July 10, 2009

Bardleys the Magnificent / Monte Cristo

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ****

John Gilbert (1897-1936) wasn't as strong a swashbuckler as Fairbanks, nor as strong a lover as Valentino, but he had a little of both qualities, and he was quite good in his own right. He was a major star in his day, but died young, from the bottle, and today if he's known at all, it's as one of the parade of men with whom Garbo wiped the screen. (He can be seen in Flesh and the Devil and Queen Christina). Now a new two-disc DVD set from Flicker Alley hopes to set the record straight. It contains two films originally thought lost and newly restored, and though they're very different works and each showcases the star in a different way, they're both vastly entertaining.

Monte Cristo (1922) is of course based on Alexandre Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo," and it's a full-blooded adventure, a deeply-felt telling of one of the greatest revenge stories. Gilbert plays the double-crossed Edmond Dantes, wrongly imprisoned for 20 years and thought dead; instead he comes into a fortune and brilliantly exacts his revenge. The film feels a bit truncated in its second half, but I'm not sure if this is a result of the filmmaking or of the condition of the single, worn print that served as the basis for this new restoration.

Better still is Bardelys the Magnificent (1926), which boasts the celebrated King Vidor as its director, as well as a much snappier pace and lighter tone. Gilbert plays the title character, a cheerful womanizer who accepts a bet that he can't woo a particularly difficult female conquest; of course there's the usual mistaken identity and genuine romance, but told with never-ending bravado and good cheer. One major section of the film has been restored using stills.

Flicker Alley's superb set also comes with a commentary track for Bardelys the Magnificent (by Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta), a featurette with Gilbert's daughter, photo galleries and other goodies.

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Posted by cphillips at July 10, 2009 3:51 PM
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