Camille (1921)

Camille (1921)

Alla Nazimova stars in the title role of this film which was newly scored by Peter Vantine winner of TCM’s Young Composers Competition. I found this to be much less interesting than the classic version with Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor from 1936.

In this classic story Armand (Rudolph Valentino) is captivated by the young woman of chance Camille (Nazimova) who is being escorted by men of wealth. As she descends a staircase he is introduced to her by his boyhood pal Gaston (Rex Cherryman). She is amused by this “boy” makes some crack about him and continues on with her admirers. An older woman Prudence (Zeffie Tilbury) who is used to picking up Camille’s strays brings the two young men to a party at Camille’s house.

There Camille is courted by all the men of wealth to whom she says “not until you put a jewel in my hand” before she will “entertain” their interests. Armand however has been struck by her beauty and fallen in love with her. He follows her around like a puppy dog as she makes fun of him. She also entertains the party with song and poetry. A friend of hers Nichette (Patsy Ruth Miller) from when Camille used to work in a dress shop visits and she meets Gaston. Then she has a coughing fit she is sick (with tuberculosis if I remember the story correctly) and goes to her room where her maid Nanine (Elinor Oliver) tells her she should see a doctor. No one else seems to care and the party continues. Armand cares and enters her room where she tells him about herself the kind of woman she is. He doesn’t care about that he can’t seem to help loving her. She discharges the rest of the people from her apartment in anger and their romance begins.

They go to the country where spring has sprung and with his love Camille’s health improves. Armand reads to her a classic book Manon Lescaut he has given her as a gift. It’s about an officer who gives up everything for his love of a peasant girl. She takes the story to heart. Gaston and Nichette arrive and we learn that Gaston has a job and is trying to earn enough money to be able to marry Nichette. All seems well until the summer arrives and Camille’s past has caught up with her. She is near destitute and about to sell all of her possessions. Armand’s father arrives to tell Camille that he will not tolerate a scandal and that she must give up his son. He convinces her of this by telling her than Nichette and Gaston will be unable to marry unless she does and says she must keep this promise until the end of the year when they do. Also she refuses to be the downfall of Armand as the peasant girl was in the book. So she returns to the Count (Arthur Hoyt) who had “kept her” before she met Armand.

*** SPOILERS ***

Armand’s and Camille’s “ships” (automobiles) pass in the night literally as she returns to her old life in the city and he learns of it alone. Armand then returns to the city and becomes a reckless lad with the latest young woman of chance. He gambles and wins a lot of money from the Count and tries to “buy” Camille humiliating her but cannot. She refuses him (without telling him it’s) because of her promise to Armand’s dad concerning Nichette and Gaston. She is next seen on her deathbed. She is visited by creditors even as she is dying. She will allow them to take everything but the book that was given to her by Armand which she has willed to him. Nichette and Gaston visit her after they are wed. They witness her passing while she’s clutching the book and thinking of Armand happy.

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