January 15, 1893, Dublin, Ireland.

d. July 24, 1950, Los Angeles, USA

The world’s greatest director.
Erich von Stroheim 1

Rex Ingram may be the best-known enigma in film history. We are aware of him, these days, less as a director than as a fantasy of what a director might be. We may know him as the key Hollywood filmmaker of the 1920s. As a sexually ambivalent Svengali who discovered Valentino and other stars. As a romantic rebel who walked out on MGM to work in Europe and North Africa and run his own studio in Nice. His myth weighs little against the fact that most of his work is downright hard to see.

Of his 27 films, less than half survive and only a few are available on DVD or Blu-Ray. Yet Ingram, of all the silent directors, had the greatest impact on the sound era. David Lean said: “The man who really got me going was Rex Ingram. In everything he did the camerawork was impeccable.” 2 Michael Powell, who began as his assistant in the late ’20s, wrote: “For me, he was an inspiration, an ideal.” 3 It is hard to imagine more radically different directors than Lean and Powell. Yet Ingram and his lush pictorial style are visible in both. If we look closely, whole sequences by Ingram shine through in films by Orson Welles, Josef von Sternberg, Luchino Visconti, James Whale and Stanley Kubrick. The patron saint of sheer visual obsession, Ingram made images so primal they are a world in themselves.

Stylistically, Rex Ingram was the man who shocked Hollywood into the 20th century. Married for 30 years to his pleasant but underwhelming leading lady Alice Terry, he was plagued by rumours that he was keener on his exotically handsome leading men. Unfailingly, Ingram infused his camera with sex, most often of a highly ambiguous kind. Watching Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1920) or Ramon Novarro in Scaramouche (1923), we see flashes of Jean Marais in Orphée (Jean Cocteau, 1950), Helmut Berger in La caduta degli dei (The Damned, Luchino Visconti, 1969), Antonio Banderas in La ley del deseo (The Law of Desire, Pedro Almodóvar, 1987) – all films by overtly gay auteurs. While Ingram may not have been gay, his camera undeniably was.

Meanwhile, his presentation of Alice Terry moved beyond the sentimental Victorian view of womanhood that prevailed before the 20s. Her icy blonde allure (she rarely appeared on camera without her wig) anticipates Grace Kelly in the Hitchcock films of the 50s. Her androgynous, possibly bisexual spy in Mare Nostrum (1926) predates Garbo and Dietrich as the first recognisably modern woman in American films. Sternberg reshaped this character for Marlene in Dishonored (1931), with sequences that stretch from hommage to outright plagiarism. In 1936, Dietrich recreated another Terry role from The Garden of Allah (1927), but only after Garbo turned it down.

Dramatically, just about every Ingram film shows the death of a stable patriarchal order and the birth of a new age of uncertainty, ambiguity and peril. His heroes (Valentino in Four Horsemen, Novarro in Scaramouche, Ivan Petrovich in 1929’s The Three Passions) contend less with whatever social codes hold sway around them than with a once-mighty father figure – loved or loathed – whose legacy is fading from the screen. Yet once sound arrived, Ingram himself looked like a tradition in decline. “His passion for pictorial form, so eloquent in the silent movies, appeared old-fashioned in early talking films.” 4 Or that is the received opinion. Ingram’s only talking picture, Baroud (Love in Morocco, 1932), is a fascinating fiasco, at once behind and alarmingly ahead of its time.

His last 20 years were devoted to writing, sculpture, travel and the life of a gentleman aesthete. Yet his films of the 1920s are compulsive, even hypnotic viewing today – while many half their age are quaint but amusing relics. Rex Ingram was more than our ancestor. He was, in most ways, one of us.

