Beyond the Rocks

Beyond the Rocks

3.0 out of 53.0 out of 53.0 out of 53.0 out of 5 3.0

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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.

Milestone Films
85 min
Sam Wood
Jack Cunningham
Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, Edythe Chapman, Alec B. Francis, Robert Bolder, Gertrude Astor, Mabel Van Buren, Helen Dunbar, Raymond Blathwayt, F.R. Butler, June Elvidge