Monte Cristo (1922)
Director: Emmett J. Flynn
Cast: John Gilbert, Estelle Taylor, Robert McKim
Synopsis: Edmond Dantes is falsely accused by those jealous of his good fortune, and is sentenced to spend the rest of his life in the notorious island prison, Chateau d’If.
It’s the 19th Century, and eager young seaman Edmund Dantes (John Gilbert) agrees to deliver a note from his ship’s ailing captain to the imprisoned Napoleon. Had he known how much bother performing such a kindness would cause him he would no doubt have told the Captain what he could do with his note. But, without understanding the possible implications of his deed, Dantes delivers the note and then waits patiently as the little man pens a reply. The Captain dies, and upon his return home, Dante is so pleased to see his ageing father (Harry Lonsdale) and foxy fiance Mercedes (Estelle Taylor) once more that he forgets all about Napoleon’s note. However, his jealous shipmate Fernand (Ralph Cloninger) hasn’t, and he conspires with the shifty Danglars (Albert Prisco) to betray Dantes to the Royal Prosecutor De Villefort (Robert McKim), who has Dantes unjustly imprisoned in the dungeons of Chateau D’If for the rest of his life.
The young Dantes is played with bright-eyed enthusiasm by Gilbert, almost to the point that you’re secretly pleased that something bad has come along to wipe that smile off his face, although two decades in a stone cell does admittedly seem a bit harsh. The passing years are marked by the increasing length of Dantes’ comedy beard and the increasing entanglements of his wild hair. After a good few years he hits upon the bright idea of trying to escape, and snaps off the handle of the pan in which his food is delivered to use as a makeshift tool. Quite how he got that one past the guards isn’t quite made clear, but Dantes’ persistence is. For years he scrapes away at the cement around one flagstone, and then at the earth beneath it until — at last! — he meets up with the prisoner in the next cell who’s patiently digging in the opposite direction.
The other prisoner is the Abbe Faria (Spottiswoode Aiken), who has been imprisoned even longer that Dantes, and who declares that he will teach Dantes everything he knows about everything — apart from tunnel digging, presumably, as their respective tunnels are swiftly forgotten and, anyway, Abbe’s sense of direction really isn’t reliable enough. More years pass and the two inmates become firm buddies until Abbe suffers the seizure which he declared — about fifteen years earlier — would kill him if it ever arrived.
And kill him it does — but not before he reveals to Dantes the location of a massive haul of treasure. Dantes uses his friend’s death as a way of escaping from the dungeons and wastes no time locating the treasure so that he can set about exacting his revenge on those who wronged him so many years before.
Monte Cristo is the fourth version to reach the screen (there have been nearly thirty in total) and it’s a lot of fun. Not only because the way that some of the incidents are portrayed leave themselves wide open to a little mickey-taking, but also because it has no pretensions of being anything other than a rip-roaring adventure. For a silent movie, the story sets off at a fair old lick and doesn’t really let up. We know the bad guys will get their come-uppance in the end, but it’s fun seeing them squirm a little before they do. Ironically, Dantes doesn’t actually kill any of them, even though they all die as a result of his return from the dead. As you’d expect, the post-imprisonment Dantes is a wholly different fellow to the naive young chap who was so easily set up, and Gilbert does a good job of the transformation, although he never quite convinces as an embittered forty-something-year-old man.
The three villains are also enjoyable to watch although, like Gilbert, Cloninger and Prisco perform better as hungry young men than cynical old ones. However, McKim as the cunning De Villefort, is agreeably slimy throughout.
(Reviewed 27th May 2013)