(ii)

He never stooped, he never gave any publicity and was a little huffy – he was very Irish.
Erich von Stroheim 5

Ingram was born Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock in Dublin on January 15, 1893. In a tradition of great Irish fantasists – Oscar Wilde and William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett – he was a Protestant, a product of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy. Talented, rootless and ambitious, Ingram emigrated when he was eighteen and went to train as a sculptor at Yale University. He found work as an actor and writer with film companies in and around New York. “Rex was an artist,” wrote Michael Powell, “but an amateur artist, a show-off; a bit of an actor, because of his good looks, but not a good actor; a showman, certainly, with a sure instinct for and appreciation of the theatrical.” 6 By 1916, Ingram was directing his first film, The Great Problem.

Of his first fourteen films, only a single reel survives. A fragment from The Reward of the Faithless (1917) has been compared by his biographer Liam O’Leary to Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (1923), which Ingram would later re-edit at the director’s request. After a brief marriage and war service in the Royal Canadian Flying Corps, he moved on to Hollywood and the newly-formed Metro Pictures (soon to become MGM). Meeting a bit player named Alice Taaffe, he groomed her into his lead actress Alice Terry. She recalled years later:

I didn’t believe any of it. I was too fat, my hair didn’t work, I had to go and have my teeth fixed, I had to wear high-heeled shoes for my ankles… I finally asked Rex whatever gave him the idea in the first place. 7

By the time he was finished, the whole world bought the illusion. Michael Powell wrote of meeting Alice in Nice in 1925:

She was the image of the unattainable, “la princesse lointaine.” On the screen, her head held higher, higher than a head had ever been held, she lost lover after lover magnificently. We admired this superb creature and longed to comfort her, while knowing she was out of our reach. 8

He married Alice in 1921, shortly after the film that made them famous. Based on a best-selling novel by the Spanish author Vicente Blasco Ibañez, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1920) is the saga of a rich Argentine family from the late 19th century to the end of World War One. In scope and dramatic tone, it is comparable to Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather epics (1972 and 1974) or Bernardo Bertolucci’s Novecento (1900, 1976). Like those films, it involves the death of a ruthless but heroic patriarchal figure and the desperate efforts of his heirs to live with his legacy. The cattle tycoon Madariaga – nicknamed the Centaur – adores his dashing half-French grandson Julio Desnoyers (Rudolph Valentino in the role that made him a star). We see the two carousing in a smoky dive in La Boca, the red light district of Buenos Aires. The scene is the most famous that Ingram ever shot.

As Julio and the Centaur sit drinking at a table, the band strikes up a tango and a couple starts to dance. Julio (in a soft-lit close-up) glances at them and his eyes flash darkly with carnal lust. Smoke from his cigarillo pours, like steam, from his elegantly-flared nostrils. Brandishing a phallic bullwhip, he strides onto the dance floor and claims the woman for himself. The crowd watches in awe, while a drunken man hallucinates and sees a goldfish swimming in his drink. Are we perhaps hallucinating as well? As a piece of homoerotic art, the scene is comparable to Michelangelo’s David or one of Caravaggio’s more risqué saints. For the first time in a mainstream film, a man is the object of desire and erotic display.

Rex Ingram great director

Rudolph Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1920).

The critic Paul Roen writes amusingly of Valentino’s libidinal appeal: “Whenever engaged in something that, in those days, was generally considered erotic – say, for instance, kissing a lady’s forearm – he exceeds the bounds of mere concupiscence and seems to be having an orgasm.” 9 In Paris after his grandfather’s death, Julio is a playboy and part-time gigolo at the Tango Palace. He dances with a virtuous married lady (Alice Terry) as a crowd of jaded socialites looks on. (We even spot a lesbian couple at one table.) The dance over, Terry takes a single rose and raises it to her half-open lips – a subtle but unmistakeable hint at fellatio. Valentino takes the rose and kisses it as well. Clearly, this boy is quite capable of fellating himself.

