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FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALPSE, THE (director: Rex Ingram; screenwriters: from the novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez/June Mathis; cinematographer: John F. Seitz; editor: Grant Whytock; music: Carl Davis; cast: Rudolph Valentino (Julio Desnoyers), Pomeroy Cannon (Madariaga, the Centaur), Josef Swickard (Marcelo Desnoyers), Alice Terry (Marguerite Laurier), Alan Hale (Karl von Hartrott), Bridgetta Clark (Dona Luisa), Mabel Van Buren (Elena), John Sainpolis (Etienne Laurier), Virginia Warwick (Chichi), Stuart Holmes (Capt. Otto von Hartrott); Runtime: 133; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Rex Ingram; MGM; 1921-silent)
“Has not worn well with age.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The weepy anti-war melodrama epic that made Rudolph Valentino a superstar, where he tangoed his way to film immortality, has not worn well with age. It’s based on the sappy best-selling novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, which uses John’s doomsday prophecy in the Book of Revelation about the Four Horsemen (the allegorical ghosts of war, conquest, famine, and death) as a warning to nations about the dangers of war. Throughout various points of the film the screen will receive a browner tint and the hokey death ride of the galloping horsemen will be on the screen. June Mathis is the screenwriter who gets credit for discovering the unknown bit playing actor, Valentino, and convincing Metro to hire him as the film’s star and making it as a big-budget film (over one million dollars). Rex Ingram (“Mare Nostrum”), one of the silent screen’s acclaimed artistic directors, gets credit for making Valentino a household name in a film that was immensely popular (grossed over four million dollars) and brought to the Latin Lover a vast international cult-worshiping female fan base.

It tells of a rugged Argentinean self-made man named Madariaga (Pomeroy Cannon) who, through a strong work ethic and a fearless disposition that mixed a capricious and despotic nature, goes from poverty to being the wealthiest rancher in Argentina. Madariaga’s oldest daughter Luisa raised three sons with her German husband Karl von Hartrott (Alan Hale), someone the patriarch detested. His youngest daughter Elena married the Frenchman he approved of, Marcelo Desnoyers (Marcelo Desnoyers), and raised his favorite grandson Julio (Rudolph Valentino) and his cute young sister Chichi. Madariaga spoiled Julio, teaching him the tango, how to be a macho man and took him whoring to the rough bars he hung out in the port of Buenos Aires’s Boca district (where Valentino’s famous tango scene takes place). When Madariaga died he divided his estate between his two daughters, and both families ignored his advice to stay in Argentina and instead went back to Germany and France, respectively, just prior to WW I. At the outbreak of the war the two families are on opposite sides, as the arrogant Karl’s boys join the army while the wastrel Julio sets himself up in a studio as an artist where he draws naked women, dances every night at the Tango Palace and leads a dissolute life. Julio falls in love with the married Marguerite Laurier (Alice Terry, Ingram’s wife), a much younger woman trapped in a loveless marriage to his father’s attorney friend Etienne Laurier (John Sainpolis), and brings disgrace to his family when her husband catches them together in his studio and sues for divorce. Marguerite’s ex joins the army, where he bravely fights but he’s blinded. The guilt-ridden Marguerite, now a volunteer Red Cross nurse, seeks atonement by caring for her ex at Lourdes and shames Julio into joining the army. Julio proves to be a brave soldier but gets killed-in-action. Meanwhile the miserly and ineffective Marcelo leaves Paris to guard his castle containing his valuable art collection (which he cares more about than his children) in the country village of Ville-blanche, but the Germans gain the upper-hand for three days in the Battle of the Marne at the war’s onset. Marcelo is forced to host a German general and staff in the castle, and watch how his home is ravaged. Marcelo’s German nephew (Stuart Holmes) is amongst the staff staying there who tells him that this is to be expected during war, but that doesn’t prevent Marcelo from coming to the aid of a woman servant being attacked by a drunken German officer. The Frenchman’s life is spared only because the French counterattack is successful and the Germans are forced to retreat. At the war’s end both family’s mourn for their fallen sons and seem contrite as war has taught them a bitter lesson. There’s a scrawl at the conclusion telling about the horrors of war and a message that states “war will not end until all hatred is dead and love reigns.”

The film is muddled in its pacifist message as it vilifies the Germans unmercifully as warmongers and seems to say it’s honorable to fight and cowardly not to, while at the same time preaching a pacifist message.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”