News of the digital restoration of The Spanish Dancer (1923) by Milestone Film & Video and the Eye Film Museum caught our fancy for several reasons. The silent movie is promoted as a “great romance epic,” and gosh, you can never get enough of that, right? In its making, director Herbert Brenon employed a “cast of thousands” and used ’em to populate those massive built sets of early Hollywood. Lots to look at! We’re fans of the cinematographer, James Wong Howe, whose suave house style is to add dimension, velvety richness and unusual framing to a movie’s visual effect — particularly in black and white. But “Dancer” has our attention for a superseding reason. Its star, Pola Negri, was once a ballet girl at the barre of Ernest Belcher.
Negri, a trained dancer from her days at Warsaw’s Imperial Ballet, works in this movie with Belcher as her choreographer. He was the British-born father of Marge Champion and Los Angeles-based instructor to Gwen Verdon, Cyd Charisse, and Maria Tallchief.
Restored by Eye Filmmuseum and archivist Rob Byrne using material from archives around the world, The Spanish Dancer is action-packed, witty, and romantic. Director Herbert Brenon keeps the adventure going full steam ahead while Negri and Antonio Moreno show why they were huge stars of their day. A few among the cast are known to us as well, Wallace Beery and Adolph Menjou.
Milestone, run by Dennis Doros (a friend of arts meme, or F.O.A.M.) and wife Amy Heller has engaged other professionals to add chatter on the Blu-Ray disc. They include the marvelous dance historian Naima Prevots, who adds discourse on Ernest Belcher and vaunted film historian Scott Eyman, we are certain, will provide fascinating context. Also included in the “extras” is an interview with Bill Ware, a self-described “vibraphonist, bassist, composer, pianist, educator, and creative adventurer” who has composed a new score. There’s also a “restoration demonstration.” In essence, everything you wanted to know about The Spanish Dancer but were afraid to ask!
The Spanish Dancer | Available on Blu-ray and digitally on Kino-Lorber