The Conquering Power


1h 29m 1921
The Conquering Power

Brief Synopsis

In this silent film, a young man falls for his wicked uncle's stepdaughter.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Silent
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jan 1921
Premiere Information
New York premiere: ca8 Jul 1921
Production Company
Metro Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Eugénie Grandet by Honorè de Balzac (Paris, 1833).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 29m
Film Length
7 reels

Synopsis

Monsieur Grandet, the wealthiest man in his province, forces his wife and daughter, Eugénie, to submit to the regime of mean poverty. Because of her wealth, Eugénie attracts aspiring suitors Cruchot de Bonfons, a minor magistrate, and Alphonse des Grassins, son of a local banker. Grandet's nephew Charles, a wealthy young dandy, arrives from Paris with news of his father's suicide and falls in love with Eugénie, with whom he exchanges vows before leaving for Martinique to repair his fortune. Père Grandet intercepts their letters and locks up Eugénie after learning that she has lent Charles money for his voyage. His mind affected by the death of his wife, Grandet is trapped while contemplating his money and in his efforts to escape is killed by a chest of gold. Eugénie is about to sign a marriage contract with Cruchot when Charles arrives to claim her.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Silent
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jan 1921
Premiere Information
New York premiere: ca8 Jul 1921
Production Company
Metro Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Eugénie Grandet by Honorè de Balzac (Paris, 1833).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 29m
Film Length
7 reels

Articles

The Conquering Power


Based on the 1883 novel Eugenie Grandet by Honore de Balzac, The Conquering Power (1921) was an attempt to recreate the chemistry of the previous year's The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, reuniting director Rex Ingram, screenwriter June Mathis, actress Alice Terry and the incomparable Rudolph Valentino. While Four Horsemen had been an epic drama, The Conquering Power was conceived as a more intimate film, albeit one spiced with dashes of moral decadence and moments of cinematic bravado.

Valentino stars as Charles Grandet, pampered son of a Paris millionaire (Eric Mayne). When the big-city magnate suffers severe financial losses, he sends his son to the countryside to live with the brother (Ralph Lewis) from whom he has been estranged for years. Charles is immediately attracted to his cousin Eugenie (Alice Terry) but Pere Grandet is determined to foil their romance. Knowing his nephew is penniless, Grandet dispatches the youth to Martinique so that he can arrange a more financially lucrative marriage for his daughter. While away, Charles proves himself to be industrious and ambitious, and fate brings him back to the Grandet house years later, just as Eugenie prepares to wed another.

After the success of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Valentino was suddenly a top box-office attraction. However, Metro Studios did not share the public's opinion. On Four Horsemen he had been paid a mere $350 a week. Now that he was a star, he asked Metro for an additional $100 per week but the studio was only willing to give him fifty. As a result, when he finished The Conquering Power he offered his services to Paramount Studios (Famous Players-Lasky), which immediately signed him to a five-year contract. There, he made the films that transformed him from a star into a legend: The Sheik (1921) and Blood and Sand (1922).

As head of the Metro script department, Mathis was one of the most influential women in early cinema. In scripting The Conquering Power, Mathis freely deviated from Balzac's text in order to create a more commercially viable and dramatically satisfying ending than the novel's original denouement, in which Charles wins Eugenie's heart, borrows her savings and returns to Paris (and his decadent lifestyle) to squander her small fortune. Mathis also devised a plot twist whereby Charles and Eugenie are not related by blood and can thus be romantically entwined without the spectre of incest looming overhead.

Mathis is credited with having discovered Valentino, writing the scripts of five of his films (tailoring them to his personality) and insisting on his being cast in certain roles. She was so dedicated to Valentino that, upon the actor's death in 1926, she permitted his remains to be interred in her personal crypt. When she died in a fire the following year, Valentino's remains were then relocated to Mathis' husband's crypt until a permanent resting place could be found.

Valentino's costar in The Conquering Power was Alice Terry, who had become Mrs. Ingram after the actress and director had fallen in love during the shooting of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. A talented and unpretentious actress, Terry was impressed by Valentino's unconventional method of acting. "He always suggested more than he gave. He underacted always.... I always had the impression that I was playing with a volcano that might erupt at any minute. It never did, but that was the secret of his appeal. That was why women loved him."

