Vicente Blasco Ibáñez’s 1916 novel Los Cuatro Jinetes del Apocalipsis was a huge bestseller all around the world. In 1918, it was translated into English, and the next year became the bestselling book in the U.S. Despite its huge popularity, however, most film studios found it too sweeping and ambitious to adapt to the silver screen.
All that changed when screenwriter June Mathis became the head of Metro’s scenario department. Because she was so deeply immersed in Spiritualism, mysticism, and the paranormal, and believed in the Book of Revelations, she was determined to write a strong, compelling screenplay for this ambitious book.
Metro liked her script very much, so much so they let her choose both the director and the actor to play main character Julio Desnoyers. For director, she selected Rex Ingram, who also was very mystical-minded and fascinated by the macabre and bizarre. For her actor, she chose Rudolph Valentino, whose brief role as cabaret parasite Clarence Morgan in Clara Kimball Young’s Eyes of Youth (1919) had very much impressed her.
Rudy had been appearing in films since 1914, and in 1918 graduated to playing leading and secondary roles in B-movies like A Society Sensation, All Night, and The Married Virgin. However, the powers that be were quite leery of casting this relative unknown as the star of a major picture. Rudy also had a distinctly Latin look and terracotta skin, which wasn’t exactly common or popular among leading men.
June insisted so strongly that Rudy was the one and only perfect actor for the role, the other studio executives finally relented. After she and Rex Ingram watched the rushes, they were even more impressed, and decided to expand Julio’s role so Rudy’s talents could shine to the fullest extent. One way they did this was including dancing scenes, most memorably that tango near the beginning. There’s no tangoing in the novel.
June lovingly mentored Rudy every step of the way and pushed him to succeed when no one else believed in him. For the rest of his life, apart from a brief period of estrangement which was later happily patched up, she was a very dear friend and served as a surrogate mother.
However, since Rudy was still an unknown quantity, Metro only paid him $350 a week, far less than the other actors. Rudy was also forced to buy his own costumes, which cost thousands of dollars. A costume factory on the studio lot was provided for the actors.
Alice Terry, soon-to-be-wife of Rex Ingram, was cast as Julio’s married lover Marguerite Laurier. (Underneath the trademark curly blonde wig she wore in all her films, she was truly a brunette.) She and Rudy spoke French to one another during their scenes, to add to the authenticity and impress skilled lip-readers. Since Rudy’s mother was French, he was fluent in the language.
June paid novelist Vicente Blasco Ibáñez $20,000 ($277,948 in 2021) and 10% of gross earnings for film rights. It cost $80,000 ($1,111,792 in 2021) to make the film over six months, and 12,500 actors were used. Seventy-two of these actors were listed as principals (back in the days when everyone understood what an ensemble cast is and that not all stories need to revolve around just one protagonist or two protagonists).
So much time, love, money, and effort went into making The Four Horsemen, an elaborate program was created for distribution. Filmgoers could read all about the actors, the story, the filming process, the critical reviews, the people behind the camera, and so much more. The program even helpfully provided an explanation of the word apocalypse.
Feel free to right-click and download any or all of the pages of the program! Unlike certain other people sharing public domain vintage images, I don’t put my own freaking watermark or URL on them and pretend I have rights to them. The community of history-lovers, in all its wide range of fields, is greatly enhanced by the free distribution of valuable newspaper scans, ads, photographs, and the like.