US Release Date: 03-06-1921
Directed by: Rex Ingram, Kevin Brownlow
- Pomeroy Cannon, as
- Josef Swickard, as
- Marcelo Desnoyers
- Bridgetta Clark, as
- Dona Luisa
- Rudolph Valentino, as
- Julio Desnoyers
- Virginia Warwick, as
- Alan Hale, as
- Karl von Hartrott
- Mabel Van Buren, as
- Stuart Holmes, as
- Otto von Hartrott
- John St. Polis, as
- Etienne Laurier
- Alice Terry, as
- Marguerite Laurier
- Mark Fenton, as
- Senator Lacour
- Wallace Beery, as
- Lieut. Col. von Richthosen
- Harry Northrup, as
- The General
- Arthur Hoyt, as
- Lieut. Schnitz
- Jean Hersholt as
- Professor von Hartrott
Valentino became a star dancing the tango with Beatrice Dominguez.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is the movie that turned 25 year old Rodolfo Alfonzo Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla into Rudolph Valentino, the greatest love god the movies would ever know. His star would burn brighter than any other romantic leading man’s of the silent era before its supernova a mere 5 years after lighting up the celluloid firmament.
Four Horsemen is the story of a wealthy family living in Argentina, led by a Spanish immigrant and cattle rancher. He has two daughters. One marries a German and has three sons. The younger daughter marries a Frenchman and has a son and a daughter. The patriarch favors the younger daughter and spoils his half French grandson over his three male cousins.
Valentino plays the favorite grandson. He makes his entrance in a smoke filled bar and performs the most famous tango in the history of movies. This is the scene that made him a star and it is easily the most famous moment in an otherwise mostly forgotten film.
After the patriarch’s death the two son-in-laws move their families back to their respective homelands right before the First World War begins. Predictably the cousins wind up on opposite sides of the war. Valentino has an affair with a married woman. Her husband goes blind in the war, blah, blah, blah. The melodrama is all very over-the-top but the cinematography is good and there are some decent action sequences, especially when the French castle gets bombed.
There is also a prophet like figure that predicts the coming of the Four Horsemen. In a surreal bit of imagery we see “The Beast” and the grotesque quartet of Conquest, War, Pestilence and Death come issuing forth from its mouth. Movie buffs will spot both Alan Hale and Wallace Beery early in their careers but make no mistake, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is remembered as the vehicle that made Valentino a star for the ages.
Rudolph Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The first line that came to mind when watching this movie was from William Holden in Sunset Boulevard, when he said, “Not on the same floor with Valentino!” to Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond when she informed him that Valentino once tangoed on her dance floor. Unfortunately, that short-lived amusement wasn't nearly enough to sustain me over the course of the 2 and a quarter hours of pure melodramatic, soap opera that comprise this morality tale.
Even though silent movies aren't generally considered to be Pre-Code films, there are elements here that wouldn't be allowed after the Code took effect, such as brief nudity and adultery. The consequences shown to the hedonistic lifestyles though, are straight out of a Post-Code film. Nearly every member of the extended family is guilty of one of the seven deadly sins. They're lustful, proud and greedy. The story of the film is the story of their comeuppance.
I can't deny anything that Patrick said about Valentino. He was a hugely successful silent film star, renowned as being one of the first, and possibly the most famous of all time, male film sex symbol. However, he's one of those actors whose appeal hasn't really lasted. Even if you consider him attractive, his style of acting seems hopelessly dated. Your level of enjoyment of any of his films will be commensurate with your appreciation of his looks.
As Patrick wrote, there are some fairly decent action sequences once the war starts. It simply takes way too long to get to those scenes. Everything before it is pure soap opera. The plot is sort of a prototype Dallas as the different family members compete and plot against each other and sleep with each other's wives.
Although it hasn't aged particularly well, this was a huge hit at the time. It was one of the top ten highest grossing silent films of all time and, as Patrick said, made Valentino into a star. It still has a few entertaining moments but it's mostly a real slog to get through.
Rudolph Valentino and Alice Terry in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Made in 1920, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is buried in stereotypes. The German's sons are all portrayed as very disciplined, cold and militaristic. Julio is French, and as has often been the stereotype, is a ladies man. He teaches the Tango at a night club but it is all just code for sex. "Julio's boyhood pastime had brought him glory, and with it, many pupils to satisfy his extravagant tastes."
As both my brothers wrote, Valentino is the best thing about this long winded soap opera. Patrick mentioned his entrance, and with that scene, Valentino unknowingly brought a new kind of movie star to the big screen. Although only a few years old, the movies had yet to create a male movie star based entirely on his good looks. Although as common as rain today. Valentino was the fist male movie star whose sole quality was based on his sex appeal.
Scott commented on Valentino's acting, calling it "...hopelessly dated." I agree that he was not the finest of thespians, but with his looks he never had to be. Of the films I have seen of his, I found The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Beyond the Rocks to be his best work. These were his earlier lead roles made just before becoming the first international male sex symbol. His acting appeared more natural then. His performance in The Sheik and everything afterwards seem cheesy, almost as if he was far too conscious of his image and more concerned with it than any character portrayal.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse refers to some lines from the Book of Revelations. It speaks of the seven seals, that once broken release the four horsemen and announce the end of the world as we know it. This film depicts the first World War as if it were a sign from God. "The agony of humanity under the brutal sweep of the Four Horsemen has already begun."
The imagery of the riders is interesting, as is the Christ figure in the cemetary. I also liked the theme of man's decaying morality. However, all anyone will ever remember of this movie is a good looking young man who had many women of the time thinking less than moral thoughts.
Photos © Copyright Metro Pictures Corporation (1921)