Sunday, March 15, 2015

"The Eagle" (1925)

I've only seen The Eagle three times, but it's one of my favorite Valentino movies (the others being The Sheik, Moran of the Lady Letty and Son of the Sheik).  It's got a great swashbuckling vibe, and also a lot of humor.  I wish Rudy had gotten more comedic moments in his movies, because he works so well with them.  One of my favorite moments in The Eagle is when he's trying to take off a ring to give to a girl as a love-token, but it won't come off his finger!  He pouts, grimaces, and finally gets the ring off with a smile of relief.  Adorably funny, I tell you :-)  He has a couple more comic moments here too, including one involving over-peppery soup that amuses me.

As usual, Valentino is cast as yet another exotic "other" character, this time a Russian soldier in Czarist Russia.  Actually, no, Czarina-ist Russia -- there doesn't seem to be any Czar at all.  And the Czarina (Louise Dresser) is quite the piece of work!

She notices that a certain lieutenant in her favorite military unit is very handsome, one Vladimir Dubrovsky (Rudolph Valentino), who saves some random women from a runaway carriage.  She asks to have him brought to her, and then tries to seduce him.

Okay, yes, Rudy is temptation personified, especially compared to every other male in this movie.  Even in his rather ridiculous costume uniform.  The Czarina eyes him like he's a bowl of borscht, which cracks me up.  One of my favorite things about this movie is how it parodies many of Valentino's earlier roles and sends up his reputation as an object of affection from women who don't know him.  What moviegoing woman of the 1920s didn't want to be the Czarina, prowling around Valentino?

The whole scene reminded me so much of the "marriage bazaar" scene from The Sheik, only with the gender roles reversed.  Dubrovsky soon realizes the real reason the Czarina has summoned him.  He doesn't look thrilled, does he?

The Czarina tries to get him drunk.  They pretend to toast each other, then each discreetly dispose of their alcohol in a convenient plant when the other isn't looking.  The Czarina, convinced after a few "drinks" she can have her way with him, leaves to change into something a little more comfortable.  Dubrovsky flees to save his manly virtue.  The enraged, disappointed Czarina declares him a deserter and puts a price on his head.  Hell hath no fury, etc.

Now, back in whatever little Russian village Dubrovsky came from, an Evil Bad Guy named Kyrilla (James A. Marcus) has cheated Dubrovsky's father out of his home and land and fortune and whatever.  Remember those two random women from the runaway carriage?  Not so random, actually -- they're Kyrilla's daughter Mascha (Vilma Banky) and her Aunt Aurelia (Carrie Clark Ward).  On their way home to what used to be Dubrovsky's house and is now theirs, they get waylaid by the henchmen of The Eagle.

Um, yeah, no prizes guessing who The Eagle actually is.  Don't you like how his mask has a little bird head on it?  Very symbolic and fancy.  Anyway, his henchmen capture Kyrilla's daughter Mascha and take her to The Eagle/Dubrovsky.  And here we get a little foretaste of the bondage aspects of The Son of the Sheik.  Dubrovsky contemplatively bends his riding crop, eyeing Mascha speculatively.

Mascha is pretty sure she knows what's coming, and she is appalled.

But instead of hitting her, he berates his henchmen for tying her up, then unties her hands himself.  Which, it seems, is a magical experience, judging by her expression throughout.

And then they smile and flirt a bit.  Because they're Vilma Banky and Rudolph Valentino, so what else would they do?

And then some plot happens.  Dubrovsky impersonates a French tutor for Mascha to gain entry into Kyrilla's household so he can avenge his father's losses and death.  You can tell from his determined look that he has no ulterior motive involving Mascha.

Okay, maybe a slight ulterior motive.

Yeah, really not so slight.

Kyrilla doesn't like that new French tutor making eyes at his daughter, so he sends him to the wine cellar to get a bottle of whatever he wants.  The wine cellar just happens to be guarded by a man-eating bear.

Dubrovsky is not afraid of bears.

I was super impressed that they had a real bear for this!  Not a guy dressed up in a bear costume.  Very effective.  Some bear-related violence ensues, and Mascha swoons.  Always remember to swoon if Rudolph Valentino is around, because he'll catch you very handily, and then look at you like this:

So yeah, eventually that arrest warrant from the Czarina catches up with Dubrovsky, and he gets captured.  He's sentenced to death by firing squad, and his last request is to marry Mascha, so they have a sad little prison wedding.

And I forgot to mention General Kuschka (Albert Conti).  He stepped in to fill the empty space in the Czarina's love life when Dubrovsky fled, and at the end he turns out to be a brilliant and sweet person who totally fixes everything and saves the day.

The end!  Smiles all around!

