In 18th-Century Russia, the Czar, Paul, is surrounded by murderous plots and trusts only Count Pahlen. Pahlen wishes to protect his friend, the mad king, but because of the horror of the ... See full summary »
In a Swiss Village in 1806, the fiery Marcus and the local clergyman's niece Ciglia are passionately in love. Unfortunately, after getting drunk during a celebration, Marcus is seduced by his aggressive admirer Pia, who uses the encounter to force him into marrying her. Heart-broken, Ciglia tries to forget him by marrying her own persistent admirer, Lorenz. Able to be faithful in deed but not thought, the two pine for each other, inspiring jealousy in their respective spouses. And once Lorenz decides to find a way to force Marcus out of town for good, it seems the relationship between Marcus and Ciglia can only end in tragedy.Written by
Eternal Love emerged towards the end of that brief period in which silents and talkies co-existed. As every buff seems to know, the early sound features were burdened by static cameras enclosed in soundproof booths. Ironically, this was at a period when methods and uses of camera movement were just becoming refined in silent cinema, and the zippiness of these late silents looks almost like exuberant nose-thumbing at their lumbering talkie cousins.
The director here is Ernst Lubitsch, a man not often seen at the helm of a straight drama. While Lubitsch had proved himself fully capable of making sensitive pictures outside the comedy genre (see Anna Boleyn and The Student Prince) his heart doesn't seem to have been in this one. And can you blame him? This is decidedly weak material. It's not that it is romantic, but that its romance doesn't work. Barrymore's character cheats on his girlfriend, after she has pushed him away for being too forceful. Is this a sound basis for eternal love? Is Barrymore remotely sympathetic? Is Victor Varconi even such a bad catch? This dull state of affairs meanders on from one trite twist to another, until eventually God has to step in and sort it all out.
But back to Lubitsch, and back to camera movement. While a director could conceivably work to make something emotionally stirring out of this mess of a story, Lubitsch demonstrates a deliberateness and snappiness that would be better suited to comedy. In other words there are a lot of rather obvious camera moves which make you practically aware of the director saying "Here, come and look at this". A romantic picture really needs a lighter touch, allowing us to be enveloped in the story and forget that we are watching a work of artifice. Some of Lubitsch's slow dolly shots away from the action are quite smooth and pretty, but they really add nothing and distract from what is going on in the scene. What grace the picture has is derived mainly from the outstanding cinematography of Oscar-winner Charles Rosher, which shrouds the depths of interiors in gloom and shows up the actors in sharp detail. Rosher reverses the pattern in the final scenes, where the crowd of people become silhouettes against the white of the snow.
For an unsubtle directorial style, we have a suitably unsubtle lead man. Barrymore hams it up as usual, and is really totally inappropriate for the role. Even when he squeezes out a tear it is hard to accept him as the tragic lover. Mind you Camilla Horn, who was disappointing in Faust, is excellent here, sinking into forlornness but maintaining her character's dignity. Also great is Victor Varconi, one of the more subtle and sensitive players of the silent era. The little-known Mona Rico is however just as hammy as Barrymore, and in fact performance-wise Rico and Barrymore make a more suited couple, as do Horn and Varconi! While many of these late silents play like a bittersweet swansong for a doomed medium, mediocrities like this are an embarrassment, and simply cry out for the ushering in of the talkies.
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