Mare Nostrum (1926)

Genres - Drama, Spy Film  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama, War Spy Film  |   Release Date - Aug 29, 1926 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 100 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Hans J. Wollstein

To escape the confining Metro back lot and get as far away as possible from producer Louis B. Mayer, whom he reportedly despised, director Rex Ingram brought his wife, Alice Terry, along with leading man Antonio Moreno and comic relief character Hughie Mack to Europe for Mare Nostrum, the director's second Vicente Blasco Ibanez screen adaptation following the phenomenally successful The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in 1921. Thus, it is the real Pompeii and Paestum we see here, and not studio mock-ups, making Mare Nostrum something of an eye-opener. (The popular "forbidden room" in Pompeii's Lupanares Street with its erotic murals has a "ladies may not enter" label in Moreno's guidebook.) Avoiding Hollywood constraints, Mare Nostrum doesn't look like any other American silent film, with the possible exception of Lillian Gish's The White Sister, filmed in Italy a few years earlier. The ending, which leaves no one left standing, may have been faithful to Ibanez, but it was certainly against everything the newly founded MGM stood for, winning Ingram no favors with Mayer. Unhappily, Ibanez's romantic story, cameraman John F. Seitz's always interesting visuals, the realistic mise-en-scéne, and the fine acting of the European supporting cast depend entirely on the believability of Terry, who, although conventionally pretty and a fine actress when given the right material, is little more than a junior league Mata Hari as the Austrian seductress. One cannot help but wonder how Mare Nostrum, considered a failure when first released, would have been received had Ingram cast MGM's newest import, Greta Garbo, in the all-important role.