We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.
I’ve been remiss by having too many English language films in a row when so many of the films left for me to see are in a foreign language. I guess that when you are watching films all day it is easier to binge on those in your native tongue compared to reading subtitles. I know that their is a dub out there, but The Leopard was meant to be enjoyed in Italian and that is what I did.
One thing that I feel shortchanged about in my school history lessons is that with the exception of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia for GCSE every lesson was about England. It’s a real weakness in our educational system that this is how is. There are still monumental gaps in my knowledge which are only filled by my own reading and video games.
The history of Sicily is one of those things that I’ve picked up piecemeal over the years. The fact that it was, for a short time, the Muslim caliphate and has changed hands numerous times was where my knowledge pretty much ended. The Leopard gave me the final piece of the puzzle. It does so were some of the most sumptuous set design and costuming that I have ever seen. Actors Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale only add to the beauty.
The beauty of two of the lead actors and the setting is in strange conflict with the overarching theme of death and decay. Burt Lancaster (who appears onscreen nearly all the time) plays that noble Prince of Salina – the head of the long established noble house that received patronage from the Spanish house of Aragon.
Over the course of the 3 hours we see this man hold himself in such dignity as he watches the world he knows fall apart around him. With the unification of the Italian provinces there is not much use for a minor prince anymore. He knows this and the bulk of his actions in the second third of this film is him ensuring that his family’s name can still live on in some way. And yet when he is offered the position of power in the new unified Italian government he declines because he knows his shortcomings. It does a lot to show that he is a good man, but having been born into a life of privilege he will find it hard to adjust to New Italy.
I see many people calling The Leopard a masterpiece and whilst I don’t agree on it being a perfect film and I see a lot of merit in it. There are very few films that are made like this anymore. There are so many reasons that this makes a good watch just make sure you give yourself an interval. I made the mistake of not doing that which probably negatively affected my view.
Okay so the pairing of The Eagle with The Leopard is extremely tenuous, but what can I say: there is nothing like a silent movie when the sound of rain banging on your window is able to drown out the television.
I can think of two reasons why The Eagle appears on the 1001 list. Firstly, it allows us to see an example of the work of legendary cinematic sex symbol Rudolph Valentino. Then again if that was the case surely they would have included The Sheikh is there really was one of this most beloved characters. Another possibility is because of a rather interesting shot nearly halfway into the film. Nowadays it wouldn’t look as interesting but the shot where we gradually pour out over the banquet table is something rather interesting.
The Eagle was the film that saved Rudolph Valentino’s career. He plays the role of the Black Eagle – a former lieutenant who is being hunted by the czarina after he rejected her romantic advances. He becomes an outlaw not unlike Robin Hood and seeks revenge on the nobleman who has taken his lands.
Being a Rudolph Valentino flick this film descends into a romance which becomes a bit less interesting than the initial premise. The thing is this was what Rudolph Valentino was and so you come in expecting something a bit more sappy. He isn’t Errol Flynn after all.
Now, the main reason I wanted to see this was to try and understand how Rudolph Valentino was this legendary heartthrob. I understand it with Errol Flynn (Captain Blood), Alain Delon (Le Samouraï) and Cary Grant (His Girl Friday), but I don’t get it with Valentino. He’s good looking… just not to the standard that his level of fandom lets on.
The Eagle clocks in at just over 70 minutes and it’s simple to follow story makes for a good silent film for beginners (do not do what I did and watch Intolerance as one of your first silents…). However, compared to the grand scope of The Leopard and other films I have looked at in the last few weeks this is fluff. Entertaining fluff, but fluff nonetheless.