“There [will] never be another Valentino — there will never be anyone remotely like him. He was a god!”
The untimely death of silent screen star Rudolph Valentino (Rudolf Nureyev) prompts the many women in his past to reminisce about his troubled rise to superstardom.
Ken Russell’s star-studded depiction of Rudolph Valentino‘s meteoric rise to fame — and his tragically early death at the age of 31, which reportedly prompted at least two suicides — displays much of Russell’s distinctive flare for colorful pageantry and liberal interpretation of historical facts. Famed ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev is surprisingly well-cast in the title role, and is given ample opportunity to show off both his dancing chops and his well-toned body (most film fanatics are probably unaware that before coming to Hollywood, Valentino worked as a nightclub dancer and tango partner in New York). The film’s many supporting actors and actresses (Seymour Cassell, Leslie Caron, Carol Kane, and Felicity Kendal, among others) are generally fine in their respective roles as the various men and women who flitted through Valentino’s life; much less successful, however, is Michelle Phillips (of “The Mamas and the Papas”) in a key role as Valentino’s overbearing wife, Natasha Rambova — Phillips is no great actress, and comes across here as simply whiny and shrill.
As one might expect from any Ken Russell “biopic”, Valentino does little to illuminate the mundane details of the actor’s past, instead focusing primarily on his public persona and the seemingly endless string of scandals he was embroiled in. Indeed, the entire second half of the film concerns itself with Valentino’s struggle to defend his masculinity in the face of assertions that he was more “powder puff” than All-American Male — a thematic concern bolstered by an earlier scene in which Valentino is shown dancing “intimately” with the Russian ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (Anthony Dowell). Nonetheless, Russell simultaneously goes to great pains to show us how extraordinarily appealing this sexually provocative actor was to females of the day — the opening scene of the film is particularly effective at recreating the chaos caused by the (mostly female) fans clamoring to get a closer look at their beloved Valentino’s dead body. Ultimately, while it’s not entirely successful as a narrative, Valentino does admirably convey the larger-than-life popularity of this iconic cinematic “Latin Lover”, and will likely be of passing interest to film fanatics for this reason alone.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Rudolf Nureyev as Valentino
- Seymour Cassell as one of Valentino’s promoters
- Shirley Russell’s baroque costumes
No, but it’s certainly worth a look by all film fanatics. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.