Bardelys the Magnificent (1926)

Feature Article Film Review

BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT

Release Date: 30 September, 1926

Studio: MGM

Director: King Vidor

Starring: John Gilbert (Bardelys), Eleanor Boardman (Roxalanne de Lavedan), Roy D'Arcy (Chatellerault), Lionel Belmore (Vicomte de Lavedan), Emily Fitzroy (Vicomtesse de Lavendan), George K. Arthur (St. Eustache), Arthur Lubin (King Louis XIII), Theodore von Eltz (Lesperon), Karl Dane (Rodenard)

Scenario adapted by Dorothy Farnum from the 1906 novel by Rafael Sabatini

Cinematography: William Daniels

Synopsis

In 17th century France, the Marquis de Bardelys is the gentleman talked about. Men and women eagerly pass gossip about him from one to the next.

At Bardelys' house, the major domo opens the door and tries to keep a woman out. She is the dark enchantress type, and after she enters, Bardelys embraces her. Her husband, sword in hand, pushes through the door. Bardelys, dueling casually, tells the woman that she should not "stray" when her husband fights so well. As he advises them to kiss and make up, he fights the husband out the door, and the major domo closes it. Another woman arrives, a fair-haired enchantress. He gives her a locket with his hair. The scene shifts to the court where a woman displays her locket with his hair, at which point many women open their lockets. The scene shifts again showing that the hair is cut off a wig and put into lockets.

At the Vicomte de Lavedan's castle, the Comte Chatellerault, Bardelys' rival in fashion and love, has been refused by the daughter of the house, Roxalanna de Lavedan. Angry and vindictive, he threatens them, calling them rebels against the king. Roxalanna says that she despises him.

At Bardelys' house, the courtiers are dining when Chatellerault enters. All of them know Roxalanna has refused him, and they mock him. Bardelys tries to stop them and toasts Chatellerault. Some of the men say Bardelys can have any woman he wants. Chatellerault declares that Bardelys could not win Roxalanna and dares him to try. Chatellerault writes out a pact; Bardelys will give him all his property if Bardelys cannot win Roxalanna Lavedan in three months. Chatellerault will give all his property to Bardelys if he wins her. When King Louis XIII enters, he tells Bardelys to stay at court, but Bardelys says his honor is involved.

The third reel of the film is lost, and this portion of the story is currently told using stills and subtitles. With a large train, Bardelys goes by back roads to avoid being stopped by the king's men. Lost, he tries to sleep in a barn and finds a dying man who gives him letters and a locket. The man, Rene de Lesperon, says, "Tell her I love her." Bardelys continues his journey alone. Stopping at an inn, he meets the King's men and to avoid being detained gives his name as Lesperon. Unfortunately for Bardelys, Lesperon is the name of a rebel, and the soldiers try to arrest him. He fights his way out but is wounded. He goes to castle Lavedan and climbs to Roxalanna's room. He tells her that his wound resulted from fighting the King's men.

The extant film recommences at this point. Roxalanna hides Bardelys from the guards and her father. Alone with him, she tells Bardelys to leave. He climbs out the window, falls to the ground, is hurt, and faints. He wakes up in bed. Vicomte Lavedan thinks he is Lesperon, a rebel against the king. He is welcome in Lavedan's house. When his train arrives, he tells Lavedan to send it away.

Bardelys, recovering from his injury, remains at Lavedan's castle. The Chevalier St Eustache, Lavedan's neighbor, tells Roxalanna about the wager between the Marquis of Bardelys and Chatellerault. Bardelys sees that Roxalanna is upset having her name subject to jest and gossip. During a boat ride, he makes love to Roxalanna and states that although he must go, he will return to tell her what he dare not reveal now. When they reach shore, St Eustache is waiting. He has letters to Lesperon from his fiancée, Mademoiselle de Marsac, but Bardelys denies knowing the lady. St Eustache calls Bardelys a liar and says that only traitors such as the Lavedan family would protect him. Bardelys chases him away. Roxalanna leads Bardelys to a garden shrine and vows her heart to him. He cannot return the vow as either Bardelys or Lesperon and turns away. At this moment, St Eustache comes back with another love letter to Lesperon from his fiancée. Roxalanna, very hurt, leaves him. Soldiers are at Lavedan's door seeking Rene de Lesperon. Roxalanna points him out to them.

Bardelys is brought before the Tribunal of Toulouse. Bardelys thinks that Chatellerault, who is a judge, will identify him. He is dumfounded when Chatellerault denies his acquaintance and says he will hang the next day. A contrite and sorrowful Roxalanna visits him in his cell and clings to him tearfully. The King in his coach is approaching Toulouse as Bardelys walks to the gallows. Standing on the gallows, Bardelys suddenly frees himself and leaps into a nearby wagon. He dashes about avoiding recapture, climbing walls, swinging on draperies, and fighting soldiers. Finally, he lands on the roof of the King's carriage. Laughing, the King greets him. Chatellerault and Roxalanna are in a room overlooking the gallows. Bardelys enters, and Roxalanna embraces him. To undo his dishonor to Roxalanna, he signs over to Chatellerault his house and estates. Bardelys has lost the wager. He then asks Roxalanna to marry him, but she has married Chatellerault in an attempt to save him. Bardelys says he will make her a widow and challenges Chatellerault to a duel. Bardelys wins, but cannot bring himself to kill Chatellerault. The King's soldiers enter to arrest Chatellerault, and, rather than submit, he falls on his sword.