You can watch The Eagle online for free here or here, though neither is as clear as my DVD copy.  Which, you can tell from my screencaps, isn't exactly crystal either, but I don't care.  This is a genuinely enjoyable movie, with swashbuckling overtones of Robin Hood and Zorro.  And if you're familiar with some of Rudy's early movies, it is great fun to watch how they take things from those earlier films and either parody them or twist them to new ends.  I mentioned a couple such instances already, and there are others, but this is already a long post, so I'll let you try to find them yourself if you so desire.

This is my contribution to the Rudolph Valentino Blogathon hosted by Timeless Hollywood.  Please click here to find the list of all the other contributions about the one and only Rudolph Valentino!


  1. I can see why you like this one! Sounds very fun, and the humor is always an appealing thing. Makes you wonder what kind of wine the bad guy is hiding down there that he needs a bear to guard it!

    1. It doesn't just guard the wine, it's also his convenient way to rid himself of unwanted guests or enemies. He feeds someone to the bear earlier too, so the audience totally knew to freak out when he sent Rudy to fetch wine.

      And yeah, it's very fun. I think you would dig it!

    2. I forgot to mention in my review that Rudy does some gorgeous mounts and dismounts of his horse -- the stirrup-less kind we find so swoonworthy! Flings himself onto his horse like a regular Barkley Boy :-D

  2. One of my favorite films for sure. Like you, I really adore how it lampoons Valentino's image as a great lover. Louise Dresser is magnificent in that small role; her immodest reaction to him kissing her hand is comic gold!

    1. Dresser definitely made the most of her time onscreen, didn't she? And she and Rudy played off each other really well, I thought.

  3. I put this up there on the list of favorite Valentino movies. I love the humor in it. Thanks so much for your contribution for the Rudolph Valentino Blogathon!!

    1. It's really a fun, fast-paced movie, and I like to think that if Rudy had lived, he would have made more like it. He definitely seemed to be enjoying himself!

  4. I just love your way of telling things, Hamlette! Every one of your notes is just spot on. :)

    His face in the fourth picture down... *falls into hysterical shrieks of laughter*. The play and variance of facial expressions are the very best (and sometimes worst) thing about silent movies, aren't they? Though lately I have found it fascinating to note that two of the actors whose power of expression I have always liked (Gary Cooper and Ronald Coleman to be exact) were also highly-thought-of silent actors! Go figure. :)

    Oh, and his "Zorro" outfit is too neat. :)

    AND there are amazing mounting/riding bits? Ah, I can't wait to see this... Indeed, I can hardly wait to see the whole thing!!!

    All around terrific review!

    1. Hee. Thank you! I do hope you can watch this at some point -- it's thoroughly enjoyable! Have you watched any of Rudy's other movies?

      And yes, silent film acting requires a whole different set of skills, doesn't it. Takes a little getting used to at first, but now that I've seen lots of silent movies, I'm quite accustomed to them.

  5. This was the first Valentino film I've ever watched and I loved it, it was the exact balance between humor and seriousness! I was very surprised with the real bear in a scene. Ruday and Vilma Banky are lovely together.
    Thanks for the kind comment!

    1. What a perfect choice for first Valentino film! I know I'll use it if I introduce anyone to him.

  6. I haven't seen much at all in the silent film genre (just snatches), but you've definitely piqued my interest! The gorgeous eastern European flair to the costumes? And that bear -- really??? You had me laughing at that bit! ;D

    1. Yes, a bear. An unenthusiastic bear that gave off an air of insouciant long-suffering, but still, a real bear. I looked in my favorite Valentino biography to see if there was any mention of the bear, because I know Rudy loved animals and even had some exotic pets (his second wife had a pet lion cub and I think maybe a cheetah?), plus loads of horses and dogs, but nope, nothing in there about the bear.

      It took me a little while to get used to silent films. I watched a few in college (Metropolis, The Phantom of the Opera, Nosferatu, and some Harold Lloyd movies), but didn't really start digging them until I got some Valentino movies from the library after I was married. They take a little getting used to, but once you wrap your head around how they work, they're loads of fun!

  7. Do you know where the outdoor scenes were filmed? I wondered if maybe Vasquez Rocks but I cannot find "filming locations" online.

    1. Steve, I checked my copy of Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino by Emily W. Leider (which is a wonderful book) to see if it held any info for you. It mentions that the opening scenes were filmed "near Lankershim, in the San Fernando Valley" (p. 347). Does that help?

    2. Yes indeed it does! After reading your reply, I Googled, and found this:

      This makes much sense. And it confirms it was NOT Vasquez Rocks as I was thinking after watching the movie.

      Thank you very kindly.

    3. Steve, you're most welcome! Thanks for sharing that article -- I love little slices of history like that!


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