Still, his existence in Paris is one of decay – of exile from an Edenic patriarchal world. As war approaches, we learn that Julio’s father was a draft-dodger who fled to Argentina to escape the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Julio must erase this dishonour and prove himself a real man. Barbaric German hordes seize the family castle on the Marne; they stage a transvestite orgy, with a monocled soldier high-kicking in frilly lace knickers. Could this have inspired Visconti for the Night of the Long Knives in The Damned? As Julio enlists and marches off to a hero’s death, he and his father bid farewell in a full on lip-lock. Ingram in Four Horsemen is redefining ‘manhood’ in ways that can still raise eyebrows today.

Ingram followed this worldwide sensation with a small personal project. The Conquering Power (1921) is Balzac’s Eugénie Grandet updated to the present day, a tale of a girl (Terry) and her miserly father, with Valentino as the handsome wastrel she loves. “To say that liberties were taken with Balzac’s story would be an understatement,” writes Jeanine Basinger, “since the movie ends with Eugénie in the arms of the man who, in the novel, squanders her savings on riotous living.” 10 Valentino – like any Ingram hero – endures the death of his father (a bankrupt financier) and exile from the Parisian world he knows. In the most interesting scene, Terry finds him fast asleep in a chair, lit by one candle like a marble statue of a saint. Tears run down his motionless and exquisite face. Her role is to adore him, as she might a sacred relic.

More famous is a supernatural scene where Grandet (the father) pays for his life of greed. An infant’s cradle, laden with gold coins, starts to rock gently in a corner. Grandet, haunted by ghosts, rocks back and forth in time with it. Two emaciated arms with webbed, claw-like hands reach up out of the coins. As the walls of the room close in, the whole monster appears. A demon with glistening golden skin, gold coins dripping out of his mouth. A strong-box, crammed full of coins, falls and crushes the miser dead. Ingram was an admirer of German Expressionism – notably Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Robert Wiene, 1920) – but this scene goes beyond mere hommage. With its stifling cobwebs and crawling spiders, Grandet’s house is a claustrophobic Gothic space that predates the castle in Dracula (Tod Browning, 1931). Those disembodied arms find their way into the surreal dream landscapes of Jean Cocteau (La Belle et la Bête/Beauty and the Beast, 1946) and Roman Polanski (Repulsion, 1965).

Virtually every Ingram film includes this irruption of supernatural forces, breaking through the surface of a largely realistic narrative. In Four Horsemen, it was the nightmare vision of the title (taken from the Book of Revelations) as seen by an exiled Russian mystic. Ingram’s characters are ruled invariably by powerful conscious passions. Yet their subconscious drives – those they cannot recognise or articulate – are more powerful still. These exist for an audience in the realm of symbols and dreams.

(iii)

Rex Ingram’s films were, for a while, big money-makers… His name on a film was a guarantee that it was elaborate, romantic, and usually a vehicle for a sensuous star.
William K. Everson 11

For his next epic, Ingram adapted The Prisoner of Zenda (1922) from the novel by Anthony Hope. Interestingly, his version strays further from the Boys Own heroics of the original than do later remakes. This is less a swashbuckler than a psychological quest, where a hero seeks his identity through a maze of alter egos. The brooding Castle of Zenda, which dominates the action, smacks less of Gothic horror than of Franz Kafka. Artistically and emotionally, Zenda is a deeply disturbed film.

The hero (Lewis Stone) leaves the safety of Victorian England for a mythic Balkan kingdom, Ruritania, a land in crisis, where the old king has just died and the people are split between two contenders to the throne. The rightful heir (also played by Stone) is the hero’s exact physical double – a self-destructive alcoholic, unready to rule and unworthy to marry his beauteous princess (Alice Terry). His rival and half-brother is a deranged military fetishist who surrounds himself with homoerotic Black Guards, like some eerie flash-forward to a Leni Riefenstahl film. The villain’s close ally is the dashing but depraved Rupert of Hentzau, played by Ingram’s own personal discovery Ramon Novarro.

