Made in 1921, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” tells the story of an Argentinian family trust into World War 1 (WW1). The silent film starts out on an Argentine ranch, where a proud patriarch (Madariaga) with two daughters oversees a wealthy estate. One daughter marries a German, which Madariaga opposes, while the other daughter marries a Frenchman. After the German family produces three sons, the French family finally produces a son (Julio), who the patriarch adores.
Rudolph Valentino, in the role that made him a major international star, plays Julio, a fun-loving artist and expert tango dancer. Julio takes after Madriago, and pursues a wild lifestyle that includes tango parties, nightclubs and lots of women. Madriago never takes to his stuffy German grandchildren, who eschew partying, want to do public service and lead respectable lives.
When Madriago dies, the French and German families decide to move back to Europe. Julio becomes an artist in Paris; the German family moves to Germany. Julio teaches the tango and has an affair with Marguerite Laurier (played by Alice Terry), the beautiful wife of a senator. World War 1 breaks out, and the grim gallop of the horsemen commences: Conquest, War, Pestilence and Death overcomes Europe. The French and German cousins find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict.
The imagery of the four horsemen riding across the screen emphasizes the strong thematic elements of the film. The excellent script written by June Mathis balances touching family scenes with the horror of the war. Rudolph Valentino became a sensation because of his famous tango dance in the first act, but the war rather than Julio’s story takes center stage by the third act. If anyone doubts the emotional and expressive nature of silent films, they should see this movie.