GILBERT ROLAND had a career of enviable longevity, spanning six decades, writes David Shipman. After Roland's first grand moment as Armand to the Marguerite Gautier of Norma Talmadge in Camille (1927), Joseph Schenck had liked them as a team and cast them together for the fourth time in her first Talkie, New York Nights (1930). The result was a success for neither of them and Talmadge quit movies when her Brooklyn twang proved even less suitable for Du Barry - Woman of Passion.
It was touch and go with Roland. His voice was fine for Talkies, if a bit light, as Hal Roach proved when he starred him in Men of the North (1930). But Roland was one of a whole generation of actors rendered old fashioned almost overnight by the advent of a new breed of male star - led by James Cagney and Clark Gable.
He negotiated the supporting role of Buster Keaton's rival in The Passionate Plumber (1932). It had Keaton as an American plumber, decent, quiet and quick-witted, with Roland as everything he wasn't: dandified, hypocritical, hot-tempered and bone-headed. A year later he played the dreamy gigolo tagging along in Our Betters (1933), directed by George Cukor (the star was Constance Bennett, Roland's first wife).
The two roles had typed him - and he certainly wasn't helped by Call Her Savage (1932), in which Clara Bow asks him why she can't be like other girls. He was paired with Dorothy Lamour in The Last Train from Madrid, which took him away from typecasting, as did his role as the loyal supporter who betrays the Emperor Maximilian in Juarez (1939).
Also at Warner Bros he played a Spanish sea captain in The Sea Hawk (1940), arguably his last film of quality till John Huston cast him as a carefree guitar-playing revolutionary in We were Strangers (1949). Also in the cast was Ramon Novarro, another Valentino imitator, and they were joined by yet another, Antonio Moreno, in Richard Brooks's Crisis (1950), which starred Cary Grant as an American doctor 'detained' in a Latin American dictatorship. These were among a batch of films that gave Roland's career a new lease of life.
One of Roland's more memorable post-war films is The Bad and The Beautiful (1952), in which he played a big star known affectionately as 'Gaucho'.
In the second of three telemovies he made, he appeared in yet another version of The Mark of Zorro (1974); and he was Don Braulio Zavala in Barbarosa (1982), an excellent Western directed by Fred Schepisi.
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