Bardelys the Magnificent

Bardelys the Magnificent
Rating: ***
Origin: USA,1926
Director: King Vidor
Source: Flicker Alley DVD

Flicker Alley DVD

Here is another adaptation of an early novel by Rafael Sabatini, a book revived like The Sea Hawk in the wake of the worldwide success of Scaramouche. Its star, matinee idol John Gilbert, was riding high at the time, and was paired here with the hit-making director King Vidor, best known for The Big Parade and (much later) Duel in the Sun. The setting is France in 1632, midway through the reign of King Louis XIII, who is putting down the last major revolt of rebel Prince Gaston. Gilbert plays the Marquis de Bardelys, an elegant Paris playboy who excels at romantic conquest, his seductions fueling the gossip and petty scandals of the French Court. Bardelys is one of King Louis’s spoiled favorites, and rivals with another favorite, the supercilious Comte de Chatellerault (in a delicious mustache-twirling performance by Roy D’Arcy). When Chatellerault tries and fails to win the hand of a provincial heiress, Bardelys mocks him, and is then maneuvered into accepting a challenge to win her himself—much to the displeasure of the king, played with epicene preciosity by Arthur Lubin. Against the royal wishes, Bardelys sets off into rebellion-torn Languedoc to win the hand of Roxalanne de Lavedan, whom he’s never even met.

Complications ensue, and after a couple of far-fetched coincidences, Bardelys ends up recovering from wounds in the Château de Lavedan, but under an assumed name, that of a slain rebel and traitor. Once he meets Roxalanne, Bardelys finds himself in true love for the first time, but faced with wooing Mademoiselle de Lavedan under a false name while being hunted by royal troops. There follows a tangle of honor and dishonor, spies, jealous rivals, secret vows, betrayals, athletic escapes, and a fine climactic duel.

John Gilbert is genuinely charming and charismatic as Bardelys, and fortunately the smart and spirited Joan Boardman is cast opposite him as Roxalanne. They play well off each other, and their scenes together are the best in the film, especially the famous episode in which Gilbert woos her in a sun-dappled boat drifting through a long screen of trailing willow branches. Sadly, everyone else in the picture hams it up outrageously, which I guess we have to blame on King Vidor’s direction. One caveat: this film was thought lost for decades, until a single copy was discovered in Paris in 2006. It’s been magnificently restored except for several scenes in the middle of the film that had to be reconstructed from stills and the shooting script. That, and the fact that almost everything in this movie is strictly to formula, is what keeps it from being a four-star film. Lurid visual bonus: skull-faced priests with sinister pointy-cowled monkshood minions!

Bandits of Corsica aka The Return of the Corsican Brothers

Bandits of Corsica aka The Return of the Corsican Brothers
Rating: ***
Origin: USA,1953
Director: Ray Nazarro
Source: Amazon Streaming Video

The Bandits of Corsica aka The Return of the Corsican Brothers

This overlooked film is often described as a remake of the 1941 Corsican Brothers, or as based on Alexandre Dumas’s short novel of that name, but it’s actually a full-fledged sequel that stands on its own. Producer Richard Small had done well with low-budget sequels to his Count of Monte Cristo, so he tried the same trick with his Corsican Brothers, and with some success. It’s strictly to Small’s now-familiar formula, drawing heavily on elements of its predecessor and from Small’s similar Son of Monte Cristo. So it doesn’t cover any new ground, but it’s pretty enjoyable nonetheless, thanks mainly to the charm and intelligence of its star, Richard Greene—the same actor who would make such an indelible impression later in the decade starring in the title rôle of the Adventures of Robin Hood TV show. In some ways, this film can be regarded as an extended screen test for that part, with its engaging and clever hero, the fugitive noble Mario Franchi, leading a band of outlaws in a desperate fight against tyranny.

But this is yet another double-lead-rôle swashbuckler in which Greene plays not just Mario Franchi, but also his separated-at-birth twin brother Lucien, who, through his psychic connection to Mario, lives a tormented double life. Greene bases his tragic Lucien on Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.’s haunted performance in the 1941 film, and carries it off admirably. Set five years after the prequel, once again the Franchi brothers pit their doppelgänger hijinks against a ruthless aristocrat who wants to rule all Corsica, in this case Raymond Burr in the rôle of evil Baron Jonatto. Burr may not have the wicked gusto of Akim Tamiroff, the villain of the first film, or the urbane arrogance of George Sanders in Son of Monte Cristo, whom he’s clearly emulating, but he seems to be making an effort, and is more lively than usual. Better is his brutal lieutenant, Nerva, played by a young but steely Lee van Cleef, who often sneeringly steals the scene from his stolid boss.

Count Mario has a comely but helpless countess (Paula Raymond), whose function is to be loved hopelessly by Lucien when she’s not being held captive by Jonatto. The plot is the standard mix of midnight raids, impersonations, abductions and escapes, villainous ultimatums, vows of vengeance, and a guards-oppressing-the-people montage, spiced with amnesia, Gypsies, a secret passage, and a dungeon torture chamber, all climaxing in a perfectly fine four-way sword fight. A well-worn tale, but solidly executed, and worth it for Greene and van Cleef.