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Film / The Eagle (1925)

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The Eagle is a 1925 silent film directed by Clarence Brown and starring Rudolph Valentino.

It is set in 18th century Tsarist Russia, during the reign of Catherine the Great. Valentino is Lieutenant Vladimir Dubrovsky, a Cossack cavalry officer who is at Catherine's palace along with his regiment for inspection. Gunfire from target practice on the palace grounds spooks the horses pulling a coach on the road outside the gate. Vladimir hops on Catherine's horse and saves the people inside the coach, one of whom is a lovely young woman (Vilma Banky).

The Tsarina is impressed by this feat of derring-do and invites Vladimir to her private chambers. When Vladimir realizes that the notoriously lusty queen wants sex with him, he flees in horror. An insulted Catherine then signs a death warrant for Vladimir. If that isn't bad enough, back home, a schemer named Kyrilla bribed a judge and cheated Vladimir's father out of the family home and lands. Vladimir declares himself an outlaw, the "Black Eagle", and finds in his old house both evil Kyrilla and his beautiful daughter Mascha—the woman from the runaway carriage.

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Tropes:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Vladimir is appalled when Catherine tries to get into his pants, wiping his mouth after she kisses him.
  • But Liquor Is Quicker: Catherine tries to get Vladimir drunk for sex, but he pours his wine out.
  • Call-Back: Soldiers taking target practice is what leads to Vladimir meeting Mascha. At the end, soldiers taking target practice makes Catherine think that Vladimir's been executed.
  • Cavalry Officer: Vladimir is every inch the dashing cavalryman, with his white horse and splendid uniform and such.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Whom does Vladimir rescue from a runaway carriage? The daughter of his family's arch-enemy.
  • Discreet Drink Disposal: Catherine wants to get Vladimir drunk to facilitate sex, so she plies him with wine while pouring hers out in a potted plant. Vladimir spots this and figures out what's going on, so he also surreptitiously pours his wine out.
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  • Dramatic Irony: "Lucky for him that he isn't here now. I'd rip his heart out by the roots," blusters Kyrilla about the Black Eagle, unaware that the Eagle is there in the person of Mascha's French tutor.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Catherine's face positively glows with lust as she eyeballs the strapping, handsome Vladimir. This was a gag playing on other Valentino films such as The Sheik in which he stared at the female lead in a similarly carnivorous way.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: A stunning one for the era, in which the camera starts with a closeup of Kyrilla at the dinner table, then tracks backwards to reveal that he is actually at one end of a very, very long dinner table. It was done by using a rigged table that came apart in the middle.
  • Fainting: Mascha does that when she realize that her French tutor, whom she's falling in love with, is the Black Eagle.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Kyrilla downs champagne with a trembling hand after getting a threatening message from the Black Eagle.
  • Karma Houdini: Kyrilla suffers no punishment for scamming Vladimir and his father out of their home and estate—unless having his daughter run off with Vladimir is karma.
  • Meet Cute: Vladimir meets Mascha for the first time when saving her from a runaway carriage.
  • Really Gets Around: Catherine's hot for officers, and her go-to maneuver is to find a junior officer and offer to make him a general. Vladimir flees in horror when this happens but his friend Captain Kuschka takes Catherine up on it and becomes a general. Some camera work at the end shows Kuschka with Catherine's other generals and strongly implies they all got their rank that way.
  • Royal "We": Catherine uses this when signing Vladimir's death warrant.
  • Slip into Something More Comfortable: A variant, as Catherine says "I have a little surprise for you" and then disappears into her bedchamber. Vladimir knows what this means and gets the hell out immediately. (Sure enough, Catherine is wearing a nightie when she reappears.)
  • "Wanted!" Poster: After fleeing from Catherine's palace Vladimir sees himself on a wanted poster, with a 5000-ruble reward. He draws an extra zero on the poster.
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