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The rediscovery and restoration of any film long believed lost is good news. Beyond the Rocks inspired still more excitement at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival because it was the only movie ever to costar two of the silent era's highest-wattage luminaries: Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino.
Cultural cliché holds that Swanson's acting was as garish as her makeup, and the legend of Valentino is awash in camp. Yet in this picture--however preposterously plotted by Elinor (It) Glyn--both deliver very natural performances of behavioral subtlety and discretion. Swanson, as the loving daughter of a retired officer (Alec B. Francis), is willing to do anything to ensure that Papa's twilight years be comfortable. That includes marrying a much older, vulgar businessman (Robert Bolder) as wealthy as he is unappealing. It's inconvenient that she's just fallen for a dashing nobleman (Valentino) who's saved her from (1) drowning and (2) falling off an Alp. Both these beautiful people struggle to behave honorably, right up through a final reel in which the unsympathetic husband takes them--and the audience--by surprise.
Now, we mustn't make overmuch of a good thing: Beyond the Rocks, ably but unexcitingly directed by Sam Wood, isn't a lost Murnau or the uncut Greed. But it's a very respectable movie, free of the excesses (except Swanson's increasingly florid costumes!) carelessly attributed to silent films in general; and as a long-delayed footnote to two legendary careers, its historical importance is considerable. The Nederlands Filmmuseum restoration is gloriously sharp (apart from a few spasms of almost impenetrable nitrate deterioration), and the new score by Henny Vrienten sounds more like Mark Isham than the organ-and-calliope accompaniment too many silents have suffered from. --Richard T. Jameson