John Gilbert is largely forgotten today, and if he's
remembered at all it is as a silent star who couldn't make the
sound. His first talkie, and the bad
lines he recited, was famously recreated as the "The Dueling
Cavalier" scene in Singin' in the
Rain. It's a shame too, since
Gilbert was a very talented actor and his film The Big Parade is a classic
(which still isn't available on DVD!)
Hopefully Gilbert's reputation will rise with the release of two
films, long thought lost. Flicker Alley,
in association with France's Lobster Films and the Blackhawk Film
has Bardelys the Magnificent plus Monte
Cristo, two exciting swashbuckling
films that show Gilbert was at much at home in romantic action films as
in heavy dramas.
Bardelys the Magnificent (1926): The film
was based on a novel by Rafael
Sabatini, the author who also penned the novels that Captain Blood and
Hawk were adapted from. MGM bought the
rights to several of Sabatini's books and signed an incredibly horrible
contract to get them. The contract
dictated that when the rights lapsed, MGM would either re-purchase the
or destroy the negative and all copies of the films that they made. The contract came up for renewal in 1936, and
at that time there were few things less in demand than silent films. So rather than put out more money for what
they considered worthless they burned all of the prints.
The movie would still be lost except a copy
was found in France
in 2007. It was missing the third reel,
(which still hasn't turned up) but by using production stills, the
script, sections from the trailer, and some extra title cards the movie
restored to something very close to its original version.
Directed by King Vidor (who also directed Gilbert in The
Big Parade a year earlier) this film
is a rip-roaring comedy/adventure in the style of Douglas Fairbanks. In old France, the Marquis de
just as famous for his conquests in the bedroom as he is as an
swordsman. When he spies Roxalanne de
Lavedan (Eleanor Boardman, Vidor's new wife as filming began) he falls
hard and sets out to woo her. He does
this by pretending to be a famous rebel who wants to overthrow the
the last thing that the comfortable Marquis actually wants to do.
When one of Bardleys' many enemies (after all, he did sleep
around with a lot of married women) discover who he is impersonating,
to have him arrested and executed as the wanted criminal.
This film mixes just the right amount of action, romance and
humor together to create a truly enjoyable film. The
humor is especially used to good effect,
filling in the background details without resorting to a lot of
exposition. The opening scenes where
Bardleys is caught kissing a woman by her husband is particularly
memorable. Swords clashing, the
care-free Marquis throws off one-liners while reuniting the lady with
mate. "He fights as if you were someone
The stunts and action sequences also make this more than
just a costume drama. Obviously
competing with Fairbanks
similar (and very popular) films, the big finale involving Bardleys
hoard of soldiers in front of and up the side of a building is very
entertaining and the stunts are impressive.
The only thing that mars these scenes slightly is that Gilbert
didn't do his own stunts. Still, the
action is fast and frantic and laugh-out-loud funny.
Monte Cristo (1922):
Based on the famous book by Alexander Dumas, this is a very good
adaptation. Gilbert plays Edmond Dantes,
a man falsely imprisoned for life. While
in jail, Dantes befriends a half-mad fellow prisoner, Abbe Faria
Aitken), who reveals the location of a fabulous treasure.
They plan to escape together, but when Abbe
dies, Dantes sees his chance to leave the dreaded island prison forever.
Retrieving Faria's treasure, Dantes reinvents himself and
uses his new found money to extract revenge on those who imprisoned him.
I've been a fan of this story for as long as I can remember,
even reading the book in French when I was in college, and I enjoyed
version. This film was made at Fox to
showcase the young Gilbert's talents and it does that very well. Though Gilbert is almost unrecognizable
his heavy make up, long beard and white wig for a good part of the
brings a strong personality to the role of Dantes and manages to bring
character to life most successfully.
This is an excellent match for Bradleys.
These two films
show Gilbert as a careful and studied actor.
Hopefully this set will help fans reevaluate John Gilbert's
Magnificent has two scores viewers can select between, one complied
Rodney Sauer and preformed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra,
other is a piano track composed and preformed by Antonio Coppola. Both tracks are very good, but I preferred
the Mont Alto track, which was fuller and had an easier time filling
with sound. It's hard for a single piano
to compete with a multi-piece orchestra of course, and Coppola's track
good, I just prefer the Mont Alto score a bit more.
includes a piano score complied and performed by Neal Kurz. It too is lively and fits the movie very well
and is level and energetic.
Since both of these films were considered lost for years and
sourced from a single print it's amazing that they look this good. Bardleys
looks magnificent, with very good contrast, tight lines, and a good
detail. Monte Cristo is a
bit softer but still has nice contrast. Both
films do have some specks and scratches,
but these are minor and never distract from the film.
This disc is up to Flicker Alley's usual
standard, which is quite high. They are
sure not to disappoint.
There are some nice bonus materials included on this two
disc set. The main feature includes an
educational and entertaining audio commentary by Jeffrey Vance and Tony
which is well worth listening to. The
commentators relate several interesting stories about the cast and crew
background of the production.
There is also a half-hour documentary on John Gilbert, Rediscovering
John Gilbert which features interview with his daughter Leatrice
Fountain. Finally there is a very
extensive image gallery of still from the films.
While Bradleys is
clearly the headliner, both it and Monte
Cristo are excellent films. They
make an wonderful pair, showcasing John Gilbert's talent quite nicely. Flicker Alley, in association with Blackhawk
Films and Lobster have, released another must-own set for movie fans. Highly