The War recommendations following my screening of All Quiet on the Western Front for the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book get underway with this silent film from 1921.
A cattle dynasty in Argentina finds itself in conflict with itself when the Great War breaks out and French and German in-laws take sides.
Madariaga (Pomeroy Cannon), the patriarch of the cattle farm is tolerant of his eldest daughter’s, Luisa (Bridgetta Clark), husband, the Frenchman, Marcelo (Josef Swickard), a socialist, and only tolerates the youngest daughter’s German husband, Von Hartrott (Alan Hale), and three sons at the Frenchman’s insistence.
When young Julio (Rudolph Valentino) is born to the Frenchman and his wife, everyone believes that Madariaga will declares him heir and spoils him and his sister Chichi (Virginia Warwick) endlessly.
When Madariaga passes, both families must decide what to do. The Germans return to the Fatherland, while Marcelo and his family move to France. There Julio pursues women and art, he’s a bit of a cad, while we learn the German sons dedicate themselves to the love of their country.
Marcelo is portrayed as a bargain hunting miser, Von Hartrott as educated and superior, and Julio as a cad who falls in love with married woman, Marguerite (Alice Terry), who returns his love.
But then… War!
All the character build up lets us see the cowardice, the nationalism, the fervour that fills them all. The film only hints at the German family, staying with Marcelo and his, as nations begin to war. The Desnoyer family of Marcelo’s is eager to stay out of the war for their own gains – Marcelo for his miserly, possession-gathering ways, and Julio for the woman he loves. Both are increasingly irritated that the war is taking so much from them. But will they ever stand with their countrymen against the invading Germanic war machine?
There is some pretty heavy-handed religious overtones, but then with that title what can you expect? In fact that is a whole sequence as the war begins to sweep through the continent, that features an introduction of each of the Four Horsemen, and you can see their shadows race across the sky as the war rages on beneath them.
Marcelo’s castle is taken over by German troops including one of his nephews, and this causes Marcelo no end of grief, even as people are executed as his castle gate. Julio, meanwhile, finds a reason to fight for his father’s country. But what will the war cost both families and countless others before its end?
This was an interesting watch, and played more as a character drama than a war film, so don’t be misled by that. Still, once again, for a silent film, it proves to be very watchable, and the Desnoyer family story plays in stark contrast to the national pride that swells around them.
An interesting watch, as I continue my exploration of war on film.