Camille (1921) A Silent Film Review

Alla Nazimova takes on the role of Marguerite, the lady of camellias, a successful Parisian courtesan. She’s dying beautifully from tuberculosis but finds time to romance Rudolph Valentino in this modernized adaptation.

Home Media Availability: Released on DVD.

This is part of the Rudolph Valentino Blogathon hosted by Timeless Hollywood. Be sure to read the other posts!

Red alert! The women have retaken the narrative!

I remember back in the 1990s there were a considerable number of hands being wrung over so-called heroin chic. Skinny, morose models stared out of black and white Calvin Klein magazine ads with sunken eyes. Well, the worrywarts of the 90s should have realized that heroin chic had nothing on the Victorian/Gilded Age romanticizing of tuberculosis.

Consumption was regularly portrayed as a romantic and beautiful way to die back in the nineteenth century. It was the disease of poets, authors, fragile beauties of both genders. Young Alexandre Dumas, fils had been dazzled by a courtesan who died of the disease in 1847, the height of the TB chic movement. Just one year later, he published Camille, a romanticized novelization of her death. Dumas adapted the work for the stage four years later and it became a smash hit and the role was regularly used to showcase the acting chops of the best leading ladies in the business.

Nazimova was up to the task.
Nazimova was up to the task.

Jump forward nearly seventy years and we find ourselves at the Metro studio. Metro was a hair away from being the first M in MGM and was generally reckoned to be one of the classiest joints in the American film industry. Russian acting legend Alla Nazimova was in residence and a young fellow named Rudolph Valentino was steadily making a name for himself, thanks in part to the writing of June Mathis and the direction of Rex Ingram.

Camille had already been adapted into feature films, both Theda Bara and Clara Kimball Young had played the role, but Nazimova’s version would modernize the tale, take it out of grandfather’s day and turn it into a jazz age fable. Mathis adapted the story, Natacha Rambova would design the film and Nazimova would star. The director was officially Ray C. Smallwood but cameraman Paul Ivano later claimed that Nazimova took that job as well. I’m not sure how reliable this account is but, if true, this would not have been unusual. Mary Pickford was obliged to ghost-direct when the men hired for the job proved to be unreliable and one of the unwritten rules of Laurel and Hardy comedies was that Stan Laurel’s suggestions were law. (For what it’s worth, Patsy Ruth Miller, another member of the cast of Camille, stated that Nazimova had creative control but Smallwood was definitely the director.)

Do you think that Valentino fellow will make something of himself?
Do you think that Valentino fellow will make something of himself?

So, what we have is a very talented crew and they just happen to be women. This is going to be fun!

Quick note: I have a longstanding policy of not discussing the personal lives of silent film personnel unless it relates directly to the film being reviewed. I really do not care about theories regarding the love lives of Valentino, Rambova or Nazimova. In fact, I avoid them like the plague because some fans are, frankly, a bit too invested and derail film conversations in favor of discussing celebrity gossip. This ain’t TMZ so please no sex stuff in the comments. Thanks!

Nazimova is often described with a few quick strokes: temperamental, eccentric, party girl, a game of bedroom Clue and then off to a different performer. Hold your horses! Let’s dispense with the usual narrative baggage and see how Nazimova the actress, as opposed to Nazimova the personality, fares.

But can she act?
But can she act?

I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention that I don’t care much for the work of Alexandre Dumas, fils or TB chic. Oh well. (Needless to say, it was his father who wrote the adventure books.)

Marguerite (Alla Nazimova) is the most famous courtesan in Paris. She flirts and giggles and parties, all while wearing her signature flower, the camellia. (Did you know that Camellia sinensis is the scientific name for a tea plant? Well, now you do.) She is currently keeping company with the Count de Varville (Arthur Hoyt), a wealthy and dissolute nobleman.

Ditch the lipstick, Rex.
Ditch the lipstick, Rex.

Armand (Rudolph Valentino) sees Marguerite and is immediately smitten, which she finds incredibly amusing. It soon becomes clear that she takes no pleasure in her life and that while she is popular, real friends are few and far between. Marguerite has tuberculosis and is dying but knows that no one will miss her when she is gone.

She hosts a party and Armand arrives with his friend Gaston (Rex Cherryman). Marguerite goes through the motions but her only real emotion occurs when she sees her innocent young friend, Nichette (Patsy Ruth Miller). Marguerite has a coughing fit and Armand follows her when she goes to her room to rest. He professes his love and Marguerite warns him not to wound her. Like the camellia, she is fragile.