Rex Ingram great director

Ramon Novarro in The Prisoner of Zenda (1922)

More floridly handsome than Valentino, Novarro has an ambiguous, almost epicene sexuality the Great Lover never quite dared to display. In his first close-up, he draws a monocle out of his pocket and flips it daintily into one eye. “Such touches were typical of Ingram,” wrote Michael Powell. “He knew how to flatter the audience by assuming that they were as cultivated and appreciative as he was.” 12 Later, Rupert makes a none-too-convincing pass at the villain’s neglected mistress. Sidling over to her dressing table, he sniffs idly at a bottle of scent. Liking it, he draws out a handkerchief and sprays the scent onto it, raises it to his nostrils and takes a deep breath. Perfume, in later films, was used to signify the mock queerness of Tyrone Power in The Mark of Zorro (Rouben Mamoulian, 1940) or the real queerness of Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941). Its use by Ingram and Novarro hovers intriguingly between the two.

Rupert meets his end in a tumultuous waterfall that runs below the castle. The equivalent in Zenda of the supernatural tableaux in other Ingram films, the water become a maelstrom that engulfs anyone rash enough to go near it. His disciple Powell would use this motif as the great whirlpool of Corryvreckan in I Know Where I’m Going! (1945). Ultimately, it is these dark and subterranean forces that rule the kingdom of Zenda. The crowning of the rightful king is no more than a distraction.

Next came the most intriguing of Ingram’s lost films. Trifling Women (1922), a Gothic melodrama, starred Novarro and Barbara La Marr. Powell remembered it vividly as “all moonlight on tiger skins and blood dripping onto white faces, while sinister apes, poison, and lust kept the plot rolling.” 13 Ingram claimed it was his favourite and followed it with another film lost today. Where the Pavement Ends (1923) was a South Seas romance whose tragic lovers (Novarro and Terry) plunge over a waterfall at the end.

Ingram’s next film – and one that still exists – was the French Revolution epic Scaramouche (1923) from the novel by Rafael Sabatini. A nobleman (Ramon Novarro) masquerades as an actor and joins the Revolution to avenge the killing of his close friend by an aristocratic villain (Lewis Stone). No surprise, for those with an eye for Ingram’s themes, that the villain is his long-lost father! The visual evocation of the eighteenth century in Scaramouche has never been surpassed. It has been equalled only twice, by Mitchell Leisen in Kitty (1945) and Stanley Kubrick in Barry Lyndon (1975). As Kevin Brownlow writes:

The period has been so beautifully evoked that it seems inconceivable that the picture belongs to this century. It looks as though the combined efforts of several 18th century painters, sculptors, scenic designers, costumiers and architects have reached a climax of rococo glory. 14

If Scaramouche looks cooler and more restrained than other Ingram films, it also obsessively explores his abiding themes. The hero’s attachment to his murdered friend is far more vital than his wooing of his rather pallid lady-love (Alice Terry). At last, he is forced to recognise the man he hates – and longs to skewer on his sword – is actually his own father. This latent perversity bursts through at odd moments, such as a soirée where a rouged and bloated priest lasciviously caresses a black page. The revolutionary mob, slaughtering and raping with a gusto that is tough viewing today, are as terrifying as any supernatural vision. The father sacrifices himself to the mob – which engulfs and swallows him whole – and allows his son to escape.

Rex Ingram great director

The bloated priest and the black page boy in Scaramouche (1923)

Ingram’s last film before his move to Europe, The Arab (1924), is often described as a vehicle for Novarro to rival Valentino’s The Sheik (George Melford, 1921). The films, in fact, could not be more dissimilar. The Sheik, for all its campy erotic allure, is no more convincing than Sigmund Romberg’s operetta The Desert Song. But The Arab, at Ingram’s insistence, was shot on real locations in Tunisia. Its cities are a portent of Julien Duvivier’s Casbah in Pépé le Moko (1937) or Pier Paolo Pasolini’s cinéma vérité dreamscapes in I fiori delle mille e una notte (The Arabian Nights, 1974). Novarro’s fragile and conflicted hero, exiled from his tribe and disowned by his father, ekes out a living as a guide (and what else?) for Western tourists. Saving a group of Christian children from massacre, he can finally call himself a man.

