Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

December 1, 2017

STOLEN MOMENTS (1920), starring Rudolph Valentino

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 2:46 pm


starring Marguerite Namara and Rudolph Valentino

shot in St. Augustine, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia

originally released in a six-reel version by American Cinema Corporation in Dec. 1920

re-released in a three-reel edit by Select Pictures in 1922, highlighting Valentino

available on the 2-dvd set VALENTINO: REDISCOVERING AN ICON OF SILENT FILM, released in 2007 by Flicker Alley, which also includes THE YOUNG RAJAH (reconstruction), A SOCIETY SENSATION, and MORAN OF THE LADY LETTY, plus a boatload of special features that paint a fascinating personal portrait of Valentino–alas, that set is now out of print and goes for big bucks!

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poster from the three-reel reissue, which is all that survives today


poster from the original six-reel release, which does not survive today (and which does not mention Valentino)

Before rocketing to stardom in early 1921 in THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE, Rudolph Valentino was a busy character actor, often in villain roles, and STOLEN MOMENTS was his final pre-stardom film, made right before HORSEMEN for the Florida-based American Cinema Corporation. The clearly Southern location shooting is quite refreshing, and for the part of the film set in Brazil, the American South certainly looks a bit more convincing than Culver City, California, would have.

The film was a vehicle for opera singer Marguerite Namara–she’d recorded for Thomas Edison and studied at the Milan Conservatory, and after finishing there actually performed at the Teatro Politeamo in Genoa. She performed on Broadway, had operas written especially for her, played the Royal Albert Hall on five separate occasions, and counted among her friends Enrico Caruso, Charles Chaplin, Ernest Heminigway, Isadora Duncan, Auguste Rodin, Noel Coward, Gertrude Stein, and Pablo Picasso! She lived until 1974, recorded her last album in 1968, and did a lot of painting in her later years. Clearly, her brief flirtations with the cinema were no more than a blip on the radar screen of her long career.

She has a somewhat thankless role here–she was 32 when she made the film (Valentino was 25), and her character is initially a flighty, girlish young lady who is infatuated with a dashing Brazilian author of racy books (Valentino, of course) and who makes the mistake of writing mash notes and desire-filled book inscriptions to her heart-throb. When Valentino announces to her that they cannot marry–you see, he views their relationship as “on a higher plane” than regular, mundane marriage can accommodate–they break up, and he heads back to Brazil. He eventually returns to America (and it must be at least 3-5 years, as she’s now married and with children) and, cad that he is, tries to blackmail her into a new affair with the threat of exposing the old love notes. At least that’s the plot in the edited re-release version, which is all that now survives of the film. I’d guess that Namara has many more scenes on her own in the original film, and the way that the murder element in the film’s final ten minutes is rushed, that too probably is handled in more detail…as is the backstory of her now-husband. She’s certainly no Lillian Gish, but she’s no worse than many other now-forgotten leading ladies in the hundreds of lesser-known silent films I’ve seen. I’d guess that in her opera career, she’d had to play characters who are young in the earlier scenes and then mature throughout the opera–she’s probably channeling that kind of experience when she plays the immature and infatuated younger lady in the first half of the 30-or-so minutes of this edited re-release.

However, that the film exists today at all is because of Valentino’s fame and this  exploitative reissue which was edited down to focus more on his scenes. All of his supporting actor work which I’ve seen is quite interesting. He is not meant to be the center of attention, obviously, and seeing him as an ensemble player gives one new insight into his craft. Of course, here he is playing a lecherous Latin American author of what are presumably “spicy” novels which deal with a woman’s “freedom to love,” and the mustachioed Valentino certainly turns on the seductive charm which this character would have oozed when around a potential conquest….at the same time, he has a public image as an educated, erudite author, and we also see him in that persona. It’s an interesting performance. I don’t expect that STOLEN MOMENTS will get some huge revival of interest….certainly not when the Flicker Alley DVD is out of print and it’s unlikely that TCM will show this more than once every year or two….but all I can say is that in the 10 years I’ve owned this film, I’ve watched it probably 7 or 8 times. It still has the whiff of the Victorian Age in its feel, which makes it a fascinating cultural artifact, and the Southern US locations are lovely and well-photographed. The melodramatic plot keeps things moving….especially in this edited version….and there are a lot worse ways to spend 33 minutes. Also, for those who just know Valentino’s name and picture but have never actually sat down and watched a full film of his, something like STOLEN MOMENTS might be a better entry point than, say, THE SHEIK. I’m glad this film survives in SOME form. If you ever get a chance to score a copy of this 2-DVD Flicker Alley set at a decent price, go for it. Each of the four features is fascinating in its own way : MORAN OF THE LADY LETTY is based on a Frank Norris novel, which I read after getting the film….it was one of Norris’s attempts at a popular novel (and it must have succeeded as a film was made out of it!), so don’t be expecting another McTEAGUE….and it’s a great vehicle for the athletic Valentino; THE YOUNG RAJAH is a fascinating creation that drags in Theosophy and some of the 1920’s interest in Eastern spirituality which I discussed in my book POINT LOMA PURPLE (I should write about THE YOUNG RAJAH some time); and A SOCIETY SENSATION is another one of those edited-down re-releases of an earlier film where Valentino was originally a supporting player, and it too is fascinating in hindsight. You also get literally hours of super-rare special features, so if you’ve always wanted to see Valentino at home and informal and with his prize-winning dogs, here’s your chance. There’s even early sound throwaway documentary shorts which contain footage from otherwise-lost films….AND even a trailer from an obscure FBO feature starring Valentino’s wife Natacha Rambova, a film which does NOT survive! I pull this set out every few months and find new gems within it. Valentino needs to be discovered by new generations and given an opportunity to work his magic in a new century….he was a total original and has never been equaled.

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