Friday, October 10, 2008

Bardelys the Magnificent

Naisten hurmaaja. US 1926. PC: MGM. D: King Vidor. SC: Dorothy Farnham - based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini (1905). DP: William Daniels. AD: Cedric Gibbons, James Basevi, Richard Day. COST: Andre-Ani, Lucia Coulter. ASS: Robert Florey. STARRING: John Gilbert (Marquis de Bardelys), Karl Dane (Rodenard), Eleanor Boardman (Roxalanne de Lavedan), George K. Arthur (St. Eustache), Roy D’Arcy (Chatellerault), Lionel Belmore (Vicomte de Lavedan), Arthur Lubin (King Louis XIII). Original length: 8,536 ft. /22 fps/ 103 min. - Lobster Films restoration 2008, at 22 fps 90 min, with materials from: The Blackhawk Film Collection, Collection Gilles Mettrie; The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Los Angeles. - Original in English, e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Neil Brand. Viewed at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, Cinema Verdi, 9 September 2008. - Long believed lost, this film has now been restored by Lobster Films. - Kevin Brownlow: "Eleanor Boardman, almost unrecognizable in a dark wig, is perfectly adequate but has none of the qualities she conveys in The Crowd. However, Roy D’Arcy gives an unusually quiet performance, without the embarrassing tics that make his playing in The Temptress so hard to watch. Karl Dane, brought across from The Big Parade, has nothing to do. John Gilbert is every inch the admirable swashbuckler, but that’s all he does – he is fiery, full stop. Considering the breadth and naturalism of his performance in The Big Parade, it isn’t surprising that he described this film as “applesauce. With one John Gilbert contributing most of the sauce.”
Nonetheless, it has some marvellous moments. The romantic scene, shown briefly in Show People, with the boat floating through the willows, is superb, and the finale, the Fairbanks parody, is worth the price of admission on its own.
I have always felt that Vidor succeeded D.W. Griffith as the cinema’s pre-eminent director. If Griffith had artistic flops among his triumphs, so did Vidor, and this may be one of them. Vidor told me it was a parody of Douglas Fairbanks, but this is apparent only in the spectacular climax.
“So long as King Vidor and John Gilbert take Rafael Sabatini’s story seriously,” said Photoplay, “this picture remains just another costume production, smoothly told, artfully acted, but not guaranteed to give any ticket-seller a nervous breakdown. But when star and director say, ‘Come, come, enough of this seventeenth-century intrigue. Let’s make a comic movie,’ then it snaps into great entertainment…. Vidor tells the conventional story smoothly and sincerely… When he kicks over the traces at the climax, he hits a really gorgeous combination of farce and romance. And there’s a love scene, in a boat drifting among the willows, that has genuine poetic feeling.”
“You are comfortable either way you take it, as a gorgeous romance or as a sly and thrilling satire on romance,” said poet and film critic Carl Sandburg.
Vidor once said he was slightly ashamed of it, but he preferred Bardelys to his La Bohème, where artistic differences with Lillian Gish had hampered his vision.
Finally, a tribute to Lobster Films of Paris – Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange, having found the film, a miracle in itself, have carried out an exemplary restoration. I saw their nitrate print and was dismayed at how unsteady and battered it was. They have calmed it down and made it look better than that print had any right to look. They have reproduced not the heavy-handed French titles, but, locating the MGM cutting continuity, have given us the original wording in the proper typeface. They also managed to find stills to bridge the occasional missing scenes. An admirable job." – Kevin Brownlow
Serge Bromberg, Eric Lange: "The film was preserved from an incomplete print in terrible condition (one reel had been missing for many years, as there was a card on nitrate stock explaining to audiences what was missing). We started from a vintage diacetate full-aperture tinted print (and strangely one reel of nitrate dupe negative that duplicated an existing one), with French titles, and did extensive restoration, using the cutting continuity to restore the original English dialogue cards, and replaced the missing reel by a mixture of stills (found in the collections of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles) and material from the trailer, which has been preserved, and was already in the Lobster collection. We believe that the film should be considered, and watched, as a complete film: the continuity has been restored, and no narrative gap can be felt. We wish to express our deepest thanks to David Shepard, Kevin Brownlow, and Lenny Borger for their help in this restoration." – Serge Bromberg, Eric Lange
A magnificent job of restoration. The miraculously restored film does feel complete. A missing film from King Vidor's top period can now be seen again. In the beginning, it strives too hard to be clever. The finale is a top comic action sequence, on the level of the best of Fairbanks, Flynn and Jackie Chan.

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