(iv)

Rex was all-powerful and acknowledged no master.
Michael Powell 15

Rex Ingram’s break with Hollywood was part artistic ambition, part wounded pride. Initially slated to direct MGM’s biggest epic, Ben-Hur (1925), Ingram fell out of favour with a new corporate structure – in particular, with Louis B. Mayer, whom Ingram loathed. “His reaction, when he lost it, was a hundred per cent Irish – and you know what I mean,” recalled Ramon Novarro. 16 It did not help that Novarro, his protégé and discovery, went on to play the lead after Ingram was replaced. Ingram shot his next picture – Mare Nostrum (1926) – on locations in France, Italy and Spain, and based the filming at Victorine Studios in Nice. Yet this, like his next two films, was still an MGM production. His exile was acrimonious but never final.

Like Four Horsemen, Mare Nostrum was based on a Blasco Ibañez novel dealing with the horrors of World War One. A Catalan sea captain (Antonio Moreno) falls prey to a seductive German spy (Terry) and both of them wind up dead. The film opens with a supernatural vision, a symbol of the subconscious force that annihilates human will. Beneath the Mediterranean (mare nostrum – ‘our sea’) lie sunken ships, drowned skeletons and a huge octopus floating like a black ghost. The hero, as a small boy, hears his grandfather, the Triton, share a vision of Amphitrite, the Sea Goddess. Yet Ingram shows the goddess only in long-shot, capering on the waves in a chariot drawn by seahorses. Dominant in the foreground is Triton as a young man, his body naked and gleaming, his muscular nude buttocks discreetly shadowed.

The sea, from the start, is an implicitly homoerotic realm – one most women hate and fear (notably the hero’s wife) and some men are fatally but irresistibly drawn to. The spy, who looks just like the Sea Goddess, is a token woman in an otherwise male world. Her two sidekicks are a butch lesbian scientist and a camp, willowy male secretary. Mare Nostrum is without doubt the queerest of Ingram’s films. A love scene has Moreno and Terry in an aquarium, where a black octopus floats just behind her head. Orson Welles copied this scene for himself and Rita Hayworth in The Lady from Shanghai (1948), another straight love story whose aura is weirdly homoerotic.

As Moreno’s manhood starts to give way – and he causes, indirectly, the death of his son – it is Terry who emerges as the film’s hero. None of her acting in other Ingram films gives a hint of her erotic power as Freya Talberg. (Mare Nostrum was remade in 1948 for the Mexican diva María Félix, but even her operatic vamping is no match for Terry’s cool and androgynous sensuality.) Freya’s final execution by firing squad was restaged by Josef von Sternberg in Dishonored (1931). Marching to her doom in black sable, a black-feathered cloche hat and her customary skin-tight black silk, Terry says, in a line worthy of Marlene: “I die in my uniform, like a soldier.” Arriving on the field of execution, she is less a victim than a queen inspecting her regiment.

Yet Mare Nostrum failed commercially and Ingram’s next film (also at Victorine) was an incursion into the realm of Gothic horror. Based on a book by Somerset Maugham, The Magician (1926) starred German actor Paul Wegener – the director/star of Der Golem (1920) – as a Satanist nominally based on Aleister Crowley. Maugham’s actual model, in fact, was Oscar Wilde, and Ingram was clearly aware of this. The villain’s overflowing bulk, his swagger and pomposity and insufferably loud checked suit suggest photographs of Wilde sprung to life. The plot deals with his efforts to lure an unsuspecting virgin (Alice Terry) away from her dull fiancé (Ivan Petrovich) and use her as a human sacrifice.

