Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bardelys the Magnificent (1926)

Bardelys the Magnificent, directed by the great King Vidor, is a deliciously satisfying swashbuckler, based on a novel by Rafael Sabatini, who wrote the source material for many other epic action films.

John Gilbert plays a Don Juan-type during the reign of Louis XIII. Agreeing to a dubious bet layed down by a court rival (Roy D'Arcy at his most caddish), Bardelys sets out to win the hand of honorable Eleanor Boardman.

This is an epic made at the height of MGM's silent period, made in that sweet spot of the era when the sets were gargantuan, the stories filled with easy humor and danger, character actors appeared in nearly every scene and the stories came to a satisfying, relatively leisurely conclusion. Much of the above would go out the window during the sound era. The satisfying attributes of the early sound era of MGM would be much smaller scale (though no less fun): a script by P.G. Wodehouse, songs sung and played by Cliff Edwards, Bessie Love in musicals, glimpses of genius from Buster Keaton allowed to peek out from imposed, rotten scripts.

Meanwhile, back in 1926, John Gilbert's Bardelys the Magnificent did mad physical stunts that (look on screen as if they) rivaled Douglas Fairbanks. For those who love a good, action-filled love story amidst political intrigue, this movie will fit the bill.

One small drawback: a reel from the film is missing which is replaced by stills and title cards to tell the story. MGM apparently destroyed all of their prints of the film due to their choosing not to renew a ten-year lease with Sabatini. The short sequence is relatively painless.

Bardelys the Magnificent is available on DVD.

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