Moviegoers who know Gloria Swanson only as the aging gorgon Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd. now have the opportunity to see the screen goddess in full artistic flower. Beyond the Rocks, Swanson's 1922 pairing with heartthrob Rudolph Valentino, was recently discovered by curators at the Nederlands Filmmuseum amid a pile of rusty, unmarked cans bequeathed by an eccentric collector. Unseen for 75 years, the film was considered a lost classic, and has been expertly restored for theatrical release.
Swanson stars as Theodora, a young English rose saved from drowning by suave Lord Bracondale (Valentino). Theodora is smitten, but is promised in marriage to portly, middle-aged Josiah Brown (Robert Bolder). Although their paths cross again and again in picturesque settings—the Swiss Alps, the gardens of Versailles—the would-be lovers vow not to act upon their feelings. The drama culminates in the far-flung Sahara, where Bracondale and Theodora have pursued Josiah after he learns of their love.
Under the steady direction of Sam Wood (Goodbye, Mr. Chips; For Whom the Bell Tolls), Beyond the Rocks may not possess the lavish delirium of a Stroheim picture or the lyricism of a Murnau. But this accessible restoration—enhanced by Henny Vrienten's haunting and modern new score—showcases the onscreen charisma of its two legendary stars. For contemporary audiences, it's a welcome reminder of silent cinema's lively magic. (Opens Fri; Anthology.)—Tom Beer