Sunday, February 14, 2010

For the Love of Film - Film Preservation Blogathon - Uncharted Seas with Rudolph Valentino

Valentino as the ardent and hopeful Frank Underwood.

Fans of Rudolph Valentino can really count themselves fortunate. Compared to the cinematic legacy left by other major stars and directors of the silent era, Valentino has a pretty good survival rate of his major starring films. We’re doubly fortunate so many are available on DVD. Other silent films and the stars themselves are not so fortunate. So many films are remembered only through stills and posters and some stars are remembered not at all. (Look for more on this in next For the Love of Film post over the weekend).

Of the fourteen films in which Valentino starred only three films are considered lost: UNCHARTED SEAS (Metro Pictures 1920), THE YOUNG RAJAH (Paramount 1923) and A SAINTED DEVIL (Paramount 1924).

The surviving portions of THE YOUNG RAJAH were cleaned up and released on DVD by our good friends at Flicker Alley. One still hopes for the miracle of a complete print surfacing since all the juicy footage of Valentino in his suit of little else than strands of pearls is not included in the extant footage, much to this Valentino fans regret.

A tiny fragment can be seen from A SAINTED DEVIL, i.e., exterior shots and behind the scenes footage in Brownlow & Gill’s Hollywood series as well as a snippet with Nita Naldi that is misidentified as a scene from COBRA in the documentary THE LEGEND OF RUDOLPH VALENTINO.

The lone starring vehicle film that is truly and completely lost, i.e., not a single frame is known to exist, is UNCHARTED SEAS. The plot is rather silly, yet this is one film I’d still very much love to see.

Valentino’s career is well documented and most of his films are covered thoroughly except UNCHARTED SEAS which remains an utter mystery and cipher to even the most dedicated of Valentino fans. It is barely mentioned and when it is mentioned at all.

Valentino was a contract player at Metro Studios. Even after the great success of THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE, Valentino had no say in his next assignment and was routinely cast in production #101 entitled UNCHARTED SEAS. The film was directed by Wesley Ruggles (who later directed some better known films THE PLASTIC AGE which starred Clara Bow, 1931 Academy Award Winner of Best Picture CIMMARRON with Richard Dix and Irene Dunne and I’M NO ANGEL with Mae West. I am doubtful he actually directed Mae West. The cameraman was John Seitz who was Rex Ingram’s favored cameraman of choice who also happened to be the man responsible for some of the most visually arresting shots in films of the golden age. With a top notch director and cameraman, this was not exactly a “programmer” but surely it was a comedown from the exhausting and heady experience of playing Julio.




Aerial view of Metro Studios and a snow set for Uncharted Seas

UNCHARTED SEAS was filmed on the Metro Pictures Corporation lot located on Cahuenga Blvd. and also on location in the Northern California town of Truckee for some of the exterior snow scenes. Like so many of his early film roles, Valentino was cast as an American type, this time as Frank Underwood a famous explorer and former suitor to Lucretia Eastman played by Alice Lake. Alice Lake is better remembered today as one of Buster Keaton’s leading ladies.

Since the film no longer exists, we cannot judge either the film itself, nor Valentino’s performance. The scenario beyond hokey in 1920 and today is a real groaner to any modern feminist. Nevertheless, I want to see it.

The basic plot for UNCHARTED SEAS tells the story of Lucretia Eastman (Alice Lake) who is married to a loutish and useless fellow, Tom Eastman (Carl Gerard). The long suffering wife endures as much as she can stand and after a final humiliation, Lucretia decides to file for divorce. Stepping in, her father in law begs her to reconsider and hatches a plot to help redeem her husband and preserve their marriage. This plot being a race to get to the sunken ruins of a ship loaded with Klondike gold in the Bering Straits! Where does the character of Frank Underwood (Valentino) fit into the scheme of things? Well, he is a former, and more worthy suitor and a dashing world explorer, to boot. He is also the other party involved in the race to get to the sunken ship and claim the treasure.


Valentino and Alice Lake

The film begins:

“Lucretia Eastman had forgiven and forgiven until it seemed to her that the font of forgiveness had run dry. The love she bore at marriage for the boy whose moral caliber had been weakened by wealth and parental indulgence bravely stood the test until strained to the breaking point, it gave way to patient tolerance. And still she stuck. Her early training had something to do with this; her own sportsmen like nature. She had gambled and lost but she was not one to cringe and refuse to accept the hand she had drawn. (Martyr!)

