28 February 2016



This film is a freakin' masterpiece, made by movie maestro Ken Russell at the height of his directing powers. The casting of handsome, world-famous ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev as one of the most charismatic leading men of all time has always seemed to me to be inspired.

I've always had a huge crush on Rudolf Nureyev. Watching him play Rudolph Valentino in this powerhouse of a film did nothing to alleviate this girlish passion. If anything, it served only to strengthen it, haha. He smoulders with sexy, high-cheekboned Mediterranean charm and sensuality throughout the film.

My only complaint would be that, even though we see him partially naked, it's only a discreet side view with long pesky robes flapping about obscuring his essentials. There's no sign of the tremendous package and muscular buttocks and thighs he displayed while dancing. Ah well, you can't have everything. Still, some full-frontal and back nudity would have been nice. There are tits aplenty on display, after all. I demand equal rights for men, heh-heh-heh...!

Anyway, to return to less cerebral matters than Rudolf Nureyev's superb buttocks, surely the best and tightest male buttocks ever created by the Good Lord, the nice people at the British Film Institute have a lovely surprise this Spring for all you Ken Russell fans out there.

Ken Russell, as you'll know, passed away in 2011. In February 2016, marking five years since his death, the BFI will be releasing VALENTINO in one of their special Dual Format Editions, ie, on both Blu-Ray and DVD discs. The special features are fantastic, even featuring real footage of Valentino's funeral, among other delectable cinematic treats. This will be the first of three Ken Russell goody bags (as it were!) released in Dual Format Editions this year.

March 2016 will see the release of KEN RUSSELL: THE GREAT COMPOSERS (containing ELGAR, THE DEBUSSY FILM and SONG OF SUMMER) and also KEN RUSSELL: THE GREAT PASSIONS (containing ALWAYS ON SUNDAY, ISADORA and DANTE'S INFERNO). So there you go. Don't say that the BFI never do anything nice for you!

Rudolph Valentino came from a poor Sicilian family. Throughout the film, as we watch his meteoric rise from dance-hall gigolo to the biggest Hollywood silent movie-star of all time, he occasionally yearns to jack it all in to buy an orange-grove in California and live there peacefully. Inordinately proud of his Diploma In Agriculture, this orange-grove is his dream which he never relinquishes throughout his life.

Needless to say, he never gets there. Hollywood takes its terrible toll on him, as it seemed to do on so many others who came after him. What is it about that place? It frequently seems to be as toxic as it is glamorous and exciting. Poor Valentino spent the whole film battling nasty rumours of effeminacy and homosexuality and they appeared to hurt and affect him dreadfully. The press built him up into a sex god and movie hero and then tore him to shreds. You know, the way they do. It's a familiar story by now.

His story is told in retrospect through the eyes of some of the women in his life. Leslie Caron is excellent (and funny!) as the utterly insincere and self-serving actress and film-maker Alla Nazimova. Michelle Phillips plays Rudolph's second wife, Natasha Rambova, a domineering woman who wants to control every aspect of Rudy's career.

She's a bit of an insecure mess as well, though, and can't make a decision without consulting the bones of Meselope, an Egyptian high priest who's been dead for 4,000 years...! Poor Rudolph. It looks like she was a nightmare to live with. Certainly, she was nearly impossible to bloody please.

Felicity Kendal (star of classic British sitcom THE GOOD LIFE with the late Richard Briers) as film producer June Mathis seems to have been one of the few women who genuinely cared about the movie-star, whose roles in such silent films as THE SHEIK and BLOOD AND SAND (a matador
movie) made him a household name across the world.

 I've watched these films myself and the very age of them is enough to send a shiver down your spine, and that's even before you get to watch the magnetic, mesmerising performance of the handsome matinée idol.

There were ugly and hysterical scenes at his funeral in 1926 (he was only 31) and some women are even supposed to have committed suicide at the news that their idol was dead. Today, not even the news that pop band ONE DIRECTION are splitting up would produce such mass hysteria. I guess they just don't make 'em like they used to, as I'm always saying.

I love Carol Kane as Fatty's Girl. She's drop-dead gorgeous in that big-eyed 'Twenties way and her clothes are so very 'Twenties! The whole film is as lavish and luxurious a spectacle as you might expect from Ken Russell, director of WOMEN IN LOVE and THE DEVILS. 

The full-colour sets and costumes are bloody gorgeous! Check out Rudolph's outfit in the scenes where he's filming MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE, it's simply magnificent. Ditto his home, too, after he's hit the big time.

The ridiculous sex scene with 'that little slut Lorna,' Valentino's co-star in MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE, is frightfully funny and utterly believable. I'd be the exact same if I ever got to sleep with any of my screen idols. She'd lived the sex with Valentino over and over in her mind so many times that, when she actually got to live out her dream for realsies, she did all the work and Valentino didn't have to so much as lift his little finger but he still got all the credit for being a wonderful lover, haha. It's one of my favourite scenes in the film.

Some other performances deserve a mention too. Dudley LOVEJOY Sutton plays the disgusting pervert Willie in the jail scene, a scene that has the surreal, nightmarish quality to it without which a Ken Russell film would not be complete.

Peter Vaughan, a terrific actor who played Anthony Hopkins's butler Dad in Kazuo Ishiguro's THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (1993), does a bang-up job as ex-heavyweight champion for the Navy, Rory O'Neil. His boxing-match with Rudolph is painful to watch but intensely gripping too.

Cliff The Mail Carrier (that means postman!) from hit US sitcom CHEERS plays a pushy newshound. (Is there any other kind?) I even see Lindsay Kemp's name in the credits as the Mortician, though I don't remember his performance. Lindsay Kemp of course played Willow's father Alder McGregor and the proprietor of the pub in cult movie THE WICKER MAN. (1973) I must find out if it's the same guy, or one of you film fans can let me know.

(Just checked, 'tis himself all right! Guess what else I just found out? As well as being an actor, Lindsay Kemp was a well-known dance teacher, mime artist and choreographer and, in the 'Seventies, David Bowie and Kate Bush were his students...!)

The performance of the film is Rudolf Nureyev's, however. He's just amazing in this glittery biopic that shows us the seedy underbelly of Hollywood in as compelling a manner as you're ever likely to see. It really does seem to be the town that chews you up and spits you out. In fact, I'll leave you with a quote from the film. Uttered by film producer June Mathis, it goes as follows:

'Every day is Halloween in Tinseltown...!'


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can contact her at:


1 comment:

  1. What a great review! This is one of the few Ken Russell films I haven't seen YET. Thanks for posting it!