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Home Classic Movies ‘Four Horsemen’: Rudolph Valentino Superstar-Making Blockbuster

‘Four Horsemen’: Rudolph Valentino Superstar-Making Blockbuster

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Rudolph Valentino Ramon Novarro
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with Rudolph Valentino (left) and then-extra Ramon Novarro (right). Rose Dione is seen holding the French tricolor in Rex Ingram’s 1921 blockbuster.
Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Directed by Rex Ingram, and starring Rudolph Valentino and Alice Terry, the silent era blockbuster The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will be screened on Tuesday, July 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and SciencesSamuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

The Academy will screen a print restored under the supervision of silent film historians and preservationists Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, with a new orchestral musical score composed by Carl Davis. The program will be introduced by Brownlow.

As quoted in the Academy’s press release, the original press book for The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse hailed it as “an epic tale of surging passion sweeping from the wide plains of the Argentine through the fascinating frivolities of pre-war Paris into the blazing turmoil of the German invasion.”

And epic it is. Nearly ninety years after its release, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse offers more drama, romance, tragedy, and scope than the vast majority of trillion-dollar productions being cranked out today.

Based on the novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, The Four Horsemen turned Valentino into a superstar and solidified Rex Ingram’s position as one of the most respected and most commercially successful filmmakers of the 1920s.

The Four Horsemen also brought more power and prestige to screenwriter-producer June Mathis, who would then move on to an even bigger project: Ben-Hur. (But without very happy results.)

Ramon Novarro, an extra in The Four Horsemen, was to become Ingram’s foremost leading man (playing opposite Ingram’s foremost leading lady, wife Alice Terry) after the irascible director had a falling-out with Valentino.

Novarro was also to star in Ben-Hur – but only after June Mathis was booted from the megaproject.

Rudolph Valentino, John Sainpolis, Alice Terry, Josef Swickard, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Also in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse cast: a pre-stardom Wallace Beery, Jean Hersholt, Alan Hale, and Josef Swickard (above right, with Rudolph Valentino, John Sainpolis, and Alice Terry; courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library).

From the Academy’s press release:

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was shortened for re-release in 1926 to mark Valentino’s death, and was seen in that truncated form for decades. When Brownlow, Gill and their team undertook the restoration work in the early 1990s, they were able to return the film to its original length with its original color tints. Most important, they were able to return the famed tango sequence to its smooth romantic splendor.

Brownlow is widely regarded as the preeminent historian of the silent film era. His books include The Parade’s Gone By; The War, the West, and the Wilderness; Hollywood: The Pioneers; Behind the Mask of Innocence; David Lean; and Mary Pickford Rediscovered. His documentaries include Hollywood, Unknown Chaplin, Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow, Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius and D.W. Griffith: Father of Film, all with Gill; Brownlow also directed Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic and Garbo, the latter with Christopher Bird. Most famous among Brownlow’s many silent film restoration projects is Abel Gance’s 1927 epic Napoleon.

Tickets to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. Tickets are available for purchase by mail, at the Academy box office (8949 Wilshire Boulevard, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), or online at Doors open at 6:30 p.m. All seating is unreserved.

The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For more information call (310) 247-3600 or visit

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