Further along in the scenario we discover the truth, husband Tom is shirking his job and wasting his life away, an opium addict! Poor, long suffering fool of a wife Lucretia finds it is not only her duty to like it and lump it, but she is also responsible for seeking out and finding hubbo and dragging him home to sleep it off! Tom pretends to be on good behavior. This pretense does not last long! Soon enough he is back to his ways of wenching and dissipation. (Bastard!)

While visiting the local country club, Lucretia runs into her old flame, the dashing and good Frank Underwood (Swoon!). He inquires solicitously if she is happy and, true to form, she gives a pat answer. (Liar!) Poor Frank, a little too dense to read the truth and still carrying a big torch tells her “It’s not so hard to stay away when I’m sure life is being kind to you.” (Blind!)
At this point, she takes the golden opportunity of introducing Frank to her husband who is drunk, disorderly, obstreperous and rude. Frank helps Lucretia get her drunken husband home to cool his jets.

The next morning Frank returns for a heart-to-heart chat urging her to give up on her marriage and asks why she keeps on with the “false sense of duty.” She reminds him that she is still Tom’s wife. (Jeez oh Cripes!) Frank, being a good sort extracts a promise that if she ever needs him, she will call upon him, no matter where or when. (Swoon!).



Naturally, that very evening, Tom in a partying mood, brings some of his girls friends home to meet his wife! Lucretia, horrified hides in a locked bedroom and declines his invitation for a chat with the ladies. In her panicked state, Lucretia remembers her promise to call Frank if she was in need. She frantically picks up the receiver, calls and awakens Frank just as her husband successfully crashes through the door. (!!!!) As he drags her downstairs to meet his lady friends, she fervently prays that Frank is on the way. (Don’t we all?)

Frank Underwood arrives and makes straight for Tom Eastman. Tom, drunken and sneering “So, she sent for you did she? Or is it your habit to call at my house at this hour?” Frank being the upright gentleman he was, hotly retorted “Down on your knees to her you little rat, that is where you belong. You, women, get out of this house and never come back.” (Go! Frank! Go!) Fade out.

Lucretia finally stands up to her father-in-law and tells him she is through. The father, pleads with her “You are the only good influence in his life. If you go, he will end up in the gutter.” Ever the martyr, Lucretia then makes a deal with her father-in-law, “I’ll stick, but I set my own price. I don’t want money, but I do want Tom to do one manly thing in his life, to stick to it and follow through to the end. If he does that, I will stay, if he fails in this task, I will leave and am through with him for good.” (Unbelievable!)


Exasperated Dad tells his drunkard of a son, “I’ve chosen the task for you, three years ago, the steamship Stamford was caught in the ice of the Bering Straights and deserted by her crew. She is still there with a million dollars in Klondike gold aboard her. I’m going to give you a vessel to find her in the uncharted seas of the Artic. It’s your last chance and you must not fail.” As an aside Dad spills the beans, “You know Lucretia is interested in Frank Underwood and he is even now preparing for the same goal, to find the Stamford. But you are going to beat him to it if I have anything to say about it.” (Hiss!)

So the less than happy couple sails off for the uncharted seas. She did not have long to wait to discover that a leopard does not change its spots. (Duh!)



Once the sea of ice was before him, Tom gave up and was finished; he was going to take the ship back home. He was not about to throw his life away on a whim, no matter how much gold was involved. Somehow Frank and his ship show up just in time and Lucretia boards the Belisarius with Frank and, together, they faced an uncertain future. (What? Not a Carnival Cruise to Alaska?)

Days of contentment passed, even though danger lurked, Lucretia had never found herself to be happier than she was basking in the gentle considerations of Frank Underwood. (Swoon!)
A gale of such force it drove the Belisarius off course and stranded the ship and her now helpless crew in a sea of solid ice. Weeks passed slowly with no relief or respite and the discontented and fearful crew was growing mutinous.


