The idle son of a rich businessman joins the army when the U.S.A. enters World War One. He is sent to France, where he becomes friends with two working-class soldiers. He also falls in love... See full summary »
George W. Hill
Engineer Jake Holman arrives aboard the gunboat U.S.S. San Pablo, assigned to patrol a tributary of the Yangtze in the middle of exploited and revolution-torn 1926 China. His iconoclasm and... See full summary »
Jerry Seevers returns from World War I service broken in health and his doctor tells him he has only six months to live. His fiancée jilts him and he sets out to drink himself to death. In ... See full summary »
Is it not enough to lead my son into wild ways without teaching my daughter the tango?
Will you have the boy grow up like those glass-eyed, carrot-topped sharks of your sister's?
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Rudolph Valentino's breakthrough role as Julio is in some ways his best, and it's a shame that this film isn't better known to day--it has yet to be released on DVD. (Is its being relatively unknown due to its being set during World War One, a war that was soon to be eclipsed by an even worse conflict?)
The story begins in Argentina on the plantation of the slightly grotesque but fascinating Madrigal the Centaur who, with the cruel partiality of Tennessee Williams' Big Daddy, openly favours his half French grandchildren to his half German ones (referring to them as "glass-eyed carrot topped sharks"). A few years later we see him carousing with his grandson Julio, the latter in full gaucho regalia, in a disreputable café (the setting of the rightfully famous tango sequence and where Valentino treats his female partner with that distinctive mixture of suaveness and brutality that characterized many of his later roles). The Great War intrudes on everyone's lives and both families, even though they have made their home in the new world feel drawn to take sides. With regard to the conflict itself, the film takes a anti-war if not entirely neutral stance (the French are generally honourable whereas the Germans behave like, well, sharks).
A large part of the film is devoted to the decline in fortunes of Madrigal's French son-in-law after he returns to France with his family, but the most memorable portions of this part of the film are Julio's wooing of Marguerite, the unhappy wife of a much older man and Julio's reluctant entry into the war. Initially he continues his wastrel life in Paris as an artist of sorts, as indifferent as Rhett Butler to the war around him, but eventually he finds himself drawn into the conflict, not because he is anymore convinced that the war is for a good cause as that, with the casualties mounting up every day, he simply feels too ashamed to continue living his soft life as a lounge lizard. The ending relies heavily on Dickensian coincidence but is devastating nonetheless.
A few quibblesthe stranger who appears occasionally to share his dire forebodings is not quite as annoying as the preachy meddler in Blood and Sand but is still somewhat intrusive. (On the other hand I liked the imagery of the four horsemen which was all the more effective for being used sparingly and must have been particularly impressive on the big screen). Also, the film contains an extremely cringe-inducing example of comic reliefJulio's mother, to cheer up her son in the trenches, sends him his monkey in a miniature soldier's uniform, complete with helmet, bringing to this modern viewer's mind Precious, the gin-swilling orangutan nurse of the whacked out NBC soap opera, Passions. However, these are minor objections and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is one of the best films of the silent era.
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