Rudolph Valentino became a star in the silent epic THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE, Rex Ingram's slow-moving, but visually striking version of Vincente Blasco-Ibanez's classic anti-war story.
Julio Madariaga (Pomeroy Cannon), a wealthy Argentinean cattle baron, lives with his two daughters and their husbands, one a Frenchman named Marcelo Desnoyers (Josef Swickard) and the other a German named Karl von Hartrott (Alan Hale). Madariaga despises Karl, who brings up his three sons in a
militaristic manner, and is joyful when his other daughter gives him a grandson, whom Madariaga spoils. Years pass and the boy, also named Julio (Rudolph Valentino), has grown into a libertine. When Madariaga dies, his estate is divided equally, and von Hartrott moves his family back to Germany,
while Desnoyers returns to France with his. Julio's debauchery continues there, and he takes up painting nudes and giving tango lessons, while his father buys a castle on the Marne and spends all his money on antiques. Julio falls in love with Marguerite Laurier (Alice Terry), the young wife of an
elderly government official, and they have an affair, which continues even after her husband finds out about it.
When WWI breaks out, Julio's neighbor, a Russian philosopher named Tchernoff (Nigel De Brulier), shows him a rare book and reads the story of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse--Conquest, War, Pestilence, and Death. Marguerite becomes a Red Cross nurse, and her husband enlists in the army. German
soldiers, one of whom is Karl von Hartrott's son, invade France and take over Marcelo's castle, where they engage in drunken revelry. When one of Marcelo's servants shoots a German lieutenant (Wallace Beery) who was trying to rape the maid, the Germans kill the servant and imprison Marcelo. Julio
goes to visit Marguerite at Lourdes, and when he sees that she is nursing her blinded husband, he decides to give up his immoral lifestyle and enlist. Meanwhile, Marcelo is freed when French troops advance and drive the Germans away, but his castle is destroyed. He returns to Paris and is reunited
with Julio, who tearfully says goodbye to him. As German and French troops engage in hand-to-hand combat on a rainy night, Julio comes face-to-face with one of his German cousins, and as they're about to shoot at each other, they're both killed by a bomb explosion. The war comes to an end, and
after Julio is buried, Tchernoff consoles Marcelo and warns that the Four Horsemen will return until all hatred is dead.
THE FOUR HORSEMAN OF THE APOCALYPSE took six months to make and was one of the most expensive films of its day, costing around $1 million at a time when most films cost about $20,000. The look of the film is certainly impressive, with tremendous sets and photography, but it's mainly notable for
turning Rudolph Valentino into a star, in his definitive role. From the moment he's introduced, in the famous tango scene that would become his iconic trademark, his magnetism and sex appeal is immediately apparent, and it's easy to see why 1920s women swooned over him, even if his acting leaves
much to be desired, and Julio is a self-centered cad for most of the film, gleefully indulging in hedonistic behavior (such as the topless painting scene). The story is virulently anti-German, depicting them as bullying, war-loving Huns in such scenes as where von Hartrott's little boys (who all
wear glasses and have crewcuts) march around and play war; von Hartrott raising them to respect the fatherland and speaking of a "super-culture"; and the Von Stroheim-like scenes of depravity when the drunken German soldiers in Marcelo's castle dance in women's clothes and molest the servants.
The story is very slow to develop and contains numerous subplots, spending a large portion of time in Argentina, and on the affair between Julio and Marguerite before WWI breaks out, while there is some unwelcome comic relief provided by a clever monkey and other cute animals, but cinematographer
John F. Seitz (DOUBLE INDEMNITY, SUNSET BOULEVARD) brilliantly uses backlighting and smoke to create some beautiful pictorial effects, and director Rex Ingram provides some customarily awesome and unforgettable images in the best silent tradition. The scene where Tchernoff describes the Four
Horsemen to Julio is visualized with an incredible shot of a red-tinted Hell replete with a fire-breathing beast, and the depiction of the Four Horsemen is stunning. First they're shown individually with grotesque close-ups of their deformed faces, then together, as they gallop across the sky, a
shot which is repeated throughout the film. The finale, where Marcelo and Tchernoff stand amidst the thousands of crosses in the graveyard is chilling, as is the Christ-like Tchernoff's closing warning to mankind. (Violence, adult situations, nudity.)
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Rudolph Valentino became a star in the silent epic THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE, Rex Ingram's slow-moving, but visually striking version of Vincente Blasco-Ibanez's classic anti-war story. Julio Madariaga (Pomeroy Cannon), a wealthy Argentinean cat… (more)