Months go by, the crew is going crazy and Frank and Lucretia took the opportunity to leave the ship and explore the frozen wasteland. Taking a dogsled, they found a fantasy world on the icy landscape. Happy days passed with no inkling of the new dangers that lay ahead. Upon return from one of their sledding jaunts, Frank discovers to their horror the ship listing dangerously as a shifting and breaking ice damaged the hull and the ship was taking on water, fast! Frank plunges down into the hold of the ship and finds his drunken crew unaware of the danger and, in reality, too drunk to care nonetheless. Struggling as he made his way, the freezing water rose higher and he looked back in anguish as he knew both his ship and crew were irretrievably lost. Hearing a cry and looking up through the hold, to his horror, he saw Lucretia attempting to come to his aid. (Atta Girl!) Signaling her to remain where she was, he scrambled up to the deck and with alacrity he scooped her up in his arms and leapt off the deck onto a large ice floe. (Shades of Way Down East)

With the dogs they mushed forward through frozen wastes and storms. Days felt like weeks to Frank. As they traveled through an icy pass, a distant rumble grew to a deafening roar as boulders of ice came crashing around them. (Avalanche!!) The sled rolled and protected Lucretia as Frank was quickly struck and injured under the ice. Lucretia frees herself from under the sled and scrambled over the sharp ice to find Frank, unconscious and half buried. He is alive and she cradles him in her arms (Awwww).


As daylight shone on the 12th day of their journey, Frank looked ahead and saw to his horror, no more land, but a barren and menacing sea on the horizon. His heart, low already, sank as he realized, this was truly the end of their journey. Trying to comfort her, Frank gathered her to him and they rested quietly talking and awaiting death which was sure to come. (Don’t give up now, we’re in the last reel!)

Lucretia comforted in the arms of love, closed her eyes and sought a contented sleep. Frank watched the horizon and dreamt of what could have been. His eyes slowly focused on a spot on the sea, he blinked his eyes and closed them, “Dreamer, you are going mad.” he thought. But daring to feel a glimmer of hope, he looked again, and with widening eyes, he saw a ship, an ice breaker, and the funnels steaming. Shaking Lucretia, he urged her to her feet almost shouting. “Our dreams are reality, look, and look and see our salvation! A ship that will take us home, to our home.” And so they sailed away from the frigid uncharted seas of the north to navigate the uncharted seas of their future life together. The treasure they found was not the gold on the sunken vessel.

(Fade out, the end!)

This really does stretch the boundaries of believability; nevertheless, I still would love to see it. It's not a major film, nor is it a major film in the cannon of Rudolph Valentino. Nevertheless, this and A Sainted Devil are two I'd love to see found, preserved and viewed as they were meant to be, just for the sheer entertainment of it all.

UNCHARTED SEAS is a lost film. No US origin poster art is known to exist on this title. I know of only one extant lobby card in a private collection. The stills reproduced here are from my collection and even they are fairly rare. It's almost as if the film never existed at all.


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7 comments:

Marilyn Ferdinand said...

I am a huge Valentino fan, so this is such a fantastic post for me especially. Does a Valentino film need to be great? After all it has Rudy in it! Thanks so much for this wonderful contribution to the blogathon.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Donna!

Joe Thompson said...

Thank you, Donna, for the enjoyable post. Any Valentino film is worthy of consideration. But, Frank Underwood? Cheesh.

The Siren said...

I love the Robert Falcon Scott-esque ending; it's a wonder neither one got up and said "I am just going outside and may be some time." I would love to see that ending, and as for the first half, Valentino spent so much time in costume flicks it's easy to forget how great he looked in normal clothes of the day, too. Thanks so much for this contribution, Donna!

Jennythenipper said...

Even one lost Valentino film is too many. Imagine the uproar if there was a lost Marilyn Monroe film.

This looks like wonderful campy fun. Valentino in a parka!

I was wondering where you got the scenario for this film? Is there a source for such things?

Very entertaining and enlightening post. I've added you to my blog roll.

Doug Bonner said...

Wonderful research and writing. I'm glad we both contributed to the Preservation Blogathon so I could discover your blog. Thanks for the great read!!

debbie said...

Wonderful blog Donna. ;) Thank you very much for the detailed plot on Uncharted Seas and for the film stills. It would be nice to see this film. ;) Take care.