Rudolph Valentino had been in Hollywood for only a couple of years but he had already found a comfortable niche in films. Unfortunately it was not one to his liking. Whatever the story it was a sure fire guarantee that Valentino would play a bit part the villain. It didn’t take him too long to grow tired of these roles.
He even seriously considered giving up on movies altogether. After all it wasn’t like he really needed it to begin with. Valentino had carved out quite a successful career as a dancer and instructor with an ever growing clientele. If film wasn’t going to give him any kind of fair chance then that would be their lost not his.
This was considered quite an achievement given that much like Daniel Taradash’s adaption of From Here To Eternity three decades later many in the industry thought Ibáñez’s masterpiece could not be translated to the movies. Studio executives were so impressed by her script that she was asked who should direct as well as star in the project.
For director she chose Rex Ingram. An artist in the truest sense of the word with a knack for confrontation.
Even though Ingram had been in the movie business for more than a few years he made no secret of his contempt for many of his colleagues and employers.
The man was gifted but dealing with him oftentimes was on the level of dealing with a constant migraine headache.
And for the star Mathis had seen this bit actor named Valentino and decided he would be perfect in the lead role.
No doubt studio heads were a little nervous given that neither Ingram or Valentino had done anything of this magnitude but nevertheless the project was green lighted.
The result was a cinematic tour de force that placed Rex Ingram at the top of the pack when it came to directing and made Rudolph Valentino a household name.
The basic premise of this multilayered film is how members of an extended family come to find themselves fighting on opposites sides during World War I.
Valentino is not bad as the spoiled brat of a wealthy landowner who puts his gallivanting ways aside in order to fight for France.
But before he does that he creates an electric moment in film history by dancing the tango with a more than willing saloon girl. Valentino’s skills are on full display here.
The smouldering look of sex and confidence along with his dancing ability sent shockwaves through the female population worldwide of the nineteen twenties.
This film for it its time is a lot different in many ways from other war movies in that it takes a decidedly anti-war stance.
Yes there is great enthusiasm before the fighting starts but once it does Ingram shows moviegoers there is nothing wonderful or glamorous when it comes to killing and destruction on a mass scale.
People are changed forever and not in a good way. Yes the Germans are shown to be the evil Huns (Wallace Beery in the role of Lt. Col. von Richtoffen is not a nice man) but even in this their humanity from time to time is allowed to shine through.
Besides Mathis’ outstanding script credit must be given to art directors Joseph Calder and Amos Myers for their wonderful and varied set designs as well as cinematographer John Seitz who uses the tinting process to utter brilliance in numerous scenes.
But in many ways this film belongs to Rex Ingram. He brings Ibanez’s work to the big screen with direction that is solid one minute to downright jaw dropping the next.
Ingram uses the actors, camera and sets to paint an incredible picture of a world turned upside down with no hope of ever going back to the way it used to be.
Ingram makes it clear that once the Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse are unleashed the only thing left for mere mortals to do is wait for the aftermath.