However, Terry recognized that his immortality as a star was due more to his premature death than his acting talents. "The biggest thing Valentino ever did was to die," she quipped.

The most memorable element of The Conquering Power is not really Valentino's soulful gaze but the horrific sequence in which Ingram depicts Pere Grandet's mental collapse. Locked inside his vault of hidden treasures, Grandet is suddenly tormented by the wealth that he has allowed to twist his mind. Emaciated hands emerge from a trunk of gold, coins spill from the mouth of a spectral figure and the walls literally close in on the deranged miser. Ingram was good friends with legendary director Erich von Stroheim and it is clear from viewing this sequence that The Conquering Power was a great influence upon Greed, which von Stroheim produced two years later.

It was Ingram who helped von Stroheim edit Greed down to the 18-reel length the director preferred. Coincidentally, the person who was later assigned to further reduce the film to a mere 10 reels (much to von Stroheim and Ingram's chagrin) was none other than Mathis, who was then working at the Goldwyn Studio.

The hallucination scene is endowed with a dim and moody look that was uncommon to films of the day. This shadowy aesthetic would become the trademark of cinematographer John Seitz, whose later credits include such legendary films noir as This Gun for Hire (1942), Double Indemnity (1944) and The Big Clock (1948).

Seitz later remembered director Ingram as "the most colorful and interesting character I ever met in my life." Irish-born Ingram (1893-1950) was a temperamental filmmaker who brooked little interference on his sets. Because he retired at the onset of sound filmmaking, and because so few of his features exist today, he is largely overlooked by film historians. At the time, however, his work was favorably compared with that of the giants: Griffith, von Stroheim and De Mille.

Since Metro could not afford to shoot The Conquering Power on location in France, Ingram compromised by having his cast speak French while on camera, to help them get into the proper mindset (a technique he had used in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse). This technique also added a layer of authenticity for silent-movie lip-readers who liked to decipher what the stars were really saying.

When Valentino left Metro for Paramount, Ingram attempted to replace him with another handsome Mediterranean plucked from the ranks of unknown character actors: Ramon Navarro. Although Navarro was an accomplished actor, and would later star in Ben-Hur (1926), his fame was always eclipsed by that of Valentino, who remained the screen's definitive Latin lover.

Producer and Director: Rex Ingram
Screenplay: June Mathis
Based on the novel Eugenie Grandet by Honore de Balzac
Director of Photography: John F. Seitz
Principal Cast: Alice Terry (Eugenie Grandet), Rudolph Valentino (Charles Grandet), Ralph Lewis (Pere Grandet), Edna Demaurey (Mrs. Grandet), Edward Connelly (Notary Cruchot), Eric Mayne (Pere Grandet), Bridgetta Clark (Lucienna des Grassins).
BW-90m.

