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DON JUAN (director: Alan Crosland; screenwriters: from the poem by Lord Byron/Walter Anthony/Bess Meredyth; cinematographer: Byron Haskins; editor: Harold McCord; music: William Axt; cast: John Barrymore (Don Juan), Jane Winton (Donna Isobel), Mary Astor (Adriana Della Varnese), Willard Louis (Pedrillo, Don Juan’s assistant), Estelle Taylor (Lucretia Borgia), Helene Costello (Rena), Count Donati (Montagu Love), Warner Oland (Caesar Borgia), Myrna Loy (Maria, Lady in Waiting), Josef Swickard (Duke Della Varnese), Philippe De Lacey (Don Juan, 10 years old); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack Warner; Warner Brothers Pictures; 1926-silent)
“The first in which music and sound effects were integrated into the film action.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Historically the movie is important because of its synchronized score by William Axt. The Vitaphone feature film was the first in which music and sound effects were integrated into the film action. The experiment worked and sounded the death knell for the silent film. In 1927, Alan Crosland, the director of Don Juan, also helmed the second Vitaphone film at Warner Brothers called The Jazz Singer, which most film historians consider to be the first talkie.

In the opening scene the Spaniard Don José (John Barrymore) deals with his wife, Donna Isobel’s (Jane Winton), infidelity by sealing her lover alive inside the castle walls and then kicks her out of the castle. Later the meanie is knifed to death by a mistress he insulted. His dying words to his 10-year-old son Don Juan are: “Beware of giving your love to women,” meaning to never trust them and take everything from them and give nothing. Years later a rakish grown up Don Juan (John Barrymore) has quite the rep as a lady killer, and has women from all walks of life wanting to bed down with him. Even the powerful Lucretia Borgia (Estelle Taylor, in real life was married to boxing champ Jack Dempsey), whose ruling family heads the House of Crimson Bull in Rome. But Don Juan doesn’t dig her and has the hots for the beautiful Adriana (Mary Astor), the daughter of the Duke Della Varnese, which brings down on her the wrath of the cruel Lucretia. In a diabolical plan, Lucretia plots to marry Adriana to Donati (Montagu Love), a noted rake and swordsman in the court of the Borgias. The evil lady then plans to poison Adriana’s dad, the duke. Don Juan stops the scheme after being convinced his love is used as a political pawn and wins the eternal love of Adriana. The Borgia, as a result, declare war on the duke’s kinsmen, and promise safety only if Adriana marries Donati. Again Don Juan comes to the rescue and slays Donati in a duel, after refusing to marry Lucretia. Because of this action Don Juan and Adriana are brought to the tower to await execution, but Don Juan escapes and overcomes his pursuers to be united with Adriana.

The action scenes are in the best tradition of those silent swashbucklers, with the lithe 44-year-old Barrymore doing all his own stunts. The acting was hammy but, again, played well for those times. The production values are first-rate (credit for the lavish sets go to Ben Carre), as are the fifteenth century costumes. It’s dated but film historians should find much more to love in Don Juan than the modern mall moviegoer. Of note, Willard Louis who played Pedrillo, the loyal attendant of Don Juan, died during the shoot and that’s the reason he disappeared from the second part of the film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”