By Allan R. Ellenberger
The short eventful life of the world’s greatest lover, Rudolph Valentino, is an entertainment natural; and the film, succinctly called Valentino (1951), sentimentally embellishes his life for celluloid purposes. There have been two other bio-pics based on Valentino’s life made since, and several shorts, plays and musicals and only a few are worthy of representing the actor’s life. Will someone please make an accurate and entertaining biographical film on the life of Rudolph Valentino?
Valentino’s producer, Edward Small, spent 13 years getting his film ready. The project survived 18 versions of the script by some 40 writers, the death of Small’s first “discovery” for the title role, and the threat that two other producers might rush a Valentino film. In that span of time, Small received over 100,000 letters and photographs from people who felt themselves right for the part.
The screenplay is a mixture of real and made up incidents and characters that influenced Valentino’s life. The basic facts of his rise to stardom and his tragic death at the height of his fame are true – sort of – but most of the people who figured in his career and hectic romances are necessarily disguised to prevent the producers from being sued (which didn’t work).
Anthony Dexter, who played Valentino, bore a startling resemblance to Rudy at times, depending on the camera angles. The film traces Valentino’s progress from dancing gigolo to the Hollywood heights to his death in New York. Along the way he encounters an actress (played by Eleanor Parker), who provides the big, unhappy romantic interlude in his life.
The real-life counterpart for Parker’s character was silent film actress, Alice Terry, who successfully sued the producers and Columbia Pictures over the manner in which she was depicted in the film. Terry, who appeared in two films with Valentino, complained that she was shown as having carried on “a meretricious and illicit love affair” with Valentino while married to the director. She sued for $750,000 in damages but settled for an undisclosed amount.
Likewise, Valentino’s family also sued, charging that the picture was “almost entirely fictional” and showed Valentino as a “dissolute and immoral person.” They too settled out of court for a “substantial amount.”
The making of the film Valentino is more exciting than the film itself and is worthy of a full-blown article on the subject. However, the film is not without its high points. The tango scene between Dexter and actress Patricia Medina is first-rate and possibly one of the best of its kind ever filmed. Dexter did show a striking resemblance to Valentino, but did not speak with an Italian accent which detracts from his performance.
The last scene, which is the only one filmed on an actual location, was filmed at Hollywood Cemetery, several years later on the anniversary of Valentino’s death. The scene shows the yearly appearance of the veiled “Lady in Black” whose identity was unknown. Following are four screen shots from the ending of Valentino (1951) and how those locations appear today.
Above is a screen shot from the film Valentino showing attendees at Hollywood Cemetery on the anniversary of his death. Below is the same angle as it appears today.
Above shows the Lady in Black character entering the Cathedral Mausoleum where Valentino’s crypt is located. Notice the full-length stained glass window at the end of the corrider and below, the same shot today and the missing window which was removed for unknown reasons.
Above, character actor Joseph Calleia stands on the steps of the Cathedral Mausoleum as two extras speak in the foreground. Below is the same spot as it looks today.
Above, this scene shows the Lady in Black leaving the cemetery after leaving flowers on the grave of Rudolph Valentino. Below is the same road today.