Beyond the Rocks (1922)

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  • directed by Sam Wood
  • starring Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, Robert Bolder, Raymond Blathwayt
  • A young woman marries an older millionaire only to then fall in love with a handsome nobleman on her honeymoon.

“Fate seems to send you to me when I most need you, Lord Bracondale.”

Hard to believe that the world hadn’t seen this gem of a silent film until it was found in a private collection in the Netherlands just eight years ago. As Martin Scorsese said in his brief introduction on the DVD, “every lost film that gets discovered is another contribution to our public consciousness.” This is true of all found films but one like Beyond the Rocks seems extra special due to some notable aspects and the additional fact that it features some fantastic work by Sam Wood and his cast. On the subject of the main players here, Scorsese also pointed out the fact that casting more than one huge star in a film was a Hollywood tactic that was not abundant until sound made its way into the picture. Thankfully producers opted for that approach here because there was great chemistry between Valentino and Swanson and the story was full of traps with a lure too great for lesser personalities.

I was shocked by how much I enjoyed Valentino so soon after finding his performance in The Sheik to be so repellant. My enjoyment and recognition of his charisma literally went from 0-10 between the two films. He did a lot of the same mugging and pensive and swooning gazes, but that’s just trademark Valentino, I now realize, and in the appropriate context it does work for me. Both he and Swanson had to strike a very intricate balance with their performances in Beyond the Rocks. They needed to achieve and maintain a chemistry strong enough to keep the audience invested while at the same time keeping their attraction and any sort of consummations just enough at bay to where we don’t turn on them and start feeling bad for the scorned and somewhat pathetic Josiah. All three main characters just dominated their roles. They completely avoided going over the top to match some of the more extreme melodramatic situations and contributed to the very fluid and natural-feeling pace of it all.

It was a little unfortunate that the stakes had to be raised to Hollywood heights with an ending disproportionate to the small scale of all that preceded. It sort of reminded me of how the quaint and precious Made For Each Other took a tale of a married couple’s ups and downs and transformed it into a storm-threatened airplane race against the clock in the final act. Josiah, after learning of his wife’s impure relations with Hector takes off to Northern Africa and is killed by a rogue desert marauder in a gunfight, giving the couple the green light for romance for which they’d been yearning. Judging from the tenor and expert control of the first two acts of the film, it’s easy to recognize that Sam Wood was smarter than devolving into silly and needless gunfire–there is nothing of an African expedition in the original novel by Elinor Glyn—but on the whole I’m going to give the film a gold star of a pass because the rest of it is that good.

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About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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