A true discovery
Victor Graf | Portland, Oregon | 10/12/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Several virtues make this atypical Valentino vehicle a true find for silent cinema buffs, Valentino buffs, cinematography buffs, design buffs, and especially those who appreciate restoration for video. Few nitrate-era movies have enjoyed the luck of perfect original-negative preservation plus the intelligence of perfect fidelity in the video transfer. This release is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the "fractured flickers" syndrome, and is a rare indication of the technical and artistic heights gained by Hollywood's silent golden age. For "Cobra," William Cameron Menzies (fresh from Fairbanks' "Thief of Bagdad") created a family of four spacious and picturesque Mediterranean-style sets plus what may be the first art deco set in any movie--a huge and stunning nightclub set that's on screen for less than five minutes. ("Cobra" was released the same year as the Paris exposition that introduced art deco.) Unfortunately, a third of the movie is spent in other, bland sets. Cinematography ranges from intensely picturesque (undoubtedly as conceived and created by the production designer Menzies) to inept. The potentially magnificent look is undermined greatly by mediocre, sometimes awkward or apathetic, direction. Could it be that the budget was quickly consumed and shortcuts were instituted halfway through the production? For once, Valentino (in real life an Italian immigrant gigolo) plays an Italian immigrant gigolo, here named Rodrigo (strangely similar to "Rudolfo"). The character is deliciously ambiguous and has none of the cliches associated with the Valentino image. The performance is probably Valentino's most subtle, detailed and heartfelt. Because of the paralells with the real Valentino and because this was his first independent production, with deatailed and complex characterization, I think the portrayal had strong personal overtones for the actor-producer. All the more interesting because "Cobra" is almost universally dismissed by biographers and film historians as a minor, throwaway project. The narrative begins as a comedy (Rodrigo is a destitute aristocrat in Italy, is a gigolo--the world's worst gigolo) but as he finds true friendship with an American antiques dealer Jack, moves in with him in New York, and gets caught up in a golddigger's (Nita Naldi) machinations, the story ends up a grim soap opera. The confused screenplay is far more interesting in what it suggests than what it delivers. The male characters are richly non-stereotyped, but the women are, alas, either whores or madonnas to the point of a misogynistic tone throughout. The new chamber-orchestral score is appropriate and improves on some of the movie's inconsistency. For variety, I like to play some Respighi selections while viewing. Both for its weaknesses and for its remarkable, outstanding strengths, "Cobra" deserves to be highly recommended."
A wonderful drama and one of Valentino's best!
Barbara (Burkowsky) Underwood | Manly, NSW Australia | 04/30/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"No doubt everyone has a favourite Rudolph Valentino film for different reasons, and mine is "Cobra". I simply cannot fault this film in any aspect: visually beautiful with perfectly-suited, lovely classical violin music, and perhaps the most emotionally-rivetting acting performance by Valentino I have ever seen. He manages to convey his emotions so powerfully that the viewer can really feel the emotions as well, and therefore relate to the character he plays. Although Valentino was the 1920's greatest heart-throb and has been typecast as a gigolo and ladies' man, his role as a womanizer in "Cobra" is far from the superficial stereotype. The film beautifully portrays a real person struggling with his emotions and predicaments, and in particular when it boils down to loyalty to his best friend. The story has considerable suspense as the viewer gets involved with the characters and their problems, wondering what the outcome will be. There are some twists and turns that the audience might not expect, and which might explain why "Cobra" was something of flop in 1925, but in retrospect this film counts as a shining example of the silent cinema. Add to this superb Valentino performance the role of the sensuous and seductive wife of the best friend, wonderfully played by Nita Naldi, who has played other similar 'vamp' roles. To top it all off, there is the attention to detail in the beautiful sets, thanks to William Cameron Menzies, who also designed the famous Fantasy set for "The Thief of Bagdad", giving "Cobra" a feeling of style and elegance. Overall, an excellent drama with some depth and a morale to think about, as well as simply visually enjoyable.