After the body is carried away, Bardelys asks Roxalanna to marry him when the King arrives. The Kings says that Bardelys could have any woman, but he never wanted to marry one before. When they are finally alone, Bardelys and Roxalanna embrace.

Discussion

Bardelys the Magnificent (1926) is based on a 1906 book by Rafael Sabatini, a popular novelist of the early 20th century. Sabatini wrote lively historical romances usually set in Europe between the 16th and 18th centuries. Sabatini's novels Scaramouche and The Sea Hawk had been produced into highly successful films (in 1923 and 1924, respectively.) The success of these films had enhanced the stardom of actors Ramon Navarro and Milton Sills respectively, and the colorful and romantic role of Bardelys fit the screen image of John Gilbert, confident hero and ardent lover.

The film captures the mood of Sabatini's novel. It is filled with light-hearted romance and adventure. Except for the treacherous villain, Chatellerault, the characters are mostly likeable, amusing, and played for fun. The setting, 17th century France, allows colorful costumes for the men as well as the women. George K. Arthur, playing an annoying dandy, the Chevalier St Eustache, is arrayed in a particularly elaborate costume. Louis XIII also has a fine costume to fit his station. Much of the action occurs in richly appointed interiors, except for the swashbuckling denouement around the gallows at Toulouse. The dreamy boat ride of Rosalina and Bardelys is a charming scene as the boat glides through low hanging branches that Bardelys gently pushes aside.

King Vidor was in the midst of directing a series of great films when he made Bardelys the Magnificent. His two previous films were The Big Parade (1925), starring John Gilbert and Renee Adoree, and La bohéme (1926), with Gilbert and Lillian Gish. His next three films were The Crowd (1928), with Eleanor Boardman and James Murray, The Patsy (1928), and Show People (1928), both starring Marion Davies. In comparison with The Big Parade and The Crowd, which are landmark dramatic films of the silent era, Bardelys the Magnificent is played for light-hearted fun and romance.

John Gilbert was also in the midst of a series of outstanding films when he made Bardelys the Magnificent. His three previous films were Erich von Stroheim's The Merry Widow (1925) and Vidor's The Big Parade (1925), and La Bohéme (1926). His next film, Flesh and the Devil (1926), with Greta Garbo, made him a superstar. His role as Bardelys reveals Gilbert's fine acting skills. He is charming, dashing, and romantic.

Eleanor Boardman, Vidor's wife at the time (they divorced in 1931), has the part of the lovely and strong-willed heroine, Roxalanne. Just as it was for Vidor and Gilbert, Bardelys the Magnificent seems to have been a relaxed interlude for Boardman. Her next film role was as the plain, harassed wife and mother in Vidor's The Crowd.

Chatellerault, the smirking, devious and hateful villain, was a typical role for actor Roy D'Arcy. D'Arcy plays an even more odious character in The Merry Widow.

The standard for silent era swashbuckling heroes was set by Douglas Fairbanks in such films as The Mark of Zorro (1920) and The Three Musketeers (1921), and John Barrymore in Don Juan (1926). Film reviewers in Variety, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times favorably compared Gilbert's athletic feats to similar stunts in the films of these actors.

Reviews

The New York Times Film Reviews: Bardelys the Magnificent. November 1, 1926

The reviewer states that the Marquis de Bardelys is "a composite of D'Artagnan, Don Juan, and that millionaire cowboy, Tom Mix ... By his dashing portrayal of Bardelys, John Gilbert leaps into the active realms of Douglas Fairbanks, John Barrymore and Mr. Mix." The reviewer praises the "brilliant" direction by King Vidor and the "compelling" setting and outdoor scenes. He praises all the principal actors, calling Eleanor Boardman "charming", Roy D'Arcy "effective", and George K. Arthur "distinctive."

The reviewer also states that the story is entertaining but lacks the "dramatic strength possessed by other films of this type."

Variety Film Reviews: Bardelys the Magnificent. October 13, 1926.

The reviewer outlines the plot and predicts that the Gilbert "following" will bring satisfying grosses to all the regular film houses. He favorably compares Gilbert's athletic stunts to the similar stunts of Fairbanks and Barrymore. However, he states that Eleanor Boardman's performance, although sincere, is weak and that the part would have been better handled by Renee Adoree. He also calls Roy D'Arcy's performance "excellent," and that George K. Arthur "interprets an idiotic character in superb fashion."