As always with Ingram, it is the collapse of a (here symbolic) father figure that brings the crisis. Terry’s heroine (like Ingram) is a sculptor. She fashions, as the film opens, a statue of a huge horned deity. Is it a faun or Satan himself? The statue seems, momentarily, to come to life. Its head turns slowly, as if to gaze down on Terry. Then a huge crack opens up. The head breaks off and falls, trapping Terry under its weight. Once she recovers, the broken head remains to brood over the action. Wegener uses it to induce the supernatural vision – a Bacchanalian orgy in Hell, where Terry is ravished by a muscular near-naked faun.

Rex Ingram great director

Alice Terry ravished by the faun (Herbert Stowitts) in The Magician (1926).

As revellers clad only in flowers cavort in a décor from Hieronymus Bosch, the faun takes a break from copulating and eyes Terry with lust. His naked limbs glowing, his anatomy clearly visible through his leather pouch, he bounds across the set and displays himself for her desire. He sweeps her up and bites her vampirically on the neck. This may be the most blatantly homoerotic image in silent cinema. (The faun, incidentally, is Herbert Stowitts – famed as Anna Pavlova’s dancing partner.) For a comparable scene, you must go 50 years forward to Liliana Cavani’s demonic man-on-man ballet in Al di là del bene e del male (Beyond Good and Evil, 1977). It may explain the raised eyebrows that greeted the film. Yet The Magician’s phallic tower inspired James Whale to create the crazed doctor’s laboratory in Frankenstein (1931) and, especially, Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

With two flops in a row, Ingram made only one more film for MGM. A doom-laden romance shot in the North African desert, The Garden of Allah (1927) was based on a novel by Oscar Wilde’s friend Robert Hichens. While it survives in studio archives, it is unavailable for viewing today – due, perhaps, to a conflict of rights with a lush Technicolor remake (Richard Boleslawski, 1936) starring Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer. In Ingram’s version, the runaway Trappist monk (Ivan Petrovich) and his world-weary mistress (Alice Terry) were allowed to bear a child out of wedlock – impossible once the Production Code was in force. Michael Powell, who worked as an assistant, recalled: “Rex’s Casbah was partly the real thing, partly a studio setting… The struggle was still being fought between theatre and film, between – if you care to adopt the conceit – the actors and the dreamers.” 17 But in Ingram’s case, the dreamers were about to lose.

(v)

Our wonderful silent world, shining and as iridescent and insubstantial as a soap bubble, was exploding and vanishing before the heat of the microphone. Overnight, the magic shadow show had faded.
Michael Powell 18

Ingram’s fall from grace was as sudden and meteoric as his rise. His next film, The Three Passions (1929), was a UK production shot at Victorine. It was silent in a year when virtually the entire industry in Europe and the United States had switched over to sound. Long presumed lost, it does actually exist – and is a typical Ingram story of fathers and sons. The heir to a shipping empire (Ivan Petrovich) rebels against his coarse, materialistic father. He leaves Oxford to join a missionary cult, whose leader eyes him with a more-than-spiritual interest. His fiancée (Alice Terry, minus her wig and sporting a chic platinum bob) looks suitably worried until a sailor at the mission tries to rape her, the workers rise up on strike and the father drops down dead. Petrovich has no choice but to take charge and prove himself a man.

As drama, this film is nothing new. Yet the mise en scène points in fresh and fascinating directions. After four films made on location, The Three Passions reaches its apogee in a surreal Art Deco nightclub that could only ever be a set. Couples dance back and forth across a geometrical black-and-white floor. A jazz band – their faces painted, their suits emblazoned with musical notes – plays as a row of disembodied legs kicks in a vast mirror below the stage. The hero’s promiscuous mother, an icon of gaunt androgynous chic, strides in with a moustachioed toy-boy. The camera rises overhead as a young and very pretty Merle Oberon dances by. We might be in one of the hyper-aesthetic Art Deco fantasies made by Ingram’s friend, the French director Marcel L’Herbier – L’Argent (1928) or in particular L’Inhumaine (1924). Ingram, like L’Herbier, might have weathered the coming of sound with much of his visual brio intact. Europe might have welcomed him, even if Hollywood did not.

