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Friday Film Review: Bardelys the Magnificent

Bardelys the MagnificentBardelys the Magnificent (1926)
Genre: Silent Swashbuckler/Romance
Grade: B-

Based on yet another Rafael Sabatini novel, “Bardelys the Magnificent” must have wowed audiences of 1926 with its dashing star John Gilbert wooing lovely Eleanor Boardman before escaping death at the hands of the evil villain. Long thought lost except for a few key scenes, an almost complete copy was discovered in France in 2006 and has now been restored and released along with another silent film, “Monte Cristo.”

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Bon vivant, noted lover and wit Christian, Marquis de Bardelys (John Gilbert) is the toast of the court of Louis XVIII (Arthur Lubin). Women want him and men want to be him but Bardelys has never found a woman who he wants to marry. So when Chatellerault (Roy D’Arcy), a man spurned in love, issues a challenge that Bardelys can’t woo and win the hand of the lovely Roxallane de Lavedan (Eleanor Boardman) within three months, Bardelys initially balks. But after he’s tricked into the bet, he sets off to the country estate of the Vicomte de Lavedan (Lionel Belmore).

Along the way, he meets a dying man, Lesperon (Theodore von Eltz) who is leading a revolt against the King and is then mistaken for him by some Musketeers. Wounded, he seeks refuge at the home of Lavedan and finally meets the lovely Roxallane. In her he finds the woman of his heart but after she declares her love for him, he is struck silent in shame at the betrayal he has carried on by not telling her who he really is. Angry at his actions, or lack of them, she turns him over to the authorities. At his trial he meets up with Chatellerault who is one of the judges who takes this opportunity to condemn his rival to death. Will de Bardelys be able to escape his appointment with death as a traitor to his King and also save his love from marriage to the villain?

Despite being found in poor condition, the restoration of the film is wonderful and it has a choice of either orchestrated or piano accompaniment. I had read that the third reel is missing and had been bridged by the use of still stock photos and dialogue screens. Since this is a silent film anyway, I don’t think it makes a big impact on the film as a whole. The sets and costumes are lavish and though I wish there had been a bit more dialogue, it’s fairly easy to follow along the action.

Eleanor Boardman makes a lovely heroine though John Gilbert initially looks a bit oily but with great lines of hero dialogue! And the dialogue isn’t just heroic, there’s a fair amount of wit and humor as befits a Sabatini novel adaptation. D’Arcy is a menacing villain with a perpetual sneer on his face though Gilbert finally takes him down in a swordfight that looks eerily like the ones to come from Flynn and Rathbone.

Some of the earlier fights are laughable – watch for a bendy rapier in the fight at the inn – but Bardelys’s escape from the gallows is amazing to watch and includes mosh pit dives, daring acrobatics and the clever use of a long pike. Douglas Fairbanks has nothing on this. But the part to be sure you pay attention to is the one long thought to be the only surviving bit from the film and that is the romantic wooing between Bardelys and Roxallane. It takes place in a punt along the river bank and is hauntingly beautiful as the long willow fronds cast shadows over the two lovers while they drift through them.

Some of the scenes are a touch overwrought but are balanced by some fine acting on the part of Gilbert and Boardman. Though it’s not quite up to the Sabatini adaptations which followed, it’s still a marvelous example of early movie swashbuckling and romance and one which I’m delighted has been miraculously restored to us. B-


Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. DS
    Aug 20, 2010 @ 07:17:09

    Thank you, I think I need to see this. I just downloaded the Kindle version from Amazon– it’s in the public domain so it can be found on the web in ebook form for free but Amazon has it right now for free so I’m going with automatic delivery–

    This was one of my favorite Sabatini books way back when.

    I’m hoping the DVD shows up on Netflix.

  2. Jayne
    Aug 20, 2010 @ 07:24:05

    It’s available at Netflix already and will be shown Tuesday August 24th on TCM.

    Maybe you can tell me how much it resembles the book. Some of the adaptations of his books have been better than others. Or should I say have remained closer to the actual plot in the book than others.

  3. Christine Merrill
    Aug 20, 2010 @ 09:21:48

    Excellent! A Sabatini story I hadn’t heard of.

    Off to the DVR for the movie. Especially if the acrobatics rival Douglas Fairbanks.

    When I was in college, I got to see ‘Thief of Bagdad’ on a big screen with organ accompaniment. I was instantly smitten. Both by the stunts, and his silk pants and obvious lack of, ummm, athletic support.

  4. Jayne
    Aug 20, 2010 @ 10:11:07

    @Christine Merrill: Hmmm, might just have to check that movie out!

  5. Sunita
    Aug 20, 2010 @ 12:26:43

    I remember reading this when I was on my Sabatini binge, but I don’t remember where it ranked (Scaramouche was 1st, of course). He has at least half a dozen books well worth reading aside from Scaramouche and Captain Blood. The movie looks like great fun.

  6. Theresa Romain
    Aug 20, 2010 @ 13:52:59

    Hooray for this review, Jayne! I adore silent movies. Witty swashbucklers like this one are great for drawing in people who might never have seen a silent movie or think they wouldn’t enjoy one. And it’s always great news when a “lost” film is found. I was thrilled to catch Bardelys when it premiered on TCM, followed by an interview with Gilbert’s daughter. Hope they’ll show the interview again on 8/24.

    Another Sabatini adaptation — Scaramouche (1923) — is showing on TCM on 9/26 (it’s not available on Netflix). Other good ones you CAN get on DVD are Fairbanks’s Robin Hood (and the Thief of Bagdad, as @Christine said!) and Barrymore’s The Beloved Rogue. Lots of men in tights in both. :)

  7. Jayne
    Aug 20, 2010 @ 18:45:18

    @Theresa Romain: I’ve got the showing of “Scaramouche” marked on my calendar. There’s supposed to be one actor who was in both this version and the 1952 Granger one.

    The interview with Gilbert’s daughter is, I think, part of the DVD extras included on “Bardelys.” I recorded the movie the last time it was on TCM, and that’s what I watched, so I’m not 100% on that.

  8. Jayne
    Aug 20, 2010 @ 18:46:50

    @Sunita: I have a bunch of Sabatini novels both in print and from free online sources that I need to get to one day. One day….

  9. Cristiane
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 09:33:00

    Every time I see a John Gilbert film, I think how sad it is that he’s really only remembered (if at all) for the untrue story of how his career was ruined by his high voice – his voice was fine. It was just that the terrible romantic dialogue in his first talkie was laughable, and Louis B. Mayer seized upon that film’s failure to destroy an unruly star. His later talkies (especially Downstairs, for which he wrote the original story) prove that he was in fact a very good actor.

    PS – the actor that appeared in both version of Scaramouche was Lewis Stone, who had an incredibly long career – 1914-1953, most of it (1924-1953) with MGM – in fact, he had a lifetime contract with them. He played the villain in the first version, then Valmorin’s father in the remake. Which, BTW, is by far the best of the three swashbuckler remakes that Stewart Granger made in the 1950s – Scaramouche, The Prisoner of Zenda, and King Solomon’s Mines.

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