Sunday, March 25, 2012

Silent Sundays: Beyond the Rocks (1922)

There are hundreds of silent films that are sadly considered “lost”- lost as in missing or completely destroyed. This is a shame but unfortunately due to age many silent films have deteriorated due to the nitrate the film was made of and begin improperly stored. But every few years a film miracle happens and a once considered lost film is found in storage in a foreign country. For decades Beyond the Rocks starring two of silent cinema’s biggest idols Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson was one of those lost films. In 2003 a print of the film was found in the Netherlands in a private collection and was restored by the Nederlands Filmmuseum. This was a huge find especially because it was the only film Valentino and Swanson ever made together. Unfortunately the plot is not good at all.
            The story is about a young woman named Theodora Fitzgerald (Swanson). Her father and two spinster step-sisters come from a line of aristocrats but they do not have the wealth the family used to have. The sisters do not do anything for themselves; they plan on Theodora to marry rich so she can take care of them and their father.
            Theodora was out on the water in a small boat when it capsizes. A young man on a yacht sees her go over and he jumps in the water to save her. Her father sees her and is very grateful. The young man is Lord Hector Bracondale (Valentino) a rich playboy from England. There is a spark between Hector and Theodora when they talk on shore. As a sign of thanks and a bit of flirting Theodora gives Hector a narcissus flower from her dress. The sisters say amongst themselves that Hector is no good for their sister because he has so much money he just does whatever he wants.
            The sisters have Theodora marry a rich old millionaire named Josiah Brown. She is not happy and her father is the only who cares he tells her that she does not have to go through with the marriage. But Theodora loves her father so much that she cannot let him down. The honeymoon does not go over so well, Josiah gets altitude sickness in Alps and cannot do much with Theodora. At dinner one night Theodora drops her handkerchief near a table. It drops right behind the table that Hector just so happens to be sitting at. The waiter picks it up thinking it belongs to Hector’s mother or sister. When he takes it he can smell narcissus perfume on it and when he turns around he sees Theodora.
            The next day while hiking in the mountains Theodora falls over the edge and is literally hanging by a rope. Hector happens to save her again and their romance is rekindled. As time goes on their romance is tortured between love and duty. Theodora feels awful about being unfaithful to Josiah but Hector wants to constantly be in her presence. The one step-sister finds out what Theodora is doing with Hector and Josiah. She send Theodora’s letter to Josiah to Hector and vice versa. Josiah sees that she really does not love him which breaks his heart but he understands because she is young. He decides to go on an expedition to Egypt that could be fatal.

            If you have to even guess what happens then you must never have seen or read a love story.
            The story was very, very dull. It is like a story out of one of my grandma’s cheesy romance novels, it is a soap opera to the full extent. I like a good love story but it was too dragged out the film could have been finished in a shorter time even though it is only an hour and twenty-eight minutes long. The film starts out well I like it a lot but once Theodora marries Josiah my attention span was spent.
            Theodora Fitzgerald was not one of Gloria Swanson’s finest characters. Swanson’s performance seemed so wooden, so stiff. That is all I can really say about the character and Swanson’s performance. But at the same time I was happy to see another of her silents besides Sadie Thompson (I know she has made better than Beyond the Rocks and I am currently looking for some). Swanson was stunningly beautiful. If I was Hector I would not be able to forget her face either!(and to think she was only twenty-three years old!!) Valentino I have never seen in a film before. I actually liked his performance. I felt so bad for Hector because he was so truly and madly in love with her and could not be with her. I can see why women swooned over Valentino he was very handsome in a certain way. Unfortunately there is absolutely no chemistry between Valentino and Gloria Swanson which greatly affects the storyline making it unbelievable that their characters are so in love with each other it is torturous.
            The only character that I liked was Hector’s sister Anna. The actress June Elvidge was the cast member to turn in a good performance even though she has only one decent sized scene. Hector tells her that he is love and the title card tells us that Anna knows he is telling the truth because the way he is telling her about Theodora is different from all the other times. You can see it on her face that she believes her brother and encourages him.
               There are two very good scenes despite its dullness: while at Versailles Hector tells Theodora about the gallants who used to come to the palace and seduce the women. As he tells the story they imagine they are back in the times of Louis XIV. While in the desert in Egypt Josiah's men find a scroll stating the punishment for women who were unfaithful to their husbands and he imagines Theodora in Egyptian dress being punished. The scenes were beautiful especially the Egyptian one. 
            Beyond the Rocks is a miracle film simply because it was once considered lost and was found. But other than its rediscovery there is no other miracle attached to it. The story is boring and the characters are not good. I can only recommend a viewing Beyond the Rocks because of its history and maybe to see Valentino and Gloria Swanson in their only film together