Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tempest (Sam Taylor) **1/2

Director: Sam Taylor

Cast: John Barrymore, Camilla Horn, Louis Wolheim, Boris de Fast, George Fawcett

Background: Director Sam Taylor made a name for himself by directing several Harold Lloyd comedies, including what I consider to be the very best silent film of them all, 1923's Safety Last! In only his 3rd film without Lloyd, he was able to snag matinee idol John Barrymore as the lead.

Story: In Czarist Russia, a lowly peasant (Barrymore) is suddenly promoted to Lieutenant. He falls in love with a princess (Horn) who betrays him when he is caught in her room. He gets sent to jail, but the tables are turned when he is freed during the revolution.

Thoughts: Here we have a different take on the revolution that doesn't make the Bolsheviks look so nice. In many ways, this is a very timely film in that it criticizes the overzealous actions of a conquering army. But the film isn't interested in making that the central theme. This is really about the romance, and that's where we run into some problems. Barrymore is up to the task with a charismatic turn in the lead role, but Camilla Horn as his leading lady is just terrible. Her entire performance is flat and not once is there any sense of chemistry between the two leads. Thus the central romance thus suffers quite a bit, even if you ignore that the spy falling in love with the target was already a big film cliche by this point. The movie is still paced very well and looks great, but I wish they had either done a better casting job or dispensed with a romance that didn't work.

Postscript: The film won an Oscar for Art Direction. Barrymore would continue for another decade as a box office star. Sam Taylor had moderate success, including directing Mary Pickford to an Oscar in 1929's Coquette.

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