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The Gipsy Cavalier (1922)

In 1922, Carpentier was in England filming The Gipsy Cavalier, directed by J. Stuart Blackton and set in the seventeenth (or eighteenth) century. His character was a half-English aristocrat/half-gypsy named “Valerius.” Valerius has received “the education of a perfect gentleman” and appears “the most exquisite of gentlemen, as well as the most effeminate.” In reality, however, he keeps a secret apartment, where he “lives his real life.” Under the pseudonym “Merodack,” he wears traditional gypsy garb and is a bare-knuckle boxer of some repute in Bath. After the usual series of picaresque plot twists, Carpentier/Valerius/Merodack predictably saves, and wins, the girl in the end.

Playing Valerius/Merodack does not appear to have been a particularly interesting experience for Carpentier. In 1954, he would write of the film: “I can’t remember what The Gipsy Cavalier was all about any more; in fact I don’t think I ever knew.” The duality of the role was, however, an interesting choice for Carpentier, given his own dual persona. Carpentier the actor was, after all, a contrast to Carpentier the athlete. Valerius corresponded to the suave, elegant, refined Carpentier and Merodack to the rugged, aggressive, powerful Carpentier. Like Carpentier, at least as he was perceived, the character was an elegant gentleman who also turned out, to everyone’s surprise, to be a rough-and tumble brawler as well. The parallel between the two-sided Carpentier and the two-sided character he was playing was surely not lost on contemporary film-goers, at least those who read the sports pages. So in an indirect way, even in the unlikely context of a period piece involving seventeenth-century aristocrats and gypsies, Carpentier was playing himself.

The primary significance of The Gipsy Cavalier in Carpentier’s life, far outweighing the modest interest of the film itself, is the fact that it was the distraction of the film shoot that prevented Carpentier from training properly for his fateful bout against Battling Siki.