The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) Director: Rex Ingram
In returning to the silent era films after a brief respite, I encountered a monumental epic of cinematic history. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse tells the story of an Argentinian family of diverse roots as they grow and move to France before being split apart, fighting opposite one another during World War I. The story is based on a popular novel by Spanish writer, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, entitled Los Cuatro Jinetes del Apocalipsis (1916). After being translated into English, the novel was a best-seller in the United States in 1919. This 1921 version of the story was also later remade in 1962. It is the greatest film completed by Irish director, Rex Ingram, and it was one of the first film to gross more than $1,000,000 at the box office. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is still listed in certain places in the top six highest grossing films of all time.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a worthwhile endeavor, surely an early epic classic, however, I struggled with the film’s length and its seemingly endless story-telling. The plot is convoluted and complicated. It runs the risk of losing a grip on the modern mind, although it is a good film worth watching for true devotees of the silent era, particularly the memorable scene of the tango dancing “latin lover,” Rudy Valentino.
The film is notable for its explosive scenes of the Battle of the Marne in France during the First World War, and it also contains an early scene of tango dancing in which Rudolph (Rudy) Valentino, a relatively unknown actor at the time, instantly became a popular icon and one of Western cinema’s first sex symbols. However, as a young man his publicity got away from him. At one point, Ingram caught the press snapping photos of Valentino behind the studio lot as he posed on a horse, amusingly with his saddle mistakenly on backwards. Rudy Valentino appeared in several more films before collapsing due to appendicitis-like symptoms and ulcers that killed him shortly, thereafter. He died in 1926 at age 31.
The screenplay was written by June Mathis who had a fascination with apocalyptic symbolism from the Biblical book of Revelation. She was one of the most powerful women in early Hollywood, becoming one of the youngest (age 35) and most highly paid executives at MGM. She is most closely associated with writing the screenplays for The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Greed, and Ben-Hur. She is also often credited with discovering Rudy Valentino. During the film, the actors spoke French in order to appear more authentic to lip readers -a subtle detail lost on modern audiences.