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The Beloved Rogue

The Beloved Rogue(1927)

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Previously released on laserdisc in 1991 by The Voyager Company, The Beloved Rogue (1927) is now available on DVD from the Paul Killiam Collection (distributed by Image Entertainment) and while it's no improvement over the original video transfer, it's good to have this lavish silent swashbuckler available in the new format. The story, which is set in the 15th century, is that of Francois Villon, one of the great French poets and a notorious reveler who was known as the "Vagabond King." During an All Fools' Day celebration in Paris, Villon is named King of Fools and in his new role makes an enemy of John, Duke of Burgundy, resulting in Villon's exile from the city under orders of King Louis XI. Villon refuses to stay out of the public eye for long and instigates a plan to feed the poor people of the city by launching food over the walls of Paris via a catapult. When the king's men rush to stop him, Villon himself is catapulted back into the city and makes a successful crash landing in the bedroom of Charlotte de Vauxcelles, the king's ward. It's love at first sight but there's a problem; Charlotte is facing an arranged marriage that is part of a plot to wrest control of the kingdom from King Louis.

The part of Francois Villon was perfect for John Barrymore who had already demonstrated his skill at swashbuckling roles in films like Beau Brummel (1924) and Don Juan (1926). But like Errol Flynn who was typecast in similar parts, Barrymore felt ill used by Hollywood and had little respect for the films he made there with few exceptions. He preferred the theatre and enjoyed an international reputation as one of the most respected stage actors of his era. Films like The Beloved Rogue exposed him to a completely different audience and made him quite wealthy but did little to advance his reputation as a great actor. In fact, when Barrymore attended a public screening of the film, he reportedly startled the audience at one point by yelling at the screen, "Call yourself an actor? My God, what a Ham!" Despite his own poor assessment of the movie, The Beloved Rogue is a highly entertaining costume adventure and Barrymore performs like a professional athlete, hanging from gargoyles, scuttling up the sides of towers with his bare hands, and enduring horrendous torture by firebrands and flogging. His performance is all the more remarkable in light of his off-screen activities during the film shoot which was a constant series of dusk till dawn parties; Barrymore's reputation as a heavy drinker was already well-known within the film industry.

The real reason to see The Beloved Rogue, however, is for the remarkable set design by William Cameron Menzies. Film historian Kevin Hagopian wrote that Menzies' "timbered garrets, the sumptuous court interiors of Louis XI, and the mysterious, erotic chambers of the lovely Charlotte - all these brought an air of spectacular romance to The Beloved Rogue. The film's stars, John Barrymore as Villon, and Conrad Veidt as Louis, are dwarfed by the bold lines and huge scale of Menzies' sets; occasionally, the actors looked as though they were placed there by Menzies, mere decorations for the fabulous tableaus which are the real stars of the film. With crack cinematographer Joe August, Menzies made this slight entertainment a dramatic epic, the visual sweep of the film expressing Villon's own passion in looming, lyrical, articulate silence."

There have been many books and films based on the life of Francois Villon but the 1901 Justin Huntly McCarthy novel, If I Were King, is probably the source that inspired so many versions. There was a silent Italian film entitled Il poeta vagabondo, a stage version that starred E. H. Sothern, a 1920 film starring William Farnum, a 1926 operetta by Rudolf Friml called The Vagabond King, two musical versions, one in 1930 and one in 1956, also based on Friml's operetta, a 1934 German rendition (Wenn ich Konig war, and If I Were King, the Frank Lloyd remake in 1938 that starred Ronald Colman.

The Image DVD of The Beloved Rogue contains no extras or liner notes but it does include a piano score performed by William Perry from the source print. The movie is presented in a full frame video transfer with color toning but the audio is inconsistent and you may need to adjust for low levels. The visual quality is acceptable for a film of this vintage but someday an enterprising DVD company may launch a full-scale restoration of the movie. In the meantime, this is a welcome addition to any silent movie fan's DVD collection. For more information about The Beloved Rogue, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Beloved Rogue, visit TCM Shopping.

by Jeff Stafford