“Top quality biopic from our Uncle Ken”
The BFI continues its valuable work of preserving the films of Ken Russell on Blu-ray with the release of his lavish 1977 biopic of the life of silent film star Rudolph Valentino.
Hollywood 1926: following mock newsreel footage we are shown the coffin containing the body of Rudolph Valentino (played by Rudolf Nureyev) in an opening scene that virtually screams ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES with its gorgeous art deco production design. The funeral home is broken into by the hysterical mourners who have been besieging the building. Once order is restored, the important women in his life remember their time with him via flashbacks up to his death.
These include Bianca (Emily Bolton from TENKO and MOONRAKER), June (Felicity Kendal from THE GOOD LIFE & subsequently immortalised in THE YOUNG ONES), deliciously mad Alla Nazimova (Leslie Caron) and Natacha Rambova (Michelle Phillips) who seduces Valentino in a dance of the seven veils that made it onto the poster and lots of the stills used to advertise the film (and the Blu-ray box cover up the top there). Battles with studio bosses, a lucrative contract advertising perfume, and a boxing match with a known heavyweight champion all follow before Valentino’s untimely death from peritonitis and associated complications.
Ken Russell does a fine job of bringing Valentino’s life story to the screen, managing to remain admirably restrained in some place while going superbly over the top in others (especially the scenes in the funeral home). He’s ably assisted by a fine cast including all of the above plus a cadre of (mainly) character actors, meaning you’ll be spotting the likes of Linda Thorson (THE AVENGERS), Alfred Marks (SCREAM & SCREAM AGAIN), Peter Vaughan (DIE DIE MY DARLING), Dudley Sutton (THE DEVILS) and Anton Diffring (THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH). As I’ve mentioned above, the production and costume design (by Philip Harrison and Shirley Russell respectively) are occasionally breathtaking, echoing Danilo Donati’s work on Fellini’s CASANOVA from the previous year.
The BFI’s dual format Blu-ray and DVD edition comes with a number of excellent extras, including archival material of Ludovic Kennedy interviewing Nureyev about the film, and a nine minute short of Valentino’s actual funeral from 1926. Derek Malcolm’s Guardian Lecture interview with Ken Russell from 1987 is audio only, but is accompanied by the film so it serves as a second commentary. The commentary proper is by the always excellent Tim Lucas who yet again provides a fact-packed track that saves you having to read a textbook about the movie.
There’s a new interview with Dudley Sutton who discusses working with Russell, and some of his other projects (but sadly not COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES) in a charming twenty minutes that’s also a delight to listen to. You also get TV spots, trailers, a picture gallery, a short piece where Lynn Seymour remembers Rudolf Nureyev, and a booklet of essays. The entire package is excellent and another highly recommended release from the BFI.
The BFI are releasing Ken Russell's VALENTINO on dual format DVD & Blu-ray on 29th February 2016