30 March 2009 | bkoganbing
The Great Profile As The Great Seducer
Although John Barrymore was 44 when he played the role of Tirso DeMolina's famous libertine, the soft focus photography enabled to look years younger and really do a convincing job as the most famous seducer in fiction. In fact Barrymore plays two roles, the dashing cavalier Don Juan and his stern father who was cuckolded by his wife and imparted some cynical views on women to his young son in a prologue.
When the main action of the film gets going it takes place in Rome when the Borgias were running things. Cesare Borgia played by Warner Oland and his evil sister Lucretia who has Estelle Taylor, then Mrs. Jack Dempsey playing her part. They're quite a pair, cruel and sadistic, and they've got a cousin played by Montagu Love who rivals Don Juan in the seducing department.
Barrymore is ostensibly in Rome as a student, but he's way too busy with his female conquests for any academics. He and Love have their eyes on the same woman, Mary Astor, who is royalty herself, related to the Orsinis who the Borgias have kicked out of power. That rivalry is what fuels the plot of this film.
Director Alan Crosland was obviously influenced by Cecil B. DeMille in directing this film. The sumptuous sets and even more the scenes of debauchery could be found in many a DeMille spectacle. And we don't get DeMille's moralizing with the film either.
As for Barrymore he plays the part with the dash and verve of Douglas Fairbanks who later got to play Don Juan, but as a much older man in Faribanks's final film during the sound era. Note the dueling sequence with Love. Warner Brothers for whom this film was produced used some of the same bits in their sound version of The Adventures Of Don Juan with Errol Flynn.
There is also a nice bit by Willard Louis as Barrymore's lackey, Pedrillo. Sad that he would die the same year as this film came out. He was quite amusing in the role.
Still it's Barrymore's show and quite a show it is. Don Juan is a good chance to see a young John Barrymore at the zenith of his acting talent.