The Eagle (1925) - A Bluray Review

To begin with, I have written about Rudolph Valentino and the production of The Eagle previkously for the Outlaws Blogathon.  Today's post is the subject of the recent release from KINO Classics of the 1925 film on bluray.  Sadly, I cannot add screencaps since I do not have a compatible player connected to my PC.  Update: Fritzi Kramer over at Movies Silently has LOTS of screencaps.

The Eagle (1925) for United Artists was Rudolph Valentino's pentultimate film.  It is, in many ways a sophisticated and sparkling film.  The release from KINO Studio classics sources two different prints of the film, scanned at 2k resolution with a newly composed score by Alloy Orchestra.  The disc has no extras beyond boastsing a commentary track by film historian, Professor Gaylyn Studlar.  I have not yet viewed the film with the commentary track.

As noted on the dvd case, the source prints both had optical soundtracks which cut off some of the image, so the aspect ratio is not 1.33:1 standard.  This is not a flaw and also not really noticeable for the average viewer.  The quality of the 2k transfer is pretty good.  Since one of the source prints was likely the Paul Killiam print that I was familiar with on Super 8 from Blackhawk Films (in ancient times before VHS and DVD), I noticed an improvement in the clarity of the film.  That said, the very best print out there is owned by Cohen Media.  Given that copyright status of The Eagle is public domain and that there have been numerous  versions available over the last 10 years, I would hazard to guess this KINO print will be the only version to make it to bluray.  I would love to be proven wrong on this guess.
Fragment title card preserved by
La Filmoteca Canaria Canarias Cultura en Red

The film does not exist with original release titles.  Kevin Brownlow himself confirmed to me he has never seen a print with the United Artists titles intact.  The screen cap above is from frame fragments preserved at La Filmoteca Canaria Canarias Cultura en Red on their Flickr feed.  The sequence also shows this lovely intro card of Valentino.

Another tantalizing hint at what the
original titles would have looked like.

I was very pleased with the 2K scan and thought this was a very nice print all things considered.  There is some flicker and some nitrate damage between the two source prints.  Overall, really nice and not too contrasty as have been previous prints I have seen.  All the players benefit from the light hand of Clarence Brown as director.  Brown's training under Maurice Tourneur early in his career shows in some of the touches like shadows and branches and such in the foreground of shots. The cinematography of George Barnes is lovely with some nice composition and nice deep shadows.  The film is a pleasure to watch. The print is not toned or tinted, which is a shame.  The day for night shots are not differentiated.  I expect there was not a source available to show the proper tinting of the sequences (such as a cue sheet for the music).

Speaking of music, we come to the score which was composed by Ken Winokur or The Alloy Orchestra.  Alloy is known and famous for their percussive scoring of silent films, like Metropolis, The Son of the Sheik, He Who Gets Slapped and The Man With the Movie Camera. For the Eagle Alloy composed a score that, for them, is very different.  I suspect there will be others who complain it is not traditional.  I did not find the scoring to be at all jarring.  I felt it supported the action and was more melodious than is usual.  I quite enjoyed it.  I confess I was feeling a little trepidation and came away pleasantly surprised. Others may feel differently about this, obviously.  I am pretty catholic in my tastes when it comes to scoring and I enjoyed this.

Overall I would give this release an A-, only complaint being no tinting and a still gallery would have been nice as an extra.  I wonder if there was an option for a secondary score by either Gaylord Carter or Lee Erwin out there?  As we are unlikely to see a release of this film from Cohen Media with their print that is one generation from a camera negative, this is the best version out on dvd/bluray.  If you have access to the old laserdisc that will be a good option which also has the Carl Davis score which has snippets of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and other Russian composers mixed in.

The story:
The film tells the story of Vladimir Dubrovsky (Rudolph Valentino) a young and handsome Cossack serving the Czarina, Empress Catherine (Louise Dresser).  The film opens with the Czarina about to enjoy a morning canter amongst her favored officers when her horse is startled by the Cossacks shooting practice.  A passing troika carriage is also startled and sets off racing away at full speed.  Dubrovsky grabs the Czarina's horse and rides gallantly to the rescue and meets Mascha (Vilma Banky) and her elderly maiden Aunt Aurelia (Carrie Clark Ward).  He is instantly smitten, but, is led away by a fellow officer who demands return of the Czarina's horse.

The Czarina is smitten with Dubrovsky and invites him to dinner at six.  His fellow Cossack Lt. Kuschka (Albert Conti) lets him know that dinner at six means dinner and not banishment to Siberia.  Dubrovsky shows up for dinner and Catherine, a connoisseur of cossacks sizes him up and asks coyly if he would like to be a General with a wink and nod.  Dubrovsky has no interest in Catherine and leaves the palace to come home to find a letter from his father.  His father describes that family estate has been taken over by the neighbor Kyrilla thanks to a shady local Judge.  He pleads with his son to take the matter up with the Czarina.  He is now between a rock and hard place and decides to sacrifice his pride and return to the palace.  It is there he discovers that he has been branded a deserter by Catherine in her pique and has a price on his head.  He escapes and returns to his village.

