Friday, September 9, 2022

#2,813. The Private Life of Don Juan (1934) - Alexander Korda Triple Feature


Having approached the stories of Henry VIII and Catherine the Great with pomp and solemnity, Alexander Korda ventures into romantic comedy territory with 1934’s The Private Life of Don Juan, with Douglas Fairbanks Sr. playing the legendary lothario.

The aging Don Juan (Fairbanks), who is rumored to have seduced as many as 900 women in a three-year span, has returned, incognito, to Seville. It isn’t long, though, before every frustrated housewife in town knows of his arrival, starting with Don Juan’s own wife of five years, Dona Delores (Benita Hume), who has purchased her husband’s debts and is threatening to have him thrown in jail if he doesn’t visit her.

To make matters worse, young Rodrigo (Barry MacKay) idolizes Don Juan, and spent most of the previous night pretending to be his aging hero, climbing onto balconies and kissing every woman that welcomed his advances. When Rodrigo, posing as Don Juan, seduces Carmen (Joan Gardner), her jealous husband, Don Alfredo (Gibson Gowland), bursts in and kills Rodrigo in a swordfight. With everyone now believing Don Juan is dead, the real Don Juan, aided by his chief advisor Leporello (Melville Cooper), attends his own funeral, then heads out of town.

Settling in a small village for some much-needed rest, Don Juan lays low, living under an assumed name, and is amused when he learns a best-selling book about his exploits, titled The Private Life of Don Juan, has been published. But when the infamous lover finally comes out of hiding and returns to Seville, he has a hard time convincing anyone, even the beautiful dancer Antonita (Merle Oberon), who he seduced just months earlier, that he is the real Don Juan!

In his last starring role, Douglas Fairbanks, despite showing his age (he was in his 50s when this movie was made), is near perfect as the notorious lover who longs for peace and quiet. Handling the physical demands of the role with ease (leaping from balconies and jumping over railings), he also proves himself quite adept at comedy. The scene in which Don Juan and Leporello attend his “funeral”, watching with amusement as dozens of women he never met weep openly for him, is quite funny. And whenever Don Juan applies his “trade”, attempting to seduce a woman, he uses the exact same lines on each and every one of them!

Equally good are Melville Cooper as the doting assistant who offers sound advice (that Don Juan rarely follows); and the lovely Merle Oberon as 19-year-old Antonita, an ambitious dancer who relishes the fact she was, in all likelihood, Don Juan’s final tryst before he was "struck down".

The dialogue is often witty, the set pieces are impressive, and the energetic pace that Korda maintains throughout ensures his audience will never be bored. As much as I love Alexander Korda’s more straightforward (if not historically accurate) biopics, The Private Life of Don Juan shows the filmmaker also had a great sense of humor.
Rating: 9 out of 10

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