Thought forever lost, Sam Woods’ 1922 melodrama Beyond the Rocks was recently discovered in a Netherlands museum with only two minutes of footage found to be beyond repair. Restored and screened at this year’s 43rd New York Film Festival, this unique piece of silent cinema is notable for pairing two of the era’s biggest stars, Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino, as young lovers separated by marital circumstances. As befitting the period in which it was made, Woods’ entertainingly soapy production is completely dated and often ridiculous, such as a scene in which the unhappily married Theodora (Swanson) idiotically slips off an Alps cliff, or a sequence in which her cuckolded millionaire husband (Robert Bolder) – off on an African archaeological dig after discovering his wife’s feelings for the dashing young Lord Bracondale (Valentino) – unearths an archaic Egyptian document which, conveniently, outlines proper punishment for adulterous women. Narrative preposterousness aside, however, the film is still a ravishing example of the incandescent grandeur of Swanson and Valentino, whose mute performances are wondrously expressive, affecting and larger-than-life despite the still-infant medium’s technical limitations.
(2005 New York Film Festival)