The Conquering Power, 1921

Director: Rex Ingram
“A cradle of greed – each glittering louis alive – smiling back at his maddened senses, while behind the walls – beneath the floors – voices croon the soothing lullaby – GOLD – GOLD – GOLD...”
Latin lothario Rudolph Valentino as Parisian Charles Grandet falls in love with his country cousin Eugenie. Can their forbidden romance survive the wrath of Eugenie's miserly father? Say, aren't we supposed to be talking about horror films here? Stay tuned, all will be revealed... 

When banker Victor Grandet's fortune is wiped out, he sends his son Charles to the town of Noyant to live with Victor's estranged brother, the wealthy but miserly Pére Grandet. Charles is as shocked by the Grandet's meagre living conditions as he is enamoured of Eugenie, Grandet's daughter. Eugenie soon falls in love with Charles. When news reaches them that Charles' father has committed suicide, Père Grandet hatches a plot to profit from the death. Charles, believing himself to be penniless, is tricked into signing away his inheritance and is shipped off to a colonial post in Martinique, leaving Grandet free to marry his daughter off to the local notary's son.

Alice Terry and Rudolph Valentino contemplate
whether cousins should marry
The marriage never takes place. When Grandet tells Eugenie he wishes to invest her precious hoard of gold coins, she reveals that she has given them to Charles in the hope that he would use them to build a new life for himself, and perhaps one day return. Grandet flies into a rage: his frail wife is killed in a struggle, and Eugenie is imprisoned inside her room. Grandet's greed becomes a mania. An accident locks him away with his gold, where fear and remorse overcome him and he begins to lose control of his sanity...

Though it's more of a romance than a horror film, The Conquering Power contains enough horrific elements to make it worthy of inclusion in Carlos Clarens' study of the genre and Roy Kinnard's survey of silent horror, to name but two. Director Rex Ingram, a handsome Irishman whose real name was Hitchcock, began his career with Universal Studios and made his reputation at Metro with stylish dramas set in exotic locales, like breakthrough Valentino pic The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in 1920. His Aleister Crowley-inspired The Magician (1926) would be his only real exercise in fantasy, but many of his films had a strong flavour of the grotesque, including the current one, hence its appearance here.

Ralph Lewis succumbs to madness
Significantly, Ingram's favourite of his own films was 1922's Trifling Women, a remake of Black Orchids (1917, also by Ingram). Based, like Conquering Power, on a story by Balzac, it told of a vampish fortune teller named Zareda who winds up insane, trapped in a dungeon with the dead body of one of her many lovers. It launched the careers of Ramon Novarro and Barbara Lamarr, and received critical praise and accusations of tastelessness in equal measure.

The Conquering Power, we'd imagine (we have to, as Trifling Women is a lost film) is less salacious. The first hour is conventional enough, as 27-year old man-child Charles Grandet (Valentino) takes up with cousin Eugenie (Alice Terry, “ in beauty, with hair to match the precious metal”, who luckily turns out to not be a blood relation after all) under her father's beady eye. And if Ingram's camera seems kindest to Terry, it's because he and Valentino never got on. Ingram felt that Rudy undeservedly stole the limelight in Four Horsemen, whereas he was fond enough of Terry to make her into Mrs Ingram a few months after Conquering Power was released.

Ralph Lewis as  Père Grandet (an alumnus of D.W. Griffith, who featured in The Avenging Conscience) gets harsher treatment than them both. Ingram's flamboyant visual compositions (William K Everson calls him a “great pictorialist” of the Maurice Tourneur school) frame the romantic leads in a flattering light; most shots featuring Lewis possess a kind of hazy gloom, as though old man Grandet was leeching all the light out of his surroundings. Contrasted with the lavish decadence of Charles' Parisian birthday party, scenes of  Père Grandet's miserable domicile, punctuated by murky close-ups of his leering features, have all the warmth of a tomb.

Père Grandet (Ralph Lewis) again, about to
meet a miser's doom
The morbidity of its mood still doesn't take the film beyond the conventions of melodrama. Only when madness overtakes Grandet in the last couple of reels do things get more interesting. In the all-too-brief interval between Grandet's clash with his daughter and the inevitable happy ending, Ingram lets go of the reins for a Grand Guignol sequence on a par with anything Tod Browning would later set loose upon Lon Chaney's audiences. Grandet's past literally comes back to haunt him, and we get a glimpse of his gold taking on a demonic, almost-human form before he meets a sticky end...

Watching these sequences in The Conquering Power provokes any number of what-if? games. We might get an inkling what Trifling Women might have been like. We wonder what might have happened had Ingram not got bored of the film industry soon after the talkies arrived (he retired to concentrate on sculpting and writing, converting to the Islam faith in 1933) and been lured back to the Universal lot to direct Karloff or Lugosi. Or we might wonder how Charles and Eugenie's children would have turned out if the two of them really had been cousins...

End Credits:
Rudolph Valentino (Charles Grandet), Alice Terry (Eugenie Grandet), Ralph Lewis (Père Grandet), Carrie Daumery (Mme Grandet), Eric Mayne (Victor Grandet), Bridgetta Clarke (Mme des Grassins), Mark Fenton (M. des Grassins), Ward Wing (Adolphe des Grassins), Edward Connelly (Cruchot, the notary), George Atkinson (Cruchot's son), Willard Lee Hall (the Abbé), Mary Hearn (Nanon), Eugéne Pouyet (Cornoiller), Andrée Tourneur (Annette), Louise Emmons (Washerwoman, uncredited) John George (Villager, uncredited), Rolfe Sedan (Annette's Suitor, uncredited).
Scenario: June Mathis, from the novel Eugénie Grandet by Honore Balzac, Producer: Rex Ingram, Cinematography: John F. Seitz, Technical directors: Ralph Barton and Amos Myers.
Metro Pictures, USA
Running time 89 mins.

The Conquering Power (Grapevine Video)


  1. The movie was excellent

    1. Thanks for that, Larry. And yes it was! Underappreciated, I think.