|Page 1 of 3:||  |
|Index||22 reviews in total|
I appreciate the comments made so far on this film but most seem to
judge this film in a vacuum and without any background on the silent
film genre, a medium quite different from sound films. One commenter
even criticized the film for being in black & white. Come now, that's
DON JUAN belongs to the great tradition of silent film swashbucklers during the 1920s of which Douglas Fairbanks was the King (and who self-financed his films). Beginning in 1920, Fairbanks effectively switched gears from his modern dress satires of American foibles he made during 1916 to 1919, to literally recreating his boyhood daydreams of being an action hero of Days of Old. The public responded enthusiastically and Doug made a fortune. But his films reaffirmed a kind of rigid moral system and both his character and the heroine were invariably chaste. Clearly, other film makers who were a bit more daring sensed an opportunity to go further than Fairbanks had been willing to go and Warner Bros. struck while the iron was hot in 1926 with DON JUAN.
Compared to the Fairbanks films such as Three Musketeers (1921), Robin Hood (1922), Thief of Bagdad (1924), and Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925), which are to this day excellent films, DON JUAN seemed like a revelation with its sexually overt protagonist and equally overt female characters (when Lucretia Borgia first sees Don Juan, a close up shows her clearly eyeing his crotch!). In addition, John Barrymore (aided occasionally by a stunt double) provided a sufficient number of athletic stunts that would satisfy most Fairbanks fans. DON JUAN was and remains a most exhilarating film with a unique conclusion that combines a chain reaction of swashbuckling events.
I must take exception to the most recent commenter's claim that actor Willard Louis, who played Juan's servant Pedrillo, died mid-point in filming. Poor Mr. Louis indeed perished from typhoid fever but either after filming had been completed or at least after his work was completed. He appears throughout the film and his presence during the film's final moments would have been unnecessary. However, if the previous reviewer wanted to question Joseph Swickard's disappearance from the film (he played Mary Astor's father), I would agree that his sudden departure from the story was strange. However, Mr. Swickard lived and appeared in films for many more years so perhaps in DON JUAN he was merely the victim of the film editor who needed to tighten up the story. At any rate, it is a great film and the original Vitaphone music score interprets the action so well that all the young composers who are hired by Turner Classic Movies to provide new scores to silent films ought to be required to see - and hear - DON JUAN to fully comprehend the relationship between silent film and its musical accompaniment.
There's been a lot written about Don Juan in film books about the
beginning of pre-recorded sound. First off to respond to an earlier
poster who wanted to know how the soundtrack was recorded. It was
recorded by the New York Philharmonic w/100 piece orchestra in a
non-soundproof theater in New York. This theater unfortunately was
situated near an overland subway track and vibration from passing
subway trains just could not be tolerated. So the recording was done in
the middle of the night when no trains were running. It was that
It's amazing that this film not only survives intact but with it's actual pre-recorded scored track, the way 1926 audiences saw & heard it. No new score or modern re-recording of the original. This track is sort of an original sound film heirloom and we're lucky to have it today for posterity's sake. This is the way silent films should be seen music wise anyway. This was the original intention of pre-recorded sound to present to audiences, full orchestral music where they weren't able to listen to it. If you can forgive the primitive process of Vitaphone and appreciate the marvelous sync score for what it is, you can enjoy this sumptuous picture immensely. The 100 piece orchestra really makes it's presence felt. I'm sure the actual score could be re-recorded with modern technology and would be beautiful.
John Barrymore follows in the swashbuckling tradition of his then film contemporaries, Douglas Fairbanks & Rudolph Valentino. It's a great legendary figure for the Great Profile to play, and he and the cast seem to have the time of their lives acting through their scenes. Without giving spoiler away, I think the man sealed in the wall is one of the best scenes in the pic.
