Valentino (1977)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Biopic [feature], Showbiz Drama  |   Release Date - Oct 5, 1977 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 128 min.  |   Countries - UK  |   MPAA Rating - R
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One of flamboyant director Ken Russell's more accessible biopics, Valentino is not totally successful but has several moments that are unforgettable. Among these are a horrifying jail sequence which takes advantage of the director's uncanny ability to capture grotesque cruelty; an explicitly sensual almost-seduction in a faux desert setting; and a powerful (and painful) climactic boxing scene. There are also a number of the director's trademark over-the-top visual flourishes, such as Leslie Caron's entrance as she comes to view Valentino's body; like most such moments, it's ultimately distracting and goes on too long to make the desired contribution to the film, but it's impressive nonetheless. Fortunately, Russell keeps much of his excesses under control; unfortunately, the script does not reward him for his relative restraint, as it fails to create a fully three-dimensional portrait of the titular character. It revolves around an intriguing idea – that the screen's greatest lover was actually a slave to the women in his life – but that idea is not really developed, and there is no attempt to explore why this should have been. Indeed, aside from the fact that Valentino is presented as a reluctant sex symbol who would rather have devoted his time to growing oranges, there is little interesting about the character. Rudolph Nureyev's unsure performance does not help matters, although he at least is physically right for the role. Caron is amusing in a supporting part, but Michelle Phillips fares less well; she is too relentlessly one-note for a role of this size. Like many films about performers, Valentino fails to make the central character come alive, but it does have enough assets to keep the viewer fairly entertained.