He was called “The Great Profile,” elevated as the great lover of the silent screen and held up as the greatest actor of his generation. In retrospect he left behind his share of hammy performances and lazy mugging, but when he was at his best, John Barrymore was a shining star of the silent screen. Kino has collected four Barrymore silents in The John Barrymore Collection, three of them new to Kino (but not necessarily new to DVD). The highlights come via the Killiam Collection, complete with the original seventies-era piano scores by William P. Perry recorded for repertory showings. The Beloved Rogue features Barrymore in swashbuckling form as François Villon, “poet, pickpocket, patriot” (as his introductory title card identifies him), a hard-drinking gadabout who satirized the King (Conrad Veidt, making his Hollywood debut in a comically gnarled performance) in his poetry but loved “France earnestly, Frenchwomen excessively, French wine exclusively.” The famed Shakespearean stage dramatist has a tendency to twist face into a clownish curl to play 15th century poet as a fun-loving fool and drunkard, parading about with his drinking buddies and playing the king of the beggars of Paris. But he also throws himself into the swashbuckling scenes, leaping across roofs less like an action hero than a child of the streets who hasn’t quite grown up, and tones himself down for romance with Marceline Day, the king’s ward. Alan Crosland previously directed Barrymore in Don Juan, one of another of his best silent films, and William Cameron Davies creates the lavish sets.
I’m even more partial to Tempest (1928), not a version of the Shakespeare play but a tale of a peasant soldier (Barrymore) in love with a princess (Camilla Horn of Faust, whose eyes burn with a mixture of haughty arrogance and guilty desire) in World War I Russia. Barrymore gives one of his most restrained performances as the tormented soldier whose hatred of the aristocracy is systematically stoked when he’s put through a living hell for his temerity at falling in love with a high-born beauty. The aristocracy systematically keeps the lowly peasant class its place until the revolution turns the tables, at which point the film tries to cast the Red Menace as the villain. It’s a hard sell given the brutality and contempt of the ruling class, but in a manner that suggests director Sam Taylor studied the works of D.W. Grifffith, he portrays the aristocrats as beautiful people tormented by the ugly peasants who take their revenge with a vengeance. In this new paradigm, Barrymore rejects class politics to save his fair aristocratic love from the grimy hands of the dark, unwashed proletariat brutes. Director Sam Taylor directed some terrific Harold Lloyd comedies before making this historical romantic drama, but he guide this gorgeous costume drama like he was a master of the epic form, and William Cameron Menzies once again contributes great sets. The box set also features the 1922 Sherlock Holmes and the previously released 1920 Dr Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, and the discs are also available separately. The films are preserved rather than restored but look fine and The Beloved Rogue is tinted.
Hollywood adventures don’t come more rousing than the 1939 Beau Geste. Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and Robert Preston are the boisterous Geste brothers, orphans raised by a society lady as gentlemen with a sense of playful camaraderie and undaunted chivalry. Continue reading “DVDs for 7/7/09 – John Barrymore, Gary Cooper and Edward Woodward as a spy John Le Carre could have created”