- Cobra (1925) movie review: Though less well-known than The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Sheik, and The Eagle, Joseph Henabery’s melodrama about true love – between two male friends – is Rudolph Valentino’s most effective star vehicle.
Cobra movie review: At the height of his beauty, Rudolph Valentino enjoys his finest hour as a dissolute playboy who falls prey to seductresses everywhere
Cobra is my favorite Rudolph Valentino movie.
At the height of his beauty – and notwithstanding the glare from the gallon of pomade in his hair – Valentino is impeccably shot by Harry Fischbeck and Devereaux Jennings (as J.D. Jennings), two of the top cinematographers of the 1920s. This 1925 melodrama, in fact, showcases its star in his finest moment.
Directed by Joseph Henabery, who the year before had handled Valentino’s now-lost A Sainted Devil, and adapted by Anthony Coldewey from Martin Brown’s 1924 play, Cobra focuses on the romantic and sexual entanglements of Count Rodrigo Torriani, a debt-ridden, dissolute playboy living in a mansion inherited from his likewise randy ancestors.
Rodrigo’s chief problem is that he is magnet to women. They stick to him like white on rice, flies to sugar, ants in a picnic basket…. You get the idea. Something else worth noting is that like the prostitute with a heart of gold, Rodrigo is the gigolo with a conscience.
In sum, the role is a perfect fit for Rudolph Valentino.
No escape from she-vipers
Cobra gets going when a case of mistaken identity leads Count Torriani to befriend a visiting American antiques dealer, Jack Dornan (Casson Ferguson). The count then agrees to leave his “female troubles” behind to come work at Dornan’s New York City shop.
But instead of reforming, Torriani gets in further trouble with the opposite sex. For starters, he must deal with both virginal secretary Mary Drake (Gertrude Olmstead) and the local vamp, Elise Van Zile (Valentino’s Blood and Sand and A Sainted Devil leading lady Nita Naldi). Despite the fact that the count cares for her, Mary’s wholesome values makes her one woman immune to his charms; but oh, that Elise! She does everything to get Torriani in the sack.
When Elise visits Torriani and Jack’s bachelor pad, her hormones go into overdrive. She promptly marries the naïve, plain-looking Jack for the money, but continues to pursue Torriani for the sex. Lust results in tragedy, and it’s Torriani who suffers the most guilt for betraying his friend. (Remember: This gigolo has a conscience.)
The cobra imagery is explained as the victim’s fascination when confronted by the reptile coiled up to strike. Count Torriani is the embodiment of such a creature; though bitten once too often by female vipers, he remains unable to escape.
Great sets, score & star
One crucial Cobra asset is its art direction: William Cameron Menzies (Gone with the Wind, For Whom the Bell Tolls) came up with sumptuous sets, featuring high ceilings and classy arrangements that are made even more impressive by Fishbeck and Jennings’ crisp cinematography.
Another Cobra movie plus is its lush DVD musical score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, which complements the drama with romantic themes.
The most credit for the film’s success, however, goes to Rudolph Valentino himself, whose antihero manifests an array of nuanced emotions. For instance: In one particularly touching moment near the end, Torriani realizes that Mary loves Jack; he leaves the room and slowly closes the door behind him, his face a mask of grief, sorrow, and loss. Tears fill his eyes, as he gently turns away.
Unbreakable male bonding
On the surface, Cobra revolves around Torriani’s sexual misadventures with women. Yet the movie goes much deeper than that.
Indeed, the story is actually about the friendship between two men who happen to be polar opposites. Torriani, the self-confident lady’s man, and Jack, an ordinary-looking guy with no sex appeal – but who, all the same, ends up getting the girl in the end.
As a Cobra title card says: “There are times when friendship becomes the most important thing in a man’s life. Stronger than love.” Devoid of jealousy, Torriani and Jack’s relationship is Cobra’s true love story.
Director: Joseph Henabery
Screenplay: Anthony Coldewey (a.k.a. Anthony Coldeway).
From Martin Brown’s 1924 play.
Cast: Rudolph Valentino. Nita Naldi. Casson Ferguson. Gertrude Olmstead. Eileen Percy. Claire de Lorez. Hector Sarno. Lillian Langdon. Rosa Rosanova.
“Cobra (1925) Movie Review: Finest Rudolph Valentino Star Vehicle” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
Cobra (1925) Movie Review” endnotes
On Broadway, Cobra starred Louis Calhern as Jack Race – Italianized as Rodrigo Torriani in the big-screen version – and Judith Anderson as Elise Van Zile.
Rudolph Valentino and Nita Naldi Cobra movie image: Famous Players-Lasky | Paramount Pictures.
“Cobra (1925) Movie Review: Finest Rudolph Valentino Star Vehicle” last updated in August 2022.