10 November 2010 | st-shot
Romance and racism in the South Seas
Slacker Henry Shoesmith (Ramon Novarro), the product of a white father and native mother has inherited a business he couldn't care less about. He'd rather pass his days taking in the beauty he was surrounded by on his South Sea island. When devious capitalist Roger Slater (Donald Crisp) shows up with his beautiful charge in tow to exploit the island Shoesmith's world is thrown into turmoil. With all his attention on Tito he ignores his business and Slater uses the opportunity to ruin him. Forever the romantic, Henry's is more concerned with the pursuit of Tito allowing him to become vulnerable to the iniquitous Slater whose designs of Christian salvation for Tito have given way to carnal cravings.
This silent made after the advent of sound film clumsily adds some out of sync singing (the immortal Pagan Love Song) to remain au courant but it is a catchy tune and not much of a distraction from the beautiful Tahitian landscape in which the naive lovers reside.
Novarro's disposition of child like innocence and laid back style fronted by his killer looks and smile charm you into his corner from beginning to end. A handsome Harpo, he is more sweet than seductive, displaying a talent for slapstick that makes him impossible to dislike. Dislike is all one can feel for the greedy, vengeful and hypocritical Slater. Crisp picks up where he left off as a racist lout in Broken Blossoms turning on a dime to gain and maim when needed. Bedecked in a white suit, earring and snarling most of the time Crisp's effective silent heavies totally belies the wise patient grandfatherly parts that would mark his sound period. Loudly attired Renee Adoree as a prostitute with principles has some fine scenes and serves as an ironic counterpoint to the hypocritical but respectable Slater.
With the vile Slater as a punching bag The Pagan reveals some ugly truths about western society but Novarro's irrepressible boyish charm keeps it upbeat most of the way. I would also add the warning that for a 48 hour period and perhaps longer you will not be able to get The Pagan Love Song melody out of your mind.