12 August 2000 | rfkeser
Slick DeMille entertainment using reincarnation theme
Inexplicably setting this romantic drama at the Grand Canyon, Cecil B. DeMille was probably trying to signal the grandiosity of his reincarnation theme. However, his real intention is to deliver the box-office goods: in this case, a trainwreck, a nice swordfight, a lashing, a witchburning, not one but TWO virginity-threatening wedding nights, plus his usual comforting religious affirmation.
The plot follows two couples: glum newlyweds Joseph Schildkraut and Jetta Goudal are conflicted in their unconsummated marriage, while flapper Vera Reynolds deserts her boring fiancee for virile minister William Boyd. Soon--though inexplicably--they all find themselves on the same train to San Francisco; a crash then [inexplicably] rockets them all back to the Elizabethan era. While the four stars reconfigure their relationships, everyone spouts much Renaissance Faire dialogue ["Thou art the wastefulest tapster that ever vexed a gentle tavern-woman!"]
While DeMille tolerates some of the miming and pointing that gives silent film acting a bad name, the leads are all appealing, especially William Boyd, whose playful zest suggests early Errol Flynn. Despite playing both an innocent bride and a swarthy gypsy, the exotic Jetta Goudal gets little character to develop as both roles are one-dimensional [her performance in WHITE GOLD is considerably more complex]. The twentieth-century Joseph Schildkraut makes a credible protagonist, but the seventeenth-century Schildkraut acquires a dark bob and a pearl earring, uncannily anticipating Jack Lemmon's "Daphne" in SOME LIKE IT HOT.
In the end, what's most impressive is how smoothly DeMille manages to pack great chunks of romance, drama, action, and spectacle into this fast-moving vehicle, but anyone looking for a thoughtful treatment of reincarnation had best look elsewhere.