Dubrovsky finds his father, dying on one of the cottages of the local peasants.  At his death, the peasants and farmers beg for his help to escape the oppression of Kyrilla (James Marcus).  He vows to seek his revenge and takes on the mantle and identity of The Black Eagle.  He terrorizes the tax collectors and officials and returns monies and possessions to the rightful owners, like a Russian Robin Hood.

Meanwhile, he torments Kyrilla by notes left in his former estate making threats that his day of revenge is coming soon.  Mascha and Aunt Aurelia are out riding in a carriage and are captured by The Black Eagle's retinue of men.  They know Mascha is Kyrilla's daughter.  Dubrovsky finds them and his men present their captive.  He immediately releases her telling his men "The Black Eagle does not war on women."  Mascha refuses his assistance in getting back to her home by walking defiantly away.  He knows better and wears her down finally, gives her his horse and she rides away, her feelings for the bandit more tender than she would admit to him.

Dubrovsky goes to a local station to order a carriage to take him back to his lair and he meets a foppish Monsieur Le Blanc (Mario Carillo) who has been hired to tutor Mascha in French.  Sharing his cab to Kyrilla's home, Dubrovsky ties up Le Blanc and assumes his identity to enter the house unsuspected.  He presents hi letter of introduction to Kyrilla who introduces Mascha to him.  She senses something familiar about him.

As Dubrovsky pretends to be the tutor, he falls ever deeper in love with Mascha, and she is equally attracted to him.  At a large dinner celebration, Kyrilla tests out Le Blanc by sending him to the wine cellar where he keeps a captive bear.  Assuming he will cower in fear at the sight of such a beast.  He enters the cellars and Mascha follows knowing what is within.  The chains break and in order to save her, he pulls a pistol from his vest and shoots the bear.  At that moment Mascha recognizes that Le Blanc and the Black Eagle are the same man.

That night, Dubrovsky meets one of his men in the gardens who asks him why it is taking so long for him to free them from Kyrilla.  The distraction of Mascha?  Meanwhile, she spies a passage in the bible "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord, I shall repay" and leaves this in his room.

Changing to his guise as the Eagle he enters Kyrilla's bedroom and threatens him with a pistol.  Kyrilla cowers awaiting death when Mascha appears also bearing a pistol.  The Eagle drops his weapon and escapes out of the open widow, blowing her a gallant kiss as he leaves.  He circles back and appears in the room along with the servants back in is guise as Le Blanc.  Kyrilla orders him to remain as a bodyguard.  He promises no harm will come to Kyrilla.

The next morning, Mascha finds Le Blanc apparently choking her father, in reality he is massaging his neck to get rid of his tension headache.  Kyrilla advises the pair go off to the garden to tend to her tension headache. Mascha, knowing who he is and unable to confess her feelings rushes off to her room, where Dubrovsky follows her.  Kyrilla's men have captured the Eagle's Liutenant and are about to beat him when Dubrovsky confesses that he is the Black Eagle.  Mascha rushes to the door and locks it and Dubrovsky tells her he will not try to escape.  It is at that moment she confesses her feelings for him.  They escape through a secret passage and ride off to escape Kyrilla's men.  On the road, they are caught between Kyrilla's soldiers and the Czarina's Cossacks.  Dubrovsky is captured and sentenced to death.

The Czarina is torn but her wounded pride forces her to sign the death warrant and she puts General Kushka in charge of the execution.  In prison Dubrovsky and Mascha marry and share a few moments before he is led off to his unhappy fate.  Kushka returns to Catherine minutes before the execution and she pleads to save Dubrovsky.  Gunshots are heard and it is too late, Dubrovsky is dead.  Kushka presents Catherine with a passport she must sign, for a Monsieur Le Blanc.  She looks at the image engraved and it is the face of Dubrovsky.  Kushka tells her Dubrovsky is dead, once she signs the passport.  She signs the passport and the happy pair ride off together as man and wife.


Silent Echoes said…
Hi Donna - I have a separate Blu-ray hard drive for my PC that cost about $50 or so. I use an application, Aiseesoft, downloaded for about $50, that will play the Blu-ray on my PC monitor, and allow for screen captures. It's clunky to use, you can't fast forward, or go frame by frame for just the right capture, but it gets the job done. There must be a "professional" high end way to capture Blu-ray frames, but this is what I use. Cheers, John