I'll hold my camellia in front of the camellia just for fun.
I’ll hold my camellia in front of the camellia just for fun.

And so they’re off on their love affair. Armand takes Marguerite to the county and her health is improving but things do not stay happy. Armand’s father (William Orlamand, who played Sourdough in The Wind) arrives and tells Marguerite that she must give up his son. Her reputation is rubbing off and will bring the whole family to ruin. This was something that Marguerite always feared and she agrees to drive Armand away, taking up with Varville once again to ensure that Armand will hate her.

The plan works all too well. Armand sees Marguerite at a casino and showers her with money, stating that she needs to be paid for her love. (Spoiler coming) Humiliated, Marguerite’s health fails. Armand discovers the truth but too late. With Nichette and Gaston by her side (they got hitched), Marguerite dies.

The natural finale of TB chic.
The natural finale of TB chic.

Before we discuss the performances in this film, let’s dive into the history of the main character of Camille.

The History

Nazimova was forty-two when Camille was released and Valentino was twenty-six; this seems to be the first May-December casting in a Hollywood adaptation. (The Clara Kimball Young version had an Armand thirteen years older than Marguerite while Theda Bara was one year older than her Armand.) Norma Talmadge and Gilbert Roland were thirty-two and twenty-one respectively in the 1926 adaptation (also a modernized version) and Greta Garbo was thirty-one to Robert Taylor’s twenty-five in the 1936 sound adaptation.

A vulnerable age.
A vulnerable age.

While the idea of Armand falling for an older, more experienced woman has taken firm hold in the public imagination, I am sorry to say that the “jaded courtesan” upon whom Dumas based his story, Marie Duplessis, died of tuberculosis at the ripe old age of… twenty-three. She and Dumas were born six months apart in 1824. It was a time when women of little means had few options for upward mobility; they could and did work but the professions that could elevate them out of poverty were closed to them, for the most part. Women were sometimes placed in the position of making a choice between honorable squalor or, if they had the charm or beauty, living off the favors of wealthy men; Duplessis was frank about her lifestyle:

“I realize that mine is a sordid profession, but I must let you know that my favors cost a great deal of money. My protector must be extremely rich to cover my household expenses and satisfy my caprices.”

Secretly dreaming of Franz Liszt?
Secretly dreaming of Franz Liszt?

And, unlike her fictional counterpart, Duplessis did not have a miraculous awakening thanks to the pure love of an aristocratic youth. (Cough, cough, wish fulfillment!) I’m not sure she had time for such a thing, considering her extremely early death. In fact, her final year was a frenzy of partying, a reaction to her rejection by dashing composer, virtuoso pianist, womanizer and would-be priest Franz Liszt. Duplessis had offered to accompany him on tour (Liszt essentially invented the modern notion of a musical superstar) and was turned down.

The all-too-human lady of the camellias was resurrected in a more saintly and sanitized form by her (male) chroniclers, the ultimate courtesan with the heart of gold. The story is maudlin in that annoying Gilded Age way (Tuberculosis is romantic! Wheee!) and while it may be useful in comprehending Dumas’s wish fulfillment and understandable daddy issues, it doesn’t exactly lend itself to the screen.

Rudy does tend to dribble without his bib.
Rudy does tend to dribble without his bib.

June Mathis and Alla Nazimova took the May-December idea and ran with it for all it is worth, more power to them. It certainly fits with the melancholy tone they adopt for the picture. However, this has led to some rather unpleasant issues on the critical front.

What’s Nazimova doing in a Nazimova movie?

Modern reviews are not kind to Nazimova. Much is made of the use of filters on the camera lens to disguise her age with, I believe, William K. Everson leading the charge in American Silent Film. Because Hollywood has always respected older actresses and awarded them parts, giving them absolutely no reason to conceal their age. (End sarcasm.) I also notice that no one seems to mention, say, John Barrymore’s extravagant use of cheesecloth in the handsome close-ups in his films.

She uses filters? The fiend!
She uses filters? The fiend!

Then we get to complaints about her posturing and posing. To me, there is nothing about Nazimova that is not typical of a silent Russian performance, which tend to be a bit more on the expressive side. When I first saw Nazimova, I was prepared for near hysterics but any eccentricities before the camera are no worse than, say, Lillian Gish’s nervous fingers. Don’t let the naysayers scare you away! (On the other side of the coin, I have seen reviewers who have clearly seen few silent films reassuring readers that Camille is not as “hammy” as other 1920s films. Um, no. I never said it wasn’t hammy, I said it was quality ham.)