by Bret Wood
The Conquering Power

The Conquering Power

Based on the 1883 novel Eugenie Grandet by Honore de Balzac, The Conquering Power (1921) was an attempt to recreate the chemistry of the previous year's The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, reuniting director Rex Ingram, screenwriter June Mathis, actress Alice Terry and the incomparable Rudolph Valentino. While Four Horsemen had been an epic drama, The Conquering Power was conceived as a more intimate film, albeit one spiced with dashes of moral decadence and moments of cinematic bravado. Valentino stars as Charles Grandet, pampered son of a Paris millionaire (Eric Mayne). When the big-city magnate suffers severe financial losses, he sends his son to the countryside to live with the brother (Ralph Lewis) from whom he has been estranged for years. Charles is immediately attracted to his cousin Eugenie (Alice Terry) but Pere Grandet is determined to foil their romance. Knowing his nephew is penniless, Grandet dispatches the youth to Martinique so that he can arrange a more financially lucrative marriage for his daughter. While away, Charles proves himself to be industrious and ambitious, and fate brings him back to the Grandet house years later, just as Eugenie prepares to wed another. After the success of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Valentino was suddenly a top box-office attraction. However, Metro Studios did not share the public's opinion. On Four Horsemen he had been paid a mere $350 a week. Now that he was a star, he asked Metro for an additional $100 per week but the studio was only willing to give him fifty. As a result, when he finished The Conquering Power he offered his services to Paramount Studios (Famous Players-Lasky), which immediately signed him to a five-year contract. There, he made the films that transformed him from a star into a legend: The Sheik (1921) and Blood and Sand (1922). As head of the Metro script department, Mathis was one of the most influential women in early cinema. In scripting The Conquering Power, Mathis freely deviated from Balzac's text in order to create a more commercially viable and dramatically satisfying ending than the novel's original denouement, in which Charles wins Eugenie's heart, borrows her savings and returns to Paris (and his decadent lifestyle) to squander her small fortune. Mathis also devised a plot twist whereby Charles and Eugenie are not related by blood and can thus be romantically entwined without the spectre of incest looming overhead. Mathis is credited with having discovered Valentino, writing the scripts of five of his films (tailoring them to his personality) and insisting on his being cast in certain roles. She was so dedicated to Valentino that, upon the actor's death in 1926, she permitted his remains to be interred in her personal crypt. When she died in a fire the following year, Valentino's remains were then relocated to Mathis' husband's crypt until a permanent resting place could be found. Valentino's costar in The Conquering Power was Alice Terry, who had become Mrs. Ingram after the actress and director had fallen in love during the shooting of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. A talented and unpretentious actress, Terry was impressed by Valentino's unconventional method of acting. "He always suggested more than he gave. He underacted always.... I always had the impression that I was playing with a volcano that might erupt at any minute. It never did, but that was the secret of his appeal. That was why women loved him." However, Terry recognized that his immortality as a star was due more to his premature death than his acting talents. "The biggest thing Valentino ever did was to die," she quipped. The most memorable element of The Conquering Power is not really Valentino's soulful gaze but the horrific sequence in which Ingram depicts Pere Grandet's mental collapse. Locked inside his vault of hidden treasures, Grandet is suddenly tormented by the wealth that he has allowed to twist his mind. Emaciated hands emerge from a trunk of gold, coins spill from the mouth of a spectral figure and the walls literally close in on the deranged miser. Ingram was good friends with legendary director Erich von Stroheim and it is clear from viewing this sequence that The Conquering Power was a great influence upon Greed, which von Stroheim produced two years later. It was Ingram who helped von Stroheim edit Greed down to the 18-reel length the director preferred. Coincidentally, the person who was later assigned to further reduce the film to a mere 10 reels (much to von Stroheim and Ingram's chagrin) was none other than Mathis, who was then working at the Goldwyn Studio. The hallucination scene is endowed with a dim and moody look that was uncommon to films of the day. This shadowy aesthetic would become the trademark of cinematographer John Seitz, whose later credits include such legendary films noir as This Gun for Hire (1942), Double Indemnity (1944) and The Big Clock (1948). Seitz later remembered director Ingram as "the most colorful and interesting character I ever met in my life." Irish-born Ingram (1893-1950) was a temperamental filmmaker who brooked little interference on his sets. Because he retired at the onset of sound filmmaking, and because so few of his features exist today, he is largely overlooked by film historians. At the time, however, his work was favorably compared with that of the giants: Griffith, von Stroheim and De Mille. Since Metro could not afford to shoot The Conquering Power on location in France, Ingram compromised by having his cast speak French while on camera, to help them get into the proper mindset (a technique he had used in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse). This technique also added a layer of authenticity for silent-movie lip-readers who liked to decipher what the stars were really saying. When Valentino left Metro for Paramount, Ingram attempted to replace him with another handsome Mediterranean plucked from the ranks of unknown character actors: Ramon Navarro. Although Navarro was an accomplished actor, and would later star in Ben-Hur (1926), his fame was always eclipsed by that of Valentino, who remained the screen's definitive Latin lover. Producer and Director: Rex Ingram Screenplay: June Mathis Based on the novel Eugenie Grandet by Honore de Balzac Director of Photography: John F. Seitz Principal Cast: Alice Terry (Eugenie Grandet), Rudolph Valentino (Charles Grandet), Ralph Lewis (Pere Grandet), Edna Demaurey (Mrs. Grandet), Edward Connelly (Notary Cruchot), Eric Mayne (Pere Grandet), Bridgetta Clark (Lucienna des Grassins). BW-90m. by Bret Wood

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

An earlier adaptation of Eugénie Grandet was produced by the Eclair Film Co. in 1910 (see Film Beginnings, 1893-1910).