Monday, December 27, 2010

Mare Nostrum (1926)

Mare Hokum is more like it. While often visually impressive, with scenes shot in Italy, France and Spain, Mare Nostrum's an odd and not really satisfying WWI spy drama.

Antonio Moreno, who at one short time was a competitor to Rudolph Valentino, plays a sea-obsessed freighter captain, Ulysses Ferragut, who falls for a German spy played by Alice Terry (the wife of the film's director Rex Ingram).

Ulysses has a wife at home who's so unimportant to the plot, she only appears in three scenes -she's cold and unloving in the first one and apparently going mad in the last one!

One of the reasons Ulysses falls for the German spy, Freya, is that she reminds him of a portrait he keeps of Amphitrite, a goddess of the sea. Okay... I didn't buy the Freya character; in the first half of the movie she's vamping it up, seducing Ulysses and conniving around. Then she suddenly (and stupidly) reveals to her co-spy that she loves the guy! We don't see anything on the screen to indicate the abrupt turnaround.

When Ulysses' son (the smartest and most loyal character in the story) is killed by a German submarine which Ulysses helped situate, Ulysses joins the war effort. Ulysses and Freya both end up dying for their war crimes, both memorably. Ulysses floats to the bottom of the sea to the arms of his beloved Amphitrite, while Freya, in a well directed scene, is shot in a firing squad.

Mare Nostrum's a very mixed bag. Some of the most important scenes of the film are blemished by the use of obvious ship models. Other scenes benefit from on location footage.The film has good actors, a good budget and good direction, but a screenplay that sinks.

Mare Nostrum was for many years considered a lost film. Turner Classic Movies has broadcast a beautiful print of it, with a fine piano score accompaniment. The film is not currently available on DVD.