Alan Crosland’s DON JUAN is a fabulous confection of clashing tones — a tragic prologue in which infidelity ruins the family of Don’s dad; a bedroom farce introduction to Don as a young man in Rome; a melodramatic second act as Lucrezia Borgia plots his downfall; an action movie climax where our hero becomes a virtual superman, slaying armies of opponents with a single swordthrust (OK, I exaggerate, but the movie started it).
Thrillingly, this is a soundie — so we get an excellent Vitaphonic synch score, and “realistic” clacking swords during the duels. Of course, the public wants to hear swords, and of course they have no interest in hearing the World’s Greatest Actor actually speak. In fairness, this decision allows the film to enjoy the fluidity of late silent Hollywood filmmaking, rather than suffer the longeurs of early talkiedom.
Barrymore is quite the dude in this, ably adapting to each of the story’s wildly veering mood swings. His comedy is ebullient, he suffers majestically, and you’ll never see a buckle swashed with such furious abandon. With Barrymore, the athleticism of Fairbanks and the masochism of Brando, are combined, with plenty of wit and the excitement of the perpetual danger that he’s going to go completely over the top and actually savage the furniture with his splendid teeth.
Down the cast lurk Hedda Hopper (!), Mary Astor and, most alluring of all, Myrna Loy, here captured in the act of cradling a whippet.