The Legend of Valentino (1975) 

Should there be any confusion as to why this biopic is subtitled ‘A Romantic Fiction’, the opening few minutes will surely put things to rest. Suzanne Pleshette, as screenwriter June Mathis, provides a florid narration as children play among the ruins of Valentino’s abandoned mansion. She relates how in his time, the building remained barren while only the orange groves outside bore fruit. Flashback to Mathis working on the script of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, when she hears a disturbance downstairs. Armed with a gun, she rushes to investigate, discovering a poor Italian immigrant stealing food from her table. His name is Rudolfo Guglielmi, but she soon changes that to Rudolph Valentino.

Despite this shaky start, The Legend of Valentino soon settles into a fine rhythm in which a good cast rat-a-tat-tats through director Melville Shavelson’s script. Enhancing his lines with a suitably sardonic delivery is Judd Hirsch in the fictitious role of publicity agent Jack Auerbach. Given the task of transforming Valentino into a mysterious Italian count, Hirsch ensures his client meets all the right people at all the best parties, but soon discovers he doesn’t need to manufacture the effect Valentino has on women.


Of more importance to Valentino’s career is June Mathis, who cradles his career before the arrival of Natacha Rambova. The change coincides with a shift in the biopic’s tenor, from the effervescence accompanying Pleshette’s scenes being replace by the strained performance of Yvette Mimieux. Fortunately Franco Nero’s provides a solid presence throughout, though his hairy, barrel chest doesn’t quite gel with the cries of effeminacy Valentino had to contend with.

The biopic rouses for an effective conclusion at the premier of The Son of the Sheik before faltering with more extravagant narration. Despite the purple prose, The Legend of Valentino remains as prosaic as Shavelson’s next film The Great Houdini.

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Biopic has Valentino learning of his mother death during the filming of Camille, when she had in fact died three years earlier.

Screenwriter June Mathis did not discover Valentino while he was burglarising her home. She had seen him in a previous film and thought he would be perfect for the role of Julio Desnoyers in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Biopic contains scene recreations from The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Camille and The Son of the Sheik (featured in clip below at 03:31)

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