Spartacus is fairly common as far as silent Italian epics go. You’ve more likely as not already seen it. Alpha released it on DVD and there are any number of other sellers that carry it (all of them likely sourced from the Alpha DVD). The Alpha release has a lot of problems and the image quality is none too good. Spartacus is a film I’ve always wanted to do myself because I think I could do it better. I wasn’t going to just rip Alpha’s DVD, though. I wanted it on film. Issue is, there’s only one print known to survive of Spartacus (the English-language Kleine release of it, anyway — perhaps there are prints of the original Italian release, but I’ve neither seen nor heard of one). That limited my chances, but I always trust in the simple truth that all things come to those who wait. The Spartacus print has been bought and sold many times but it has always been in private hands. And, at long last, now it’s in mine.
It took so long because I have some hard limits when it comes to film acquisition — the chief limit being that no single film is worth more than $750. I don’t care what the title is, who acted in it, who directed it. I don’t care how rare or even unique the print is. I don’t care what condition it’s in. I don’t care how very much I want it. No single film is worth more than $750. Most aren’t worth even a tenth of that. I didn’t break my $750 limit in buying Spartacus, but I came awfully near it. I’ve got some desirable films, but Spartacus is probably the most expensive print in my whole collection.
Looking at the print, a lot of the weirdness of the Alpha DVD makes more sense. The first three reels appear to be from one print and are in black-and-white. The last three are color tinted and I think (from the general appearance of the image and repeated footage) that they’re assembled from at least two different prints. The black-and-white footage has full running titles while the color elements mostly have flash titles. All are in the same style and I have no reason to doubt that they’re the original titles from the Kleine release. Reels four and five are reversed (as they are on the Alpha DVD as well). They also use the wrong color leader. The projector doesn’t care, of course, but convention dictates that the leader should be green and the trailer red. That way, you can see at a glance if a reel is wound heads-out or tails-out. It’s backwards here.
It’s all printed on Agfa stock, which is difficult to date. Some manufacturers, like Kodak, print a series of symbols on the edge of the film that aren’t too dissimilar to silver hallmarks. They’ll tell you what kind of film it is, what factory it came from, and most usefully when it was manufactured. (Note that: it tells you when the film stock itself was manufactured, not when it was exposed or developed. If the edge code says 1928 then the film can’t be any older than that, but it may be younger if the lab was printing on stock they had lying around for some time. Common mistake.) Agfa does not have any such markings. It’s really only possible to roughly date Agfa film based on the font used in the logo. The Spartacus print is from the early ‘30s, my guess. Between the wars, anyway. Decent shape for its age — a bit stiff, but not brittle or shrunken. After a little lubrication and splice repair, it ran just fine.
I was just going to do this as an off-topic post, but why not, let’s make this into a terrible review. Spartacus (Mario Ausonia) is a gladiator who rises up and leads a slave rebellion against Rome. The plot is substantially different from that of the Kubrick film, but that’s hardly unusual. Spartacus was a real person, but historical records of him and his rebellion are sparse and inconsistent. Any telling of the Spartacus story is going to require a great, great deal of embellishment. I liked this one. I liked it enough, at least, to stalk the print for the better part of a decade.
My rating: I like it.
When you think of Italian cinema in the silent era, you think of historical epics on a grand scale like Cabiria or Quo Vadis?, but of course that wasn’t all they did. The Italians also released much less lavish productions dealing with modern themes, including short slapstick comedies like this one.
Our star is Ferdinand Guillaume. Guillaume was a lithe and acrobatic Frenchman who came from a circus family, which no doubt had a great influence on his work as an actor. When he was with the Cines company, he was better known by the stage name Tontolini, but at Pasquali, he was Polidor. Guillaume featured in hundreds of movies, starting in the 1910s and continuing well into the ’60s in films like Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.
Polidor Has Stolen a Goose is a rather high-concept picture — after you’ve read the title, you’ve got a pretty solid idea of the plot. A young lady has sat her goose down by the side of the road to canoodle with a young man. Polidor comes by and swaps his laundry bag for the bird. The real trouble comes when he absconds into the city and is caught up in a wedding party. It’s quite a challenge for Polidor to keep it together at the banquet table with a live goose under his shirt. After some mildly comic antics, Polidor is chased from the house with the bird on his back. The goose takes flight and Polidor finds himself clinging to a streetlamp at the end of the film.
I have to say that Goose has a stronger ending than the only other Polidor film I’ve seen — Polidor’s First Duel — but I’m not sure if that’s enough to recommend it. Guillaume is sometimes compared to Chaplin, and from his physical performance I can see why, but this is weaker than even the most minor Chaplin title. I imagine that given the right subject mater Guillaume could impress, but the material he’s got to work with here is just not very good at all.
My rating: I don’t like it.