Wednesday, July 7, 2010

“The Conquering Power” (1921) Rudolph Valentino

“The Conquering Power” (1921) is a silent romantic drama starring Rudolph Valentino, Alice Terry, and Ralph Lewis. Directed by Rex Ingram and adapted from Honore de Balzac’s “Eugenie Grandet,” this film is about the power of love over insurmountable obstacles. The story begins with Charles Grandet, played by Rudolph Valentino, living the life of a pampered young man in Paris while his father is facing financial ruin. Instead of telling his son of his financial woes, Victor Grandet, played by Eric Mayne, sends Charles to visit his uncle, Pere Grandet, played by Ralph Lewis. It is while Charles is visiting his uncle that his father commits suicide due to his heavy debts. Pere, who has no love for his nephew, convinces Charles to sign over all of his father’s estate. Thinking the estate is worthless, Charles does this readily. Although Pere is a very rich man, he is a miser and frugal to the extreme. There is a stone-walled room in his home where he keeps all his gold locked away. Pere has a wife, Mere, played by Edna Demaurey, and a beautiful daughter, Eugenie, played by Alice Terry. Each birthday, Pere gives Eugenie one gold coin which he is trying to teach her to hoard like him. Eugenie has two suitors, Bonfons Cruchot, played by George Atkinson, and Adolphe de Grassins, played by Ward Wing. However, she shows no interest in either of them. When Charles arrives from Paris at her home, Eugenie shows an immediate interest and they fall quickly in love. Pere arranges for Charles to go to the West Indies to get him away from Eugenie; he wants his daughter to marry a rich man to increase the family fortune. Just before Charles’ departure to the West Indies, Eugenie and him vow their everlasting love for each other. At this point, Eugenie convinces Charles to take all of the gold coins she has been hoarding. Even though Charles writes regularly to Eugenie, Pere intercepts the letters, and she never sees them. Charles eventually receives a letter from Pere telling him that he has made arrangements for Eugenie’s marriage and to never communicate with his daughter again. A year has passed and it is Eugenie’s birthday. Pere, like usual, asks Eugenie to bring the gold from its hiding place while he presents her with a new coin. When Eugenie panics, Pere realizes she gave them away. When Eugenie’s mother, Mere, tries to intercede, Pere strikes her and locks Eugenie in her room. Mere dies as a result of the incident. One day Notary Cruchot, played by Edward Connelly, comes to see Pere and reminds him that he is the only one in the village who knows Eugenie is not his biological daughter, but the product of her mother’s first marriage. He also informs Pere that Eugenie could demand a portion of her mother’s fortune. Pere and Notary Cruchot have Eugenie sign a document which will assure Pere that she cannot touch his estate during his lifetime. When Eugenie discovers several letters addressed to her from Charles in Pere’s room, she goes to the garden to read her letters. At this point, Pere goes through the room like a madman to see if any of his possessions have been stolen. In his madness, Pere pulls a large chest filled with gold on top of him which ends up killing him. Many years pass by, and Eugenie is told that Charles has returned to Paris and has married a wealthy young lady. At this point, Eugenie announces that she will marry Bonfons Cruchot.

Trying to recapture the success of “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1921), Metro reteamed costars Rudolph Valentino and Alice Terry with writer June Mathis and director Rex Ingram, Terry’s husband, for “The Conquering Power” (1921). It is obvious that the script had been designed with Valentino’s new stardom in mind. He plays a pampered twenty-seven-year-old playboy who, at the start of the film, is celebrating his birthday with a somewhat risqué party. The camera lingers on him in this opening sequence, allowing the audience to appreciate his looks and his tuxedo. Later, when his character arrives at the little French village of the Grandet family, the entire sequence is about him rather than the girl he will meet and fall in love with, played by Alice Terry. Valentino arrives in an expensive automobile, which is driven by a chauffeur. When he goes to the humble cottage of the Grandets, he is allowed yet a third dramatic entrance. As the family sits inside in their peasant clothes, their door swings suddenly open, and there stands Valentino wearing a well-cut suit and a hat and, he carries a magnificent cane. It is clear that in “The Conquering Power” (1921) time is provided so that the audience can stare at him head to toe and appreciate his clothes and his stance. Even though the official leading role is played by the character actor Ralph Lewis as the old Grandet who goes mad with desire for gold, Valentino is the effective center of the film and the most interesting thing in it.

The problem Alice Terry had at the height of her career was that she was the wife of Rex Ingram, and she was doomed to be his leading lady in films that were dominated by their male stars. She held her own opposite Rudolph Valentino in “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1921), but not in their second film together, “The Conquering Power” (1921). Ramon Novarro was, of course, Rex Ingram’s successor to Rudolph Valentino, and he starred opposite Alice Terry in “The Prisoner of Zenda “ (1922), “Scaramouche” (1923), “Where the Pavement Ends” (1923), and “The Arab” (1924). They made a beautiful onscreen couple, but Alice Terry was seen as a passive film star subjugated to the will of her husband-director. When Terry was separated from Ingram, as she was in 1924 and 1925, at a time when the marriage was in jeopardy, MGM cast her in “The Great Divide” (1925), “Confessions of a Queen” (1925), and loaned her out to Paramount for “Any Woman” (1925), and “Sackcloth and Scarlet” (1925). Away from Rex Ingram, Alice Terry was the legitimate star, and, particularly in the two Paramount releases, minus a recognizable leading man, she affirmed her box office popularity.
"The Conquering Power" (1921) is a small-scale story that is moving and filled with human emotions. Even though Valentino is not given the opportunity for the range of acting that is given to Alice Terry, he gives an exceptional restrained performance. "The Conquering Power" is one example of what an accomplished actor he was under the right direction. It's a shame that professional and personal differences between Ingram and Valentino led to the latter's departure from Metro shortly afterwards. Valentino never got another director that offered him quality scripts like Rex Ingram.


  1. Silent, Thank you for our Silent Movie fix. I will comment after viewing it on youtube..:)

  2. Thank you, Dawn, for posting youtube on this site. I wasn't aware that this film was on youtube. I saw The Conquering Power back in January when TCM played it. I loved the photos of Alice Terry you have posted.


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