Rex Ingram great director

Three Passions (1929)

His failure to survive has been put down by some to a difficult character. Another French contact, the director Jean de Limur, recalled cattily:

He had a bad temper. He didn’t like people very much. He was like a recluse. He was a sort of outsider. He wouldn’t mingle with the others. He was not friendly at all with anybody. And he was peculiar. 19

While this may be a minority view, it is clear that Ingram had a knack for making enemies. His time at Victorine ended in a swirl of lawsuits, while his last film and only talkie, Baroud (1932), barely got a commercial release.

Although undeniably a bad film, Baroud is not bad in the ways we often associate with early talkies. It is not static or studio-bound. The camera does not stand still but roams adventurously round locations in the Atlas Mountains. Baroud has a lot more in common with other weird, quasi-ethnographic films made in the early 1930s – such as Que viva Mexico! (Sergei Eisenstein, 1932), Tabu (F. W. Murnau, 1931) and Las Hurdes (Land Without Bread, Luis Buñuel, 1933) – than with anything Ingram made for MGM. The plot concerns a French officer (Ingram himself) in love with a native girl (Rosita Garcia) who turns out to be the sister of his close comrade-in-arms (Pierre Batcheff). This erotically ambiguous triangle is never satisfactorily explored.

Rex Ingram great director

Rosita Garcia and Rex Ingram in Baroud (1932).

There are tempting possibilities in a couple of scenes. In a nightclub redolent of Morocco (Josef von Sternberg, 1930) the two men trade women with an insouciance that hints at an erotic complicity. The blonde singer looks shop-worn and unappealing, but Batcheff – with his turban and kohl-rimmed eyes and sweeping floor-length cape – is a homoerotic dream vision. The camera travels languorously up his body, as one old lady exclaims: “With all those medals, he must be a guide. I would love to engage him!” Later, once Batcheff thinks Ingram has deflowered his sister, the two men lounge together on a bed. Batcheff fingers a long curved knife that protrudes suggestively from his crotch. He draws it out (in close-up) then plunges it back in its sheath. In despair, he flings the dagger onto the bed. Ingram picks it up and caresses it in turn. Rumours about Ingram’s sexuality may have started with scenes like this one.

Dramatically, Baroud is a mess – but lesser careers than Ingram’s have recovered from far worse films. Ingram and Alice returned to Hollywood in 1936. There were constant rumours of a return to filmmaking, most intriguingly a bid to film Ernest Hemingway’s Spanish Civil War novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. But Ingram had not worked for nearly a decade by the early 1940s, the studios had an allergy to risk, and the 1943 epic went to journeyman Sam Wood. Michael Powell, who visited Ingram shortly before his death, wrote that:

Rex’s demands were so imperious and sweeping that he got no offers. Several times it looked as if Louis B. Mayer and he, who had parted over Ben-Hur, would agree on a subject worthy of them both. But it always fell apart. Rex would not beg, and Louis B. would not entreat. 20

Instead, Ingram published two novels, The Legion Advances (1934) and Mars in the House of Death (1939). He travelled and sculpted and collected Middle Eastern art. He died on July 24, 1950. Alice lived on for many years and died finally in 1987. Yet Powell, who recalled them in their heyday, wrote: “They were beautiful, they loved one another, they worked together, they played together, they were a living legend for me.” 21 Legends are born to die and only a few are ever revived or reborn. Yet for anyone who sits down to watch his films, Rex Ingram is a legend who will live again.

