Friday, April 1, 2016

#2,055. Stolen Moments (1920)

Directed By: James Vincent

Starring: Marguerite Namara, Rudolph Valentino, Albert L. Barrett

Tag line: "A South American Love Romance"

Trivia: This movie marked the last time that Rudolph Valentino ever played a villain on-screen

Stolen Moments, a 1920 crime / romance, has an interesting history. Produced originally as a six-reeler to feature opera sensation Marguerite Namara, the movie is notable today because it co-starred a young man named Rudolph Valentino. Sometime after its initial release, Stolen Moments was purchased by Select Pictures, the company that David O. Selznick worked for at the time (Select was founded a few years earlier by Selznick’s father, Lewis). Hoping to capitalize on Valentino’s snowballing popularity (he had shot to stardom in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the film he made immediately after this one), Select re-edited Stolen Moments, tossing away half of its scenes so that Valentino’s character, the villainous Jose Dalmarez, would be elevated from a supporting role to the lead. As you can imagine, it had a serious impact on the flow of the film, and changed the story dramatically (what had been a 6-reel romance suddenly became 3-reel crime story). Unfortunately, this is the only version of Stolen Moments that exists today.

Vera (Namara) is a naïve young girl who lives with her guardian, Hugh Conway (Albert L. Barrett), and Hugh’s mother (Henrietta Simpson), in a spacious Southern mansion (the movie was shot in Georgia and Florida). Residing right next door to them is Jose Dalmarez, a novelist, and despite the fact Hugh has declared his love for her, Vera finds herself drawn to their handsome neighbor. Before long, Vera and Jose are lovers, a romance she keeps hidden from her generous benefactors. When Jose announces that he’s returning to South America, he asks Vera to accompany him, but she turns him down when he refuses to marry her, and the two part ways.

Several years pass. After getting into a bit of trouble with another woman, Jose flees South America and returns to the United States, only to learn that Vera and Hugh are now man and wife, and what’s more, they have a young daughter (played by Peggy Bolton). Sensing an opportunity, Jose tells Vera that, unless she sleeps with him, he’ll show her husband the letters she wrote years earlier, declaring her love for him. Worried that they might end her marriage, Vera tries desperately to get the letters back, leading to a confrontation with Jose that could change her life forever.

In its current form, Stolen Moments makes very little sense. Not only does the film spend the majority of its time following a cad (this was the last film in which Valentino would play the heavy), but it also asks us to care about characters (Vera and Hugh) we hardly know. Valentino does a decent enough job as Jose, and even gets a chance to show off his fighting skills (while in South America, Jose gets into a scrap with a girlfriend’s brother, played by Jean Gauthier DeTrigny). But Jose is downright loathsome, and we dislike him intensely, yet because everyone else in the film, including the virtuous Vera, has been pushed into the background, he’s the only one with which we’ve spent any real time.

It’s easy to criticize modern Hollywood, what with its mega-million-dollar blockbusters and cookie-cutter storylines, but if Stolen Moments shows us anything, it’s that greed was just as alive and well in Tinsel Town a hundred years ago as it is today.

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