Valentino

1977, Movie, R, 132 mins

Review

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A typical Ken Russell movie that is high on visual content and low on humanity. VALENTINO is the bizarre, fascinating biography of the famed silent-screen actor. As in his other biographies, Russell doesn't appear to be too intrigued by the details of his lead's life, so he takes various elements of episodes and stages them surrealistically, with a fury that hardly befits the nature of some of the scenes. Russell seems more concerned with the reasons for the star's success as a sex symbol than with his relationships. Nureyev looks nothing like Valentino and is not a very good actor, but his screen charisma almost makes up for his lack of thespian ability. The movie commences as Nureyev is about to be buried amidst the mob scene in New York that marked his final moments above ground. People riot and press in to break the windows of the funeral parlor, and then Russell goes into a CITIZEN KANE flashback as the press questions various people in the actor's life. We see Nureyev as a ballroom dancing instructor, including one funny bit where Nureyev teaches Dowell (as the famous Nijinsky) how to do the tango. Next, Nureyev falls hard for the girl friend of a mobster and has to leave New York in a hurry, winding up doing a dance act in Hollywood with a drunken partner. While Hootkins (as Fatty Arbuckle) gives him a hard time, Nureyev manages to keep his cool. He meets and marries actress Kane and gets into films when he is discovered by Kendal (playing June Mathis, the head film cutter at MGM), who pulls him out of low-class comedies and recommends him for the role in THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE, which makes him a national sensation. Nureyev soon divorces Kane and meets the Russian Caron (playing Alla Nazimova) and Phillips (portraying Rambova). Nureyev marries Phillips but is soon charged with bigamy as his Mexican divorce from Kane is not recognized by California's courts. He's tossed into a tough clink where the criminals resent his fame and make it hard for him. These scenes are particularly distasteful and feature orgylike moments that are out of place. There is some question as to the actor's masculinity, so he agrees to battle a man who has challenged him and is whacked about when that man is replaced by a huge thug. It takes place in a nightclub and may be a figment of Russell's imagination, as far as we can tell. Nureyev wins the fight but the pounding he takes eventually leads to his becoming ill when he begins drinking heavily. The movie ends where it began, with the actor on his bier about to be interred. Nureyev's first movie shows that he has something, but what it is has yet to be determined. As was the case with Russell's other film bios, audiences were alternately outraged or charmed by this work; even the most severe detractors had to admit that it was different. The story of Valentino's life was badly made in 1951 with Tony Dexter in the lead. An odd bit of offbeat casting was the selection of "Bowery Boy" Huntz Hall to play the role of movie czar Jesse Lasky. There are special effects galore, and Russell's well-known penchant for outre camera angles is seen again and again. See if you can spot Thorson, who replaced Diana Rigg as "Emma Peel" on the TV show "The Avengers," in a small role. Coproducer Winkler, who usually casts a member of his family in some role, did not do that here, which may have been due to Russell's insistence that he hand-pick everyone in the cast. leave a comment

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