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The adaptation of Rafael Sabatini's story never takes itself too seriously, thanks to John Gilbert's spirited performance. The silent film lover shows himself an excellent comic actor as well as a satisfactory action star, every bit as dashing as his fellow matinee idols John Barrymore and Douglas Fairbanks. Friend to the king and lover to most of the beauties of Paris, Bardelys (Gilbert) becomes ensnared in a bet with the villainous Chatellerault (Roy D'Arcy) that he can marry the beautiful but unapproachable Roxalanne de Lavedan (Eleanor Boardman) in three months time. Defying the king's order to remain in Paris, Bardelys assumes the identity of a slain duelist named Lesperon, not realizing that Lesperon is part of a rebel alliance against the crown. Roxalanne and Bardelys fall deeply in love, but his false identity and Chatellerault's scheming make their romance impossible. Can Roxalanne forgive Bardelys' deception?
Gilbert lights up the screen as a carefree womanizer turned all-around hero. Bardelys hides from Roxalanne's father right in her bedchamber and makes his competitors look like fools. Soon to become King Vidor's wife, the clear-eyed Eleanor Boardman captures a virtuous quality that makes her irresistible. Roy D'Arcy is perhaps the best swashbuckling villain ever, a knave wearing a perpetual sneer on his face. When Bardelys is mistaken for the rebel Lesperon and sentenced to hang for treason, Chatellerault refuses to exonerate him. They just don't make rotten apples like that any more.
Bardelys the Magnificent is a handsome production with excellent costumes and large sets augmented by expert glass paintings. Besides the frequent swordplay, Gilbert pulls off an amusing Douglas Fairbanks-like escape that involves swinging between castle turrets and vaulting (in slow-motion) over a line of charging spear-carriers. Good angles show Bardelys in close-up, dangling high over the crowd below.
King Vidor alternated undemanding silent film assignments with artistic triumphs like The Big Parade and The Crowd. But an impressive slow boat ride through a grove of willow trees is a scene to be proud of. Cameraman William Daniels induces a dreamy mood as the hanging willow branches drift by, brushing lightly over the actors and the camera lens. Vidor's trick shot strikes the perfect romantic note.
The restorers of Bardelys the Magnificent report that the rediscovered print was in poor shape; if that's true the digital work to revive it has made a big difference. The images are sharp and steady with very little evidence of damage. The print is missing reel 3, but the absent passages have been reconstructed with shots liberated from the film's trailer, excellent scene stills and a studio continuity script. The patch job is quite satisfactory. Lobster Films' restoration adds to King Vidor's filmography and gives John Gilbert's reputation a big boost.
Bardelys is provided with two music tracks, one from the Mount Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and a second piano track by Antonia Coppola.
Also on the two-disc set is a 1922 version of the Alexander Dumas classic The Count of Monte Cristo titled simply Monte Cristo. John Gilbert is much less experienced here yet does quite well as a wronged sailor turned noble avenger. The adapted story came from a stage play version yet retains most of the novel's exciting intrigues, wild coincidences and ironic twists. Falsely betrayed as a traitor by men jealous of his betrothal to the beautiful Marseilles fisher-girl Mercedes (Estelle Taylor), Edmond Dantes (Gilbert) spends twenty years in the dungeon of the Chateau d'if. Mercedes marries one of Edmond's betrayers, all three of whom take new names and relocate to successful lives in Paris. But Edmond eventually escapes with the aid of a fellow prisoner, an abbot who gives him a secret map to a fabulous hidden treasure. Reappearing as the mysterious Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond embarks on an elaborate deception to bring down his enemies.
Monte Cristo is divided into neat halves; at the midpoint Edmond Dantes becomes a Judex - like avenger. The abbot's treasure funds a variety of revenge strategies. Dantes uses Mercedes' illegitimate son as a pawn to get back at the corrupt judge who sentenced him to the dungeon. Edmond buys up the bad debts of the rival who denounced him as a traitor, just for carrying a letter for the deposed Napoleon Bonaparte. Politically, Monte Cristo seems to be saying that post-Napoleon France is decadent and corrupt, and needs to be overthrown.
Dumas' strong story keeps interest high even if director Emmet J. Flynn offers few memorable scenes. Modest inns and dungeon cells seem rather too spacious. Overall, Edmond's various male enemies make better impressions than Estelle Taylor's leading lady. In a small part as the innocent daughter of one of the villains is Renée Adorée, who would soon co-star with John Gilbert in King Vidor's The Big Parade.
The print of Monte Cristo shows more damage than its co-feature, yet is intact and nicely transferred. Neal Kurz provides a lively piano score. Both features are accompanied by still and artwork galleries, and Monte Cristo reproduces John Gilbert's contract with the Fox film company. The extras on Bardelys the Magnificent, produced by film biographers Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta, include a commentary and an insert booklet essay, as well as a half-hour interview piece with John Gilbert's daughter, Leatrice (Joy) Gilbert Fountain. Ms. Fountain's childhood memories of her famous father are very touching. Vance and Maietta make a strong case for the redemption of John Gilbert's reputation, citing claims that a bitter Louis B. Mayer purposely sabotaged the recording of the actor's voice on his first talking pictures.
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by Glenn Erickson