ROMOLA is a lavishly mounted tale of treachery and political intrigue in Renaissance Italy. As decor is the film's primary virtue, the degree to which modern audiences respond to ROMOLA will be dependent on the quality of the particular print being screened.
Tito (William H. Powell), a Greek who claims to have been recently shipwrecked, appears one day in 15th-century Florence, where he insinuates himself into the good graces of a wealthy scholar named Bardo Bardi (Bonaventura Ibanez) and his lovely daughter, Romola (Lillian Gish). Meanwhile, Tito
secretly takes Tessa (Dorothy Gish), a rather simpleminded street vendor, as his common-law wife and installs her and their infant child in a small house.
Following the sudden death of her father, Romola marries Tito, who is now a member of congress. After the wedding, Tito is accosted by his foster father, Baldassarre (Charles Lane). When Tito disclaims the relationship, Baldassarre tells Carlo (Ronald Colman), a close friend of the Bardo family,
the following story: Voyaging to Florence, Baldassarre and Tito were taken prisoner by pirates. Tito escaped, promising his father he would return to rescue him. Baldassarre eventually escaped without his son's help and has been searching for Tito ever since.
Promoted to chief magistrate, Tito institutes the death penalty for political dissenters like Savonarola (Herbert Grimwood), the renowned evangelist-reformer. Realizing that Tito is a scoundrel and a fraud, Romola leaves him. After publicly speaking on Savonarola's behalf, she is roughed up and
trampled by the rabble. Tessa takes her in and cares for her while she is recovering from her injuries.
Meanwhile, the people turn against Tito, who has sentenced Savonarola to death and has his eye on the throne. He flees to Tessa's house and pleads for sanctuary. Terrified of the angry mob at the door, Tito throws himself out the window and into the river. Tessa, who has jumped with him, drowns,
but Tito manages to make his way to shore. On the bank is Baldassarre, who finishes off his ungrateful and treacherous son. Tessa and Tito's child is adopted by Romola, who is lovingly attended by Carlo.
The ironic aspect of ROMOLA's production involves the film's location shooting. Director Henry King intended to shoot in Florence itself but the city's modern trappings (telephone poles, streetcar tracks, etc.) made that impossible, so he had the old city replicated on 17 acres just outside the
new city. The results were magnificent--to the point where they may have overshadowed the story itself. When Douglas Fairbanks described ROMOLA as "the most stunningly beautiful picture in every last detail," he was correct, in a way--ROMOLA got the details right but was less successful in its
overall design. Lillian Gish summed it up insightfully when she said, "I never thought the drama matched the splendor of its 15th-century backgrounds."
Gish's tepidness is understandable, given her passive role in the scenario--a role that reduced her to just standing around (which she does very attractively) most of the time, and fluttering around in times of crisis. ROMOLA's plum part went to William H. Powell (he later dropped the initial),
who is quite impressive as the villainous Tito. By making Tito's devolution a gradual one--he goes from somewhat appealing roguishness (a Powell specialty in the forthcoming sound era) to outright swinishness--Powell steals the picture.
Almost as effective is Dorothy Gish's highly sympathetic portrayal of the dimwitted but darling Tessa. The sight of her running frantically to and fro in oversized clodhoppers suggests at times a medieval Olive Oyl. The inert and ineffectual Carlo was probably the most thankless role of Ronald
In addition to its increasingly dispiriting story line, ROMOLA suffers from an excess of turgid religiosity in its second half, in which parallels to Jesus are forced on both Savonarola and Baldassarre, and Tessa mistakes Romola for the Madonna.
A stately and often deliberate movie, ROMOLA has a regal bearing that filtered down to even the most minor members of its cast. Among the players credited as "Banquet Members" and "Members of the Council of Eight" are a supposed prince, two princesses, two countesses, two marcheses, and five
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- Rating: NR
- Review: ROMOLA is a lavishly mounted tale of treachery and political intrigue in Renaissance Italy. As decor is the film's primary virtue, the degree to which modern audiences respond to ROMOLA will be dependent on the quality of the particular print being screene… (more)