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This 1921 anti-war masterpiece by Rex Ingram is an amazing cinematic experience. The photography by John Seitz is breathtaking, and for the most part (there is one section that's a little dark) it's very clear.
It's also a delight to read the adaptation of the Blasco Ibañez story by June Mathis. It has the flourishes in keeping with the era, and the poetic quality of it is lovely. It was Mathis who insisted on the casting of Valentino as Julio, giving him his first big heroic part.
This exquisite work of art is a massive production, 2 1/2 hours long, and wonderfully acted by all...even the monkey is terrific ! This video has the original score by Blaine L. Gale, and it fits the action perfectly.
The performance by Rudolph Valentino is a treasure. His grace and beauty have had few equals in film history, if any. He's simply gorgeous in this, and to watch him dance the tango in that smoky La Boca club is enthralling. I rewind it and watch it over and over...the musicality of it is absolutely astounding. Yes, Rudy lives in my heart, and in the hearts of many, for as long as the magic of film exists.
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In some respects THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE suffers from being known as the film that made Rudolph Valentino a star; consequently, it is usually regarded as a Valentino vehicle rather than as a powerful film of World War I on an equal footing with the more widely acclaimed THE BIG PARADE and WINGS. Even so, HORSEMEN's deeper message far surpasses either and in an artistic sense leaves WINGS in the dust and is at least the equal of PARADE.
The film is not really a Valentino vehicle per se, for Valentino's role is equalled by the roles played by Josef Swickard and Alice Terry; consequently it has an ensemble nature quite unlike most other Valentino films. Based on the once famous but rather heavy-handed Ibanez novel, HORSEMEN tells the story of an extremely wealthy Argentine rancher whose two daughters marry European men, one from France (Swickard) and one from Germany (Alan Hale.) When the rancher dies, dividing his estate between his daughters, the women return with their families to Europe, one family residing in Germany and the other in France. The German family's sons quickly rise to high status, but the French family has a more difficult time, with father Swickard becoming increasingly materialistic and spolied son Valentino emerging as a womanizer who provokes a scandal by a torrid affair with the wife (Alice Terry) of his father's closest friend. Just as these various plot lines reach a climax, World War I explodes around them, reducing their personal concerns to so much trivia and placing the two families on opposing sides.
Interestingly, the performances in HORSEMAN bridge the gap between the very broad efforts of most early silent film and the considerably more subtle playing of the late silent era. Swickard gives a notable performance, Alice Terry is quite charming, and Valentino--still and unknown--plays with considerably more restraint than in later films... and is all the better for it. The cinematography is superb, and the film contains a number of scenes--the Valentino tango and the vision of horsemen riding through the sky, among others--of considerable power, and the overall film with its strong anti-war message is still very compelling and packs a whallop. Considerably superior to the later remake; recommended to silent film fans, war-genre fans, and Valentino fans alike.
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on January 23, 2005
This movie was a huge blockbuster when it came out in the Spring of 1921; it goes without saying that had the Oscars and Academies been around back then, it so would have been nominated in every relevant category and probably would have swept the awards as well! It's even better because it was directed by the incredible Rex Ingram (whose lovely-looking wife Alice Terry plays Marguerite, the married woman whom Julio has an affair with) and had the screenplay written by the legendary June Mathis, who was one of the most powerful women in Hollywood at the time. Ms. Mathis was very heavily into spiritualism and mystic overtones in her movies, and she made these leanings manifest in the philosopher with the long beard who foresees the coming apocalypse and the subsequent havoc wrought by the four horsemen. The scenes of the horsemen galloping across the sky at periodic intervals as chaos reigns are some chilling powerful stuff. The battle scenes, images of destruction, and the part where Julio's father's house is taken over by the enemy are also incredibly powerful, and made even more powerful and effective because there's no sound (apart of course from the background music) to get in the way of conveying these powerful moments and images.

