Fairbanks stars in this amusing tale of an older, balder, fatter Don Juan and his realization that his legendary power over women may be waning. Oberon costars as a younger dancer who persuades him that the old magic still lingers.
"There comes a time in a man's life when he needs rest, and I'm going to have it!" So says the aging Don Juan (Douglas Fairbanks), badly needing a vacation from his status as the world's greatest lover. And so it was with Fairbanks himself in this, his final film after decades of swashbuckling stardom. It was 1934--the Great Depression was in full swing, and Fairbanks wasn't faring much better; audiences grew weary of the adventures that made him a superstar throughout the 1920s. Here, Fairbanks's farewell takes the form of self-deprecating satire, showing Don Juan on a diet, getting a massage after a night of leaping from the balconies of bored wives and swooning maidens.
It's fun to a point, and although Fairbanks seems as tired as his character, he gamely pokes fun at his image while upholding its screen traditions. The film itself is '30s comedy at its stodgiest; veteran British producer-director Alexander Korda has all of England's filmmaking resources at his disposal, including sets and costumes as lavish as they come, and yet he seems to have no affinity for the humor. It's hit-and-miss, with Don Juan faking his own death to earn his much-needed rest. The plan backfires, naturally, forcing the still-vital lover to convince his true beloved (played by Merle Oberon) that he'll be faithful to the end. Clearly, the best way to appreciate The Private Life of Don Juan is to view it in the context of Fairbanks's stellar career; isolated from that legacy of screen charm and physicality, this movie badly needs Viagra. --Jeff Shannon