Cast & Crew
Shortly after the World War I, dancer Rudolph Valentino performs onboard a ship traveling from Naples, Italy to New York City. During the cruise, Rudy meets film actress Joan Carlisle, traveling under the name of Sarah Grey, and the two fall in love, although Joan never reveals her true identity. Jealous over Rudy's romance, Maria Torres, the head of his dance troupe, fires him. Upon arriving in New York, the penniless Rudy becomes a dishwasher and strikes up a friendship with waiter Luigi Verducci. When Rudy is fired for fighting, he borrows money from Luigi to purchase a tuxedo and soon is employed as a taxi dancer. Rudy gets Luigi a job in the danceclub as a waiter, then goes on to win the attentions of several matrons who are smitten by his sophisticated European style. One night film director Bill King comes to the club escorting Joan. While Rudy tangos elegantly with Joan, Bill wonders if the handsome young dancer would work in his new film. Rudy agrees to try and the next day at Metropolitan Studios in New Jersey, Rudy plays a bit role successfully with Lila Reyes, with whom he becomes immediate friends. After Lila reveals that Joan has casting approval for all her pictures, Rudy asks Joan out and takes her to a small Italian restaurant, where they renew their romance. The following day Bill asks Joan if she would approve Rudy for a small role in her next film, and when she learns that Rudy was aware of her cast approval, she accuses him of opportunism. Rudy sees nothing wrong with his behavior, but when Joan angrily offers him money, he storms off. Determined to make a go of it on his own, Rudy heads for Hollywood, where he plays several bit parts, then becomes enthused about the role of "Julio" in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse . Rudy performs a scintillating tango with Lila for Bill, hoping to win an audition for producer Mark Towers, but despite Bill's enthusiastic support, Mark refuses to consider an unknown. That evening, Rudy, in character as "Julio," crashes a party at Mark's and dances with Lila, impressing the producer and winning the role. The film is a hit and Rudy brings Luigi west to become his assistant. Rudy goes on to star in several films, gaining a large female following. Rudy continues asking Joan out, but she refuses, having begun dating Bill. Rudy persists, however, and follows Joan to a private beachside vacation spot, where they again take up their romance. However, when Rudy reveals he is not interested in marriage despite his love for her, Joan breaks off with him for good. Soon after, Bill telephones Rudy to ask him to be the best man at his wedding to Joan. Rudy's career success continues and he buys a mansion which he calls Falcon's Lair. Later, Mark tells Rudy he has purchased The Sheik for him, to be directed by Bill and co-star Joan. Both Rudy and Joan are nervous about playing love scenes together, and during filming require several takes before letting their guard down, as Bill and Star reporter Eddie Morgan watch. Later in private, Joan admits to Rudy her discomfort at working with him, and he angrily declares they will never make another picture together again. When The Sheik is a smash, however, Mark cannot understand Rudy's refusal to be re-teamed with Joan. Rudy takes a vacation with Luigi and reveals he has been suffering from acute pains in his side. Luigi forces Rudy to consult with a doctor, who diagnoses an inflamed appendix and advises rest and eventual surgery. Morgan visits Rudy to inquire about his relationship with Joan, but Rudy refuses to reveal anything. Angry at not getting a story, Morgan begins spying on both Rudy and Joan, certain the two are having a clandestine relationship. Mark then pressures Bill to get Rudy to agree to sign on for a new picture with Joan. Aware of his wife's feelings, Bill grows uneasy when Joan cannot decide about the new picture. Upset, Joan telephones Rudy and begs to see him. They arrange to meet at Rudy's Malibu cottage, and there, Joan declares she cannot remain with Bill any longer as she still loves Rudy. He agrees that they should be as honest and fair to Bill as possible. When leaving the cottage, however, the couple is photographed by Morgan's partner, who has followed Joan. Rudy hastily sends Joan away and gets into a fistfight with the photographer and Morgan, who threatens to ruin him and Joan. Although in pain from the fight, Rudy telephones Lila and pleads for help. He then returns to Falcon's Lair and arranges to meet Morgan and Joan there. When Joan arrives he tells her that because of the possible scandal, he cannot get involved with her, but Joan realizes he is lying to protect her. Morgan then arrives, and when Rudy announces his imminent marriage to Lila, who confirms his plans, Morgan agrees to kill his story. On the way to New York with Lila, Rudy is stricken and soon dies in the hospital. Upon reading the headline announcement about Rudy's death, Joan asks Bill if he knew about her feelings and he admits that he did. An enormous funeral is held for Rudy, and over the years on the anniversary of his death, a mysterious lady in black visits his tomb, keeping his legacy alive.
Hollywood had been considering a film biography of the first great Latin lover for years, but coming up with a screenplay that could pass muster with the era's censors, avoid lawsuits and still satisfy his fans was a major hurdle. By the early 1950s, however, there were two Valentino projects in development. To safeguard their production, Columbia bought out producer Jan Grippo, who had been working on Bowery Boys films at Monogram, and gave him an associate producer credit. That didn't please his writer, Charles Marion, who sued for damages.
According to the film's publicity, 75,000 actors tried out for the title role and producer Edward Small gave screen tests to 400 before coming up with Walter Fleischmann of Talmage, Nebraska. The young man had acted in the Army during World War II and had made his screen debut with an uncredited bit in Side Street (1950). Renamed Anthony Dexter, he would win the support of Rudolph Valentino fan clubs when production stills revealed his uncanny resemblance to the legendary star.
