DVD (And Obscure Film) Review: “Beverly of Graustark” (1926)

When it comes to finding crowd-pleasing silent films, you can’t go wrong with Marion Davies features. It’s pretty well known that her earlier features, financed by lover William Randolph Hearst, tended to be costume pictures that attracted more interest a century ago than today. But her charming mid- to late-Twenties films have aged beautifully. Blending light comedy, romance, a bit of tasteful slapstick and even satire, they still have universal appeal.

One of these crowd-pleasers is a film I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard of–Beverly of Graustark (1926). If we had to choose a film to mark the divide between Davies’s more sedate early features and her later comedies, it would probably be Beverly. And it’s a reminder that even obscure 1920s features can prove how darn good silent Hollywood could be.

Beverly of Graustark survived as a 35mm print which even included a two-strip Technicolor sequence as its grand finale. This print had an impressive 4K restoration done by the Library of Congress in 2019, and recently Undercrank Productions held one of their successful Kickstarters to bring it to DVD and Blu-ray. This, of course, means we also get another fitting film score by Ben Model–I’ve always been a fan!

The title probably sounds a tad strange–what is “Graustark,” exactly? The film was based on a popular book series by George Barr McCutcheon about a small fictional Eastern European country, basically a blend of Russia and Romania. These novels revolved around court intrigues that were much in the vein of A Prisoner of Zenda: rivalries to the throne, wrongful imprisonments, dramatic deaths, forbidden romances, that sort of thing.

A copy released to capitalize on the film.

The plot has one of those gender-bending themes that were pretty popular at the time (Davies’s short-cropped hair apparently started a trend called the “Beverly bob”!). In the film Beverly is the cousin of Prince Oscar, heir to the throne of Graustark. When Oscar’s injured in a skiing accident she decides to impersonate him to keep the throne safe from the scheming General Marlanax. Obviously this is a perfect setup for scenes where Beverly valiantly tries to keep her real sex a secret while being constantly surrounded by men, giving the film slight Mulan vibes. My favorite part might be the “toasting” scene, when Beverly is expected to drink a formal toast out of a 3-quart drinking horn–but of course, why would it be any less?

The challenge becomes considerably more daunting when Beverly meets handsome goat-herd Dantan, who commits himself to becoming the petite “prince’s” bodyguard. She falls for him head over heels (I mean, he’s played by Antonio Moreno–understandable) and disguises herself yet again to get close to him, this time swiping a sparkling gown and masquerade ball mask (and oh that shimmering headdress!). And while I won’t give anything away, I’m sure you’ve guessed that there’s an extra level of intrigue that comes into play, followed by a satisfying ending. There’s also a swordfight, but I won’t spoil that either.

Well, this pictures gives a hint.

Directed by Sidney Franklin, Beverly of Graustark had the kind of elegant costumes and fine cinematography expected of a Marion Davies production, but managed to pull it all off at a reasonable cost. (This means that this obscure feature is thought to be Davies’ most profitable!). There’s several of those charming moments that only the silent era could do best, like Danton and Beverly embracing just outside the frame as her hat falls back and dangles in front of the camera. Davies is a delight, as always, and has plenty of chemistry with the handsome Moreno. Roy D’Arcy, the Twenties’ go-to flamboyant villain, and Creighton Hale, as the most virile I think I’ve seen him (he was the nerdy professor from Way Down East), do a solid job of rounding out the cast.

Beverly of Graustark is due to be released on April 12 and is available for pre-order on Amazon and other online avenues. It’s a worthy addition to a well-rounded silent film collection and a great film to introduce to people unfamiliar with silents. Many thanks to Ben Model for Silent-ology’s review copy, it’s much appreciated!

17 thoughts on “DVD (And Obscure Film) Review: “Beverly of Graustark” (1926)

  1. Davies was wonderful in The Patsy, so YES, I expect this will be wonderful too. That title! NOT so wonderful. Would never have considering watching this film – let alone buy it – with this wonderful review.

      • Judy, that only bothers the Pedantics. I try to leave three like Where’s Waldos. Wasn’t that the name of a Roy Orbison song: “Only the Pedantic.” Flip side. Your review of the review was very helpful, It is often a deal to sift through the myriad of unfamiliar titles to decide which to spend an evening with. (I’m a slow watcher.) And the context to the title was most likely clearer in the era shortly following WWI. Doubt if they considered the film was for the ages or till Ben finds it a hundred years later.

        That Ben selected it as worthy of viewing is the first jumping off point, but he sees a lot of movies, probably has nothing else to do. Probably behind on The Kardashians. And Lea S’s intelligent analysis was clincher, out of the park. So thank you Judy, Lea S & Ben.

        And thank you, Ben, for releasing something again of yours on my birthday, first was the Kovacs Kollection. Not unnoticed. Like Where’s Waldo.

  2. No, no, no. “It’s pretty well known that her earlier features, financed by lover William Randolph Hearst, tended to be costume pictures….” This is not true. Of Davies’ silents before BEVERLY, only a few are costume pictures; the majority are modern-day stories. And Hearst continued to finance (with MGM) and produce Davies’ films (along with Davies herself) until the end of her career in 1937. Davies had of course already done a gender-bender plot in LITTLE OLD NEW YORK in 1923 … and that film was a smash hit.

      • (For what it’s worth, an initial draft said “some of her early features tended to be costume pictures” and I got concerned about being too wordy.)

      • Just one of my peeves. BEVERLY is a terrific film and Davies is terrific in it. As with LIGHTS OF OLD BROADWAY and ZANDER THE GREAT (both recently restored and released on disk), BEVERLY creates the MGM gloss that would highlight Davies’ late silent era films (most of which were comedies). As for GRAUSTARK, audiences of the day would have been familiar with the series of novels by McCutcheon as well as the several earlier movies based on his works. Indeed, Norma Talmadge had a hit film named GRAUSTARK in 1925. Thanks for the solid review and for bringing another Davies film to the attention of the public!

  3. Pingback: Book Review: “Pokes & Jabbs: The Before, During And After Of The Vim Films Corporation” By Rob Stone | Silent-ology

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