"Beyond the Rocks" (1922) is a silent romantic melodrama that stars film legends Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson at the height of their careers and sex appeal. Directed by Sam Wood and based on a novel by Elinor Glyn, the film is actually a soap opera where the two stars wear gorgeous clothes while they suppress their desires for each other in exotic locales. The story begins in the British seaside village of Dorset. Swanson plays Theodora Fitzgerald, the loving teenage daughter of kindly but broke Captain Fitzgerald. She falls overboard while rowing a boat and is rescued from drowning by the ravishing Lord Hector Bracondale, played by Rudolph Valentino. Soon after Theodora dries off she meets her betrothed, an old, ailing millionaire named Josiah Brown. She is disappointed, but for the sake of her broke father and unattractive older sisters, marries him. Theodora runs into Lord Bracondale while staying at the Swiss chalet where she is honeymooning with Josiah Brown. This time Lord Bracondale winds up rescuing Theodora from falling off a mountain during a climbing expedition on the Alps. Lord Bracondale falls madly in love with Theodora, but she remembers her wedding vows and begs him not to pursue her. Fearing her growing attraction to Lord Bracondale, Theodora leaves to Paris with her husband. However, the smitten Lord Bracondale follows her from the Alps to Paris to London. At this point, Josiah Brown comes to the conclusion that his wife is in love with another man and abruptly departs for a North African archaeological expedition he financed. The ending is surprising.
"Beyond the Rocks" was long considered one of the great "lost" films from Hollywood's Golden Age and its rediscovery in 2003 by the Nederlands Filmmuseum made headlines around the world. Although"Beyond the Rocks" should not be mistaken for a masterpiece of the silent cinema, it is a very good romance film that revels in its own adventures from the English coast to the Alps and to the Sahara Desert. While the plot might seem ridiculous today, it was the norm in the 1920's. Elinor Glyn, who wrote the screenplay based on her once-controversial novel, was brought to Hollywood by Famous Players -Lasky to advise film makers on the fine points of sexual attractiveness. Appalled by the lack of appeal of Hollywood's leading men, Glyn found that Rudolph Valentino was a new type of exotic hero who could do well in the novels she wrote and promoted. She announced that Valentino, like Clara Bow, had what she called "It," a charismatic quality she claimed was more important than sex appeal. Glyn was thought to have taught Valentino the little trick of brushing a woman's palm with his lips rather than kissing the back of her hand in the accepted manner. "Beyond the Rocks" pleased audiences but not critics. However, the female audience, in particular, didn't care what the mostly male critics had to say about Valentino. They thought he was wonderful and made him a star. Valentino made women swoon and annoyed men. He was not the only Latin Lover of his time, but he was the favorite. "Beyond the Rocks" is an enjoyable experience, especially for fans of the two stars. Both Valentino and Swanson are charming in this film. Their performances are subtle and believable. Swanson retains her poise and expresses a great deal with her eyes. Valentino shows his emotions with graceful movements and precise gestures. Both Swanson and Valentino are delightful to look at and are given the opportunity to show off a number of elaborate costumes. Most of the film looks beautiful with its sepia tones even though there is some nitrate decomposition. "Beyond the Rocks" is a product of its time and modern viewers should not lose perspective that this film was made almost ninety years ago. Each generation has its own approach to romance and this one is early 1920's style at its best.
Click to view restoration of Beyond the Rocks.