At the beginning of the film, Nazimova has plenty of kittenish antics but there is something deeper at work. Even as she is flirting outrageously, she conveys the sense of a woman who knows she is expendable to the world and to her so-called friends. Her antics are hollow, over-rehearsed. Nazimova is playing a complicated and risky game as she layers her performance; it’s little wonder that some viewers may not know to look below the first layer but anyone who bothers to watch closely will be rewarded.

A little flirting, yes?
A little flirting, yes?

Nazimova is hypnotic. Like so many great performers, she draws the eye, making it impossible to focus on anyone else when she is doing her stuff. A tiny woman, Nazimova exudes vulnerability and actually looks like a wilted flower when she finally loses Armand’s love.

We are left with the question of whether or not Nazimova was “difficult” to work with. It seems to me that while this label is used for both men and women, it is often employed to dismiss a woman in the film industry who wishes to have creative control. When writing about D.W. Griffith, Fritz Lang or Charlie Chaplin making demands and exhibiting perfectionism, film historians often take this as evidence of their dedication as artists. But if Alla Nazimova or Pola Negri make similar demands… Look, the film industry was and is full of creative people. It gets emotional. Nazimova had a distinct creative vision and she did her darndest to get it so can we lay off the sexist dog-whistles, please?

Difficult or artistic?
Difficult or artistic?

And now for the biggest question on everyone’s mind: how is Valentino? Camille was released at an interesting period in his career, six months after The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, his breakout role, and one month before The Sheik, the film that would make him a legend and cement his stardom. Valentino is a star who lends himself to fantasy, which is part of the reason for his continued popularity but it also makes it difficult to weigh his performances and decide on their quality. Viewers are often enticed by what they think they see, not what is on the screen.

In my opinion, though, Valentino is raw. There’s a lot of charisma there and some natural ability but his relative inexperience in larger roles shows. Take Valentino’s available films of 1921 (The Four Horsemen, The Conquering Power, Camille, The Sheik) and compare them to the performances he gave in 1925 and 1926 and it becomes clear that his acting talent was improving by leaps and bounds and that he finally had a handle on his lover persona.

Armand has taken up with a very friendly bunny rabbit. Whee!
Armand has taken up with a very friendly bunny rabbit. Whee!

In the late 1910s, Valentino had played generic leading men (The Delicious Little Devil) and sleazy villains (The Married Virgin, Eyes of Youth) but his best early role, for my money, is in All Night, a romantic comedy in which he is a nice kid trying desperately to NOT spend the night in the same room as his girlfriend. Valentino is cute, vulnerable, sweet and funny. In fact, his comedic chops are the most underrated aspect of his talent. It’s no coincidence that Valentino’s later successes skillfully blended humor into the mix.

Of course, the Nazimova crew was making art and were not in it for the comedy. This is a pity as Armand is a pretty annoying character, both whiny and cruel when he does not get his way. However, upping his likability was not in the cards.

You got peanut butter in my chocolate!

The problem we have with this film is that some Rudy fans act like there’s Nazimova in their Valentino movie. And Nazimova fans are like, “No, there’s Valentino in our Nazimova movie!” when what we all need to do is take a hint from Reese’s peanut butter cups and realize that the combination is kind of okay.

Whose name in the credits?
Whose name in the credits?

Also, all this whining about too much Nazimova in a Nazimova movie… Yeah, you watched a movie starring Nazimova with Nazimova’s name above the credits. Not sure what else you expected. This is like going to a superhero movie and moaning that there were too many guys in spandex.

(Obviously, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a Valentino fan seeing this movie for a glimpse of Valentino. I just find it odd when people complain about the star of a film starring in the film they were hired to star in.)

You cut my scenes, you she-devil!
You cut my scenes, you she-devil!

The common belief about Camille is that there was dirty work afoot. Nazimova was threatened by the talents of young Valentino and so she hatched a plan. This is how it unfolded, per Emily Leider’s Valentino biography Dark Lover:

But his acting skills got short shrift. His big moment in the deathbed scene was simply deleted, although Rambova said he played it so convincingly that even the extras were mopping tears from their eyes… The only way Nazimova could monopolize the emotion was by excising Armand, a move Variety lamented as “arrant misconception.”

