Thursday, January 26, 2017

Before I Die #594: The Eagle (1925)

This is the 594th film I've now seen out of the 1,187 movies on the "Before You Die" List that I'm gradually working my way through.

Director: Clarence Brown

Not a bad little silent film hybrid of elements from classic tales like The Count of Monte Cristo and Robin Hood. While still smacking of several dated tropes, it provides just enough narrative fun to still have some entertainment value 90 years later.

The story is based on a classic Alexander Pushkin story, focusing on Vladimir Doubrovsky, a Russian lieutenant who incurs the wrath of the Czarina by rejecting her unwanted advances. No sooner does he do this than he discovers that his family estate has been wrongfully usurped by Kyrilla, a greedy and treacherous bully. Dubrovsky becomes an outlaw, dons a mask, and dubs himself "The Black Eagle." As the Eagle, he harasses and steals from Kyrilla's followers and hangers-on, giving his takings to the local poor. His grand scheme is to kill Kyrilla himself, when the time is right. The chance presents itself when Vladimir is able to adopt the role of a French tutor for Kyrilla's daughter, Kuschka. Although Vladimir does get his chance to kill Kyrilla, his newfound love for Kuschka stays his hand. He ends up being captured and sent to the Czarina, who orders his execution. Vladimir is quietly set free, however, by a sympathetic general, and the former Black Eagle goes off with Kuschka to be with his true love.

It's a fun little adventure tale with brisk pace and enough plot turns to be engaging throughout its sub-90 minute running time. It is a tale which borrows its tone from the great adventure tales of Alexander Dumas and lesser imitators. There are deceptions, intrigues, wronged innocents, a romance, and the emergence of a "hero of the people." No, it doesn't really add anything new to the genre, but it's a fun distraction that was done well for a 1920s silent film.

This is actually the very first movie that I've ever watched starring the first great cinema heartthrob, Rudolph Valentino. Being a silent film, it's impossible to comment much on the man's acting ability, but he certainly held the screen well and does fine in the title role of the noble and clever Vladimir. Although  not as broadly charismatic as Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. in The Thief of Baghdad, it's not difficult to see why Valentino became the object of obsession of female viewers all over the world.

I don't know that I'd ever feel the need to watch this one again, although it is a fun example of the fairly lighthearted adventure tales of the silent era.

That's 594 movies down. Only 503 to go before I can die.