I had originally scheduled a huge Silent film epic for review in this space today. (Okay, it’s not that epic—it was gonna be Way Down East .) But since my Tales of Wells Fargo DVR project continues apace, I decided to grab something short and sweet for the blog’s silent movie spotlight today…and that’s when I came across a DVD of The Eagle (1925), an Image Entertainment disc that I purchased back in 2009 and have now freed from its shrink wrap exile. (Do not judge me.)
|Vilma Banky, Valentino|
Dubrovsky gains entry into the House of Troekouroff by posing as Marcel Le Blanc, a tutor hired to help daughter Mascha in French. (I am not going to lie to you. I giggled when the title cards referred to “Professor Le Blanc,” for obvious reasons.) Vladimir is torn between his passionate love for Mascha and his pledged allegiance to bring down her father. After all, you can’t kill your father-in-law before the wedding—that’s usually reserved for the reception!
My CMBA colleague Fritzi of Movies Silently fame declares that The Eagle is “highly recommended for people who think they don’t like Valentino.” I think she’s on target with that; I don’t dislike Rudy, but I’ll readily admit that he ranks a little further down on my list of favorite silent movie actors. But I enjoyed The Eagle so much that I downloaded Valentino’s penultimate film, Cobra(1925), from Epix on Demand during our past freeview weekend and I plan to put that on when I get an opportunity. (Trying to expand my silent cinema education, as it were.)
What I appreciated so much about The Eagle is that it’s infused with a good deal of whimsy; true to its Robin Hood-like plot, the movie insists on not taking things too seriously and the action-adventure-romance aspects are lightly leavened with humor. Valentino displays a rather deft touch with comedy in something as simple as attempting to remove a ring from his finger. The acting highlights in Eagle belong to Louise Dresser, who is fantastic as Czarina Catherine; I just about spit Crystal Light Fruit Punch across the room watching her “seduce” Vladimir (she slyly pours out the wine she’s supposed to be drinking and then pantomimes downing her glass of vino…and Valentino does the same). (It was Fritzi that reminded me that Dresser is also in another Catherine the Great picture, 1934’s The Scarlet Empress, as Empress Elizabeth; I need to revisit that one sometime soon.)
The laugh-out-loud moment belongs to Albert Conti as Kuschka, Vladimir’s fellow comrade-at-arms; when Dubrovsky runs for the tall grass to put as much distance between himself and the Czarina as possible, Kuschka gladly steps in to become Catherine’s “kept man.” He even intervenes on his friend’s behalf when Vlad’s captured by Catherine’s soldiers and is scheduled to be executed—Kuschka owes a lot to Dubrovsky because, after all, Vladimir made him a general! There’s also much hilarity in the sequences where visitors to Kyrilla’s wine cellar find themselves greeted by a formidable pet bear…though admittedly, I couldn’t stop thinking “What happened to the gas man?” since I had just finished that Radio Spirits Jack Benny project last week.
|Rudy, cinematographer George Barnes, director Clarence Brown|
At the risk of sounding like I’m beginning a slow march to fogeydom, I particularly enjoyed this DVD version of The Eagle (I believe the Image disc is now OOP) because it was one of the many movies released under the banner of “The (Paul) Killiam Collection.” This is how I watched movies in the days before TCM (and we were damned lucky to have them!); on public television (part of The Silent Years), before it was inundated by oil company advertising.