Ronald Colman is fondly remembered for his beautifully modulated voice, so it's surprising that he played starring roles in *silent* movies, in which his voice was irrelevant. According to Garson Kanin, Colman almost left Hollywood when talking pictures came in, because he feared that his voice wasn't good enough for talkies!
Blanche Sweet has the title role in 'The Sporting Venus', but Ronald Colman has more screen time in this silent romance. He portrays Donald MacAllan, a Scottish doctor in 1914, and Colman actually plays a few brief scenes in a tartan kilt! (I'm a MacIntyre myself, but I'm not an expert on the minor tartans, so I can't tell if the kilt that Colman wears in long shot is the authentic MacAllan. After I saw this movie, I looked at the tartan pattern in an advert for MacAllan Highland Malt Whisky; it didn't match Colman's tartan, but that proves nothing.) MacAllan is in love with Lady Gwendolyn, a wilful heiress who spends half her time in athletic pursuits and the other half in gambling sprees, squandering her family fortune. (Blanche Sweet -- Sweet by name, sweet by nature -- usually played treacly ingenues, so it's interesting to see her in a more vivacious role.) Lady Gwendolyn returns MacAllan's affection, but they're not formally betrothed.
From out of the gorse-bushes and across the moor comes Lew Cody in Snidely Whiplash mode as Carlos, the Prince of Portugania. (He probably lives next-door-over from the Emperor of Portugallia, the character played by Lon Chaney in 'The Tower of Lies'.) The prince is a pauper, having squandered the Portuganian exchequer ... so he sets his sights on Lady Gwendolyn's bountiful bank-balance. After Archduke Ferdinand goes Sayonara at Sarajevo, MacAllan joins the British Expeditionary Force and heads for France so that he can become an Army surgeon. This leaves the coast clear for Carlos to woo Lady Gwendolyn with one hand whilst twirling his moustaches with the other. Carlos has no money to spend on Lady Gwendolyn (and very likely he's a cheapskate anyway), so he resorts to ridiculous ruses such as plying her with bouquets that his manservant has stolen from cemeteries. Ah, romance...
MacAllan comes home on furlough, traumatised by his ordeal in the trenches. Knowing that MacAllan is his chief rival for Lady Gwendolyn's hand (and her handy money), Carlos uses false evidence to convince MacAllan that Lady Gwendolyn is now his fiancée. MacAllan staggers off to the Somme like an insomniac, vowing never to see Lady Gwendolyn again. Months pass, and it certainly seems like it. His valour in battle as a field surgeon inspires MacAllan to make a name for himself (after the Armistice) as a society doctor. In jig time, he makes enough wampum to buy the mansion of Sir Alfred and Lady Grayle, who are Lady Gwendolyn's neighbours. Will true love triumph? Who cares?
Colman's performance as the noble selfless MacAllan is impressive, especially as he can't rely on his splendid voice to aid his characterisation. Blanche Sweet is quite good in an atypical role (less blanched than usual, and not nearly so sweet), but her character is extremely unsympathetic: Lady Gwendolyn is splurging her fortune in the casinos whilst men are dying at Ypres. Blanche Sweet is not likely to appeal to modern viewers: beak-nosed, flat-chested, emaciated to the point of anorexia. Yet in this film I found her quite sexy in her haughty performance, tiara firmly in place.
Josephine Crowell, as a peeress, is so coarse and unwatchable that I fast-cranked her scenes through my Steenbeck viewer. Comedy stalwart Hank Mann does well in a comic-relief role as Cody's flunky, but Mann seems to be in a different movie from everyone else. Mann's comedy bits badly clash with the rest of this weepy film. 'The Sporting Venus' is a poor sport indeed, and I'll rate this movie 3 points out of 10. Later in his career, Ronald Colman would do a far, far better thing than this.
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