A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, December 21, 2015

Bardelys the Magnificent (King Vidor, 1926)

This entertaining swashbuckler was long thought to be lost, apparently because of a contractual agreement between MGM and Rafael Sabatini, author of the novel on which it was based. When the studio failed to renew the rights to the novel in 1936, it destroyed the negative and all the prints it could get its hands on. Fortunately, 70 years later a print surfaced in France, missing only one reel that the restorers pieced together with production stills and footage from the original trailer. It was a good save, especially for the legacy of its director, King Vidor, and its star, John Gilbert. Vidor stages several lively swordfights and a memorable love scene in which Bardelys (Gilbert) woos Roxalanne de Lavedan (Eleanor Boardman) in a boat as it passes through the overhanging branches of a willow tree. But the film's highlight is a spectacular escape from the gallows, in which Gilbert (almost certainly with the help of his stunt double) outdoes Douglas Fairbanks in swinging from ropes and curtains, climbing walls, and fencing with pursuers. The story is romantic nonsense in which Bardelys, a womanizing marquis at the court of Louis XIII, makes a wager that he can win the hand of Roxalanne, who has spurned the advances of the very hissable villain, Châtellerault (Roy D'Arcy). To win the bet, Bardelys finds himself assuming the identity of a man he finds dead, Lesperon (played by Theodore von Eltz in the missing reel), an enemy of the king. Sure enough, he and Roxalanne fall in love under the willows, but his imposture not only turns her against him when she finds proof that Lesperon is engaged to someone else, but also puts him in danger of being hanged for treason, especially after Châtellerault turns up and refuses to disclose that Lesperon is really Bardelys. Dorothy Farnum adapted the novel, and the cinematography is by William H. Daniels. The cast supposedly includes the 19-year-old John Wayne as a guard, in only his second film appearance, but good luck spotting him. I didn't.