Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Accept No Substitutes

Sometimes it proves impossible to improve on an original. Many have tried, but none have filled the shoes of the original Latin Lover, the immortal Rudolph Valentino.

Generally, it's been those who've actually impersonated him who've fallen furthest short...

Being a genuine heartthrob in his own right didn't help Nureyev, whose specific brand of smolder simply didn't apply, somehow. Ken Russell's fevered direction did all it could, but this Rudolf just didn't live up to the real Rudolfo.

Trying to camp it up, as model Matt Collins had to in The World's Greatest Lover, doesn't help (neither did Gene Wilder, at least this time out). He had the cheekbones, but not the chops.

Tony Curtis brought his own very special verve (not to mention Natalie Wood) to a photo-shoot impersonation. His was an allure distinctly less ethereal than Real Rudy's, but you have to hand it to him on the eye makeup.

Third-string hunk Anthony Dexter may have the upper hand in terms of resemblance to The Sheikh (not to mention the divine Eleanor Parker to play opposite), but sometimes just the profile isn't enough. Despite being hailed as a great discovery (at least by Columbia standards), within five years he was headlining Fire Maidens from Outer Space.

Still, he did bring a certain...heft...to the screen, as evidenced by this still.

The idea of a distaff Valentino has a certain Sapphic charm; here, silent sisters Shirley Mason and Viola Dana disport themselves as Rudolph and partner in his Four Horsemen tango.

But really: when confronted with the actual Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla, all else falls away. The Gigolo Superstar, still Hollywood's greatest Sudden Death (his funeral made Michael Jackson's look like nothing at all), and at heart a nice boy from Puglia.

I doubt screenland is done with trying to figure out what made it all work. I can't immediately think, though, of anyone who could take on the mantle (or rather, I suppose, the burnoose) were another biopic in the offing - Johnny Depp's Captain Jack has a touch of the old allure; Clooney has the dashing part down; Banderas is more or less the reigning ethnic. None, however, has the full package, as it were, to take on the legend. Perhaps it's just as well.


  1. Rather than smoldering, Tony Curtis comes off as looking demented.

  2. As part of my sophomore year US History I class in high school, a Roaring 20's banquet was held. We were to write bios of a notable figure from the period, dress as that person and bring food to the party. They were all there: Will Rogers, Babe Ruth, Zelda Fitzgerald, Calvin Coolidge, Harding, Lindbergh, Hemingway, Gershwin, Ty Cobb, Houdini, Chaplin, Aimee Semple McPherson.

    I didn't think I'd get away with Gloria Swanson, Louise Brooks or Clara Bow so I came as Rudolph Valentino in sheik drag and brought "movie house popcorn". Why a nerdy, pimpled, 125 lb. closeted gay boy thought he should impersonate the Great Lover is a mystery to me.

    Thankfully, no pictures exist of the event or I might also find myself part of your posting of those who tried but failed.

    I would have been much better off as Billy Haines, Buster Keaton...or Mary Astor.

  3. Excuse me while I kick myself with that first comment.

    Note to self: Read post title before commenting.

  4. Not worry, dearie - great minds, you know, great minds...