The Fifth Horseman
In line with all great commemorative movie and television documentaries made for a wide and international audience, comes this project for a full-length documentary entitled Blasco Ibáñez and The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse. Its goal is to offer insight into the personality of Blasco Ibáñez and the international success, over the past one hundred years, of his novel “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and of its movie adaptations.
In order to accomplish this we prevail upon film stars such as Yvette Mimieux, Karlheinz Böhm; 4 time Academy Award winner, composer and music director André Previn; actress Angela Lansbury, who dubbed Ingrid Thulin’s voice; Oscar winning actress Liza Minnelli, daughter of film director Vincente Minnelli; the collaboration of producer and film restorer and Academy Honorary Award recipient Kevin Brownlow and his associate Patrick Stanbury; as well as European and American researchers and the principal institutions connected with Vicente Blasco Ibáñez.
The novel narrates the story of Madariaga, a Spanish emigrant to Argentina, his daughters and his sons-in law – one French and one German – and their return to Europe right before World War I breaks out. The plot is structured around two families – the Desnoyers and the Hartrott – that, despite being close relatives, take opposite sides in the conflict. The result is the destruction on the battlefield of both nations and families.
The novel was written in Paris between autumn 1915 and spring 1916 upon request of the President of France, Raymond Poincaré. The aim was to raise the morale of French troops fighting on the Marne Front and to serve as propaganda for France’s allies in World War I. The novel was a tremendous success. Its anti-war propaganda in support of the allies and its call for America to join in the war had immediate results.
Calmann Lévy published the novel in 1916. It quickly became known as “the novel of the Great War.” When published in the United States in 1919, copies flew off the shelves and the novel was an unprecedented success. In the US alone 2 million copies were sold.
Soon after the novel was made into a movie. Metro Pictures Corporation bought the rights to the novel in November 1919 for an astronomical amount of money. The 1921 movie was adapted by June Mathis, directed by Rex Ingram and starred Rodolfo Valentino and Alice Terry. Blasco Ibáñez contributed to the film adaptation by modifying parts of the novel and frequently visiting the sets during filming. The movie was a blockbuster, surpassing Chaplin’s “The Kid”. It ranks as the 6th most successful silent film of all time.
Rex Ingram’s splendid adaptation with its elegant scenography, the enormous production values for its time and the myth making of the “Latin Lover” as embodied by Rodolfo Valentino, all led to the movie’s overwhelming success. Furthermore, the universal acclamation of his novel and its movie adaptation inspired Blasco Ibáñez to begin writing the type of modern narrative that cinema demanded.
In November 1958, Metro Goldwyn Mayer repurchased the rights for a remake. The 1962 version, in color, was directed by Vincente Minnelli with a script by Robert Ardrey and John Gay. The stars were Glenn Ford, Ingrid Thulin, Charles Boyer, Lee J. Cobb, Paul Henreid, Paul Lukas, Yvette Mimieux and Karlheinz Böhm, with music by André Previn, photography by Milton R. Kramer and the participation of the Spanish assistant directors Julio Sempere and Kuki López Rodero.
In the 1962 version, the setting has been changed to World War II. Julio Madariaga (Lee J. Cobb), the patriarch of a wealthy Argentinean family, links the events in Europe with the arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (plague, war, hunger and death) and predicts how the rise of Nazism will divide the two branches of his family. The French part of the family, led by Julio Desnoyers (Glenn Ford), will come in conflict with its German relatives, the Hartrott. Their Nazi militancy leads them to high positions in the Wehrmacht and participation in the occupation of Paris. The outbreak of World War II causes the two sides of the family to fight on opposite sides and become political enemies.
Minnelli used this context to portray the horror of war and its deadly consequences, with destruction and death in the forefront. The movie focuses on how opposing political ideologies can cause the disintegration of a family and on the need to act in the face of injustice.
Vincente Minnelli, the sublime director of unforgettable movies, the husband and father of two incredible singers and actresses (Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli), and an innovator in the use of color and staging, was at his creative height when he filmed Blasco Ibáñez’s novel.
And even though Vicente Blasco Ibáñez died in 1928, the work of these two creative geniuses, Blasco Ibáñez and Minnelli, gave life to one of the best war movies ever made. The “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” is on the par with Frank Borzage’s 1932 movie adaptation of Hemingway’s 1929 “A Farewell to Arms” and Charles Vidor and John Huston’s 1957 version, as well as Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 masterful film adaptation of Humphrey Cobbs’ 1935 novel “Paths of Glory.”