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Saturday, August 22, 2009

BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT (1928)


When a ‘lost’ film as prominent as BARDELYS turns up, cineasts hope for the best and expect the worst. But this last collaboration between John Gilbert & helmer King Vidor (a Rafael Sabatini swashbuckler like his SCARAMOUCHE/’52, CAPTAIN BLOOD/’35 & THE SEA HAWK/’24*) is really something to cheer about. (There’s a bit of missing footage in the third reel, but it’s nicely covered with production stills.) Gilbert plays a ne’er-do-well Count in the French aristocracy who is tricked into waging his fortune against an unlikely marriage to lovely Eleanor Boardman. And it’s only when Gilbert shows up at her country estate that Vidor drops the forced comic tone that suits neither him nor his star and lets the film find its proper dramatic balance. It hits a remarkable peak when Vidor pulls off one of his grand romantic interludes as the lovers glide thru willow branches on a boat and, after this, even Gilbert’s derring-do has just enough gravitas attached to it so it never feels like second-best Doug Fairbanks. The production is large, but not bloated, and lenser William Daniels turns in some exceptional trick shots. (Watch for a stunning balcony fall that Hitchcock must have studied.) As ‘lost’ films go, this one’s a keeper.


*The famous Errol Flynn SEA HAWK from 1940 uses little of the original Sabatini story.

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