appearance of Zazu Pitts (who Valentino
catches as she swoons in one scene.) Her role is almost nonexistent
in this edit, but it was probably much longer in the original version.
Poor Zazu, it must have seemed to her at times that she was destined for
the cutting room floor. (She also stared in Erich von Stroheim's
Greed, a film famous for its initial length of 42 reels (9 hours).
It was eventually cut down to 10 reels and released that way.)
A/V: This film is also windowboxed
to 1.27:1 and looks pretty good. There are a lot of scratches and
dirt on the film, but the contrast is very good and the level of detail
is decent. The movie is accompanied on the organ by Bob Mitchell.
of the Lady Letty (1922): This film features Valentino
at the height of his fame. It was released right after The Sheik
and is a rip-roaring sea adventure based on a book by Frank Norris (who
also wrote the book that Greed was based on). Moran Sternersen (Dorothy
Dalton) is the only daughter of a sea captain and has grown up on her father's
ship, the "Lady Letty," since her mother's death. Though she's still
young she's a tough sea dog, and the exact opposite of Ramon Laredo (Rudolph
Valentino), a rich and pampered young man.
While trying to get to a yacht, Ramon gets lost by the docks and is
shanghaied. He wakes up on the "The Heart of China" an outlaw vessel
commanded by Captain 'Slippery' Kitchell (Walter Long). Kitchell
is disgusted with how soft Ramon is, but working on the ship soon toughens
One afternoon Kitchell sights the Lady Letty cruising slowly.
Boarding her, the pirates discover that the crew has all been killed by
coal gas. Everyone save Moran. Ramon brings her aboard the
"China" and tries to hide the fact that she's a woman, but Kitchell soon
finds out and wants to have his way with her. It's up to Ramon to
protect the young woman.
was a pretty good action flick. The whole idea behind the film was
to toughen up Valentino's image, and he does come across as a two-fisted
brawler by the film's end. He's gets into a lot of fights, and few
of the shirts that he wears have sleeves so his impressive physique is
often showcased. A fast paced film, the action zips quickly along
and makes up for the less than intriguing plot. The best film in
the set, it is a lot of fun and well worth watching.
A/V: Also with a 1.27:1 aspect ratio,
this tinted movie looks pretty good. Dirt and scratches are present
but minimal, and the level of detail is pretty good. Highlights tend
to be washed out in bright areas, especially on faces, and some details
are lost in dark areas but these aren't fatal flaws. Overall this
is a solid though not spectacular print. The music for this movie
was composed by Robert Israel who also performs on piano and is accompanied
by Vit Muzik on the violin. It sounds like an odd combination but
the mix works very well and adds a lot to the viewing of the film.
These films come on a two DVD set housed in a single width clear keepcase
with an extra 'page' to hold the second disc.
set is filled with some really great extras, though most of them are only
accessible via an unnecessarily unwieldy menu system. To start off,
each film is accompanied by a gallery of production stills and promotional
items and the first disc has a sample of the unrestored footage from The
Young Rajah and Stolen Moments as well. It is interesting
to note that some of the stills in The Young Rajah section were not used
in that reconstruction, including a shot of Wanda Hawley riding an elephant
- an elephant that was really two guys in a costume. It looks really
Also on disc one is Valentino in Memoriam, a collection of songs,
stills, text pieces, and shorts concerning the actor's death and legacy.
There's a wealth of information here most of which is quite interesting.
I particularly enjoyed hearing the songs, especially "We Will Meet at the
End of the Trail" written (or at least attributed) to Jean Acker.
Smarmy though they were it was great to finally hear these songs that are
often mentioned in Valentino biographies. Another highlight is Rudolph
Valentino, a 10-minute overview of the star's films which was produced
in 1941 by Astor pictures. Another unique rarity is Round About
Hollywood, a two-strip Technicolor tour though the land of movie stars
and moguls. There's also an audio interview with
Ditra Flame, the "Lady in Black" who visited Valentino's grave every year
on the anniversary of his death.
Disc two is just as packed. There is a video tour of Valentino's
Beverly Hills home, several slideshows including images of Valentino's
pets and earlier living quarters and text biographies of 21 people who
were active in the star's life.
The most exciting bonuses on this disc however are the rare shorts that
are included. A Trip Through Paramountown (1922) features
Valentino on the set of Blood and Sand as well as appearances by
Wallace Reid, Bebe Daniels, Gloria Swanson, Harrison Ford (no, not that
one) and both Cecil B. and William DeMille. Screen
Snapshots has a look at Valentino behind the scenes of The Sheik,
and Bearded Valentino show's the star with a goatee that he grew
while on vacation in Europe. Character Studies, which has
appeared elsewhere but for the life of me I can't recall where, is a short
where a makeup artist 'impersonates' various stars (who really appear as
themselves) including Valentino, Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks, and
more. Rounding out the second disc is a trailer for When Love
Grows Cold and a newsreel featuring Valentino and cowboy star Roy Stewart.
In addition to the bonus materials on the discs, there is a 12-page
booklet with an essay about these films and Valentino by Emily W. Leider,
promotional and production pictures, notes about the transfers, and a list
of the discs contents. All in all this set has some great extras.
This is a very nice set with some solid movies and outstanding bonus
items. The only real complaint is that these aren't Valentino's best
works. None of these films show the raw sex appeal that he had in
films like Four Horsemen or The Sheik. Valentino fans
will be delighted at this set and though three of the four films are either
heavily edited this is the best that is likely to ever surface. The
set gets a strong recommendation.