So, we have a double charge against Nazimova: she cut Valentino’s scenes because he was too darn good and she did it showing total disregard for her source material. Let’s take the second part first.

A greedy death scene?
A greedy death scene?

Variety did indeed state that the final boudoir scene required Armand to be present and eliminating him was a serious error in judgement. They did not specifically complain about a Valentino shortage, though his performance was well-reviewed. The lack of Armand, Variety claimed, must have been a compromise to make the ending less sad. (How, exactly? Dying without a loved one is generally reckoned to be one of the saddest things ever and Armand was horrible to her.)

My suspicions were aroused. You see, Marguerite dies alone in the book. She addresses Armand in her diary, begging for him to return but he is too far away and is only able to send a letter. (Maybe he should have climbed into a cardboard box and mailed himself to her? But I digress.) When she becomes too weak to write, another character takes over, still addressing Armand and describing Marguerite’s death and funeral. The diary is delivered to Armand after Marguerite’s death.

But he wanted to be in the death scene!
But he wanted to be in the death scene!

Dumas’s stage adaptation (upon which Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La traviata was based) introduced the more familiar ending with Marguerite dying in Armand’s arms. However, Nazimova and/or June Mathis were on solid dramatic ground in omitting Armand, something that the Variety critic should have been aware of.

Motion Picture News praised both Nazimova and Valentino and singled out the deathbed scene for praise, while Motion Picture Classic complained about the change and claimed that two endings were shot but only the solo death scene was released. Again, the play is referenced but not the original novel.

Stop kissing the cutlery, Rudy.
Stop kissing the cutlery, Rudy.

My next problem is the main source of this narrative. Natacha Rambova can hardly be considered an impartial witness considering her personal involvement with Valentino. One’s wife is not generally considered to be the best judge of one’s acting skills. (Valentino and Rambova attempted marriage just six months after Camille opened and no, I do not wish to discuss their relationship.) Leider cites Rambova’s “intimate portrait” of Valentino, which was published soon after his sudden death, as her source for the description of his deathbed performance in Camille. (Rambova also seemed to be unaware of the solo death scene in the original novel. Did no one read books in 1921?)

Patsy Ruth Miller and Rex Cherryman watch Nazimova die.
Patsy Ruth Miller and Rex Cherryman watch Nazimova die.

In her memoirs, Patsy Ruth Miller wrote that Nazimova drove June Mathis nuts with her changes to the script of Camille. Miller wrote extensively about the backstage antics of Nazimova (she was a bit of a jokester) and her eccentricities, as well as Rudolph Valentino’s personality, hobbies, quirks and professional concerns. Significantly, she does not mention Valentino’s performance during the death scene, which seems odd considering the generally gossipy tone of the book. And, remember, Miller’s character, Nichette, is present during the extant death scene.

“What a second! What if other people, not just his wife, proclaimed that Valentino’s performance was brilliant? What do you say to that, Miss Smartypants?”

How good was he? We don't know.
How good was he? We don’t know.

That’s not the point. No matter the source, it’s easy to claim that a cut performance was brilliant and stupendous and moved hearts of stone to tears but can we really know for sure? How many times have recovered lost films disappointed us? How many director’s cuts and special editions have added scenes that were best left on the cutting room floor? We are right to be suspicious.

While he was capable of good performances, Valentino was given to carrying on when not kept firmly under a skilled director’s control and he didn’t have the underlying acting chops of Nazimova to allow him to carry off overwrought emotions. While he definitely has natural charisma going for him in this picture, he also indulges in the kind of eye-bulging and nostril-flaring that made The Sheik so kitschy. He’s not bad in the film, he does a good job with what he is given, but there is a definite tendency to mug.

But the movie doesn't hold a candle to its stills.
But the movie doesn’t hold a candle to its stills.

Is it possible that Valentino’s scene at Marguerite’s deathbed was not too good but too bad? Or that his performance was okay but that it unbalanced the scene? Or that his scenes were rehearsed but never shot at all? Or that there were censorship concerns? I’m not saying it is impossible that Nazimova cut him down in order to amplify her own scene, I am saying that we should be open to the prospect of another side to the story. Considering the tendency of some Valentino fans to turn every woman who ever crossed his path into a wicked villainess, I think this is a reasonable request.

The character we all really care about.
The character we all really care about.

