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Friday, August 14, 2015

THE GAUCHO (1927)

Douglas Fairbanks’ penultimate silent plays swashbuckling outlier to his other pics of derring-do; and may be all the better for it. Smoking, whoring, drinking, yet still our lovable, athletic Doug, he’s a South American ‘gaucho,’ running with a band of hard-riding outlaws who back him against a tin-pot dictator. Both hope to fleece the fortunes of a local shrine (The City of Miracles) until Doug gets a spiritual wake-up call and winds up saving the joint for Priest, Poor and Pretty Gal, the saint whose miracle got the place going. (See prologue.) Lupe Velez lays it on a bit thick as Doug’s jealous girlfriend, and the story is more a series of linked set pieces than grand story arc, but it gathers a fine head of inevitability by the third act. Watch for a staggering display of long-horned cattle flesh before they run over the town; and a downright scary tussle between Doug and a raggedy man, suddenly of no discernible volume, who infects Doug with the ‘Black Doom’ (leprosy). IMAGE seems to have the best DVD edition, but it’s a sorry fall-off from prints that were still circulating back in the ‘70s which did a far better job showing off Tony Gaudio’s superb lens work (including a 2-strip TechniColor sequence not seen here) and in doing justice to F. Richard Jones’ solid helming. A forgotten talent of great promise, his first Talkie (Ronald Colman’s BULLDOG DRUMMOND/’29) is already fully up on its feet, but he died at 37 the following year of TB.

DOUBLE-BILL: Odd that the outlier pic in Mary Pickford’s career, Ernst Lubitsch’s ROSITA/’23, should also be her most poorly preserved feature. Odder still, it was intentional since Mary, Doug’s wife at the time, couldn’t forgive Lubitsch for making her do things his way; and worse, making a success of it. (It only survives as a beat up Russian Archive print.)

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