A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

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.