Romola           (1924)


Lillian Gish ............................................ Romola Bardi

Dorothy Gish ......................................... Tessa

William H Powell ................................. Tito Melema aka Naldo

Ronald Colman ...................................... Carlo Buccellini

Charles Lane ........................................... Baldassare Calvo

Herbert Grimwood ................................. Girolamo Savonarola

Bonaventure Ibanez ................................ Bardo Bardi

Producer: Henry King

Director: Henry King

Screenplay: Will M Ritchey from the novel

                     “Romola” by George Elliot

Release date and timing:

New York, George M Cohan, December 1, 1924

Los Angeles, Grauman’s Egyptian, December 6, 1924

12,974 feet (144 minutes at 20fps), cut to 11 reels for general release or 129 minutes at 20 fps.

This film is extant and available on DVD from Grapevine or on vhs.

A synopsis will be available soon.

Romola offers insight into the mechanisms of political revolution. I have often asked myself how and when a good thought turns into a dogma, which will eventually pervert itself. Romola seems to provide an answer for this, Savonarola and his supporters, among which Romola and Bardo Bardi, drive the corrupt Medici out of Florence to establish a better regime and at first they succeed but as soon as Tito Melema arrives on the scene things start to go wrong. He is an opportunist just waiting for the right time to seize power, Bardi, the philosopher,i e the first generation, dies and Savonarola leaves Florence. From now on Tito is free to take whatever he needs to satisfy his avarice. He also creates severe laws to punish all dissidents. Cunningly he employs the fear that the Medici or other outer enemies will turn against the city. The former liberal and free atmosphere turns into mistrust and unrest that also turns against Savonarola himself on his return, but also Tito’s fate is sealed as he reaches for too much and falls by his own laws. The people have become a bloodthirsty mob and a massacre can only be prevented by divine intervention. So the motives are clear, an idealistic regime is corrupted from within by an opportunist also because the first generation of idealists either dies or neglects the republic. But the perpetrator falls by his own schemes, leaving behind an explosive situation that can only be saved by a “deus ex machina”.

Though this is a very interesting plot the film suffers from some flaws. The first half of the movie seems much too long, the love stories between Tito and his two spouses are given far too much time. Compared to Ronald Colman William Powell moves too stagey, one wonders why Romola could ever fall for such a fop. Powell portrays him far too obviously vain and pompous, at least Bardo Bardi has the benefit of being blind.

Anyone who would sit through the first half is rewarded by a great finale, in which all the threads that get so elaborately worked out in the first part are joined to display a horrible ending. The mob that assembles to witness the execution of Savonarola and the other condemned dissidents is horribly frightening represented by Henry King and also Herbert Grimwood as Savonarola gives a grand performance. He is highly emotional but seems to know where to hold back unless he would ruin the performance by going this iota too far. I have never watched this movie on the big screen but I suppose the impact of the crowd must be breathtakingly frightening. From my own experience I know that people are likely to do things in such a mob that they would not do as individuals. This scene stands in line with similar ones from The Lodger by Hitchcock or M by Fritz Lang, the effect is also described by Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Another merit of the movie is Henry King’s craving for authenticity as he shoots the movie if possible on location, the result being some excellent photography of Pisa and Florence. Lillian Gish’s performance is outstanding and Dorothy Gish plays  the naive Tessa with verve adding some comic relief to the story.

And now for Ronald Colman, his performance and his role “Carlo Bucellini”. I have read of the opinion that the part is rather dull because he is too noble. It is a minor part that is true and since he only seems to be Romola’s loyal friend, it does not offer much. But there is also the fact that Carlo is the only person who really seems to have an insight into Tito’s actual personality, he takes the foster father’s, Baldassare Calvo’s, account seriously and he also tries to protect him from Tito’s rage giving him the advice to leave the city. On the other hand Carlo is the typical artist living in his ivory tower and only getting into action when it is far too late,i. e. Romola has already been almost trampled to death, like the painter Filmore Durrand in The White Sister he is portrayed as a rather passive person. Thus the picture painted of the artist I must regret-having studied this myself- is not at all favourable.                                             One of my favourite scenes from this movie is when Carlo rushes out of his studio leaving behind an unfinished painting, when he learns that Romola got wounded. Thus he finally gets into action but only to be run over and taken prisoner. Ronald Colman’s performance is low-key and very natural.                                                                                                            P. S. I am fully aware of the fact that there are some funny comments regarding the odd wig he is wearing, but let’s just pretend it was the fashion of the time because hey William Powell’s is similar.