Valentino | 1977
Ken Russell’s typically energetic and imaginative, if overlong, biopic of the silent star (played by dancer Rudolph Nureyev) certainly has its moments, and the mix of luscious deco sets and imaginatively chosen locations makes it look a million dollars.
Set, of course, in the USA, the movie was shot in the UK and Spain.
The filming of silent classics The Sheik and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse takes place at The Dunes, a stretch of desert twenty miles inland from Almeria on the south coast of Spain. Many of the Spaghetti Westerns were made at Almeria, and it’s on one of these Western street sets that Valentino has a showdown with studio head Jesse Lasky, while a parallel showdown is played out in the background.
The set for Lasky’s office was – amazingly – built inside the gorilla house of Barcelona Zoo, Parc de la Ciutadella, in order to incorporate Copito de Nieve, Snowflake, the zoo’s unique albino gorilla (who sadly died in 2003).
The beach, where Natasha Rambova (Michelle Phillips) and the unemployed Valentino agree to an advertising deal, is at S’Agaro, on the Costa Brava.
The deal involves plugging ‘Mineralava’ beauty products at a tango demonstration, filmed in the gilt splendour of Blackpool Tower Ballroom, Blackpool, the northern working class seaside resort on the Lancashire coast, seen in its blowsy heyday in Tony Richardson’s 1961 A Taste of Honey and more recently in Bhaji on the Beach.
The tower itself opened in 1894, five years after the Eiffel Tower in Paris (though, at 518-feet, little more than half the height), and previously featured in the 1947 Dick Barton Strikes Back.
It’s in the Blackpool Tower Circus (also designed by Matcham) that Valentino fights a boxing match with Rory O’Neil, editor of the New York Evening News (Peter Vaughan, who played Anthony Hopkins’ elderly dad in Remains of the Day). Incidentally, before he found fame in Hollywood, professional grouch WC Fields performed here as a juggler.
The ‘American’ bar, where the silent heart-throb drinks macho O’Neil under the table after proving his masculinity in the boxing ring, is the Grand Royale Hotel, 1 Inverness Terrace at Fosbury Mews, Bayswater, London W2. Look out for Cheers’ John Ratzenberger in an early role as the newshound in the heaving crowd. In its days as the Inverness, the Grand Royale became the 'Dunchester Club' in the big screen version of TV cop show Sweeney!, and was later the hotel of cleaned-up American rockstar Rock Head in Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy.
Valentino’s mansion is the turn-of-the-century East Cliff Hall, now the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, East Cliff, overlooking Poole Bay in Bournemouth, Dorset.