Besides telling an epic story of WWI and the family torn apart by it due to conflicting loyalties in their bloodline, it also tells very well the story of the family before the War, back when they still lived in Argentina, how they decided to move back to Europe (even though Julio's dad was very frightened to do so, seeing as he skipped out on military duty years before and was afraid he was still being hunted by the authorities), and most importantly of all Julio's growth from decadent libertine painter, having an affair with a married woman, to responsible fully-realised man unafraid to do his duty to France, even though he had been exempted from military service. He didn't have to go into the army; he CHOSE to do so because he wanted to do the right thing, grow up, and yes, also impress Marguerite because her husband had also joined the fight and he wanted to prove to her that he was worthy of her love and affection and not some little coward hiding from his duties and responsibilities as a man and as a citizen. As an animal-lover, I also found Julio's little pet monkey to be incredibly cute and charming; I loved when his father came to visit him after he'd joined the army and brought along a surprise from his mother, which turned out to be the monkey dressed in a little uniform and backpack of his own! Another great scene with the monkey was when Julio was listening to his grandfather's will being read and found that he hadn't gotten anything, despite being the pet grandchild, and the monkey consoled him by putting his hand on his.

This movie is incredibly stunning, moving, and powerful at so many levels; people who bash or make fun of silents have obviously never seen one like this one, which is a much more representative example of the genre than the bad seeds or ones taken out of context on purpose as "proof" that all silents are bad or overacted. It really deserves to be on DVD, not only because it's such a fine movie but also because some of the text is a bit hard to read on the print on the video. I'm told the laser disc version, remastered by Kevin Brownlow, was absolutely fantastic; one can only hope that will be the version that gets picked if it's ever put out on DVD.
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VINE VOICEon November 17, 2010
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse may be the finest anti-war film ever made, but it is remembered mostly as the film that launched Rudolph Valentino on his meteoric career. The title of this 1921 film comes from the biblical chapter Revelations and the 1919 novel by Vicente Blasco Ibanez. It was adapted by June Mathis, a screenwriter and director who was the head of Metro Pictures (later to become MGM).

The film has more than 50 principal characters including Rudolph Valentino, Alan Hale, Wallace Beery, Josef Swickard, and Alice Terry.

Valentino (1895-1926) started in films in 1914 and slowly made his way up the food chain, often playing a dancer. He got the role as the son of a Frenchman (Josef Wickland) married to an Argentine woman (Bridgetta Clark) for which he was paid $350 a week and required to provide his own costumes. He was an overnight success, and release later that same year of "The Sheik" transformed him into the biggest box office star of the era and created "the Latin lover" type that would endure. He followed up these successes with "Blood and Sand" in 1922. He died in 1926 at the age of 31 from a burst appendix. His final film "Son of the Sheik" was released that year.

Alan Hale (1892-1950) appears as Valentino's German uncle. Hale made more than 200 films and was a frequent sidekick to Errol Flynn in films such as "Robin Hood" (1938), "Dodge City" (1939), "Virginia City" (1940), "The Sea Hawk" (1940), "Santa fe Trail" (1940), and "Gentleman Jim" (1942). He has the distinction of appearing as Little John in the 1922 version with Douglas Fairbanks, again in 1938 with Flynn, and finally in 1950 in "Rogues of Sherwood Forest" with John Derek.

Wallace Beery (1885-1949) plays an evil German officer. He started in films in 1913 and appeared in nearly 100 silent films, the most notable of which were "Last of the Mohicans" (1920) as Magua, "Robin Hood" (1922) as King Richard, and "Lost World" (1925) as the Professor. Beery played an Indian, a Swede, a Hobo, a Cowboy, a Mexican, a Sheik, a Chinaman, etc. In the 30s Beery was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, starring in the popular "Min and Bill" (1930), "The Big House" (1930) and winning the Oscar for "The Champ" (1931). His other notable films were "Grand Hotel" (1932), Viva Villa" (1934) and "Treasure Island" (1934).