Fascinating Rudolph Valentino Drama
Simon Davis | 07/15/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Rudolph Valentino even in the almost eighty years since his death still elicits frenzied discussion from fans all over the world and in this talk frequent mention is made of such Valentino classics as "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse", "The Sheik", and "Blood and Sand". Often overlooked is his contemporary drama "Cobra", which I feel displays some of Valentino's most restrained and pleasing work as an actor. Made in the last full year of Rudolph Valentino's life before his tragic early death and totally overshadowed by his highly successful last film "The Son of the Sheik", "Cobra" has a poignant charm about it and shows a more mature Rudy on screen that many people dont know. Rather fittingly in its story it deals with such issues as regret, wasted youth and character redemption which partially had elements drawn from Valentino's real existence at this final stage in his life.The story of "Cobra", is a simple one and tells the saga of Count Roderigo Torriani (Valentino) a dissolute young Italian aristocrat who spends his life running from one casual love affair to another. The opening scene sees Roderigo dogging the unwelcome wrath of the father of his latest "conquest". In the mix up over being mistaken for Roderigo, Jack Dorning (Casson Ferguson) an American Antique Auctioneer not only saves Roderigo from a all out thrashing but sees potential in the young noblemen and offers him a position with his Antique firm in New York. Travelling to America Roderigo soon finds himself in more hot water with the females and in particular Jack's vampish wife Elise (Nita Naldi). Caught in the snake-like grasp of Elise's cunning Roderigo finds himself for the first time worrying over a moral dilemma of hurting Jack who he loves like a brother. After a moment of temptation Roderigo leaves Elise in the hotel room where the planned seduction was about to take place only to find the next day that Elise has died in a hotel fire and that he was only one of many she brought there for her personal pleasure. Leaving New York for a time Roderigo returns to find that Jack not only was aware of Elise's planned seduction of him , but that he has also partnered with the firm's lovely secretary Mary (Gertrude Olmstead) who Roderigo had also been strongly attracted to for her sincere loving manner. Rather than spoil Jack's happiness a second time Roderigo for the first time in his life shows his developing maturity by spurning Mary's affection and sailing for France to leave Jack and Mary to find happiness together."Cobra", has a very sad and touching approach in its storytelling. The ending of the story which I wont reveal the details of for those who haven't seen it yet is very touching and one of the few times when Valentino succeeds in being an object of sympathy on screen. The general level of performances here are wonderful and it remains a mystery why this Valentino performance is not so well known or respected as his more famous great lover roles. Certainly in the beginning his Roderigo is a hopeless lady killer but the reformation of his character as the story progresses shows elements to Rudolph Valentino's acting not revealed before. He is in turn shallow and flighty in the opening sequences and superbly morose and downcast in the final scenes and you can see that alot of thought has gone into developing a logical character progression through the running of the story. Never could Valentino's work in "Cobra", be dismissed as the "nostril flairing, bulbous eyes acting" he was so often accused of practising. I feel it is one of his finest performances. Nita Naldi is very effective as the man eating Elise and her vampish seduction of an almost reluctant Valentino is superbly staged and Naldi earns her place among the 1920's screen vamps. Casson Ferguson and Gertrude Olmstead as Jack and Mary respectively are also good performers in their roles and Ferguson in particular is excellent in his scenes where he learns the truth of his wife's indiscretions. Beautifully filmed in subtle tones of black and white, Kino have done a wonderful job on restoring the print of "Cobra" just as they did when releasing Rudolph Valentino's next and final film "Son of the Sheik". The film also benefits from the expensive look provided by Willian Cameron Menzies elaborate sets and from the first work on screen by the renowned Adrian of later MGM fame who designed the spectacular costumes for the ladies in the story. Of particular note is the elaborate gown worn by Nita Naldi in her great seduction scene of Valentino which is all black with sparkly sequins on it, most fetching indeed."Cobra", is a viewing experience to treasure and shows silent movie acting at its most polished and sincere. Rudolph Valentino is wonderful to watch in this less well known performance and it is tragic to think of his death so soon after this film was released. It is he that makes the film an essential part of any silent film lovers collection and one can see that all the interest and affection which is still held for him is entirely justified. Enjoy Rudolph Valentino in his second last film, the stylish "Cobra"."
Underrated and heartbreaking
Anyechka | Rensselaer, NY United States | 03/08/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This really is one of those underrated things that you can't honestly or accurately judge or rate after just one experience. Something underrated, be it a film, book, or album, really needs to be given at least one more listen, viewing, or reading before it begins to grow on you and you can fully appreciate and like it. It's not one of those things whose instantaneous greatness hits you in the face the first time you see it. It's also a rare stroke of luck that the original print of this film was in practically picture-perfect condition and looks as good today as it must have back in 1925. I think a lot of biographers and critics tend to dismiss this film because it is so underrated, not something you can fully process after viewing it just once. You miss a lot of little things if you don't go back and see it again before casting your final judgment upon it. And, despite being a satisfying and well-told story, complete with very genuine and sincere and emotional body language and facial expressions (I agree with the other reviewers who mentioned that not only do you see every emotion, but you can feel it too, sometimes quite painfully), a lot of the things that made this a hit play when it was being performed onstage before being translated into a film version just aren't here. Blame whomever or whatever you want for this, but a number of events important to the plotline happen off-camera, and thus the plot or story might not feel as developed or smoothly-paced to some people. Everyone is great in this; they all did an excellent job with the material and how certain parts of the plot they could only do so much with because of how the Count's love affairs and fight scenes in the original play had to take place off-camera. And what happens at the end completely breaks my heart; you can just feel how much pain Rodrigo is in when he realises what he must do, even though it breaks his heart to have to do this.
Since this was never a major film in its own right, the extras are typically very limited, to just brief biographies and filmographies of the major actors in the picture and of Joseph Henabery, who wrote the play on which this film was based. I also was more than just a little upset by the ridiculous amount of time I had to wait for this film, far longer than the average time to ship given on the main page for the product."