a/perture cinema, the Official Movie Sponsor of The Less Desirables, presents The Less Desirables Movie of the Week, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). It stars Rudolph Valentino, Pomeroy Cannon, Alan Hale
Per IMDb: “An extended family split up in France and Germany find themselves on opposing sides of the battlefield during World War I.”
I’m warning you, this is a long description. Okay, how this very long monstrosity of silent film starts off is: there’s this Spaniard rancher named Madariaga who has two daughters, one who marries a German (who Madariaga hates) and one who married a Frenchman (who Madariaga adores). The film does state, however, that a lot of the youth around this rancher’s farm does look a lot like him. I wonder what that means? That’s sarcasm. Anywhat! the daughter who married the German has three sons and she and her husband hope that the Frenchman’s wife (who in the film’s beginning is preparing for childbirth) gives birth to a daughter, that way their three sons will inherit the old Spaniard’s millions. Well, as luck would have it, the baby is a boy, named Julio Desnoyers (Valentino).
Cut-scene to Buenos Aires where Julio and the Centaur (the nickname of Madariaga) frequent bars in seedy parts of town, where the Centaur is often drunk. And there’s a monkey. They have a monkey. Julio’s parents think the Centaur is a bad influence whilst the German side are staunch Germans and have no fun, only respect for the Fatherland. There’s a quote from Nietzsche’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra” (no, I’m not that smart, I had to Google it) that states: “Man shall be trained for war, and woman for the recreation of the warrior: all else is folly.” That’s staunch, right? Well, the German grandsons are all concerned because they heard the Centaur gave Julio a lot of money and land in his will. Well, guess what, in Buenos Aires, the Centaur dies whilst riding his horse. Turns out, he didn’t give everything to Julio, after all. He divided it between the two daughters, evenly. And, there’s still a monkey. Upon this development, the Germans move back to the Fatherland and the French go to Paris, but not without a hitch: Marcelo Desnoyers was a defector. He risks going back for the family’s happiness.
Julio was a manwhore in Paris, “studying” art whilst being surrounded by women constantly; wracking extensive and expensive tabs everywhere in the city. His mother refuses to give him money because of the naked “models” in his studio. She does, however, give him items of value to which he can trade.He has the monkey. He falls in love with Marguerite Laurier, the much younger wife of his father’s good friend. The husband grants a divorce to avoid scandal (he’s a politician) but before anything can happen between Julio and Marguerite, World War I breaks out. Everything is on hold. Well, not hold but preparations for war sends France into a tizzy. I guess you can see where this is going.
The stranger that lives above Julio’s studio, with his long beard and dark eyes starts rattling off biblical prophecies and visuals of gloom and doom are thrown upon the screen, including scenes of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Nation rising against nation. Marcelo gets caught up in his desertion from earlier and feels badly. Marguerite becomes a nurse, she starts taking care of Etienne (her ex-husband) who’s been blinded; Julio is unhappy. So, Julio also joins the war, even though he’s not a French native. Again, that danged monkey shows up. What is it about that monkey?
Marcelo goes back to his castle in the northern part of the country. More horsemen visuals. More carnage. More horsemen. That danged monkey. More killings. The Germans overtake the castle, forcing him to host a general and his staff, one of which is his nephew. His nephew tries to protect him but he’s arrested after an incident involving an officer’s assault on a woman. He’s to be executed but, surprise! Here come the Allies and the “Miracle on the Marne!” Marcelo is saved but his castle, and its riches within, is destroyed. More horsemen visuals! And… Marcelo returns to Paris. He’s happy to see Julio has joined the French. He tells Julio that his own flesh and blood has joined the enemy so if you see them, shoot. Kill.
Four years pass and the Allies get stronger and finally push the Germans back. Julio shows up from the battle and has gained some recognition for his bravery and service on the “front.” That stupid monkey again. Julio then sets off on a mission to “no man’s land” where he comes face-to-face with his cousin in a trench. Then BOOM! They’re blown to bits from a shell. Why wasn’t the monkey in there with them? Anywhat, Marguerite tries to leave Etienne but the ghost of Julio tells her to stay with him. She does.
Cut-scene to Marcelo and his wife over the grave of Julio. Marcelo sees the stranger from above Julio’s studio in the graveyard and he asks him if he knew his son. The stranger then stretches out his arms (a la the “Christ Pose”) and states: “I knew them all.” He then points to the sky and shows Marcelo the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding away into the clouds. He states, too: “Peace has come—but the Four Horsemen will still ravage humanity—stirring unrest in the world—until all hatred is dead and only love reigns in the heart of mankind.” The End.
Okay, so I laid out the entire film and yes, I know it was long. But, what I just did was save you, Dear Reader, the need to ever sit through this film. That is, unless you have insomnia, are a glutton for punishment, or you have to watch it to fulfill an obligation (which is why I did it). I think there’s nothing wrong with this film structurally, but I also think the whole thing could have been told and shown in around an 1:15, not the 2:12 it took up of my time. The book was only 327 in paperback. The story itself was actually good, but mix my short attention span with this long of having to read my movie and classical music, I was done after an hour. I sat through it all, though. I fell asleep only twice and had to rewind it to catch myself back up.
The reason I watched it was because it was on the AFI list of top 400 movies of all time. I can see where it was revolutionary but, jeez o’Pete, it was way too much for me. Rotten Tomatoes has no rating on its Tomatometer, which to me is odd since it’s one of the oldest films in history; only two critics have reviewed it. It does have an Audience Score of 75%, though. Some are strong, I guess. Same with IMDb: 7.9 stars out of 10. As I stated, the story itself was very good, I maybe could have read the book quicker than watch this film (I know that’s not true). Based on the story itself I would rate it 3.5 stars. However, being as I had to sit through badly preserved film stock and the length, for the film itself, I’m rating it only 2 stars. The only film I can think of that dragged as badly as this was another silent film from about three years prior, Birth of a Nation. Between the two, I’d be hard pressed to choose which was actually worst. I’d rather sit through Twilight or The Hunger Games before watching another like this. I watched this on Amazon Prime and I had to “rent” it because it’s not available as part of the Prime membership and wasn’t on Netflix. The best part was being able to mark it off the AFI list.
Have you seen this film? Did you stay awake the whole time? If so, I’d like to hear what you think.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
“n a world old in hatred and bloodshed, where nation is crowded against nation and creed against creed, centuries of wars have sewn their bitter seed, and the fires of resentment smoldering beneath the crust of civilization but await the breaking of the Seven Seals of Prophesy to start a mighty conflagration.” – Opening card of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse