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These Faces Were Aces in Hollywood

June 18, 1998|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

To quote Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard," film stars of the silent era "had faces."

Kino on Video's latest vintage collection ($25 each), aptly titled "They Had Faces Then," features four of film's most fabulous visages: Rudolph Valentino, Louise Brooks, William S. Hart and Richard Barthelmess.

Born Rodolfo Alfonzo Raffaele Pierre Philibert Guglielmi in Italy in 1895, Rudolph Valentino was Hollywood's hottest sex symbol of the 1920s. With his smoldering good looks and big, dark bedroom eyes, Valentino made women's hearts melt around the world. Achieving his first major success in the classic "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," he further cemented his star status in 1921's "The Sheik" and 1922's "Blood and Sand."

Kino has restored Valentino's 1925 melodrama "Cobra," his first independent production, which was released less than a year before his death at age 31 from a perforated ulcer.

In this juicy, sexy romance, Valentino is perfectly cast as a promiscuous Italian count who comes to America to work in the antique business. Not able to give up his womanizing ways, he seduces with abandon. But he meets his match when his boss' new wife (Nita Naldi) sets her sights on him. Though Valentino was not a great actor, his sheer magnetism still endures even after seven decades. A lot of fun.

With her unusual boyishly-bobbed dark hair and winning smile, Louise Brooks was cinema's breath of fresh air and the personification of the carefree flapper era. At 19, she was plucked from the Ziegfeld Follies and put under contract by Paramount.

Kino is presenting one of her first big films, the charming 1926 comedy "The Show Off," based on George Kelly's hit play. Veteran Ford Sterling plays a boasting blowhard who causes havoc in the home of his wife (Lois Wilson). Though Brooks just has a supporting role, she manages to steal every scene she's in as the winsome next-door neighbor.

Brooks left Hollywood the following year to make the German film classics "Pandora's Box" and "The Diary of a Lost Girl." Upon returning to Hollywood, she was relegated to minor roles in minor films. After spending several years in seclusion, her movies were rediscovered in the 1950s. Brooks later penned the best-selling memoir "Lulu in Hollywood." She died in 1985.

Lean, lanky and stoic, William S. Hart starred in, wrote and directed several popular westerns. As a young man he had spent his youth traveling around the country, and he fell in love with the West. From 1890 to 1910, he was a major Broadway star, doing Shakespeare and starring in the hit production of "Ben-Hur." In 1914, Hart,, then 49, broke into films in a series of two-reel westerns that stressed character and stories over action.

Kino is offering a color-tinted and -toned copy of his one of his best vehicles, 1920's "The Toll Gate." A sturdy, suspenseful little western, "Toll Gate" deals with an outlaw who regains his humanity thanks to the love of a decent, God-fearing woman (Anna Q. Nilsson) and her young son.

Hart's last film was 1925's classic "Tumbleweeds." He died in 1946.

Lillian Gish once described Richard Barthelmess (1895-1963) as having "the most beautiful face of any man who ever went before the camera." Besides being breathtakingly handsome, Barthelmess was a subtle, sensitive actor. He first made his mark in D.W. Griffith's "Broken Blossoms" as the Yellow Man.

One of his most popular films was the 1921 melodrama "Tol'able David," directed by Henry King. Barthelmess turns on the charm as a young, naive country lad who finally gets to prove his mettle when he takes on three thugs who killed his older brother and caused the death of his beloved pa. Kino's edition is digitally mastered from an original nitrate 35mm print and features an interview with King from 1977.

One of the most popular actors of the 1920s, Barthelmess continued to work in talkies, but by then his star had dimmed. He retired from films in 1942.

To order, call (800) 562-3330

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