This year I’m participating in the ‘Russia In Classic Film Blogathon’, which is hosted by Fritzi Kramer over at Movies Silently. For my contribution, I will be providing a detailed account of the 1928 silent classic “Tempest” starring the great John Barrymore, which will be exhibited on the hosting blog for this event.
During the years there have been an array of Russian films being released of notable status, some being crowned as the most eminent movies the world has known. Just because a film is Russian or based in Russia does not mean it’s a bad film. These films are not only educational, they are enthralling to watch, presenting the audience with solid and prodigious entertainment. Amongst these films is the 1928 silent classic “Tempest” starring John Barrymore. The film was set in Russia, and features commendable performances by proficient artists.
“Tempest” 1928 is a perennial silent classic starring John Barrymore and Camilla Horn. Superbly directed by Sam Taylor with the screenplay written by Russian born theatre director, writer and playwright Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, who was the founder of the Moscow Art Theatre, the film remains one of the greatest silent films, earning William Cameron Menzies an Academy Award for best art direction.
John Barrymore illuminates the screen with his mystique charm in this significant masterpiece set in Volinske, Russia in 1914, during the final days of Czarist Russia. The film tells the story of Sergeant Ivan Markov ( John Barrymore ), a peasant who yearns to become a Lieutenant, but faces tough opposition along the way. Eventually he rises through the ranks of the Russian army, achieving his desideratum, and secures the title as Lieutenant.
In his new position he encounters resentment by the other aristocrats and offices, which results in several altercations, making his life difficult. During this period he meets Princess Tamara ( Camilla Horn ), and suddenly becomes infatuated by her. In return, Tamara spurns him, rejecting any love affair that Ivan wishes to pursue. When Tamara discovers him in her room, she calls for help, and Ivan is automatically stripped of his rank, landing himself a prison sentence. Soon after, Russia is on the brink of the Civil War, and with the commencement of the Red Terror, and mass shootings, the tables are turned.
“Tempest” is such an underrated film, and deserves more recognition than what it has received during the years, but like some films that were completed at the end of the silent era the release was delayed, resulting in the movie being overlooked for many decades.
The movie also provided John Barrymore with the chance to deliver one of his finest performances during the annals of his silent cinema career. Here in his touching portrayal of Sergeant Ivan Markov, Barrymore brings his charming and majestic presence to the screen, bearing the famous left profile that was known as John Barrymore’s distinguished feature “The Great Profile”.
Appearing alongside John Barrymore is Camilla Horn, a German born actress who made her Hollywood debut in this film, and went on to star with John Barrymore in “Eternal Love” before returning to Europe, where she achieved fame in several European productions. Also in the film is Louis Wolheim, who at this stage in his career was quite accustomed to working with John Barrymore. After his appearance in the 1919 play “The Jest”, he had appeared in two films with John Barrymore,”Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde” and “Sherlock Holmes”. As coincidence has it, Wolheim broke into films in 1914 after taking John and Lionel Barrymore’s advice of entering into cinema acting.
“Tempest” spotlights some of the greatest camera work ever achieved on film. This was augmented by William Cameron Menzies magnificent production design. Charles Rosher had an artistic flair for his use of the camera, and his talent is really epitomized in this film. With the commendable effort by Rosher, the whole film is balletic, featuring scenes that will make the audience feel as if they are really there, most notably the prison sequences, which leave you trapped in bars of darkness.
The highlight of the movie to me is John Barrymore. He was a virtuoso of the film industry. Every performance of John Barrymore’s was simply inimitable. His acting ability disseminated far and wide, and that is clearly evident in this film. His character undergoes a shift from fury to affection, and Barrymore was able to execute each element perfectly into the film.
Sadly these days, John Barrymore or any member from the Barrymore triumvirate are very underestimated. They deserve more accolades than what they have attained through the years. For anyone interested in witnessing John Barrymore on the screen, I would highly recommend they give this film a viewing. His performance will not disappoint. “Tempest” could easily be a stepping stone for anyone interested in Russian cinema or films set in Russia too.
Tempest was the first Academy Award® recipient for Interior Decoration (Art Direction) for the work of William Cameron Menzies, and was a cinematography nominee for Charles Rosher, who worked some lens magic on Horn and Barrymore.
Scripted by old Western potboiler C. Gardner Sullivan, with uncredited contributions by Erich von Stroheim and Lewis Milestone, this somewhat predictable romance still manages to buoy itself on the star qualities of its cast.
Princess Tamara: “What a pity that that it takes more than a uniform to make an officer and a gentleman.”
Ivan Markov: “Your Highness, I wish to apologize and thank you for not reporting me to your father.”
John Barrymore: Born John Sidney Blyth on February 15th, 1882 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: May 29th, 1942 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 60.