John Barrymore once again returns to the INCspotlight as one of the world's most infamous womanizers in Don Juan, a landmark of the soon-to-no-longer-be-silent cinema.
It was actually the invention of radio that spurred renewed attempts to integrate sound into movies. Warner Bros., only a minor studio at the time, was a major pioneer in the pursuit of sound pictures, although initially, it was only intended to be used for musical accompaniment, not spoken dialogue. At Don Juan's premiere, the movie was preceded by a number of screened musical performances designed to show off this technological innovation, as well as a filmed speech by MPPDA head Will Hays (and yes, you actually hear his voice). Some of the highlights of these musical performances include Wagner's overture to Tannhäuser, which should sound familiar to anyone who's seen the Bugs Bunny cartoon What's Opera, Doc? ("Wetuuurn my wooooove..."), and tenor Giovanni Martinelli performing the famed aria "Vesti la Giubba." (You'd recognize it from countless films and TV shows, trust me.)
We start off with a rather twisted origin story that does a lot to explain how Don Juan turned out the way he did. His father, Don José de Maraña (John Barrymore), was a Spanish nobleman and possessively devoted to his wife, Donna Isobel (Jane Winton). When he learned of her infidelity, he naturally didn't take it well. And by not taking it well, I mean he buried the lover alive, kicked Donna Isobel out of his castle, and vowed to never trust women again - all witnessed by a tearful Juan (Yvonne Day). As the years passed Don José devoted himself to all-out debauchery, romancing numerous women at once, and apparently teaching a pre-teen Juan (Philippe De Lacy) to do the same. Unfortunately for Don José, one of his mistresses was jealous over the lack of attention she was getting, and after snogging young Juan (ewww), she stabbed Don José. With his dying words, Don José instructed Juan to take love from women whenever he wanted to, but never love or trust women in return.
However, rather than coming off like a lovable rogue or bewitching romantic, there's something predatory about his womanzing. His pursuit of women is all about self-indulgence (and the influence of his father), rather than a romantic search for the ideal companion. While most of this seems to be consensual, when Adriana promises to reward him for saving her father, he takes as a license to - there's no way to sugar-coat this - attempt to rape her. It's a disturbing scene to watch, and he drives a desperate Adriana to attempt suicide rather than allow Don Juan to have his way with her. This ends up shocking him out of his behavior and leads to his reformation, but does said redemption let him off the hook? Opinions will most likely differ on this. Don Juan's characterization can also be viewed as a cautionary parenting tale - even before Don José's discovered his wife's affair, he frequently referred to her as a prized object, rather than someone he actually loved. (Not to mention the callous way Don José teaches Juan to regard women.)