Josef Swickland (1866-1940) was a German actor, but ironically he appears as the French father to Valentino. Although he made more than 200 films, this is the role he is most famous for.

Alice Terry (1899-1987) plays Valentino's love interest. She started in films in 1916 and in 1921 married director Rex Ingram during the production of "The Prisoner of Zenda." She appeared mainly in silent films.

Rex Ingram (1892-1950) directed this film, the same year he married Valentino's co-star Alice Terry. He was considered one of the greatest directors of the silent era, alongside such notables as D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille. He made 30 films, all but two of them silent. Among his most memorable films are "Prisoner of Zenda" (1922), "Scaramouche" (1923), and "Ben Hur" (1925). He helped launch the career of Ramon Navarro who was Valentino's chief rival for the "Latin Lover" title. Navarro starred in Scaramouche and Ben Hur.

June Mathis produced the film for Metro. Mathis was one of the most powerful film executives in the silent era. In addition to "The Four Horsemen" her projects included classics such as "Blood and Sand" (1922), "Greed" (1924), and "Ben Hur" (1926). She was a live long friend to Valentino and he was buried in her crypt.

The film was a major production of Metro, taking 6 months to shoot at a time when films were made in weeks. Costs were nearly $100,000 at a time when films could be made for less than $10,000. The film is more than 2 hours long, which again was unusual at the time. "The Kid" with Chaplin and Jackie Coogan was released that same year and ran only 60 minutes. "The Sheik", released later that year, ran only 80 minutes. "The Covered Wagon" (1923) was a mere 83 minutes and even John Ford's "The Iron Horse" (1924) ran under 2 hours. In that era, only "Greed" (1924) and "Ben Hur" (1926) were longer.

Metro took a big chance and were rewarded handsomely. The film met with critical and commercial acclaim. It took in more than $4,000,000 which made it the 6th highest grossing silent film of all time. The lives of Valentino, Ingram, and Mathis prospered immediately, and participants such as Alan Hale and Wallace Beery helped cement their already burgeoning careers.

The film also created "the Latin Lover" archetype and propelled the Argentine tango into popularity where it has remained ever since. The mantle of "Latin Lover" would be worn by Ramon Navarro, Gilbert Roland, Cesar Romero, Ricardo Montalban, Fernando Lamas, and Antonio Banderas.

Of course you'll want to see this film for Valentino's tango scenes, but this really is a much more substantial movie.
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on August 16, 2013
This was Rudy's break out role. It made him a mega star overnight. There is a shot of him when he is in the bar where he dances the tango. It is a close up -- he turns to look at the woman, with smoke drifting out, and the look he gives her is the one that made him the icon he is. A beautiful story about love and war that is a silent classic.
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on May 19, 2003
THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE is one of the great films of the silent era. Several things make it interesting even today: Rudolph Valentino, the apocalypse comparison, the contrast between the new and old worlds, and the depiction of the WWI era.
Rudolph Valentino was one of the most popular actors of the 1920s and this is the film that made him a star. His reputation is as a great romantic leading man, so it might seem strange to find him in a war movie. In fact, at the beginning of the film, Rudolph as Julio Destroyes, is a playboy, has memorable Tango scenes, and romances the ladies married or not. But the war transforms him into a brave, responsible soldier.
The movie was filmed in 1921 and is a powerful reaction to the recent calamity of 1914-18. Thus, like most war movies of the 1920s, it is an antiwar film. The four horsemen of the apocalypse from the Bible are conquest, war, pestilence, and death. For the people who lived thru WWI, the four horsemen certainly seemed to have plagued Europe. War brings out the best and worst in men, from heroism and self-sacrifice to behavior that men would rarely consider otherwise. It transforms individuals, dreams, nations, kingdoms, and attitudes. In Europe, the four horsemen devastated victors and losers alike until rescued by the new world.
The film sees many contrasts between the new and old worlds. The film begins with a Spaniard immigrating to Argentina and making his fortune with cattle on the Pampas. His two daughters marry a Frenchman and a German who try to raise their families in old world traditions. When the Spaniard leaves his newly accumulated wealth to his daughters, their husbands take their families back to their old-world homelands so their children can learn proper values and culture. There the families do well until caught up in the war brought on by European rivalries. The nightmare only ends for both sides when American might tips the balance of horror and rescues both sides from the four horsemen.

