Camille is a courtesan in Paris. She falls deeply in love with a young man of promise, Armand Duval. When Armand's father begs her not to ruin his hope of a career and position by marrying Armand, she acquiesces and leaves her lover. However, when poverty and terminal illness overwhelm her, Camille discovers that Armand has not lost his love for her. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Unusual, but Unexpectedly Interesting, Silent Camille
Although the 1921 silent version of "Camille" will not eclipse the later Garbo vehicle, the earlier film is an unexpectedly entertaining movie in its own right. The Dumas story was updated to the post World War I era and starred Alla Nazimova as the tragic Lady of the Camellias. Physically, Nazimova fails to convince viewers that she could lure young men into her clutches or coax a rich suitor to cross her palm with a jewel for her favors. However, she plays Camille in the grand style of the era, and, had she lived, she would have been a fine Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard." Two years after "Camille," the 44-year-old Nazimova played the teen-aged "Salome," the role that Norma Desmond wrote for herself as a comeback vehicle. The Nazimova version offers a glimpse of what the Norma Desmond film might have been.
As in "Salome," Nazimova's hair, costumes, and gestures in "Camille" compensate for her lack of physical allure, and the audience eventually accepts that a Rudolph Valentino would succumb to her charms. However, Valentino, does not register here either physically or emotionally with the appeal that he would exhibit in later films.
Natacha Rambova, who was Mrs. Valentino, designed the costumes and sets, which often add a striking dimension to the film. The unusual designs are reminiscent of the Aubrey-Beardsley-inspired work on Nazimova's "Salome." Although the overall direction of "Camille" is competent, if not exciting, the story is well paced. While certainly not an example of the silent cinema at its artistic peak or even a typical commercial film of the era, "Camille" offers a star turn by one of the era's more eccentric actresses and an early look at one of the great male stars of the 1920's.
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