Filmography

The Great Problem (1916)*

Broken Fetters (1916)*

The Chalice of Sorrow (1916)*

Black Orchids (1916)*

The Reward of the Faithless (1917)**

The Pulse of Life (1917)*

The Flower of Doom (1917)*

The Little Terror (1917)*

His Robe of Honour (1917)*

Humdrum Brown (1918)*

The Day She Paid (1919)*

Under Crimson Skies (1919)*

Shore Acres (1920)*

Hearts Are Trumps (1920)*

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1920)

The Conquering Power (1921)

Turn to the Right (1921)*

The Prisoner of Zenda (1922)

Trifling Women (1922)*

Where the Pavement Ends (1923)*

Scaramouche (1923)

The Arab (1924)

Mare Nostrum (1926)

The Magician (1926)

The Garden of Allah (1927)

The Three Passions (1929)

Baroud/Love in Morocco (1932)

*Denotes lost film.

**A single reel survives in the Irish Film Archive.

Ingram also did uncredited pre-production work on Ben-Hur (Fred Niblo, 1925) and edited the original theatrical release version of Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1923). 

Select Bibliography

Jeanine Basinger, Silent Stars, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown CT, 2000.

Kevin Brownlow, The Parade’s Gone By, Ballantine Books, New York, 1968.

Bosley Crowther, The Lion’s Share: The Story of an Entertainment Empire, E. P. Dutton & Company, New York, 1957.

William K. Everson, American Silent Film, Oxford University Press, New York, 1978.

Liam O’Leary, Rex Ingram: Master of the Silent Cinema, The Academy Press, Dublin, 1980.

Michael Powell, A Life in Movies: An Autobiography, Mandarin Paperbacks, London, 1992.

Michael Powell, Million-Dollar Movie, Mandarin Paperbacks, London, 1993.

Paul Roen, High Camp: A Gay Guide to Camp and Cult Films, Leyland Publications, San Francisco, 1994.

André Soares, Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro (Hollywood Legends), University Press of Mississippi, 2010.

Web Resources

Rex Ingram – Trinity College, Dublin
www.tcd.ie/film/rexingram

Alt Film Guide – Rex Ingram : Launched Rudolph Valentino, Ramon Novarro
www.altfg.com/film/rex-ingram-remembered/

Silent Hollywood – Director Rex Ingram
www.silenthollywood.com/rexingramdirector.html

Rex Ingram
www.rexingram.ie/early-life.php

 

Endnotes

  1. Kevin Brownlow, The Parade’s Gone By (Ballantine Books: New York, 1968), p. 456.
  2. Liam O’Leary, Rex Ingram: Master of the Silent Cinema (Dublin: the Academy Press, 1980), p. 10.
  3. Michael Powell, Million-Dollar Movie (London: Mandarin Paperbacks, 1993), p. 58.
  4. Bosley Crowther, The Lion’s Share: The Story of an Entertainment Empire, (New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, 1957), p. 87.
  5. O’Leary, p. 37.
  6. Michael Powell, A Life in Movies: An Autobiography (London: Mandarin Paperbacks, 1992), p. 148.
  7. O’Leary, p. 106.
  8. Powell, A Life in Movies, p. 125.
  9. Paul Roen, High Camp: A Gay Guide to Camp and Cult Films (San Francisco: Leyland Publications, 1994), p. 198.
  10. Jeanine Basinger, Silent Stars (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2000), p. 275.
  11. William K. Everson, American Silent Film (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), pp. 194–5.
  12. Powell, Million-Dollar Movie, pp. 34–35.
  13. Powell, A Life in Movies, p. 142.
  14. O’Leary, p. 126.
  15. Powell, A Life in Movies, p. 127.
  16. Brownlow, p. 449.
  17. Powell, A Life in Movies, p. 168.
  18. Ibid, p. 196.
  19. O’Leary, p. 171.
  20. Powell, A Life in Movies, p. 235.
  21. Powell, Million-Dollar Movie, p. 58.

About The Author

David Melville teaches Film Studies and Literature for the University of Edinburgh Centre for Open Learning. He has a special interest in melodrama, fantasy fiction and the aesthetics of dreams.