Göran R Buckhorn writes:
The first film on rowing is the black & white, silent documentary The Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race, filmed on 30 March 1895 and directed and produced by Birt Acres.
The 1927 College, with comedian Buster Keaton, has been regarded for a long time as the first ‘fictional’ movie with rowing in the plot, at least of those films that have survived and are still available for us to watch today (you will find the full movie here). Read what HTBS has written about College on 21 October 2010 and 1 February 2014.
The wonderful British website “The World of Rabbit”, which has not been updated since April 2008 (when it comes to movies), has an early Hollywood movie mentioned on their list of rowing films and movies, The Young Rajah, though without a release date, while on Row2K list of rowing films and movies from February 2005, it is Keaton’s College that starts the list. This is not in any way strange as the 1922 The Young Rajah, staring Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla, better known as Rudolph Valentino (1895 – 1926), in the leading role as Harvard student Amos Judd, was regarded as lost during most of the twentieth century until Tuner Classic Movies aired the movie in May 2006.
Wikipedia writes about the movie:
The movie was assembled from poor-quality film clips and still photos, with additional title screens being added to bridge the gaps in the storyline. In addition, some intertitles were taken from a Spanish-language edition, and these were translated and replaced with new title screens.
Regarding the plot, as far as it goes with the rowing scenes, Wikipedia remarks:
After fifteen years, Joshua Judd tells his adopted son, Amos, that his real father was an Indian maharajah overthrown by Ali Khan. Amos, then a young boy, was rescued by General Devi Das Gadi and taken to America for his safety. (Joshua’s merchant brother had been a trusted friend of the late maharajah.)
Amos attends Harvard University. There he incurs the hatred of Austin Slade, Jr., whom he beats out for a spot on the rowing team. At a party celebrating a rowing victory over arch-rival Yale, a jealous Slade calls Amos ‘yellow’ and pours a drink on him, causing Amos to punch him. Slade grabs a chair as a weapon, but Amos ducks, and Slade falls through an open window to his death. Amos is cleared of all wrongdoing…
(To read the full description of the movie on Wikipedia, click here.)
As a matter of fact, on 23 August 2013 a couple of minutes of the movie – luckily for us, the rowing scenes – were posted on YouTube, showing, as is mentioned above, both rolling film clips and still photos. Amos Judd’s shirtless Harvard crew, with Amos as stroke, beat Yale, and after passing the finish line, Amos can wave to his female fans and give them one of his seductive smiles. The following title card wrap up two of Valentino’s many attributes: ‘Mr. Judd has such wonderful muscles and such magnetic and soulful eyes!’
Watch the film clip below:
You will find the full movie here.
The movie did not receive any favourable reviews. On 23 February 1923 the Motion Picture Magazine wrote:
Rodolph [sic] Valentino also came to the screen again this month. After witnessing “The Young Rajah,” in which he is starred, we begin to understand many things, principally among them why Mr. Valentino desired to select his own casts.
And if it wasn’t that we remembered from our nursery days that “Two wrongs do not make a right,” we would be sorely tempted to applaud Rodolph Valentino for refusing to continue with his contract. At any rate, while we may still disapprove of him ethically, we sympathize with him emotionally. All of which has probably led you to believe that this is a pretty bad picture. It is. It is about as artistic and as satisfying as a cheap serial. As a matter of fact, it is the concentrated essence of those things which have composed serials since time immemorial.
“The Young Rajah” is based on the novel, Amos Judd. It tells of Amos who has been reared in a provincial American town. Then there is the Far East with its rajahs and its maharajahs. Amos really belongs to the East. Furthermore, he belongs to a line of its rulers, and he has inherited the sixth sense bestowed by one of the Indian gods upon the sons of this noble family. It is this sixth sense which serves him well when the usurpers of this kingdom learn of his existence in America and threaten his life.
Even The Valentino is somewhat submerged in the mediocrity of this production. Of the supporting cast Charles Ogle is the one member who stands forth with any degree of effectiveness.
Read also Professor Babli Sinha’s take on The Young Rajah here.
*In the image from the The Young Rajah on top, it seems Valentino has what is known among rowers as a “Rummel”.