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What do women want? Don Juan is aging. He's arrived secretly in Seville after a 20 year absence. His wife Dolores, whom he hasn't lived with in five years, still loves him. He refuses to see her; he fears the life of a husband. She has bought his debts and will remand him to jail for two years if he won't come to her. Meanwhile, an impostor is climbing the balconies of Seville claiming to be Don Juan. When a jealous husband kills him, the real Don Juan sees a way to avoid jail and get some peace. He hides as Captain Mariano in a small town. After six months, he's ready to return to society: can he measure up to the legend, will women find him attractive, and what about Doña Dolores?Written by
"The Private Life of Don Juan" is a 1934 comedy from Alexander Korda and is notable as the swan song of screen legend Douglas Fairbanks. The Don Juan character comes from a 14th Century Spanish play, several books and plays (including works by Byron and Moliere) and the Mozart opera Don Giovanni (1787). The first film was in 1926 starring John Barrymore. Don Juan would be played later by Errol Flynn (1949) and Johnny Depp (1995).
Douglas Fairbanks Sr. was one of the biggest stars in the early years of Hollywood, referred to as "The King" of Hollywood. Along with Chaplin, DW Griffith, and Fairbank's wife, Mary Pickford, he founded United Artists (1919). He founded the Motion Picture Academy (1927) and was its first President, was the first to put his hands and feet in the cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and hosted the first Oscar ceremony in 1929.
Fairbanks virtually invented the swashbuckler film and appeared in such classics as "The Three Musketeers" (1921), "Robin Hood" (1922), and "The Thief of Bagdad" (1924). He wasn't really known for his lothario roles, which were more the focus for his contemporaries Valentino and Barrymore.
Fairbanks was in England along with his son, looking for work, when he came upon Alexander Korda and hence this film. Korda loved film biographies - "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (1933), "The Private Life of Helen of Troy" (1927), "Rembrandt" (1936), "That Hamilton Woman" (1941), and "Bonnie Prince Charlie" (1948) – and while the character Don Juan is more fiction than fact, he was so well known it does take on an historical tone
Merle Oberon plays one of Fairbank's love interests. She started in films in 1928 but it was her role as Anne Boleyn opposite Charles Laughton in Korda's "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (1933) that brought her to stardom. She was nominated for an Oscar for "The Dark Angel" (1935) but is probably best remembered for her role as Cathy in "Wuthering Heights" (1938). Oberon appeared in several Korda films and eventually they married in 1939 and then divorced in 1945 when she married cinematographer Lucien Ballard.
Binnie Barnes plays a maid. Barnes was a major star of the 30s, appearing in "Private Life of Henry VIII" (1933), "Diamond Jim" (1935), "Last of the Mohicans" (1936) and "3 Musketeers" (1939). Her philosophy was - "I'm no Sarah Bernhardt. One picture is just like another to me as long as I don't have to be a sweet woman."
French born Georges Perinal (1897-1965) is the photographer. He worked often with Korda (Henry VIII, Rembrandt, Catherine the Great) and won an Oscar for "The Thief of Bagdad" (1940) and was nominated for "Four Feathers" (1939).
The NY Times called the film "a visually attractive costume comedy" but disliked Fairbanks' performance noting - "the microphone is ruthlessly unkind to him. Neither in voice nor theatrical skill is he gifted to read lines."
1934 was an OK year for films. The top box office slots went to "Viva Villa", "Cleopatra" and "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" and "It Happened One Night" was the big Oscar winner. That year "The Thin Man" series began, Karloff and Lugosi appeared in "The Black Cat", Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced in "The Gay Divorcée", Laurel and Hardy laughed it up in "Babes in Toyland", and Howard Hawks' "Twentieth Century" came out.
The aging Fairbanks is marvelous as the aging lothario, and one can't help but make comparisons with John Wayne's "The Shootist" (1976), Edward G Robinson's "Soylent Green"(1973), Errol Flynn's "Too Much too Soon" (1958) or John Barrymore's "The Great Man Votes" (1939). Fairbanks is particularly good when philosophizing about the vagaries of fame and the problems of growing old.
This isn't the best film, but it is an opportunity to see the famous Douglas Fairbanks in a talkie and in a role that requires acting rather than swashbuckling alone. His voice is a bit disappointing and his acting skills are not terrific, though they are certainly acceptable. He is surprisingly agile as the 52 year old demonstrates throughout the film. Although his contemporaries were disappointed, the passage of time lets us evaluate him more appropriately.
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