Milestone Film & Video presents
Beyond the Rocks (1922)
"Then he knows that you and I... love each other?"- Theodora Fitzgerald Brown (Gloria Swanson)
Stars: Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson
Other Stars: Alec B. Francis, Robert Bolder, Edythe Chapman, Gertrude Astor, Mabel van Buren
Director: Sam Wood
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (thematic material)
Run Time: 01h:20m:26s
Release Date: 2006-07-11
DVD ReviewSilent movies don't get into the headlines much any more, but they certainly did a few years ago when the Netherlands Filmmuseum announced the discovery of the sole surviving known print of Beyond the Rocks (1922). Long topping lists of most-wanted lost films, the picture was notorious for being the sole teaming of two of the great sex symbols of the 1920s: Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino. Such pairings of major stars were unusual during the silent era, since it was more lucrative to put them in separate pictures for maximum draw. But thanks to the Filmmuseum and Milestone, the movie has been restored and preserved and now is available on DVD, to be seen for the first time in eight decades.
Swanson stars as Theodora Fitzgerald, daughter of a destitute sea captain. The family has determined that Theodora should marry a rich man to salvage their fortunes, and the chosen target is elderly Josiah Brown (Robert Bolder). But then Theodora meets cute with Hector, the tenth Earl of Bracondale (Valentino), falling out of a boat and being rescued by him. The marriage with Josiah goes through, and the pair goes to the Swiss Alps for their honeymoon. While mountain climbing, Theodora gets into trouble again, and who should come to the rescue but Bracondale, once more. Unhappy with her decision to marry the ill and aged Brown, Theodora quickly succumbs to the charms of Bracondale. When Theodora decides she must break it off, she writes him a letter telling him so, but then accidentally mails it to Josiah instead, causing conflict and heartbreak on all sides.
Unlike the marriage comedies that Swanson had just done for De Mille, divorce or adultery aren't acceptable responses to the situation here; contrary to the attitude displayed in those pictures, Swanson's character chooses traditional values and virtues, despite the calls of her heart. Surprisingly enough, Valentino, for all his fiery reputation, goes along with this response. But there's no doubt about the romantic charge between the pair when they share the screen. Their scenes together really sizzle, even through Swanson's somewhat overwrought gesticulating. There's a strong sense of chivalry and "the right thing to do" permeating the story, leading to a somewhat silly and improbable conclusion, one that could only happen in the fevered imagination of a romance novelist. The picture is based on a novel by then-popular and now-forgotten author Elinor Glyn (most famous for IT), which is included in the DVD-ROM extras on this disc.
An interesting feature of the film is the insertion of several fantasy sequences (one of which remains missing). These feature the stars in various historical settings, including at Versailles with King Louis XIV, depicting contrasting and variant versions of their problematic relationship. These are executed with panache and production values consistent with the rest of the film, which ranges from Dorset to Paris to the Alps to the Sahara. Many of the sets are quite lavish and take one into the life of the other half bodily. Another notable technique is linking through the flower narcissus: Theodora gives one to Valentino both at the beginning and the end of the film, and that her handkerchief is scented with narcissus is an important plot point. The choice of the flower is intriguing: is the intent to hint that the consummation of the relationship would be a form of self-love and indulgence?
Valentino is in fine form, though he doesn't get to do a lot beyond look despondent over his frustration. But his longing looks are quite credible and solidly played. One supporting player who is a surprise is Bolder as Josiah Brown; he's played for comedy for most of the picture, as the potential cuckold complaining of aches and pains while not noticing the relationship forming under his nose. But the scene where he receives the letter meant for Hector is devastating; he suddenly becomes a very human man who suddenly recognizes his life is on the brink of being destroyed. It's quite fine and nuanced, and the impotent gestures he makes thereafter when he confronts Bracondale just emphasize the hollowness of his existence.
Since the print was from the Dutch release, the intertitles were in Dutch. They have been removed and replaced with fairly ugly video-generated English titles derived from the original continuity script.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: One can't quibble too much about the condition of a film that exists only in a single source print. There are two badly damaged segments, only one of which is of significance (the other is just a train going into a tunnel, and hardly more than stock footage). It's clear that the film was just salvaged before it really was gone for good. A major restoration was undertaken, both photochemical and digital, cleaning up and stabilizing the image substantially. There's still evidence of wear, dust, and scratches, but it's quite improved. Greyscale is excellent and there is a fair amount of detail and texture, though color tinting can also cover a multitude of sins. There's some minor ghosting, apparently from PAL/NTSC conversion, but nothing too distracting.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
|DS 2.0||(music only)||yes|
Audio Transfer Review: Dutch composer Henny Vrienten offers a score in both 2.0 and 5.1 versions. The 2.0 version includes only a few sound effects, while the 5.1 version is quite full of intrusive effects (such as laughter when characters onscreen are laughing, and foley work that doesn't synch up quite right). I much prefer the 2.0 version, but if you want effects, they're here in 5.1. The music generally fits the film well, though it's decidedly nontraditional. Some of the cues sound like refugees from Dark Shadows, which I occasionally found distracting. The recording sounds fine, with plenty of range.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Dutch with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Sheik, Son of the Sheik
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Gloria Swanson
- The Delicious Little Devil (1919)
But that's not even the beginning of what's here. A full-length "commentary" is provided by Gloria Swanson, edited from wire recordings made in 1955 that have been cleaned up. They're obviously not scene-specific, but they do cover this film, among other topics (including the tale of how she insisted on Valentino as her leading man), such as her extensive work with De Mille and silent acting technique. If this track has a fault, it's that Vrienten's score is playing over it at far too high a level to make out Swanson at times. A better mix balance would have been appreciated.
On to the featurettes. A 3m:31s piece shows Vrienten working with several musicians, including an accordionist and a trumpeter, but there's virtually no spoken words so it's hard to glean much from the exercise. More substantial is a 5m:51s presentation on the restoration. Particularly instructive is the segment on the misuse of digital restoration, which can make a dog disappear, mistaken by software as damage to the film. Obviously, care needs to be taken in such an exercise. Finally, there's a very substantial documentary from Dutch television about the discovery of the film (19m:59s), with some amusing information about the highly eccentric collector who held onto it until his death. He apparently slept surrounded by thousands of reels of highly explosive nitrate, using a wood burning stove in the same room!
Two exceedingly rare trailers from Valentino's signature films make a very welcome appearance here; that for Son of the Sheik is the Italian trailer. Several galleries are included, with a reconstruction of the missing fantasy sequence, featuring Valentino as a highwayman. A gallery of photos from Swanson's own collection numbers over 150, plus there are over three dozen shots of publicity materials. Another dozen or so pieces of publicity from Delicious Little Devil are included.
And then there is the DVD-ROM section, which is enormous; I don't think any previous movie DVD has matched the quantity and quality of what's offered here. Not only is Glin's novel here in PDF form, but so is the French novelization for Delicious Little Devil. There's also the continuity script for the main feature, which was essential in its reconstruction. Publicity materials for both pictures are included (with period press clippings on Beyond the Rocks from Swanson's collection), and there's also a short essay on Swanson by Elinor Glyn. Milestone presents both an essay on the restoration and a new presskit for the re-release, while the original presskit for the companion film is here as well. The Delicious Little Devil also includes censor cuts demanded by the state of New York (the film here is complete and uncensored), and the cue sheet for the original score and the theme song! You can't say you're not getting your money's worth on this little disc.
Extras Grade: A+
Final CommentsOne of the most sought-after lost silents emerges on DVD in fine style, with a beautiful restoration and a first-class array of bonus material.
Mark Zimmer 2006-07-10