#119) The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)


#119) The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)

OR “Me and Julio Down by the Front Line”

Directed by Rex Ingram

Written by June Mathis. Based on the novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez.

Class of 1995

The Plot: A family in Argentina is torn apart following the death of patriarch Madariaga (Pomeroy Cannon). Of his two daughters, Donna Luisa (Bridgetta Clark) moves with her husband Marcelo (Josef Swikard) to his native France, and Elena (Mabel van Buren) moves with her husband Karl (Alan Hale) to his native Germany. When the Great War breaks out, the families find themselves on opposing sides, with an ongoing metaphor involving the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Also the French family’s son Julio is Rudolph Valentino in his breakout role.

Why It Matters: The NFR highlights Valentino’s participation in the film, as well as the film’s successful first run in theaters. There’s also an essay by AMPAS Managing Director of Preservation Randy Haberkamp.

But Does It Really?: Historically sure, but this film is a bit of a drag. It just takes so long to get going, and most of the characters introduced in the first bit of the film completely disappear halfway through. The Haberkamp essay makes a good case for its artistic merit; so I say if you’re going to watch this, make sure it’s a good print so you can actually see the artistry.

Everybody Gets One: We’ll see more of the major players (Particularly Ingram, Valentino, and Mathis) throughout the list. Sadly, most of the supporting cast of this film didn’t make the transition to sound pictures, except for Alice Terry, who met Rex Ingram during filming, and married him shortly thereafter.

Wow, That’s Dated: The last time I watched Wallace Beery in a movie he was playing a Native American, so I’ll just assume no one here is the nationality of the character they’re playing.

Take a Shot: We get a title about halfway through the film. And they are not subtle at all about it being a metaphor for war. Tchernoff literally looks into the camera at the end of the film, as if saying “You knuckleheads getting this? Huh?”

Other notes

  • This film was produced by Metro Pictures three years before it merged with Goldwyn Pictures and Louis B. Mayer Productions to form…another studio whose name escapes me right now.
  • Shout-out to screenwriter June Mathis, one of the few female screenwriters of the silent era and second only to Mary Pickford for the title of “Most Powerful Woman in Hollywood”.
  • The first intertitle actually begins with “In a world”. I guess that’s where Don LaFontaine got it from.
  • Alan Hale plays Karl. Within days of this film’s release, his wife gave birth to their son, Alan Hale Jr., aka the Skipper from “Gilligan’s Island”.
  • Oh Rudy. From his first close-up you can see that he has a face for the big screen.
  • The tango scene was added just to give Valentino, a former taxi dancer, more to do. It’s pointless, but it’s fun.
  • Illustrated intertitles; a lost art.
  • “Glass-eyed, carrot-topped sharks” is my new favorite insult.
  • After a death in the family, I too like to be comforted by my pet monkey.
  • I like how anything the characters read fades from their native language to English. Well done Ingram.
  • Tchernoff looks a lot like Rasputin.
  • I see they blew the budget on the Horsemen. And I’m pretty sure The Beast played Spot on “The Munsters”.
  • As if the French Army didn’t have enough problems during the Great War. I believe there’s a Colonel Dax who could voice his objections.
  • Nope, it’s gonna take more than German officers in drag for me to like this film.
  • It’s okay fellas, I don’t get along with some of my cousins either.


  • This is the film that made Rudolph Valentino a matinée idol. Plus according to at least one Valentino biography, the film led to a brief jump in popularity of the tango and gaucho pants.
  • The tango scene is spoofed in Gene Wilder’s “The World’s Greatest Lover”.
  • MGM made another film version of the novel in 1962, with the time period shifted to World War II and with Valentino replaced with an incredibly miscast Glenn Ford.
  • A remake by legendary producer Stanley Motss was beset with problems during shooting. Motss declared these setbacks as “nothing”.

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