Film Review and Rating / Synopsis

(Please note the films reviewed on this site contain plot summaries and may contain SPOILERS.)

  • Camille (1921) - Plot Summary - "Winter. Paris, magic city of pleaure", as the film opens in a smart Paris night spot, where we meet Marguerite Gautier (Alla Nazimova) - known by all as "The Lady with the Camellias" and introduced (via title card) as "a useless ornament - a plaything". She's a society butterfly, gliding into rooms clinging to the arm of an aging Count, she's a peacock with seriously wild, frizzed-up hair, her slim body wrapped up in an almost Asian-inspired Art Deco gown and cape with lengthy train and fur boa. Arriving on the scene with boyhood friend Gaston, is the seriously handsome Armand Duval (Rudolph Valentino), young, green, and just arrived from "the provinces", - he falls in love at first sight with party girl Marguerite (and she has the habit of brushing off men with a "not until you put a jewel in my hand" on her lips). The two fellows crash her "Supper Party", taking place that evening at her apartment - a party full of social climbers and drunks, kept in liquor by the Count. But Marguerite keeps having to retreat to her nearby bed chambers 'cause she's very ill. Aside from her devoted maid Nanine, Armand seems to be the only one who cares that she is ill; he's devoted and wants to take care of her - and get her away from this bad lifestyle. Cut to springtime in the country, where romance has blossomed and Marguerite has been healed by Armand's love. Now living in the countryside in dowdy dress, love for her good-looking, sensitive fellow all that matters. But one day Armand's father shows up and demands that she "give him up" as it seems Armand's sister has a fiance who won't marry into a family connected to the notorious "Lady with the Camellias". The father insists she not drag down Armand based on her past - she agrees and decides to "make him hate me!". She leaves a terse note for Armand and splits back to Paris and the arms of the Count. And soon we find poor Armand in a smart Paris gambling hall, the Hazard d'Or, gambling and clinging to blonde "Olympe", fair rival in beauty to Marguerite - - Armand has been deeply wounded and is trying to get even with his old flame, who he believes left him for the Count's money. Meanwhile Marguerite still loves Armand, even as she soon faces her deathbed.

    Review - This highly melodramatic silent film is based on the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas. The film is introduced with a title card telling us "Why not a Camille of today? Living the same story in this generation?" - and indeed, instead of a period setting in the 1840s, this film is set in contemporary Paris circa 1920 with all the clothes and a modern day set design to go with it (this is not at all surprising as films from the 20s and 30s sometimes like to keep the ladies in modern dress even if it's meant to be a period setting!). Nazimova steals the show (as usual) with melodramatic mannerisms and facial expressions that get more and more over the top until the final deathbed scene with her eyes rolling back in her head multiple times before that last breath -- wow, I think I might just call her the "Queen" of the out-there expressions - love it! As for Valentino - um, well, he's just *perfect*. Oh my goodness, what a handsome man! The Art Deco set designs in this film are pretty spectacular - from Marguerite's futuristic Deco apartment rooms, with decor in the round : round windows, round bed, arched doorways, and modernistic wall hangings like round, stylized camellias on either side of her bed - to the Paris gambling club with spider web screened round stage through which you see dancing girls and in a round cut-out bandstand above the stage, a black band plays for the floor show below them. As for the story, it's pretty condensed compared to other film versions I have seen of this. Not as good as the terrific Greta Garbo/Robert Taylor "Camille" from 1936 - I sort of miss all the camellia's she's always holding and the little coughs now and again to show she's sick. In this version, you can barely tell Nazimova's character is meant to be dying from Tuberculosis except for a couple of coughs in the beginning, a couple near the end. All in all, an interesting watch - both for the lavish, inspired design and costumes as well as a piece to see two great silent stars strut their stuff! I saw this screened on Turner Classic Movies TCM, it featured a nice print and a music score by Peter Vantine that is okay-ish. Rating - * 8/10 stars *

    Director: Ray C. Smallwood
    Film Genre: Romantic Melodrama
    Film Runtime: 70 minutes

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10 = Absolutely Fabulous/Superb
9 = Really Good/Excellent
8 = Good
7 = Fairly Good/Decent
6 = So-so, some flaws
5 = Mediocre
4 = Not that good, many flaws
3 = Poor
2 = Very Poor/Stinker
1 = One of the worst BOMBS ever filmed

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