Camille is not about Armand. In fact, he is the least interesting character in the story and his behavior toward Marguerite at the casino is so cruel that, frankly, I wished that he would somehow manage to get between a mother bear and her cub. Literally no one goes into a performance of Camille wishing for more Armand unless, of course, they work for Variety or Motion Picture Classic. This brouhaha rather reminds me of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion and how the substitute happy ending of My Fair Lady has completely replaced Shaw’s more realistic (and ambiguous) climax. A viewer may prefer the happier ending but they would be a silly creature if they were to whine about an adaptation taking a cue from the Shaw original.

Women want to make movies? The next thing you know, they'll want to be doctors too! Horror!
Women want to make movies? The next thing you know, they’ll want to be doctors too! Horror!

I suppose the aspect of this argument that annoys me the most is that it takes a film that was produced and (rumor has it) ghost-directed by a woman, written by a woman, designed by a woman, featuring a woman-centric plot and makes it all about a poor wittle man. And if you’re going to complain, at least read the end of the original novel, for goodness sake! (An English translation of the novel would have been available for decades when the film was written.)

Read a book once in a while, Variety!
Read a book once in a while, Variety!

So, the gist of my argument is as follows:

  1. Read the book before complaining about the adaptation.
  2. You have no idea whether or not Valentino’s allegedly cut performance was brilliant. The shouldawouldacoulda game is fun but it becomes dangerous to the historical record when the what-if fantasy is passed off as fact.
  3. Yes, by all means, take a film created by talented women and make it all about a guy.

This has been a public service announcement by Movies Silently.

The Technical Side

Next to Nazimova, Rambova gets the most tomatoes thrown at her. She was too consciously arty! Too affected! And Rambova wasn’t even her real name, if you can imagine such a thing happening in Hollywood! These pearls are clutched so tightly, you will have to pry them out of their cold, dead hands.

Oooo, pretty!
Oooo, pretty!

Phooey! Consciously arty they may be but Rambova’s sets are sort of a science fiction delight with their diaphanous doors (yes, doors) and symbolic decorations. The camellia flower shows up a lot, of course, but we also get a spider web in the casino and Marguerite’s see-through doors symbolize her vulnerability. I particularly dug the window in her bedroom, which is huge and round and slides open with the touch of a button. Very Star Trek!

My dream window.
My dream window.

The costumes are also fun to watch. What I have always admired about 1910s and 1920s outfits is their intriguing construction. Nowadays, we’re back zipper, side zipper or forget that and wear leggings. Older fashions, on the other hand, sometimes went together like a puzzle and had unexpected additional details. For example, Nazimova’s party dress in the opening scene is actually wound around her and could be unwound for a decidedly leggy display. And can I just say that Nazimova had an enviable figure? I could only hope to look that good at forty-two.

So, the technical side of things is pristine, the acting is splendid and Nazimova is hypnotic. I approve!

I approve of it all!
I approve of it all!

Oh, by the way, this may seem like the perfect time to do a Silents vs. Talkies but the thought of a post-code Camille and having to once again endure almost two hours of Greta Garbo alternately lurching about and talking baby talk was too much to bear. And, frankly, I do not find the story interesting enough to warrant a search for another version, though it is a pity that Theda Bara’s performance in the role is missing and presumed lost. So, we’ll just wrap up the review of the 1921 version here.

The lady could act!
The lady could act!

I find Nazimova fascinating. The fictionalized Marguerite, less so. However, don’t let the drippy story and snarky critics scare you away. Alla Nazimova was a talent to be reckoned with and Camille showcases her powerful acting chops; the gorgeous set design is the icing on the decadent cake. The film is not subtle but it doesn’t aim for subtlety. It whacks you over the head with its look and performances but oh boy does it ever feel good.

Movies Silently’s Score: ★★★★

Where can I see it?

Camille was released on DVD as an extra feature for the 1936 Greta Garbo vehicle. It has a very enjoyable orchestra score from Peter Vantine. Definitely the version to get!

Special Note: Since some commenters seem to be having trouble with the concept, let me explain. Participating in a blogathon means that I review a film that features the blogathon’s subject. Participation does not oblige me to write ONLY about that person or change history in order to fawn over them. That would be silly. You would think this would be obvious but it seems to be a rather sticky concept.

And a special thanks to the Valentino fans who have worked so hard to illustrate my points!

