This ruinously expensive remake of Rex Ingram’s FOUR HORSEMEN/’21, the film that tangoed Rudolph Valentino to Hollywood immortality*, wasn’t your everyday studio flop. It toppled the latest regime at M-G-M and heralded the beginning of the end for its helmer, Vincente Minnelli. Yet, while it holds fast to a quickly receding studio-system æsthetic, it’s also extravagantly well-made melodrama (you’ll see where the money went); both an out-of-touch embarrassment and something of a revelation. The project was doomed from (re)conception with both its leading man and its war of choice off by two decades. Apparently, Minnelli met with the 24 yr-old Alain Delon, perfect casting as Julio, the young gaucho who lives in Paris as a hedonistic artist manque and finds WWI ruining his pleasures. But the studio bosses knew best, and insisted on a 43 yr-old Glenn Ford, hopelessly miscast & looking as if he knows it. The switch from WWI to WWII proves equally misguided since Julio’s political ambivalence, even as an Argentine neutral, proves impossible to understand or sympathize with in Nazi-occupied Paris. And yet . . . even with its dubbed leading lady (that’s Angela Lansbury’s voice coming out of Ingrid Thulin) and filmdom’s most overbearing paterfamilias (Lee J. Cobb shouting & dancing to beat the band), there’s just too much that’s visually alive to write this off. Paul Lukas, Charles Boyer & Paul Henreid all turn in magnificent old-school perfs, and the film gathers a sense of place and threatening tension that’s rare even for Minnelli. Those Soviet-styled montages are also out of the ordinary, as is the uncommonly fine score from Andre Previn. (Replacing a discarded score from Alex North and sounding, rather wonderfully, like Miklos Rosza.) In spite of the accounting books, the film’s no write off.
*The old 1921 Metro classic (made before the M-G-M merger) has been beautifully restored . . . for the European market. Drats! Shot in Ingram’s poetic, pictorial style, your home screen can only give hints of its theatrical impact. (And available Public Domain prints don’t even hint.) Ingram’s other Ibañez adaptation, MARE NOSTRUM/’26, hangs fire until the last act which is stupendous. Kevin Brownlow’s HOLLYWOOD, his multi-part history of the silents, memorably excerpted the stunning execution finale. Alas, not only is MARE NOSTRUM not out on DVD, neither is Brownlow!)
READ ALL ABOUT IT: Ibañez is a forgotten author these days, but what an impact the book made in its day. It’s still a great read, if not exactly a great book. Check out these period quotes and the printing stats from a copy of the 98th edition in less than a year.
(No need to squint. Remember, most posters & pictures on this site will ENLARGE with a simple click.)