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George Bryan Brummel, a British military officer, loves Lady Margery, the betrothed of Lord Alvanley. Despite her own desperate love for Brummel, she submits to family pressure and marries Lord Alvanley. Brummel, broken-hearted, embarks upon a life of revelry. He befriends the Prince of Wales and leaves the army, becoming subsequently the best-known rake and decider of fashion in Europe. As his affairs flourish, so does his disdain for his benefactor, the Prince. Eventually Brummel falls into disfavor, and it is only Lady Margery who has any chance of helping him. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
BEAU BRUMMEL (A Warner Brothers Classic of the Screen, 1924), directed by Harry Beaumont, from the play and historical data by Clyde Finch, stars the legendary John Barrymore in one of his most prestigious films of the silent era. Mixing fact and fiction into the life of George Bryan Brummell (1778-1840), an English social arbiter, the opening inter-title sums it up best: "Nowhere in all history can be found a more amazing character than George Bryan Brummel, the friend of princes, the arbiter of fashion and the social ruler of England during the reign of George II. And nowhere in all fiction can be found more romance than was crowded into the life of this penniless commoner, whose natural charm and studied insolence made him the greatest dandy of all time - the immortal Beau Brummel." For the plot summary, beginning in the year 1795, George Bryan Brummel (John Barrymore), British Army officer and captain of the Tenth Hussars, deeply loves Margery Werthaim (Mary Astor). Because her mother (Clarissa Selwynne), "ambitious, relentless," finds Brummel to be a young man of no importance, insists Marjory wed Lord Alvanloy (William Humphrey) instead. As she takes her daughter to get married, Alvanloy leaves Brummel in the garden in humiliation by throwing him a sixpence. Next scene: "Revenge was all he thought of now. He would use his charmed wit and personal appearance in a game against the society which has robbed him of his love." For the years to follow, Brummel does just that. Through the guidance of the Prince of Wales (Willard Louis), Brummel makes his way through society, resigns from the Army, abandons his whig for a more natural hair, has an affair with Mrs. Snodgrass (Betty Brice), the landlord's (James Marcus), wife; and makes his indiscretions with the ladies of the court, particularly Lady Hester (Carmel Myers), wife of Lord Henry Stanhope (Richard Tucker), whom he finds terribly annoying; and Frederica Charlotte (Irene Rich), sister-in-law of the Prince of Wales, whom he claims to be a tender woman, all of whom he loves and leaves. Making many enemies and finding himself heavily in debt, he at first serves time in a jail in Calais, and later finds himself living in poverty. His only true friend during his declining years is his servant, Mortimer (Alec B. Francis), whom he dismisses from his employ for being too helpful. Falling out of love with everything, Brummel is approached by Marjory, only to lose her again as explained with these words: "Death kills but once, life kills many times." What further develops remains to be seen.
At first glance, BEAU BRUMMEL comes across as an overlong (128 minutes) dull costume drama about doomed love (with portions closely resembling George Du Maurier's PETER IBBETSON), redeemed by sincere yet "ham" acting of John Barrymore, from a young dandy to aged old man (with a striking resemblance to the older appearance of his brother, Lionel), and the ever youthful Mary Astor, both of whom would be reunited in DON JUAN (Warners, 1926), and supporting Claudette Colbert in the sound comedy, MIDNIGHT (Paramount, 1939). Looking over and comprehending everything not absorbed the first time around, this can now classified as a rich atmospheric production with fine acting, by 1920s standards, and detailed period pieces of long, long ago. Although there's really no action involving sword play to stir up excitement, there's little suspense midway involving a duel a Bowling Green between Brummel and a jealous husband.
BEAU BRUMMEL, a fortunate survivor of the silent film era, is not as relatively known as others from that era. In the wake of home video, however, it was placed on video cassette during the late 1980s through various distributors, including Video Yesteryear and Grapevine Video, just to name a few, mostly with missing footage and poor quality visuals. It can also be acquired in the DVD format as well.
Cable television's Turner Classic Movies brought BEAU BRUMMEL back to life by having a restored copy for its January 29, 2008 presentation accompanied by new and exceptional orchestral score conducted by young film composer James Schafer of Rancho Cucamonga, California. Regardless of host Bob Osborne announcing BEAU BRUMMEL making its "world television premiere," in fact, has played on television before in April 1994 on the Nostalgia Channel as part of its Saturday night weekly presentation of "When Silents Were Golden." Aside from an already pre-recorded orchestral score from a 1930s reissue used for this feature, watching BEAU BRUMMEL or any silent movie for that matter, couldn't really be fully appreciated on the Nostalgia Channel due to its frequent commercial interruptions. Now that it has finally turned up on the commercial free TCM, BEAU BRUMMEL may have its chance of rediscovery to the delight of film enthusiasts wanting to compare this with its 1954 remake (with Brummel ending with two L's) starring Stewart Granger, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Ustinov. (***)
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