The Young Rajah, released 12 November 1922 and based on John Ames Mitchell’s 1895 novel Amos Judd, is a sobering lesson on the importance of film preservation. For decades, it was considered a lost film (one of the few lost films from Rudy’s stardom years). Then a near-complete print was discovered in a chicken coop in Italy in the 1960s.
The silent film community immediately began raising funds to transfer the original, delicate nitrate to safety stock and enlist the film preservation services of Leslie Flint, head of London’s Valentino Memorial Guild. Alas, by the time the money was ready, about two-thirds had deteriorated beyond repair. Only a 26-minute fragment was left.
In the early 21st century, efforts to restore what remained of the film were undertaken again. The Library of Moving Images in Los Angeles won the surviving footage from a London auction, and intense preservation began. To fill in the many tragic gaps, the missing intertitles were recreated and other intertitles were inserted to explain missing events. Every effort was made to copy the look of other 1920s Paramount intertitles.
Film stills and two promotional trailers from 1922 were used in place of absent footage, with abovementioned explanatory intertitles. To figure out what went where, storyboards were laid out. When this laborious process was completed, film scholars at UCLA and the Academy Film Archives in L.A. reviewed it and made suggestions for improvements and additions.
After the final restoration and recreation was finished and given official approval, Jon Mirsalis was tasked with writing a new musical score. Many people who haven’t watched a lot of silents, or any, may not understand just how important the right music is for setting the proper mood, drawing the audience in, evoking certain emotions at the right moments, giving the action smooth flow. A generic piano or organ on a loop does a film no favors, and watching without any music at all is even worse.
The restoration made its network début on TCM in May 2006, along with several other of Rudy’s newly-restored films. In 2007, Flicker Alley released a two-disc set with The Young Rajah (now 52 minutes), A Society Sensation, Moran of the Lady Letty, and Stolen Moments.
When the film was originally released, it was a huge flop with both critics and regular moviegoers, and was one of the many reasons Rudy went on strike from acting for almost two years. Prior to its reconstruction, the most memorable thing about it was the costume design from Rudy’s second wife, Natacha Rambova. Some of Rudy’s costumes leave almost nothing to the imagination!
Joshua Judd (Charles Ogle) is the leading citizen of Daleford, Connecticut. Fifteen years ago, he and his wife Sarah (Fanny Midgley) adopted a son, Amos (Rudy Valentino), with mysterious origins.
One night, a letter is delivered to Joshua from his brother Morton in Calcutta, with papers enclosed to establish Amos’s identity. Joshua is instructed to not reveal anything to Amos. We learn Amos has an uncanny ability to forecast future events, which runs in the family, and a peculiar birthmark on the forehead.
This letter prompts Joshua to explain how Amos was brought from India to their family’s farm when he was a little boy, along with a package of rubies worth several hundred thousand dollars. Those rubies rightfully belong to Amos.
We then flash back to the night Amos came to live with Joshua and Sarah. The two Indian men who accompanied him explained the throne of Amos’s father, Maharajah Sirdir Singh, was seized by usurper Ali Kahn (Bertram Grassby). General Gadi (George Periolat) rescued Amos after the Maharajah was mortally wounded in a palace coup.
Amos insists he’s happy with the Judds and considers them his real family, regardless of his birth.
Back in India, Gen. Gadi consults with mystic Narada (Josef Swickard). He knows Amos is about to leave his home for Harvard, and wants advice on how and when to bring Amos back to his people. Because there’s currently peace in the kingdom, it’s decided that it’s best to leave the boy where he is for the moment.
Four years later, Amos is competing in a Harvard–Yale boat race. Naturally, Harvard wins, and there’s a big party to celebrate.
Three guys who aren’t part of the rowing team are at the party. They refuse to drink a toast to athletic hero Amos, convinced he bought his way into the team instead of fairly qualifying. Amos insists they’re liars, and Austin Slade (Jack Giddings) throws wine in his face. It turns out Slade was beaten by Amos when they tried out for the team.
A big fight with chair-throwing erupts, and when Amos dodges Slade, Slade falls through a window to his death.
We then shift to a summer party with a reincarnation theme on Long Island. Guests wear costumes of the people they believe they were in prior lifetimes. Here we meet Molly Cabot (Wanda Hawley). She’s dating Horace Bennett (Robert Ober), one of the guys who started the huge row. Horace wants an answer to his marriage proposal, but Molly insists on waiting till the end of summer.
When Horace sees Amos, he begins trashing him to Molly. Though Amos has never met Molly before in person, he’s seen her in his dreams, and feels they’re destined to be very good friends.
Molly’s dad, Judge Cabot (Edward Jobson), suggests a summer trip to Daleford, which he’s heard is delightful.
Amos is very happy to go home for the summer, and even more delighted to discover Molly is staying nearby. He’s determined to prove he’s not the evil guy Horace painted him as.
Horace sends Molly a letter, furious to learn she’s so chummy with Amos, and says he’s returning for her answer in August regardless. Meanwhile, Molly goes on a trip to Boston with her aunt. Amos correctly foresees her early, unexpected return, and Judge Cabot asks him to predict what will happen tomorrow.
Things happen exactly as Amos foretold, despite Judge Cabot trying to change his plans. Now Judge Cabot knows Amos has a true gift.
We then see the Indian court, where Ali Khan and his prime minister Ahmad Beg (J. Farrell MacDonald) learn about the existence of Amos and plot to have him and all of his supporters killed. To try to prevent this bloodshed, Narada returns to the world.
Horace sends Molly a telegram, alerting her to his imminent arrival. Though she likes Amos much more than Horace now, she feels she has to marry another white man instead of someone with Indian ancestry. (In the film, Amos has an Italian mother, though he’s 100% Indian in the novel.)
Amos and Horace have a fight which culminates in Horace trying to murder Amos. Molly cradles Amos’s bloody head in her arms and dumps Horace. While Amos is recovering, they set a wedding date.
Amos has a terrifying premonition of being murdered the day before their wedding, and is afraid nothing can be done to prevent it. Judge Cabot suggests Amos hide in a friend’s sanitarium under heavy guard.
This plan goes awry when Ahmad Beg and his thugs kidnap Amos. Will Amos’s horrific vision of the future indeed come to pass, and what will happen to his rightful throne?