“In a man’s life there is sometimes a good love and a bad love.”
An aspiring bullfighter (Rudolph Valentino) marries his childhood sweetheart (Lila Lee), but breaks her heart by having an affair with a vampish noblewoman (Nita Naldi).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Femmes Fatales
- Rudolph Valentino Films
- Silent Films
This enormously popular Rudolph Valentino vehicle (directed by Fred Niblo, and based on a novel by Vicente Blasco Ibanez) was purportedly one of Valentino’s personal favorites, but hasn’t held up all that well for modern audiences. Other than some refreshingly candid Pre-Code sadomasochism (with Naldi biting Valentino’s hand in an act of aggressive erotic pursuit), the cliched storyline is largely uninspired, and the bullfight scenes come across as patently inserted external footage. Meanwhile, pedantic attempts to convince audiences that bullfighting is a bloodthirsty sport worthy of condemning (“The wide world over, cruelty is disguised as sport to gratify man’s lust for excitement”) are insufficiently explored, and ultimately just feel hypocritical, given the clear valorization of Valentino’s character. Remade by Rouben Mamoulian in 1941 with Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, and Rita Hayworth.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Some surprisingly candid pre-Code sensuality
No, though it’s worth a look simply to see Valentino in one of his best-known roles. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.