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Kino on Video presents
"Yesterday is yesterday and today is today. There is no tomorrow until it is today."
DVD ReviewThe Gaucho is one of the last of Douglas Fairbanks' great costume adventure pictures (only 1929's The Iron Mask remained). Like wife Mary Pickford, Fairbanks did not successfully make the transition to sound films, so this is very nearly his swan song. Even though he was 45 when the picture was made, he still demonstrates great athleticism, vaulting up the sides of buildings, jumping on and off horses, brachiating like Tarzan and leaping over chairs.
Set in an unspecified time and place in South America, the picture centers on the City of the Miracle, where a young girl (Joan Barclay, under the name Geraine Greear) found a spring that evoked visions of the Virgin Mary (Mary Pickford) similar to Nuestra Senora de Guadelupe. At the head of a band of outlaws is El Gaucho (Fairbanks), who lives for today and for enjoyment. A usurper, Ruiz (Gustav von Seyffertitz) has seized the City of the Miracle and forced it to submit to his will. El Gaucho comes to the rescue after a fashion, taking the town for himself as a one-man army. He is admonished by the padre of the shrine (Nigel de Brulier) and the now-adult girl of the shrine (Eve Southern). El Gaucho is faced by the influence of religion, betrayal by his lieutenant (Charles Stevens) and his girlfriend (Mexican spitfire Lupe Velez), and infection with the Black Doom—apparently a leprosy-like affliction—and everything climaxes in a gigantic cattle stampede!
While the Christianity aspect is laid on rather thick and treacly, it, as well as the bout with leprosy, does give Fairbanks' character an added dimension that many of his heroes lack. Velez, in her first starring role at age 19, is sexy and fiery as the mountain girl who loves El Gaucho and is insanely jealous of his attentions toward other women. Nigel de Brulier brings a virtuous angularity to the padre, but Eve Southern is rather too good and too stiff to be true as the keeper of the spring. Gustav von Seyffertitz is excellent as Ruiz, making for an outstanding villain. His suave malevolence is in sharp contrast to the brutish lout who is his commandant (Charles Stevens).
The story moves along at a pretty brisk pace, threatening to slow down when the religion surfaces. However, the disease angle lends a driving morbid fascination that will keep even skeptical viewers interested. As always, the stunts are spectacular (most notably the swinging in the trees), though not as abundant as in Fairbanks' earlier films. Perhaps age was beginning to catch up to him a bit, but he still could do more at 45 than most men can do in their prime of youth.
There are a couple of minor issues with the presentation here. First is that the picture is not color-tinted, so a number of day-for-night shots look like broad daylight. The synthesized musical score by Sydney Jill Lehman is perky and full of Argentine-like melodies, as well as plenty of tango beat. However, it tends to get a shade monotonous and tiresome after a while. More variety might have made this more pleasurable.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The original full-screen image is detailed and clear, without being dupey. However, the picture appears to be cropped on all four sides. Several of the titles are cut off at both left and right, and occasionally the same happens at top and bottom. The result makes the picture look slightly cramped. The source print is in pretty good condition, with the expected flickering and speckles. Major damage is rarely visible. Black levels are very good. A few shots (especially daylight exteriors) are overcontrasted, with blooming whites and a loss of detail.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The music sounds great. There is no hiss or noise, and the bass is occasionally quite impressive indeed. It can't help but sound electronic, though, with the use of synthesizers to perform the score. For what it is, it sounds fine.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
But the real highlight of the disc is Fairbanks' infamous 1916 drug comedy, The Mystery of the Leaping Fish. In this, Fairbanks sends up Sherlock Holmes with his drug-addled detective Coke Ennyday. Shooting up from the bandolier of syringes he wears is Coke's only joy in life. However, he is summoned by the police of Short Beach to investigate a mysterious fellow, Fishy Joe (A.D. Sears) who has loads of money with no visible means of support. Coke is quickly on the job, fortifying himself regularly with a variety of drugs and alcohol, snorting cocaine by the handful. At the beach, he learns that Fishy Joe is threatening the fish-blower Inane (Bessie Love), who inflates the leaping fish that are the main attraction there. Mishap follows mishap as the intoxicated sleuth muddles his way to a solution of the mystery, in between chowing down on handfuls of opium. Written by Lon Chaney collaborator, Tod Browning, this two-reel comedy is uproarious even today, with a sophistication and wit finely leavened with slapstick goofiness. This is by far one of the most entertaining two-reelers from the silent era I've ever seen. An essential film for silent film buffs or anyone with an interest in the history of America's drug culture.
Transferred from 35mm materials, it's generally gorgeous and crisp, although there are a number of jolting edits that lead me to suspect some major splice repairs. The picture is easily followed nonetheless. The musical score is an outstanding giddy guitar by Larry Marotta, backed up by a warbly trombone and bass. It fits the picture perfectly and is highly enjoyable in its own right. The recommendation rating is on the strength of this extra, which I found as entertaining as anything I've seen in the last year.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsOne of Fairbanks' last costume adventures, with a fiery feature film debut from Lupe Velez, this makes for great swashbuckling entertainment, and is given a decent presentation. The extra film is a must-have and is worth the price of the DVD all by itself.
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