Sunday, 1 March 2015

Gloria and Rudy… Beyond the Rocks (1922)

There are very few people who are so famous they can be recognised by their first or last name only and even fewer who 90 years after their heyday can still be identified this way… here are two of them and what a combination they make…

This film was lost for a long time and in her autobiography Gloria Swanson named it as one of the three works who disappearance she regretted most. Luckily for the rest of us it was found in the Dutch archives in 2003 and then restored and released by Milestone films. You can see why Miss Swanson was so fond of it; she plays the romantic lead opposite Rudolph Valentino and wears some of the gorgeous gowns she was renowned for. Rudy can’t fail with his wardrobe either.

As the New York Times review put it “Gloria Swanson can wear clothes. So can Rudolph Valentino. And the talents of each are given full play…" but the reviewer did not consider it an interesting photo play: “Not (for) those who want a little character and a little truth in their entertainment, anyhow.” I’d disagree even if only on the grounds of the rather large characters acting on the screen: this is primary source material that confirms so much about the nature of contemporary stardom.

Directed by Sam Wood and based on a story by Elinor Glyn, Beyond the Rocks is an undemanding romantic drama which successfully relies on the magnetism of its two leads and their ability to convey the nobility of duty chosen over love. “We must be stronger than our love…” is the central call and naturally the whole audience is willing them not to be… but with so many unlikely surprising shifts and co-incidences – like Paul Auster on speed and without the existential depth – we can be sure that “fate” will find a way to relieve them of their self-sacrifice,

A typical English scene...
Gloria plays Theodora Fitzgerald the youngest daughter of the retired Captain Fitzgerald (Alec B. Francis) who lives in modest comfort in a Dorset fishing village. She has two half-sisters whose mother was clearly less good looking than hers and who see her as their meal ticket to an easy life: she must be married well.

Theodora is out in a rowing boat not far from the yacht of a rich playboy Lord Hector Bracondale (Rudolph Valentino) when she suddenly falls into the water – maybe there was a freak wave? Oddly enough for a dweller on the coast, she doesn’t appear to be a good swimmer and, spotting her difficulty, Hector dives into the drink to rescue her.

Once on dry land the Captain recognises her noble saviour as do her sisters who dismiss him as not the marrying kind (yes, but he’s rich enough girls!). There’s an instant spark as Theodora gifts him a damp but fragrant Narcissus and he departs eye’s sparkling with delight.

But business is business and well-to-do but middle aged Josiah Brown (Robert Bolder) is chosen as the man to marry and through duty to her, sweet but dim, father, Theodora goes through with the wedding even after Pa offers her a way out (are you blind man: why would Gloria Swanson want to marry a dumpy man twice her age!?).

Robert Bolder
They head to Europe on their grand tour of a honeymoon and, Josiah being too clapped out to climb, Theodora goes off mountain climbing with new friend American adventuress Jane McBride (Mabel Van Buren).  Theodora slips whilst taking a photograph – so careless – but once again Lord Hector is amazingly on hand to come to the rescue… it’s as if Fate’s trying to tell them something.

Hector follows them to Paris and grows closer to Theodora as the two wander through the gardens of Versailles he tells her of the love between a coachman and a noblewoman. Briefly Hector and Theodora imagine themselves as the two lovers before coming back to reality as Hector makes his move… The two pull apart almost immediately and stare disconsolate at the ground: they cannot be a couple and they resolve to be “stronger than their love” in order to protect Theodora’s marriage.

Gertrude Astor
Hector goes away but and confesses all to his sensible sister Lady Anna Anningford (June Elvidge) but when she arranges a party and invites the Brown’s he arrives intent on stealing a kiss from Theodora in the evening’s pageant.

Theodora is strong and writes letters to her husband and to Hector. She leaves them in the hall for collection where Hector’s one-time girl Morella Winmarleigh (Gertrude Astor – who would cross with Gloria on more than one occasion…) switches them: Joseph will get Hector’s letter and vice versa. Oh calamity!

No spoilers: what happens next I won’t reveal but you may not be a million miles off with a guess or three.

Henny Vrienten's musical score greatly enhances the action helping Valentino and Swanson to rise far above the limitations of the storyline.

The Milestone DVD is available direct or from

Alec B. Francis is good too!


  1. I have to say, this one was such a fizzler to me - I was expecting charisma and chemistry and fun, but I found it a very lacklustre film. Missed opportunity! At least we have the "Swanson & Valentino" episode of Brownlow's Hollywood.

    1. The story is an odd one and does rather get in the way of any sustained fireworks!

      Off screen, I'm reliably informed (by Ms Lucie D!) that Gloria smothered garlic all over the hanky rather than narcissus - but Rudy carried on as if nothing was wrong... What a trooper!