A curious thing about Don Juan's production. Warner Brothers then a fledgling newbie studio had just signed Barrymore to a three picture deal and wanted to get Don Juan into production as soon as possible after their winning success with Barrymore in Beau Brummel(1924). However Barrymore, who had some serious clout at the time, wanted to film what would become a bastardized though picturesque version of Moby Dick called The Sea Beast(1926). Thus Don Juan's production schedule got pushed back in order for the Sea Beast to come first. Fortunately for sound film history & Don Juan, this gave the four Warner Brothers time enough to experiment and increase their interest in Vitaphone. The idea then came up to release one of the new feature pictures with an orchestral score in the new Vitaphone process. Don Juan happened to be completed and ready for release in mid-1926 and it was chosen for Vitaphone. One tends to wonder if Sea Beast had been made after Don Juan, that it would have been the one chosen for Vitaphone and we might be listening to a totally different score. It really came down to what film was being released at the time the decision was made to go with Vitaphone.
Alan Crosland proved a very intuitive & inventive director and formed a great professional working relationship with the irrascible Barrymore. Under Crosland's direction Don Juan moves swiftly and is cut, photographed & edited to form a wonderful finished product. Director & Star made three or four long films together and Don Juan is Crosland's prelude to his better remembered though inferior Jazz Singer(1927). Don Juan is quite possibly Crosland's silent masterpiece IMHO.
The only inconsistency in the film is that Pedrillo, Don Juan's trusted assistant, disappears halfway through the film with no explanation. This because actor Willard Louis, who played Pedrillo, dropped dead before the production was finished. But enough of his scenes were completed to include him in the first half of the movie with continuity and without a stand in.
It was great of Turner to release this movie on video in the early 90s but with the recent release of Greed(1923) on DVD, it would be nice if a DVD of Don Juan could be fixed up with some bonus material explaining the making of as well as the historical significance of the movie. Such a film as this deserves that
Yes, this was the first movie made with a synchronised music score (and some
sound effects), but it is much more that that! It is wondrous and
spectacular entertainment with brilliant performances and magical
camerawork. Like all great silent films there are very few titles because
the actors tell the story without words. And what actors they are! John
Barrymore is dashing as Don Juan, but he also gives the man great emotional
depth - and the scene where he transforms his face while masquerading as a
villain reveals not just talent but genius! Remember how he turned from
Jekyll to Hyde with no make-up in the 1920 film? He does a similar thing
But where would Don Juan be without beautiful women? And here we have three of the most beautiful women ever to grace the scene. Estelle Taylor as Lucrezia Borgia - beautiful but deadly. Mary Astor - bewitchingly young and charmingly innocent. Myrna Loy - exotic and evil, and exquisite!
And the camerawork is superlative. The sword fight and the horseback battle are two of the most excitingly filmed sequences I have ever seen. And the music score is excellent.
This is a wonderful movie.
And who was that incredible actor playing the jealous husband who goes mad? Never seen such brilliant mad acting!
In my most humble of opinions, this is one of the greatest silent movies ever made. The story line, the sets, (the set designer deserves special credit) the photography, the rapid pace and hesitation when called for, everything combined made for and hour and a half of pure enjoyment. And it was so enjoyable to see one our great talents at his best. There will never be another John Barrymore. And in this film there was something not too often seen in silent film. There was just not movement, there was ACTING. GREAT ACTING. And wait for the chase scene. Absolutely terrific effects. I recommend this film to anyone who is a real fan of films, silent or sound. And as an added thought, there was that beautiful musical score played so dramatically by the New York Philharmonic.
I enjoyed this movie very much, especially because I recognized bits of
it! My favorite movie of all time, _Start the Revolution Without Me_,
has a brilliant opening sequence using snippets of old movies--and many
of them, I discovered, are from this film.
But even without the especial glee of recognizing scenes, this is a thoroughly enjoyable film for those who appreciate swashbuckling costume drama. Or melodrama. There are terrific confrontations, fights, and an awesome chase scene on horseback. There is also oodles of passion and ca-noodling...and shapely John Barrymore showing off his shape in a costume that today's actors wouldn't be caught dead in, I bet.
