Sam Wood (GOODBYE MR. CHIPS, PRIDE OF THE YANKEES) directs this delirious Elinor Glyn melodrama/roller-coaster ride through the English countryside, the Swiss Alps, Paris, London and the Sahara Desert! Brilliantly restored with a wonderful new orchestral score, BEYOND THE ROCKS is ready for its close-up.
Cultural cliché holds that Swanson's acting was as garish as her makeup, and the legend of Valentino is awash in camp. Yet in this picture--however preposterously plotted by Elinor (It) Glyn--both deliver very natural performances of behavioral subtlety and discretion. Swanson, as the loving daughter of a retired officer (Alec B. Francis), is willing to do anything to ensure that Papa's twilight years be comfortable. That includes marrying a much older, vulgar businessman (Robert Bolder) as wealthy as he is unappealing. It's inconvenient that she's just fallen for a dashing nobleman (Valentino) who's saved her from (1) drowning and (2) falling off an Alp. Both these beautiful people struggle to behave honorably, right up through a final reel in which the unsympathetic husband takes them--and the audience--by surprise.
Now, we mustn't make overmuch of a good thing: Beyond the Rocks, ably but unexcitingly directed by Sam Wood, isn't a lost Murnau or the uncut Greed. But it's a very respectable movie, free of the excesses (except Swanson's increasingly florid costumes!) carelessly attributed to silent films in general; and as a long-delayed footnote to two legendary careers, its historical importance is considerable. The Nederlands Filmmuseum restoration is gloriously sharp (apart from a few spasms of almost impenetrable nitrate deterioration), and the new score by Henny Vrienten sounds more like Mark Isham than the organ-and-calliope accompaniment too many silents have suffered from. --Richard T. Jameson