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Cashing in: Valentino
A biography from 1977 of the silent film actor Valentino. The film starts with Valentino´s funeral and the mass hysteria at the time, then continues as a series of flashbacks in the style of Citizen Kane. Valentino is a club dancer who gets in trouble with the mob and with the entertainment industry. His foreignness is used against him (whoever heard of a dago playing a dago) and his appeal to women causes resentment and allegations of homosexuality. His reputation grows as a cinema star ("The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse") and as a lover. Women adore him but continually men insult him ("pink powder puff").
Finally he is tricked into a boxing match with a journalist who turns out to have been boxing champion in the marines. In genuinely exciting scenes Valentino is continually pummelled to the ground, till eventually his opponent grabs him, barely conscious, and dances him round the ring. He is only saved by the bell. In true Rocky fashion after the bell Valentino comes out and unexpectedly has found strength and turns the fight round, grabbing his opponent and dancing, up to the knock-out. Valentino has saved his honour.
At his funeral an actress comes to his coffin and faints. The cameramen have missed it, so she revives, goes to the coffin again and faints again, this time front page news.
The film is edited well with fast pacing but a good control of the story. It is however too long, 30 minutes shorter would improve it.
The imagery is good, but the film was a major commercial failure.
Nureyev stars but he is not really an actor and probably his ego stopped him giving up totally to Russell's direction. He starts well but the film is a bit too long and the accent starts to grate. He was originally brought in to play the small role of the dancer Nijinsky. In the film he says "I haven't much acting experience I am afraid", and the scenes where he has a lot of dialogue show his limited acting ability. Compare with fellow dancer Christopher Gable who is magnificent in Song of Summer and other Russell films.
Regular Russell actors include Lindsey Kemp (also a dancer!) as the mortician and Jennie Linden who played Ursula in Women in Love. Other actors are Michelle Phillips (singer from the Mamas and the Papas), Felicity Kendal, Carol Kane
Cinematography is again by Peter Suschitzky and editing by Stuart Baird. Shirley Russell does the costumes.
The script is by Russell and Mardik Martin, who also contributed to Mean Streets, New York New York and Raging Bull for Scorsese. The basis is a pulp fiction biography of Valentino by Brad Steiger. An example of Russell's vision is the scene at the beginning of the book and film where the screaming fans break through the glass of the funeral parlour. In the book the windows are then boarded up with planks of wood. Russell's film changes the planks of wood to coffin lids.
Russell appears briefly as, of course, the director. Ken also has a songwriting credit, the parody lyrics for the updated "The Sheik of Araby".
In the funeral parlour boarding up the broken windows with coffin lids.
The vulture on a stone in the desert filming
When Valentino gets revenge by seducing in a dance Mr Fatty´s
girl. When the mobster beats up Valentino and the girl shoots the
mobster. Three scenes developing the plot pass in ten seconds.
There is a very unconvincing madhouse scene which is a cheap copy of Glenda Jackson's harrowing scene in The Music Lovers.
The film is framed in a Citizen Kane structure,
starting with newsreel footage and an exquisite performance, the film
progressing in flashbacks that tell the story, and ending with Valentino
collapsing and an orange rolling away, Rosebud fashion.
Other films released in the same year include Star Wars, Close Encounters and The Spy Who Loved Me.
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