Just saw this at The Paramount Theater in Seattle with Dennis James at the organ. This is an excellent example of what Hollywood was doing so well at the time. The costumes and sets were outstanding, the cast was incredibleMary Astor was truly archetypal, ethereal and believable as the swooning heroine, Barrymore at his best as a swashbuckling ladies man. This is both a complex story of the "Don Juan" syndrome and a story of suffering and redemption. Several incredible sequences including the horse-mounted sword fighting between Barrymore and a horde of pursuing soldiers at the climax. After which Juan and Adriana head "east" (into the rising sun?) for the safety of Don Juan's native Spain. Don't let others dissuade you, if you get the chance see this movie!
Although John Barrymore was 44 when he played the role of Tirso
DeMolina's famous libertine, the soft focus photography enabled to look
years younger and really do a convincing job as the most famous seducer
in fiction. In fact Barrymore plays two roles, the dashing cavalier Don
Juan and his stern father who was cuckolded by his wife and imparted
some cynical views on women to his young son in a prologue.
When the main action of the film gets going it takes place in Rome when the Borgias were running things. Cesare Borgia played by Warner Oland and his evil sister Lucretia who has Estelle Taylor, then Mrs. Jack Dempsey playing her part. They're quite a pair, cruel and sadistic, and they've got a cousin played by Montagu Love who rivals Don Juan in the seducing department.
Barrymore is ostensibly in Rome as a student, but he's way too busy with his female conquests for any academics. He and Love have their eyes on the same woman, Mary Astor, who is royalty herself, related to the Orsinis who the Borgias have kicked out of power. That rivalry is what fuels the plot of this film.
Director Alan Crosland was obviously influenced by Cecil B. DeMille in directing this film. The sumptuous sets and even more the scenes of debauchery could be found in many a DeMille spectacle. And we don't get DeMille's moralizing with the film either.
As for Barrymore he plays the part with the dash and verve of Douglas Fairbanks who later got to play Don Juan, but as a much older man in Faribanks's final film during the sound era. Note the dueling sequence with Love. Warner Brothers for whom this film was produced used some of the same bits in their sound version of The Adventures Of Don Juan with Errol Flynn.
There is also a nice bit by Willard Louis as Barrymore's lackey, Pedrillo. Sad that he would die the same year as this film came out. He was quite amusing in the role.
Still it's Barrymore's show and quite a show it is. Don Juan is a good chance to see a young John Barrymore at the zenith of his acting talent.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Monday August 7, 7:00pm The Paramount Theater
"Love lent my feet wings."
With triumphant stage productions of Richard III in 1920 and Hamlet in 1922 behind him, John Barrymore entered a period almost exclusively devoted to work in films. Beau Brummel in 1924 was followed by the first of two films based on Mellville's Moby Dick, The Sea Beast (1926). As he hit his stride and entered the most stable point in his turbulent career Barrymore appeared in his greatest silent role, Don Juan (1926). As an action hero, he invites comparison to the vastly superior Douglas Fairbanks. The strength of Barrymore's performance lies in the droll and devilish humor of Don Juan de Marana. As his father in the prologue, Don Jose (Barrymore) indulges his lust with a virtual harem of beautiful women, and the apple falls not so far from the tree! Don Juan is introduced in the most amusing scene, as he and his servant Pedrillo (Willard Louis) successfully juggle several pursuant beauties and cleverly deceive a jealous husband. The first family of crime, the infamous Borgias, appear in all their sinister decadence as Cesare (Warner Oland) and his poisonous sister Lucrezia (Estelle Taylor) recline in their palace before a beautifully realized bacchanalian feast. There are constant reminders of the pleasure they take in their devious evil doings (the arrival and handling of a Borgia invitation sent to Juan is quite amusing). The House of Borgia serves as support for the primary villain, Count Giano Donati (Montague Love), a lecherous monster determined to force himself on Adriana della Varnese (Mary Astor), the latest object of Juan's affections. Considered broad and wildly overdone, even in 1926, Don Juan is briskly paced, tinged with humor, sexual escapades and swashbuckling action. Barrymore was never more entertaining, until he spoke!
