Bardelys the Magnificent (1926)

We go from a film that’s partly lost to a film that was thought almost entirely lost for decades. As this article observes, MGM’s contract with author Rafael Sabatini stipulated that they either had to renew the rights they owned to his book within ten years or else destroy the film, and in 1936 they decided to take the latter option. Why they didn’t think the film might be worth remaking is a question for the ages now, but at any rate the film went unseen again until a print turned up in France a few years ago… the third reel is still missing (as the article indicates, it probably always was missing from that print), but has been neatly bridged with stills and footage from the trailer (which must have turned up somewhere as well). Happily, it’s one of those rediscoveries that was worth being made; it’s not a million miles away from that year’s Don Juan, with Bardelys being one of the great womanisers of his age (if perhaps not quite on the Don’s scale) and mixed up with a bit of court intrigue. But where Juan’s troubles come from the court of the Borgias, Bardelys’ comes (at least in part) from without the court of Louis XIII of which he is a part; challenged to win the love of Mademoiselle Roxalanne de Laverdan (whose family are enemies of the King), he sets out to accept the bet and in the missing reel encounters a young man who’s the leader of the opposition, who inconveniently dies and for whom Bardelys is mistaken by the Laverdan family. Complications ensue, etc. It’s not exactly a lost masterpiece but it is a lot of fun while it lasts, and the star of the show is surely Roy D’Arcy’s moustache; combined with the smile below it, it just radiates badness in a way that John Gilbert’s moustache comes off as roguish but essentially good-natured and fit for a romantic adventure hero in the 1920s’ version of the France of Louis the Just.

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