John Gilbert is largely forgotten today, and if he's remembered at all it is as a silent star who couldn't make the transition to 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 of his films, long thought lost. Flicker Alley, in association with France's Lobster Films and the Blackhawk Film Collection, has Bardelys the Magnificent plus Monte Cristo, two exciting swashbuckling films that show Gilbert was at much at home in romantic action films as he was 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 The Sea 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 rights 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
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
When one of Bardleys' many enemies (after all, he did sleep around with a lot of married women) discover who he is impersonating, he plots 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 her mate. "He fights as if you were someone else's wife!"
The stunts and action sequences also make this more than just a costume drama. Obviously competing with
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 (Spottiswoode 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 this 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 beneath his heavy make up, long beard and white wig for a good part of the film, he brings a strong personality to the role of Dantes and manages to bring the 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 place in movie history.
Bardelys the Magnificent has two scores viewers can select between, one complied by Rodney Sauer and preformed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and the 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 the room with sound. It's hard for a single piano to compete with a multi-piece orchestra of course, and Coppola's track is very good, I just prefer the Mont Alto score a bit more.
Monte Cristo 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 amount of 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 Maietta which is well worth listening to. The commentators relate several interesting stories about the cast and crew and the background of the production.
There is also a half-hour documentary on John Gilbert, Rediscovering John Gilbert which features interview with his daughter Leatrice Gilbert 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 Recommended.