19 April, 2012

501 Movies | The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The very first movie in the book 501 Must See Movies is The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It is under the Action/Adventure and Epic category. The film is in the public domain, having been made before 1923 and now available for free on the Internet Archive.

Directed by Rex Ingram, and starring Rudolph Valentino, Pomeroy Cannon, Bridgetta Clark and Alice Terry, the 1921 silent-era blockbuster The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is hailed as an epic tale of surging passion sweeping from the wide plains of the Argentine through the fascinating frivolities of pre-war Paris into the blazing turmoil of the German invasion.

Based on the novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, the movie drew huge audiences and tapped the popular anti-war and anti-German sentiment of the time - post World War I.  Madariaga "The Centaur" (Pomeroy Cannon), a harsh but popular Argentine landowner, has a German son-in-law whom he dislikes and a French one whose family he openly favours. He is particularly fond of his grandson Julio (Rudolph Valentino), with whom he often parties at seedy dives in the Boca district of Buenos Aires. In one of these bars, the movie's famous tango sequence occurs. Later, when Madariaga dies, the extended family breaks up; one half returning to Germany and the other to France.

In Paris, Julio enjoys a somewhat shiftless life as a would-be artist and sensation at the local tea dances. He falls in love with Marguerite Laurier (Alice Terry), the unhappy and much younger wife of Etienne Laurier, a friend of Julio's father. The affair is discovered, and Marguerite's husband agrees to give her a divorce. It seems as though Julio and Marguerite will be able to marry, but both end up getting caught up in the Great War.

Marguerite becomes a nurse in Lourdes. The bravery of Etienne is reported, and he is blinded in battle. Etienne happens to end up at the hospital where she is working, and Marguerite attends to him there. Julio travels to Lourdes to see Marguerite and instead sees her taking care of Etienne. Julio, ashamed of his wastrel life, enlists in the French Army.

The German Army overruns Julio's father Marcelo's Marne Valley castle in the First Battle of the Marne. Marcelo is forced to host a German general and staff in the castle. Marcelo's German nephew is amongst the staff and tries to protect him, but Marcelo is arrested after a melee involving an officer's assault of a woman. Marcello is to be executed in the morning, but his life is spared when the French Army counterattacks in the "Miracle of the Marne".

Julio becomes renowned for his bravery in the trenches on the front. During a mission in no man's land, he recognizes his German cousin. Moments later they are both killed by a shell. Back in Paris, Marguerite considers abandoning the blinded Etienne, but Julio's ghost guides her to continue her care for him. Both families mourn for their fallen sons as the film ends.

The Four Horsemen turned Valentino into a superstar and the silent cinema's seminal 'Latin Lover' and solidified Rex Ingram's position as one of the most respected and most commercially successful filmmakers of the 1920s. The Four Horsemen also brought more power and prestige to screenwriter-producer June Mathis.

Ramon Novarro, an extra in The Four Horsemen, was to become Ingram's foremost leading man (playing opposite Ingram's foremost leading lady, wife Alice Terry) after the irascible director had a falling-out with Valentino.
The film had a huge cultural impact, becoming the top grossing film of 1921 and going on to become the sixth best grossing silent film of all time. The film also inspired a tango craze and such fashion fads as gaucho pants.

The movie however for me was long! I am used to watching long movies thanks to Bollywood, but this was seriously long for a silent movie. Its almost too boring to watch the last half an hour. The tango scenes are fun, and the gaucho pants cute, but other than that, it is not a movie, I would watch if it was not on the list.

What I would do is get myself some gaucho pants. How cute are they. They were seriously in vogue a few years ago... around 2005 - 2006. They are super comfy and better than pyjamas for wearing in and around the home. My picks for the gaucho pants are here.

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