*This post is part of the Second Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood
Beau Brummel is a 1924 silent film released by Warner Bros. Studios starring John Barrymore and Mary Astor. The film depicts the life of the British dandy Beau Brummell (1778-1840), an iconic figure in Regency England and at one time a friend of the Prince Regent, later King George IV. The film was a remake of a version released in 1913 and was then remade in 1954. The film’s story was based on an 1890 play written by Clyde Fitch.
As far as I know, Beau Brummel is the first silent film I ever watched. I’d grown interested in the genre after reading a history of cinema in college and was trying to find a way to watch some silent films on my own. Then I remembered that Turner Classic Movies (at that time) showed silent films late at night on the weekends. So one night I stayed up late and turned the TCM channel on and it just happened to be Beau Brummel. I was completely hooked: the music and the techniques of silent cinema were all fascinating to me. I’ve enjoyed silent films ever since.
John Barrymore and Mary Astor
Legendary actor John Barrymore (grandfather of Drew Barrymore) plays the title role and he played the role admirably (if not completely seriously). There’s one story that says that Barrymore and Willard Louis (who played the Prince of Wales) would tell dirty jokes instead of saying their lines, thinking that it wouldn’t matter since it was a silent film. However, they forgot to take deaf audience members into account that could read their lips and know what they were REALLY saying (oops!)
As I said earlier, the film follows the life of Beau Brummell, who goes from being a regular soldier to one of the closest friends of the Prince Regent. This places him in the highest social circles in London and he quickly becomes THE person who decides what is fashionable. However, there’s a wrinkle. At the beginning of the story, Margaery (Mary Astor), who was in love with Beau, was forced by her family to marry Lord Alvanley. Beau decides he will seek revenge against society using his charm, wit and his good looks, and thus becomes a dandy.
This all seems to work out relatively well until Beau oversteps himself and causes a tremendous quarrel with the Prince Regent, who promptly ends their friendship. Without the Prince’s support, Beau (heavily in debt from his high living) is forced to flee England and live in poverty with his one remaining servant. After Margaery’s husband dies, she comes and begs him to marry her, but an embittered Beau refuses (though he clearly loves her). When the servant attempts to make amends with the Prince Regent, who is now King George IV (behind his master’s back, so that they both could return to England), Beau dismisses him and some time later ends up in the hospital of a debtor’s prison, out of his mind with an illness and near death.
It was the ending of this film that I loved so much because it was very well done. As Beau lays dying, far away in England, Lady Margaery is also close to death. And as she dies, her youthful spirit rises from her body (using the double-exposure technique) and departs, appearing soon after in Beau’s chamber. Beau himself, seeing her spirit, dies soon afterward and their two spirits, now young again, are reunited for eternity!
I (unfortunately) haven’t seen much of John Barrymore’s work, so I can’t say for certain if Beau Brummel is among his better (or worse) performances, but I know I enjoyed it very much, so if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it.
Enjoy the Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon!!
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