“I enlisted for war service only.”
When a handsome young Cossack (Rudolph Valentino) rebuffs the romantic advances of Catherine the Great (Louise Dresser), he must flee to safety; meanwhile, after learning that his father (Spottiswoode Aitken) has been fleeced by a notorious thief (Albert Conti) — whose beautiful daughter (Vilma Banky) Valentino recently saved from a runaway carriage — he dons a mask to become an avenger known as the Black Eagle.
Loosely based on an unfinished novel by Alexander Pushkin, this historical romantic adventure (directed by Clarence Brown) was one of Rudolph Valentino’s final films before his death at the age of 31. It’s the type of material that seems perfectly suited for Valentino’s cinematic “rival”, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. — indeed, Valentino’s donning of a mask to become a Robin Hood-like avenger hearkens back immediately to Fairbanks’ work in The Mark of Zorro and its sequel. Unfortunately, The Eagle‘s storyline doesn’t offer much that’s new or particularly noteworthy; the most astonishing scene occurs early on, as the Czarina Catherine (Dresser) bids Valentino’s Lt. Dubrovsky to kneel and kiss her hand, then seems to want him to stay down in that location for much longer than he’s comfortable with… One wishes the rest of the narrative focused on Catherine’s May-December lustiness for young Valentino; instead, we’re given a fairly standard tale of vengeance and concealed identities, with obligatory romantic tensions thrown in for good measure. (Hungarian-born Banky is as beautiful as ever, though her erotic appeal is exploited much more effectively in her follow-up film with Valentino — Son of the Sheik).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Solid direction by Clarence Brown
- William Cameron Menzies’ sets
No, unless you happen to be a Valentino fan.