Savannah is without a doubt a beautiful city. With its charming squares and moss laden oaks, Savannah draws sightseeing tourists by the millions each year. Savannah has also attracted a great many films. The earliest films I could find were two silent documentaries, Pushmobile Race in 1912 and Historic Savannah, Georgia in 1913. Following those were a slew of silent films that I could not find a copy of for the life of me. Turns out that there was a vibrant film industry in Florida and Savannah provided a good backdrop for a number of features. But despite the number of films shot in Savannah in 1912-1919, I have never seen one of them. It’s hard for a film to be preserved when it doesn’t feature a known star. Enter Rudolf Valentino. The swarthy sex symbol of the roaring 20's. Turns out Valentino made a movie right here in Savannah, Georgia in 1920, Stolen Moments. And because it is a Valentino flick, I was able to sit back and watch it.
Growing up I had heard of Rudolf Valentino as the Latin Lover. A romantic icon from a bygone era. Pretty impressive seeing as I was born in the 70's. His legacy lived long past his untimely death in 1926 at the age of 31 years of age. And to be honest, I was expecting him to play the heroic lover in Stolen Moments simply because that is all I knew of Valentino. But this movie was made before Valentino’s shift into leading man territory and he plays the villain instead. SPOILER ALERT Early on I didn’t realize this. He was a writer, and it is inferred that he writes naughty things, which I thought was pretty progressive for the 1920's. His love interest writes some scandalous letters to him, also seemingly progressive. She wants to get married and he announces to her that their love is too unconventional for the conventions of marriage.He leaves her. Now, at this point I am wondering if maybe he isn’t a hero and she’s lucky to be rid of him. There is a time jump of I don’t know how many years, and the woman is married with a child and living a happy life. I’m thinking everything is wrapping up nicely and it was a story about sowing wild oats. But no! Enter the sinister Valentino with his weird and terrible blackmail scheme. He threatens to make the lurid letters and poetry public if the woman doesn’t resume their torrid affair. As far as blackmail schemes go, not the most sensical. In any case, murder and intrigue ensue. All in all a pretty fun romp for 1920.
Now, apparently the film was shot in Savannah and St. Augustine, Florida. So many of the shots featuring roads lined with moss laden oak trees could have been filmed in either location. That the area was being substituted for Brazil is of interesting note. In the 1920's Savannah must have seemed like an exotic getaway. The fun thing about Savannah in films is that it almost always is playing another place. Savannah itself is a great actress. in Stolen Moments you could see the antebellum architecture as old Brazilian compounds. The great mystique of Savannah is how it takes you back in time. And even in this movie from the 20's we are reminded that there is history to this city.
I find it fascinating that Savannah has such a long and illustrious film career. I look forward to uncovering old gems and investigating modern films. The face of this city has been caked with makeup for some surprising features. Most notably at the moment is the upcoming film Gemini Man starring Will Smith. I can’t wait to sit down and see Savannah in this blockbuster film.
Author: Christopher Soucy