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Film / The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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Valentino, being handsome.

"Peace has come - but the Four Horsemen will still ravage humanity - stirring unrest in the world - until all hatred is dead and only love reigns in the heart of mankind."

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a 1921 film directed by Irish director/actor/playwright Rex Ingram, starring Rudolph Valentino and Alice Terry. Madariaga, the patriarch of an Argentine cattle ranch has two daughters. One marries a German against his wishes; their three sons are viewed with disfavor by the rancher. The other enters into an approved marriage with a Frenchman named Desnoyers, and their son Julio (Valentino) becomes the apple of his grandfather's eye. The old man dies, and the husbands take their wives back home to Europe. Julio lives a carefree life in Paris, a spoiled rich boy who cares only for painting pretty ladies, giving tango lessons, and having an affair with a married woman, Marguerite Laurier (Terry). This happy life is interrupted by the assassination of an Austrian archduke and the outbreak of war.


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was a smash hit. Rudolph Valentino, who was a bit player when he was cast in this movie, became a huge star, and the personification of the Latin Lover, until his premature death from a perforated ulcer in 1926. Wallace Beery, who would become a big star during The Great Depression, has a small part as a brutish German officer.

A remake came out in 1962, also titled The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but with a Setting Update, moving the story to World War II, directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Glenn Ford as Julio Desnoyers.



  • Ambiguously Gay: When Julio and Marguerite are dining out, there is a brief shot of a lesbian couple at another table. One woman is dressed in a traditionally feminine way, but the other is dressed like a man, in a tuxedo with a top hat, a High-Class Glass, and a cigarette holder. This was the style at the time, when gays and Lesbians could be relatively "out".
  • Arranged Marriage: Etienne and Marguerite Laurier were engaged by their families; Marguerite tells Julio that she doesn't actually love her husband.
  • The Atoner: After Marguerite becomes a nurse, one of the soldiers under her care is her estranged husband Etienne, who has been decorated for bravery during the war but is now blind. When Julio visits her at a hospital in Lourdes, she tells him their affair cannot continue, as she sees looking after Etienne as a way to atone for cheating on him. She never completely gets over Julio, but when she tries to secretly leave Etienne late in the film, the ghost of the now-dead Julio appears and tells her to stay.
  • Bowdlerize: Some aspects of the film were controversial with American film censorship boards. For example, the Pennsylvania board, upon reviewing the affair between Julio and Marguerite, required that Marguerite be described in intertitles as being the fiancée of Etienne Laurier rather than his wife.
  • Contrived Coincidence: One of M. Desnoyer's German nephews is among the officers who seize his castle. Julio later meets his cousin in no man's land. Marguerite winds up treating her own husband at an aid station, after she volunteers as a nurse.
  • Dies Wide Open: A mother in the village of Villeblanche, where the Desnoyers castle is, after the village is shelled. Her two little children vainly try to wake her up.
  • Downer Ending: All four of the rancher's grandsons are killed in battle; in the von Hartrotts' case, this means all of their children are dead. As Julio's family leave his grave and encounter the Stranger, he directs M. Desnoyers' attention to the retreating Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the sky, and says that their departure will only be temporary unless love replaces hate in the hearts of humanity.note 
  • Duel to the Death: When Etienne Laurier finds Marguerite at Julio's studio, he slaps Julio across the face with a glove and tells him to send him his seconds. M. Desnoyers talks him down by pointing out that getting into a duel over his wife's fidelity would cause a terrible scandal, so Etienne retracts his challenge and agrees to divorce Marguerite to save face.
  • Fanservice Extra: The three ladies posing for Julio's painting, one of whom is showing an exposed breast. Censors could be surprisingly permissive in The Roaring '20s.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Apparently one of M. Desnoyers' servant girls was raped by the Germans. Says her mother, "My little girl longs to die."
  • Foreshadowing: After M. Desnoyers' fancy castle is specifically stated to be "on the Marne", it's not hard to guess what will happen.
  • The Grim Reaper: One of the four horsemen, as seen after Julio and his last surviving cousin are killed.
  • High-Class Glass: Both the German general and the more junior officer played by Wallace Beery sport them, in true Prussian tradition. So does a lesbian (see Ambiguously Gay above).
  • Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Yep, they're in the movie. They are first shown when the Stranger brings out his illustrated copy of the Book of Revelation and tells his friends that the war represents the apocalypse. The Horsemen are used as a motif a few more times, including the last scene, where they're shown riding away in the sky after the war is over.
  • Idle Rich: Julio's lifestyle before the war—dancing, seducing pretty ladies, sponging off his parents.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: After Julio and his last surviving cousin are killed in 1918, Marguerite considers abandoning the blinded Etienne, but Julio's ghost guides her to continue her care for him.
  • Latin Lover: Ur-Example, Trope Maker. The studio had been hesitant to cast Valentino due to his very Latin looks. Valentino had been a taxi dancer before making it big in the movies. His tango scene, written into the film to showcase him, started a tango craze in the United States.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The Stranger, who is given a name in the credits—"Tchernoff"—but not in the narrative, and who has a vaguely Christlike mien. In the last scene M. Desnoyers, who is with the Stranger in the graveyard, asks if the Stranger knew Julio. The Stranger, holding his arms out in a "crucified Christ" pose, replies "I knew them all!".
  • No More for Me: During the tango scene, one of the spectators is cheering on the dancers, only to see a goldfish in his glass and cover it with his hat.
  • Patriotic Fervor: As always happens upon the outbreak of war. In this case a woman is dressed as French national symbol Marianne, and wrapped in the tricolor flag, as "La Marseillaise" plays.
  • Please Wake Up: Two little children vainly try to wake up their mother, who has been killed during the shelling of Villeblanche.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: When Madariaga's heirs discuss the idea of cashing in their halves of the estate and moving back to Germany (in the von Hartrotts' case) and France (in the Desnoyers' case), M. Desnoyers is reluctant to go back. The explanation comes when he secretly takes out a scrap of newspaper in which his name is listed among a group of draft-dodgers after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War; the shame of his cowardice is what drove him to emigrate to Argentina.
  • Stock Footage: Some real clips of troop movements and artillery pieces being fired are spliced into the film.
  • Time Skip: Twenty years pass between Julio's birth and the next scene, in which young Julio is partying with his indulgent grandfather.
  • Title Drop: The Stranger describes "the four horsemen of the Apocalypse" as the "enemies of mankind".
  • War Is Hell: After the Germans sack his castle, M. Desnoyers says of war that "it is like a wild beast whose breath scorches and withers humanity." He still tells Julio that Julio has to kill Germans.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: "They shall not pass", or so think the Frenchmen batting at the Marne. (In Real Life this did not become a famous saying until Verdun, later in the war.)
  • "You!" Squared: Silent version; in a charge across No Man's Land in late 1918, Julio and the last surviving von Hartrott brother are both going over the top of their trenches. They run into each other, and their faces light up with recognition... seconds before an exploding shell kills them both.