26 Replies to “Camille (1921) A Silent Film Review”

  1. The only other film of Nazimova’s I have seen is ESCAPE ( 1940) in which Robert Taylor smuggles her out of Nazi Germany. She is quite good in that. CAMILLE, though – I found her giagantic Afro, skinny angularity ( great figure indeed !) and spastic movements just plain weird. Different strokes, I guess. As for Valentino, they never filmed a scene in which he appears at the deathbed. The missing scene had him turn up at the auction of Marguerite’s belongings, buy the book he gave her, and break down weeping over it, which would have meant that the final closeup of the film would have been HIM, not Nazimova. I can understand why she would cut it, especially if, as reported, his grief was so touching that even the camera crew were wiping their eyes.

    1. One review states that both versions of the deathbed scene WERE shot but that the solo scene was selected. The auction scene is not mentioned in the Variety review Leider uses to shore up her argument, they only talk about the death scene. And, frankly, the character of Armand is so despicable that giving the final shot to him would have been an irredeemable error. I find it highly unlikely that Valentino’s scenes moved anyone to tears, given that his discovery of Marguerite’s letter to his father is just plain flat.

      But here we are again, taking a movie that was the work of women and making it all about the poor wittle maaaaan. For goodness sake. >:(

  2. Well, this is the Valentino Blogathon, not the Nazimova one. And if the scene was cut, it naturally wouldn’t be mentioned in the reviews, since the critics didn’t see it.

    1. You continue to spectacularly miss the point. If I had covered Eyes of Youth, my review would have heavily covered Clara Kimball Young. You know, the star. For this review, I covered Valentino and how his fans heap wrath on Nazimova. (By the way, thanks for proving my point in this regard. Your assistance was invaluable.) When you write your review of this film, you may focus on whatever you wish.

      My point is that Leider used a review talking about the deathbed scene. Any auction scene would have been invented out of whole cloth as it is in neither the play nor the novel.

      I’m extremely tired about this “What about teh MENZ?!?!” discussion and I don’t feel like repeating myself again.

  3. Oh thank God I’m not crazy for enjoying this movie. For years, so much hate had been heaped upon it that I began to wonder if my own judgement was faulty. Nazimova and Rambova make the film for me. Thanks so much for this balanced review!

    PS I actually like Garbo, but her Camille is just terrible. In fact, I don’t like her post-code filmography at all, save for parts of Conquest from 1937 or Anna Karenina from 1935.

    1. Yeah, it’s not your imagination, this movie ROCKS! 🙂 Could not agree more regarding Nazimova and Rambova.

      I saw Garbo’s Camille ages ago and skimmed it before I wrote this review but oh goodness, I couldn’t take it!

  4. Thank you so much for your post on Camille. I enjoyed it very much. It’s the only film I’ve seen with Nazimova. I do enjoy Valentino in the film but it’s not at the top of my list of movies with him in it.

  5. Big fan of Camille and Nazimova’s performance in it. I had already seen Salome and can’t say I liked it much and then I saw this and it was a revelation. Thought she was brilliant in it.

    1. Yeah, Salome is really more about the design than anything else. I enjoyed it but it was really not Nazimova’s best performance. Could not agree with you more about her acting here, absolutely splendid!

  6. I have always wanted to see this film and I think Nazimova is a talent that needs to be recognized today. I think she was very forward thinking…do I dare say the Lady Ga Ga of her day. The one picture of her laying down surrounded by flowers reminds me of a pre-raphaelite painting of Ophelia in the water surrounded by flowers

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this review, and your responses to some of the comments. (You knew that writing about a Nazimova film for a Valentino Blogathon would be — how should I say it — problematic?)

    I first saw this film at least ten years ago on TCM, and was mesmerized by the performance of Nazimova. I knew little of her, other than she had been a legendary stage actress at the beginning of the 20th century. I later found Gavin Lambert’s 1997 biography of her, and highly recommend it (still available on Amazon and other sources).

    Nazimova overcame incredible odds — an abused Ukrainian girl in 19th century Russia — to become the most acclaimed actress of the day. First in Russia (while still in her teens), then Europe and America where (by her early 30s) had a Broadway theater named after her. Then she decided to take on motion pictures. Nazimova’s films may have had male directors, but I seriously doubt they “directed” her, or overruled her on any issue affecting her art. This was one very strong woman.

