It goes without saying that the discovery and restoration of the 1922 Gloria Swanson/Rudolph Valentino melodrama Beyond the Rocks is a cause for celebration. As Martin Scorsese notes in an accompanying introduction, “Every film found restores another piece of our collective memory, our sense of our past, and our history,” a statement that should hold true across the cinema spectrum regardless of the quality of the work in question. Certainly to this latter end, Beyond the Rocks is no masterpiece. After a rousing opening two reels (in which Swanson’s doe-eyed Theodora Fitzgerald is twice rescued from cliffhanging peril by Valentino’s dashing Lord Bracondale) the film settles into a rather static and dull rhythm dictated by a subdued pile-up of plot contrivances and by the leads’ distinct lack of hearts-afire chemistry. Surprising that the impossible love between Theodora and Bracondale is so dispassionate considering the actors involved (can this be the same woman who later let loose with a Martyr Mary’s display of mother-love in The Trespasser and the same man who made a female populace swoon with Son of the Sheik?)
It wouldn’t be the first time that two extreme movie personalities cancelled each other out; ultimately, the best moments of Beyond the Rocks are those that isolate the actors within their own negative space, emphasizing silent cinema’s spiritual power through gesture and close-up (Swanson projects outwards, her liveliness simultaneously repelling and attracting the audience, while Valentino draws us closer into envious contemplation—how appropriate that their characters’ love revolves around a narcissus flower.) It is these intimate, isolationist sequences that offset Beyond the Rocks’ soggy, submissive melodrama and act as a pressure-cooker undercurrent that explodes in the film’s lunatic climax, which finds Theodora’s cuckolded husband Josiah (Robert Bolder) fending off a gaggle of rampaging North African mercenaries, but not before entertaining a hilarious revenge fantasy against his unfaithful wife that effectively raises the film’s triangle of self-love and loathing into the realm of myth.
It is, as Martin Scorsese states in the introduction that accompanies this DVD, a cause for celebration when a film like Beyond the Rocks is found after being presumably lost to the ages. Given the state of the nitrate print unearthed in 2004, it's a miracle the film looks as good as it does. From the clean-up to the color tinting, this is a top-notch restoration, and the new scores by Henny Vrienten-a 2.0 stereo mix and a 5.1 alternative with "full sound effects"-are lush and attractive, befitting the melodrama of the story.
Deluxe is an understatement-jam-packed and juicy is more like it. Hounds of classic Hollywood and its many stars will most appreciate the inclusion of the mediocre 1919 film The Delicious Little Devil, starring Rudolph Valentino and Mae Murray, and the "never before heard" wire recording of Gloria Swanson from 1955, which is in relatively excellent condition and acts as commentary for Beyond the Rocks. Rounding out the disc is a short demonstration, narrated by Giovanna Fossati, of all the hard work that went into the sprucing up the film, a feature on Henny Vrienten's score, gripping VPRO Dutch TV footage of its dramatic discovery, and an extensive stills gallery.
Not a terribly good film (in fact, the two Decasia-like stretches of irreparable damage are the best parts about it), but its discovery is worth celebrating.