I’m still relatively new to the cinema of old, so for me to say that I’ve never seen a Rudolph Valentino film until now shouldn’t be as surprising as it might seem. I’ve known who he was for some time; I just never watched any of his films, and from what I’ve gathered, I probably shouldn’t have started with the List’s new arbitrary Valentino film, The Eagle. Not that this is bad, but from what I’ve heard from others who have seen more of Valentino’s work, one could certainly do better than this one. I was still pretty entertained by this, though, so I won’t hold it against the film too much.
Valentino stars as a lieutenant in the Russian army, who at the start of the film saves the life of a young woman and her aunt from a runaway stagecoach. The act of heroism is witnessed by the Czarina, who pretty much instantly falls in love with Valentino as a result, and lures him to her quarters with the intention to seduce him. He quickly catches on to her plans and flees, and the jilted Czarina calls him a deserter and orders that he be brought in dead or alive. While this happens, Valentino’s father falls prey to the thuggish Kyrilla, who seizes the father’s property and possessions while the father is on his deathbed. Vowing revenge, Valentino takes up a mask and the mantle of “The Black Eagle”, becoming a Robin-Hood-like figure, during which he once again meets up with the young woman from the stagecoach, who happens to be Kyrilla’s daughter, and they fall in love, complicating both Valentino’s vow of revenge and the Czarina’s efforts to have him captured. While the plot was easy enough to follow, there were some problems I had with it. For one, after Valentino’s father dies, the film immediately jumps ahead to having Valentino fully established as the Black Eagle through the use of a single caption card, which I felt was a little arbitrary and only done to keep the length of the film short. The other main problem I had was that a lot of the major plot points seemed to be shoehorned into the plot in ways that didn’t really indicate that the plot points should or would’ve happened otherwise. A good example is how Kyrilla’s daughter finally find out that Valentino, who at that point has wormed his way into the man’s household by posing as a French tutor, is really the Black Eagle. It would’ve made sense if Valentino’s actions had in some way mirrored that of his actions when he first meets the daughter as the Black Eagle, but they don’t; she pretty much just has a vision of him as the Black Eagle, and figures it out that way. It felt cheap, and forced; made to happen just so the plot could move on to the next bullet point. Another rather big example is the ending of the film, which I won’t spoil, but seems to be constructed mostly as a deus ex machina to give all the characters involved a happy ending, and thus it comes across as the characters not having really earned or deserved it.
This was good, but I couldn’t help but feel that I could’ve done better for my first Valentino flick. So too the editors of the list could’ve done better with their representation of him; The Sheik seems to be the obvious choice for a “must see” Valentino picture, but I’d need to see that before making a call as to whether that really deserved the spot that this one ended up getting. I wasn’t too impressed with this, but I wasn’t really expecting much; I wasn’t all that impressed with The Thief of Bagdad either, and that and this film seem to be on the list for pretty much the same reasons. Still, even with my nearly absent expectations, I wasn’t disappointed by this one, so there’s that at least. Plus, I might even check out other Valentino pictures in the future, so that’s an extra win.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10