The Private Life of Don Juan (1934)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

, 1934Story and dialogue by , , based on the play L’Homme A La Rose by Cinematography by Produced by Music by Production Design by , Costume Design by Film Editing by .

Alexander Korda brings the great lover to cinematic life and then treats him with cynical humour in this comedic exploration of the romantic legend of Don Juan. Ladies merely hear his name and run to their balconies in the hopes of getting a rose and a kiss from the man famous for his erotic potency, their excitement for him based purely on reputation and no actual knowledge of who he is and what he looks like. A young man pretending to be the real Don Juan jumps from one railing to another, stealing the hearts of married women whose gruff husbands ignore them, while in another part of Seville the real Don Juan ( in his final film) is aging, tired and hiding from the litigious wife he jilted some years earlier. When the young pretender is killed in a duel, our elder hero takes the opportunity to get out of town and live elsewhere under an assumed name; sometime later he decides to return and reveal himself to be still alive, but when he does he finds that people are far more interested in diverting lies than harsh trues. While not particularly lengthy in running time, this comedy is sometimes awkward to sit through, the plotting isn’t smooth and is, despite the silly nature of the story, hard to follow; Merle Oberon is dazzling as a flamenco dancer with great ambitions, but it’s hard to know where her character fits in to the overall experience. Fairbanks was never as comfortable in talkies as he was in silent films but he has a pleasant, jokey demeanor that makes him wonderful to watch, and a few sequences do zing, particularly the grand conclusion during a performance of a play that he interrupts. Vincent Korda’s gorgeous sets still dazzle the eye, more than making up for a musical score that is not the least bit memorable.

Venice Film Festival: In Competition

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