Opening title: "The tale they tell of Don Juan, immortal lover and the doubter of women, is bold with life and color -- a merry, insolent tale slashed with intrigue -- yet its beginning is as gray as the old Spanish castle of Juan's earliest memories" PROLOGUE: SPAIN - Don Jose De Marana (John Barrymore), with a wife, Donna Isobel (Jane Winton) and son, Don Juan (Yvonne Day), leaves his family on a proposed mission, but in reality, suspecting his wife's infidelity, intents on sneaking back to the Marana Castle and surprise her. After receiving the signal, Don Jose returns and learns the truth - thus ordering servants to seal her lover, Leandro (John Roche) inside the room surrounded by stone blocks, and casting his wife out of his life forever. Years later, Don Jose, having raised his boy (Philippe De Lacy) alone, has had numerous affairs with various young ladies. This all ends by he being stabbed by a jealous mistress. Before dying, Don Jose warns his son to take all from women and yield at nothing. STORY: "ROME - The mighty Vatican towering heavenward above a seethe of corruption," leads to introduction of basic characters, including Cesar Borgia (Warner Oland) and his sister, Lucrenzia (Estelle Taylor), the inspiration of his vicious crimes. They invite Orsinis Duke De La Varness (Josef Swickard), his daughter, Adriana (Mary Astor) and Don Juan (John Barrymore), a young Spanish grandee graduate of the University of Pisa, to their ball gathering. Accompanied by Pedrillo (Willard Louis), his faithful servant, Don Juan, having romanced many young women, takes an interest in Adriana, the woman responsible for his change of opinion of women engraved by his embittered father. Because of her forced marriage to Count Giano Donati (Montagu Love) to save her father from execution, Don Juan mistakes her father's devotion to his betrayal, returning his distrust of women, followed by Don Juan's arrest for an accused death of one of his married mistresses, and Adrianna held prisoner at the tower of the Borgia palace for refusing to go on with her promised marriage to Donati.
For its time, DON JUAN was an important project (clocked at 114 minutes) with lavish sets and period costumes along with a huge cast consisting of Helene Costello (Rena); June Marlowe (Trusia); Phillis Haver (Imperia); Hedda Hopper (Marchesia Rionaldo); and future film star, Myrna Loy (Maia). While DON JUAN could have been played by Douglas Fairbanks or Rudolph Valentino, John Barrymore makes his Don Juan portrayal his own. Fairbanks did get to play the aging lover in THE PRIVATE LIFE OF DON JUAN (London Films, 1934) while Errol Flynn, another famous swashbuckler, assumed the role in THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN (Warner Brothers, 1948). Both are not scene-by-scene retelling to the Barrymore classic. In spite the story set in another century with ladies in 1920s headdress, many of the performers appear in heavy make-up and lip-stick, even the actors right down to child performer DeLacy. The most famous sequence includes the well-staged swashbuckling scenes between Barrymore and Montagu Love, but its the Vitaphone scoring that helps make this silent edition of DON JUAN fast-paced and enjoyable. Take notice how much Barrymore resembles his Mr. Hyde facial expression lifted from his earlier DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920) during his disguise sequence pretending to be Nehri (played briefly by Gustav Von Seyffertitz).
DON JUAN began broadcast on cable television on Turner Network Television (TNT) starting with its Silent Night (December 24, 1989) Christmas Eve Silent movie presentations along with BEN-HUR (1925) and THE WIND (1928) on the schedule. This was later followed by regular showings on Turner Classic Movies. DON JUAN was also available on video cassette as part of its Legendary Silents series, and years later, on DVD. Regardless of its age and campy presentations, DON JUAN continues to become one of the classics of the silent screen. (***)