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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
Legendary lover Douglas Fairbanks (as Don Juan) feels the fatigue of advancing years; so, the ageing lady-killer takes advantage of a misunderstanding, and fakes his own death. After a rest, Mr. Fairbanks tries to return to his amorous ways; but, nobody believes he's the real Don Juan. Through it all, Fairbanks fans both new (Merle Oberon as Antonita) and old (Benita Hume as Dona Dolores) flames.
A look at the credits of "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (1933) will reveal what filmmaker Alexander Korda had in mind - obviously, with "Don Juan", he hoped to duplicate the success of the earlier "Henry VIII". Unfortunately, this similarly staged "Private Life" found itself coming up short, and is significantly more lowly regarded. Indeed, it is a flat film. Moreover, the supporting cast is introduced in a confusing manner; it's difficult to keep track of who's who.
In his last film role, Fairbanks is terrific as an ageing "Don Juan". Interestingly, he succeeds in eliciting the feeling he memorably portrayed "Don Juan" sometime during his 1920s box office reign. Not so, the famed womanizer was played, in fact, by John Barrymore; and, in spirit, by Rudolph Valentino. Still, Fairbanks makes the role personal; undoubtedly, his status as an fading film superstar helped.
Fairbanks' best scene occurs about a half hour in, when he is informed of his character's "death" via the sword of Gibson Gowland (as Don Alfredo). Fairbanks pretends to be his character's mourning steward; then, he offers some interesting, likely personal, observations on fame. This is followed by a nice funeral sequence, revealing much about the famed lady-killer's escapades. Barry Mackay's deftly inept portrayal as a wannabe Juan is worth noting; his "inability" to leap effectively contracts Fairbanks' ageing gracefulness.
******* The Private Life of Don Juan (8/28/34) Alexander Korda ~ Douglas Fairbanks, Merle Oberon, Benita Hume
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