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What do women want? Don Juan is aging. He's arrived secretly in Seville after a 20 year absence. His wife Dolores, whom he hasn't lived with in five years, still loves him. He refuses to see her; he fears the life of a husband. She has bought his debts and will remand him to jail for two years if he won't come to her. Meanwhile, an impostor is climbing the balconies of Seville claiming to be Don Juan. When a jealous husband kills him, the real Don Juan sees a way to avoid jail and get some peace. He hides as Captain Mariano in a small town. After six months, he's ready to return to society: can he measure up to the legend, will women find him attractive, and what about Doña Dolores? Written by
In one scene Melville Cooper says to Douglas Fairbanks: "Leave off while they still think of you as you were ten years ago". It is a sad moment that you feel must have rung true for the two actors. The great Fairbanks, a movie legend, hadn't worked for two years. His famous marriage to Mary Pickford was at an end. And he was ageing, at 51 he could no longer fill the film with his trademark stunts - though he still climbs a mean rope ladder.
Korda, perhaps cruelly, makes Don Juan a rather pathetic character - living off his legend rather than any real charm or beauty. Once he allows the public to believe he is dead, the real Don Juan can't even seduce a kitchen maid, and the only offer he receives is from an old lady - in a scene beautifully played by Fairbanks. When he stands on a stage and declares that he is Don Juan he is met with gales of laughter. You can't help thinking that Fairbanks might have met the same reaction had he stood before a crowd and declared himself to be Douglas Fairbanks.
The film itself is actually pretty good - splendidly staged if a little clumsy in pace. And Merle Oberon is ravishingly beautiful. Fairbanks, like Don Juan, seems tired - ready for retirement. The spark re-ignites briefly in some scenes, but the overall feeling is one of defeat. Within five years Fairbanks would be dead having never worked again. As the film concludes, with Don Juan finally succumbing to marriage, and therefore retirement, we get the impression that he won't live much longer either. A god has been brought to earth. A flame extinguished.
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