This beautiful 2-disc set by Flicker Alley is one of the year's most exciting silent film releases, bringing us two outstanding films previously believed to be lost. Such a rediscovery is always exciting, but when it concerns a neglected silent screen legend and two of his best early films, then this set simply cannot be missed. Until now, John Gilbert has been remembered mostly as Greta Garbo's co-star in several sultry and unforgettable silent films of the late 1920s such as "Flesh and the Devil" and "A Woman of Affairs", at which time it was John Gilbert who received first billing in the credits. Rivaling Rudolph Valentino in popularity, it was after Valentino's premature death that Gilbert attained the status Valentino held as the screen's great romantic lover and hero.
It is therefore significant to see these two earlier films of another genre and style by this silent star whose brightness shone only briefly yet brilliantly, and I found his performance in both films surprisingly and delightfully refreshing and different. In the King Vidor production of "Bardelys the Magnificent" he rivals Douglas Fairbanks in his famous swashbuckling action-adventure, "The Three Musketeers", with a similar setting and many exciting action scenes. It is a good story told beautifully with light humour which blends perfectly with the romance, suspense and adventure of the whole film. Although one reel is missing from this exciting rediscovery, the use of stills and extra intertitles fills the gaps nicely and does not detract from the overall smooth, stylish and sophisticated feeling of the film. An outstanding and perfectly-suited orchestral musical score by Rodney Sauer and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra enhances the quality of this already very satisfying Hollywood-style escape.
My personal favourite of the two films in this set however is the second film, "Monte Christo", being one of many versions based on the ever-popular Alexandre Dumas novel, and of all the ones I've seen, this is by far the best, in my opinion. If not for the slightly inferior picture quality and a piano score instead of the full orchestral treatment, it would proudly stand on its own as a great film, ranking among the best early versions of The Count of Monte Christo. As Edmond Dantes, Gilbert goes through various stages of appearance, circumstances and emotions, showing that he was a competent actor in other roles besides romantic leads. The first half of this legendary tale allows Gilbert to play the role of the prisoner whose hair and beard have grown wild and long, desperately trying to find a way out and seek revenge on those who caused his unjust imprisonment. When he is rewarded with treasure and becomes the Count of Monte Christo, he again takes on a new aura and manner as he plots to ruin the lives of those who ruined his. It is a serious yet satisfying story told especially well for a silent film made in 1922, and greatly contributes to completing the picture of John Gilbert, the actor.
A top quality glossy brochure with many fine photos accompanies this set and provides more background information on the films and Gilbert himself, along with the audio commentary and half-hour documentary, which is basically an interview with John Gilbert's daughter, Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, who wrote a biography of her father some years ago. All together, this is a wonderful set about a charming actor of the silent era whose films deserve to be remembered and enjoyed once again in this restored condition.