THE FOUR HORSEMEN fascinates us now by offering a realistic glimpse into the era presented by the people of the time period. In a pattern followed by many of its 1920's successors, THE FOUR HORSEMEN opens with a portrait of the French and German families in happy times, while the second half of the film shows what happens to them in the war. THE FOUR HORSEMEN doesn't have a full-fledged battle scene, but it does have action. We see how the war affects civilians, soldiers, loved ones, villages, families, and homes. THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE will soon be a century old and it has stood the test of time. It is one of the three great silent era WWI films along with THE BIG PARADE, and WINGS.
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on September 15, 2013
I admit I am both a silent film and Valentino fan, but this film is flat-out the best he ever made; the script was written with him in mind and it is impossible to imagine anyone else playing the part of Julio. A great film
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on November 27, 2012
Considering this is a silent movie, Valentino's expressions fit every mood and scene. I never knew he could be such an outstanding actor. The final scene at that massive graveyard was touching, as the man looked about and said " I knew them all." Masterpiece movie, worth the price.
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on November 11, 2002
A star was born in Rudolph Valentino the moment he began his electrifying tango. A very costly film to produce (it garnered a 3 million dollar profit at the box-office in days when a movie ticket averaged 25c); many scenes are so exquisite, they look as if they are oil paintings come to life. The story tells of the aftermath of the death of an Argentine patriarch who despised his German son-in-law but loved Julio (Valentino). When the patriarch dies, the family disperses to Europe, and Julio lands in France where he paints, parties with friends and falls in love with Terry, the young wife of a jourist. War strikes Europe and Terry enlists in the Red Cross. Her husband has been blinded in battle, and she resists Julio's attentions: he eventually trades his palette for a rifle....This film plays better than it sounds. It's based on the novel by Vicente Blasco-Inez, which was anti-war in theme depicting an Argentine family which fights on separate sides during WWI. The daring film antagonised the French, English and Germans who felt they were represented unfairly. The direction by Rex Ingram is excellent.
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VINE VOICEon March 27, 2015
This is a story about a family from Buenos Aires, Argentina starring Rudolph Valentino in his very first major film. Valentino plays the grandson of a wealthy patriarch Julio Madariaga. When the family members split and migrate to France and Germany, and very soon they find themselves on opposing sides of the WWI. The real story is the drama of war and casualties it inflicts on nations. It is also a love story of Julio and an unhappily married woman named Marguerite Laurier played by actress Alice Terry. When her husband finds out, he files for a divorce, but the war pitches the family against each other causing significant loss of life and heartache for the surviving members of the family.

Screen writer June Mathis's adaptation of Vicente Blasco Ibáñez's novel, The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse was widely acclaimed as a great work, and Metro Studios gave her more rights in the film. She chose Rex Ingram as the director and young Valentino as the lead actor. He was largely introduced as a young "Latin Lover" who would become a matinée idol. The gamble paid off but not for Metro Studios. He quit the studio over a pay dispute and took up with Famous Players-Lasky Studio.

Some aspects of the film were controversial with American film censorship boards. For example, the Pennsylvania board, upon reviewing the affair between Julio and married Marguerite, considered it distasteful and required that Marguerite be described as a fiancée of Etienne Laurier rather than his wife. There were also some scenes where German officers were in drag which did not sit well with many conservative viewers. The movie is a little long but certainly interesting to watch especially for Rudolph Valentino fans.
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