Montagu Love

Don Juan (1926)

Don Juan 1926As a young child, Don Juan (John Barrymore) is warned of one thing by his father — take all the love he can get from women, but be careful to not give them your love in return. Don Juan’s father Don Jose (also John Barrymore) knows a thing or two about being spurned by women, first when he finds out his wife is cheating on him, then he’s killed by a woman who stabs him. Don Juan takes his father’s advice to heart and after graduating college, he lives in Italy and establishes quite the reputation with women. At the time, Italy was being ruled by the Borgia family and Lucrezia Borgia (Estelle Taylor) has heard all about him. She personally invites Don Juan to a party she’s throwing and he goes, knowing what happens to people who defy the Borgias.

At the party, Don Juan is quite unimpressed with Lucrezia, but is instantly enamored with Adriana della Varnese (Mary Astor). Adriana is the kind of woman who makes him forget about all those warnings his father had given him about women. Lucrezia becomes extremely jealous and tries to get her to marry Count Donati (Montagu Love) and plots to kill her father. But then Don Juan get in the way of her scheme and officially wins Adriana’s affections. But Lucrezia isn’t willing to give up so easily and continues to threaten Adriana into marrying Donati. Even knowing how dangerous it can be to cross the Borgia family, Don Juan still refuses to marry Lucrezia and stops Adriana’s wedding. Lucrezia tries to have Don Juan locked up and put to death, but he stops at nothing to marry the woman he loves.

Although it doesn’t feature any spoken dialogue, Don Juan is significant for being the first commercially released feature film with a synchronized soundtrack and sound effects on Vitaphone. Don Juan was definitely meant to be a big prestige picture for Warner Brothers. Not only did it utilize the new Vitaphone technology, it starred John Barrymore, one of the biggest stars in the world at the time, and featured a lot of lavish sets and costumes, plus some exciting action scenes. It even does a good job of using first-person camera perspective in some shots. Warner Brothers clearly pulled out all the stops and it definitely shows. Although the story drags a little bit, it’s generally a very entertaining movie and an excellent action role for the great John Barrymore. It’s not hard to see how this one was a huge hit when it was released and it remains very likable today. (Also, don’t forget to keep an eye out for Myrna Loy in a small role!)

The Wind (1928)

Letty (Lillian Gish) leaves her life in Virginia behind to live on her cousin Beverly’s (Edward Earle) ranch in Sweet Water, Texas.  While on the train to Texas, she meets Wirt Roddy (Montagu Love), who lives near Beverly’s ranch.  All the wind in Texas is making Letty very nervous and Roddy tells her the wind often drives women out there crazy.  When she gets to the train station, she’s met by Beverly’s neighbor Lige (Lars Hanson).  Lige takes her to Beverly’s ranch and he likes her a lot, but Letty doesn’t like him at all.

Letty has no problem fitting in with the community.  She and Beverly are very close, his children love her, and  Sourdough (William Orlamond), Lige, and Roddy all want to marry her.  The only person who doesn’t like her is Beverly’s wife Cora (Dorothy Cumming).  Cora is extremely jealous of how close Beverly and Letty are and how much her children like her.  When Roddy, Lige, and Sourdough each declare their feelings for Letty, the only one she thinks is serious is Roddy.  With all these proposals Letty’s getting, Cora orders Letty to accept one and get out of her house.  She tells Roddy that she’ll marry him, but then he tells her he’s already married.  Lige and Sourdough flip a coin to decide which one will marry her (how romantic) and Lige wins.

Lige really does love Letty, but Letty still doesn’t feel the same way and yells at him when he tries to kiss her.  He promises not to touch her again and works to get enough money to send her back to Virginia.  In the meantime, she continues living with them, even though the strong winds in the area are grating her nerves.  When Lige leaves with some other cattlemen, Letty begs him to let her come with him because she needs a change of scenery.  He agrees, but along the way, she gets hurt and is brought back home.  Before too long, an injured Roddy is also brought home for Letty to care for.  He tries to go after her, but luckily Lige comes back in the nick of time.  Lige needs Roddy’s help rounding up some horses, so they head off, leaving Letty alone.  That night, there is a severe wind storm that drives Letty into madness.

The Wind is my favorite Lillian Gish movie.  It showcases exactly what made her so perfect for silent films.  She could convey such a deep inner turmoil using only her eyes.  Lillian called the production of The Wind the most uncomfortable movie set she’d ever been on (she famously burned her hand on a door handle while filming in the Mojave Desert), but her performance certainly didn’t suffer at all.  And I can’t neglect to mention the overall atmosphere of the movie. All the wind and the camerawork paired with Lillian’s performance make The Wind something you experience, not something you simply watch.  The only reason I can’t call it perfect is because I hate the happy ending MGM insisted on tacking on to it.  Lillian hated that ending too, and even said so herself in an introduction TCM includes when they show it.  But even with the forced ending, The Wind remains one of the last truly great films made during the silent film era.