    1. Yes, Valentino has some very passionate fans but why they have to use that passion to insult his female co-workers is beyond me. I find it interesting that the sad pasts of male (and American) performers like John Gilbert are trotted out to excuse their eccentricities but Nazimova and Pola Negri’s harrowing childhoods are swept aside and they are turned into villainesses, their films scoffed at and ignored. And it’s hilarious that Natacha Rambova, public enemy number one in so many pro-Valentino camps, is suddenly presented as the most reliable witness in the world when they want to use her to bash Nazimova.

      My personal theory is that Nazimova used directors to do the grunt work, assembling extras, etc. and directed herself and the other major stars. That seems to make the most sense but, of course, there’s no real way to prove it.

      From personal observation, it seems that people who do not like Nazimova are either overly zealous Rudy fans or are unfamiliar with the Russian silent film style. What Nazimova does very much resembles the layered performances of Ivan Mosjoukine, Nathalie Lissenko and others in the Albatros club. What films they could have made together!

    1. Yes, and I chose to cover the topic by discussing a commonly held belief about Valentino that concerns Nazimova, the bizarre overreactions of his fans (shocking, I know) and the clear failure to understand whose name is at the top of the credits. Participating in a blogathon does not mean I am obliged to fawn over the subject, just write about them.

  8. I am shocked, SHOCKED that you would dare to take a different spin on the traditional Blogathon topics and write about Valentino in a supporting way rather than the way EVERYONE else is doing. I mean what do you think this is…your own blog or something? Fritzi, your fun is wrong! 😉

  9. This is just too silly. I didn’t see any overreaction by Valentino fans, the comments were simply stating surprise that a supposed Valentino blogathon would be a dissertation on Nazimova’s talent and contributions. Silly me, I thought it would be dedicated to Valentino’s talent and contributions Fritzi Kramer. If you were wanting to write about Nazimova, I would have thought you’d make the blogathan about her. There is no reason to be snide to people who came to read your blog due to the ‘yearly event’ you were advertising.

    1. Sandra, is that you? 😉 Blogathons are often jumping off points for other discussions. When I participated in the William Wellman blogathon, I ended up writing quite a bit about Joan Crawford because that was the direction that led to the most interesting review. (Interestingly, no one complained about it. Could it be that, wow, Valentino’s fans are a bit overzealous?) While I mention Valentino plenty in this review (over 30 times, in fact) the film belongs to Nazimova and I have no intention of altering history because mentioning her might offend someone. Also, the topic of Nazimova being attacked or erased by fans of her co-star deserves to be addressed and is very much to do with Valentino. I suggest you start your own blogathon where you can closely control the writings of every single participant, Karena Bloom, and attack any who dare to color outside the lines. I have hosted multiple blogathons and sometimes bloggers write negative reviews of a film featuring the star player or select a film where they play a minor role. This is perfectly fine as it gives a fuller picture of a performer’s life and career.

      You also seem to be under the impression that I organized and/or controlled the blogathon. Nope, I am a humble participant and if you don’t like how I participate, well, don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you. I think a timeout is in order because this is clearly an emotional topic for you.

  10. Hey guys, it’s me! Just wanted to let everyone know that the ban hammer got dropped on a few circular discussions. When comments verge into petty accusations and bizarre ‘splaining about how to participate in a blogathon (?), it’s time for everyone to return to their own corner of the internet. Feel free to comment about Camille, the performances (Valentino’s included) and anything else but the window for whining about Nazimova’s alleged scene cutting and policing blogathon content is closed.

    My time is very limited and I have no desire to spend one more minute than necessary repeating myself again and again and again. One or two go-rounds is my maximum. After that, it’s time to move along. If the commenter does not move along, they are booted. I rarely ban on this site but I see no reason to descend into tedium and banning is the simplest solution.

    Please enjoy reading author John Scalzi’s comment policy. I think he’s on the right track. Tatty bye!

  11. I’m almost as amused by the comments section than by the review itself… But, hey, I reviewed Blood and Sand and praised Nita Naldi much more than Valentino in my review!
    And I’ve got to see Nazimova’s Camille! I’ve only watched Garbo’s, many years ago, whn I couldn’t even point who was Robert Taylor and who was Lionel Barrymore (I was a silly teen).
    Kisses!

    1. You naughty reviewer! 😉 Yes, it has been an extremely, ahem, active crew in the comments this time around. I think I will review something from Pola Negri and really make everyone angry, hee hee!

  12. Just watched this one (just realized I had it!) and enjoyed it much more than the Garbo version. I thought Valentino did well as a young lover, in over his head, but the film really belonged to Mme Nazimova. Thanks and good job Fritzi!!

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