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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a 1921 silent movie produced by Metro Pictures Corporation, directed by Rex Ingram and starring Rudolph Valentino, Pomeroy Cannon, Josef Swickard, Wallace Beery, and Alice Terry. The screenplay was written by June Mathis, basing it off the novel The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez.
Madariaga "The Centaur" (Pomeroy Cannon), a harsh but popular Argentine landowner, has a German son-in-law whom he dislikes and a French one whose family he openly favors. He is particularly fond of his grandson Julio (Rudolph Valentino), with whom he often carouses at seedy dives in the Boca district of Buenos Aires. In one of these bars, the movie's famous tango sequence occurs. A man and a woman are dancing the tango. Julio strides up and asks to cut in. The woman stares at Julio alluringly. The man brushes him off, and they resume dancing. Julio then challenges the man and strikes him, knocking him into some tables and out of the scene. Julio and the woman then dance a dramatic version of the tango that brings cheers from the people in the establishment. Following the dance, the woman sits on Julio's lap. Madariaga then slides to the floor, drunk. The woman laughs at Madariaga. Julio casts her aside in scorn and helps his grandfather home.
In Paris, Julio enjoys a somewhat shiftless life as a would-be artist and sensation at the local tea dances. He falls in love with Marguerite Laurier (Alice Terry), the unhappy and much younger wife of a friend of Julio's father, Etienne Laurier. The affair is discovered, and Marguerite's husband agrees to give her a divorce. It seems as though Julio and Marguerite will be able to marry, but both end up getting caught up in the Great War.
Marguerite becomes a nurse in Lourdes. The bravery of Ettienne is reported, and he is blinded in battle. Ettiene happens to end up at the hospital where she is working, and Marguerite attends to him there. Julio travels to Lourdes to see Marguerite and instead sees her taking care of Ettienne. Julio, ashamed of his wastrel life, enlists in the French Army.
The German Army overruns Julio's father Marcelo's Marne Valley castle in the First Battle of the Marne. Marcelo is forced to host a German general and staff in the castle. Marcelo's German nephew is amongst the staff and tries to protect him, but Marcelo is arrested after a melee involving an officer's assault of a woman. Marcello is to be executed in the morning, but his life is spared when the French Army counterattacks in the "Miracle of the Marne".
Julio becomes renowned for his bravery in the trenches on the front. During a mission in no man's land, he recognizes his German cousin. Moments later they are both killed by a shell. Back in Paris, Marguerite considers abandoning the blinded Ettienne, but Julio's ghost guides her to continue her care for him. Both families mourn for their fallen sons as the film ends.
With its extended scenes of the devastated French countryside and personalized story of loss, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is often considered to be one the first anti-war films made. It won wide acclaim and was one of the top grossing silent films of all time. Julio proved a break through role for Valentino who would go on to become one of the biggest stars of silent films. The film was remade in 1962 (the setting was changed to World War II) with Vincente Minnelli as the director.
In 1995, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".