For box office insurance, the studio top-billed Eleanor Parker, who had recently left her Warner Bros. contract in search of better roles. She played Joan Carlisle, an amalgam of Valentino's leading ladies, primarily Alice Terry and Agnes Ayers, with a lot of fabrication and fictitious material added.
It was this approach that would cause major problems for Columbia. Instead of having the star discovered by writer June Mathis, who would mentor him throughout his career and even give him a burial plot when he died broke, the script had him discovered by Joan Carlisle (who didn't even exist!) on his first ocean voyage to the states. Their romance, even though she's married to their director (Richard Carlson as William King, a fictional version of Rex Ingram, who directed the two in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in 1921), was too much for Terry, who sued the studio for suggesting she and Valentino had had an affair. The $750,000 in damages awarded her cut into the film's meager profits. So did a $500,000 settlement with Valentino's sister and brother, who sued on the grounds that the screenplay defamed him.
At least by omitting Valentino's two wives, Jean Acker and Natacha Rambova, from the screenplay - both of whom were still alive at the time - the studio saved itself from two other lawsuits. Still, other historical changes occurred such as making Carlisle Valentino's leading lady in films that had different female stars and changing the order in which some of his pictures had been made. This did little to endear the film to critics. One change they had to make was omitting any suggestion that Valentino may also have had a few same-sex dalliances. Such material was strictly forbidden on the screen in the 1950s, though later critics have interpreted one scene as a gay reference - the one in which Joseph Calleia, as Valentino's servant, tells a rival gigolo, "For $50 Rudy would teach even you to tango."
Eleanor Parker and Patricia Medina, who shared an on-screen tango with Dexter, were the only performers to come out of Valentino relatively unscathed. Most critics attacked the script and Dexter's performance. Columbia tried building his career in roles Valentino himself might have played, like the double role in The Brigand (1952), before dropping him in 1954. After a few low-budget films, most notably the sci-fi camp classic Fire Maidens From Outer Space (1956), some television guest shots, and a few stage appearances, he retired from acting to teach high school speech and drama under the name Walter Craig.
That was hardly the end for Rudolph Valentino, who would suffer through two more filmed biographies. The 1975 television movie The Legend of Valentino featured Franco Nero as the star and romanticized his relationship with Mathis (Suzanne Pleshette). Ken Russell's 1977 biography, starring ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, went further than any previous film bio in exploring the rumors surrounding the star's sexual escapades.
Producer: Edward Small
Director: Lewis Allen
Screenplay: George Bruce
Based on the story "Valentino As I Knew Him" by Bruce
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Sr.
Art Direction: William Flannery
Music: Heinz Roemheld
Cast: Eleanor Parker (Joan Carlisle), Richard Carlson (William King), Patricia Medina (Lila Reyes), Joseph Calleia (Luigi Verducci), Dona Drake (Maria Torres), Lloyd Gough (Eddie Morgan), Anthony Dexter (Rudolph Valentino), Otto Kruger (Mark Towers).
by Frank Miller
Working titles for the film were The Life of Rudolph Valentino and The Valentino Story. Although the onscreen title reads Valentino, print publicity for the film often listed the title as Valentino: The Loves and Times of Rudolph Valentino. Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926), born Rodolfo Gulielmi, left Italy in 1912 at the age of seventeen and arrived in America the following year. As in the film, Valentino earned a living doing various odd jobs, including dish-washing, but gained attention through his dancing. The film glosses over the darker periods of Valentino's early days in America which included brushes with the law for blackmail and petty theft. As portrayed in the film, after some brief stage appearances, Valentino went to Hollywood in 1917, where he appeared in bit screen roles. However, it was screenwriter June Mathis, not an actress, who gave Valentino his big break in 1921. Mathis insisted that he be cast in the lead of M-G-M's production of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which was directed by Rex Ingram, the "Bill King" character in the film. In Valentino the release dates of several of the actor's films are altered; Paramount's The Sheik, for example, was actually released in 1921. Valentino's striking good looks and bold film characterizations gained him enormous popularity both in the U.S. and abroad. Nevertheless, Valentino's endured a rocky period under the management of his wife, set designer Natasha Rambova, before he returned to acclaim in United Artists' production of The Eagle in 1925. Valentino's final film was United Artists' The Son of the Sheik, released in 1926. Valentino died at the age of thirty-one of peritonitis brought on by a perforated ulcer and ruptured appendix. Unlike the film, there was no romantic scandal attached to Valentino's abrupt illness and death.
Valentino marked the motion picture debut of actor Anthony Dexter. An Hollywood Reporter April 1952 news item notes that Valentino's brother and sister filed a suit against producer Edward Small and Columbia Pictures, alleging that Valentino maligned the reputation, character and memory of their brother. The suit was settled in October 1952 for $500,000. In July 1951 actress Alice Terry, who had co-starred with Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Conquering Power, and upon whom the character of "Joan Carlisle" was very loosely based, filed suit against Small and Columbia for depicting her character as having carried on a "meretricious and illicit love affair" with Valentino, while married to director Ingram. The suit was settled in January 1953, awarding Terry $750,000. In March 1952, writer Charles Marion filed suit against producer January Grippo for abandoning his project on the life of Valentino, scripted by Marion. According to the suit, Grippo accepted payment and an associate producer credit from Small on Valentino in return for ceasing his production which would have interfered with the Columbia film. The outcome of that case has not been determined. In 1975 United Artists released Valentino, starring ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, directed by Ken Russell.