Viewers of this film should note the number of amorous dalliances in which Don Juan engages, and then consider the even more sorted story behind the scenes!
Don Juan was produced by Warner Brothers and the Vitaphone Corporation as, "...the first commercially released film featuring a recorded musical soundtrack." For the unheard of ticket price of ten dollars the audience was treated to several shorts, showcasing the sound- synchronized performance of music, song and spoken word followed by the feature. After the novelty shorts, the New York audience must have experienced something of a letdown as they listened to a tinny recorded version of what they had become accustomed to hearing as live accompaniment. Where the Vitaphone process paid off was in small and medium-sized markets that rarely used more than a single instrument for accompaniment. Hearing the New York Philharmonic in a one theater town must have seemed wonderful, and certainly furthered the illusion of refined exclusivity just as movies had created the illusion of live theater years before.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although it may not be too obvious because of all the legendary Roman trappings, this is actually a fancy formula western (Western Europe, that is). The rake-hell gunslinger, uh, swordsman, is changed by the love of a good woman into a law-and-order fighter, who then foils the land-grabbing, or something-grabbing, villains. He then rides off into the sunrise (!)with the lady. Of course, the villains being of the Borgia persuasion, his foiling may be only temporary, but we'll never know, will we. Vigorous sword fighting, not convincingly staged if you know much about fencing, but exciting if you can suspend your disbelief, is part of the mix that makes this an entertaining film. Also, there are lots of lovely ladies and some vigorous scenery chewing as well. When all's said, though, a look at John Barrymore in his mid-prime is the main reason to view DON JUAN. As for this being an important film in the "dawn of sound" process of 1926-1927, that is due to the existence of "sound on disc" to provide the music and sound-effects. First-run theatres of the period usually did the same thing with an orchestra or organ, and a piano equipped with sound-effects "traps". The "sound on disc" made it cheap enough for even small neighbourhood theatres to have sound.
John Barrymore stars as "Don Juan", who (as young lad, Philippe De
Lacy) is taught by his father (Mr. Barrymore, also as Dad Jose) how to
handle women - Love 'Em and Leave 'Em! Learning his lesson well,
Barrymore spends much of his time with various women. Willard Louis (as
Juan's pal Pedrillo) is especially useful in fending off husbands and
other strangers, and doesn't seem too interested in competing with
Barrymore for female attention! All goes well until Barrymore is
smitten with Mary Astor (as Adriana della Varnese); something about Ms.
Astor makes Don Juan want to change his lifestyle, and stick with one
woman. But, the reigning Borgias stand in his way - and, Estelle Taylor
(as Lucrezia) wants Barrymore, while Montagu Love (as Donati) claims
Notable for Barrymore's turn as Juan, but better for its soundtrack - the original synchronized sound effects and score are as originally utilized in 1926; and, it works much better than musical soundtracks composed a century later. Barrymore's best scene involves his impersonating a dungeon torturer, nearer the end of the film. Some parts of the story are difficult to understand; for example: What happens to Pedrillo? Why does Juan accuse a certain husband of killing his wife? Perhaps to put him in a later escape scene? which is also difficult to comprehend. Some of the actors read their lines so well, title cards are not needed; however, the acting is not always great. Still, there is enough of everything in "Don Juan" to make it a classic.
******** Don Juan (8/6/26) Alan Crosland ~ John Barrymore, Mary Astor, Montagu Love
|Page 1 of 3:||  |
|Plot summary||Ratings||External reviews|
|Plot keywords||Main details||Your user reviews|
|Your vote history|