24 January 2000 | David-240
In Dull Madrid!
Actually only the first few minutes are set in Madrid - the rest is in Santiago!
Watching this early talkie makes me wonder why audiences didn't storm the studios demanding a return to silents. The actors, and the camera, that had once been so free, were now reduced to almost complete immobility. Actors like Novarro, possessed of strong physical abilities, were forced to stand around chatting endlessly in living rooms. Were audiences so captivated by any talking that they didn't notice how poorly written the dialogue was? Only a year earlier they could see Novarro frolicking through coconut groves and swimming the South Seas in "The Pagan" or in a spectacular storm at sea in "Across to Singapore". No such action here - such were the restrictions of early sound recording. No wonder so many people thought talkies were just a fad.
Despite all this Novarro is remarkably good, particularly in the charming and funny scene when he seduces the heroine. His singing is also impressive - we often forget what a great singer this "silent" star was. Everyone else looks lost as they struggle with the dialogue and try to make sense of the shallow and dull plot. And why is it that Novarro is the only character in this Spanish setting with a Spanish accent? Even his father speaks like an Oxford don.
It makes you wonder if MGM was trying to destroy Novarro in the same way they did John Gilbert. It's hard to believe that the excellent Robert Z. Leonard directed this.
One point of interest is the relationship between Novarro's character, Ricardo, and the heroine's brother Ernesto. David Scott, although a very poor actor, certainly plays Ernesto as having a crush on Ricardo. Given the beauty of both men, and what we now know of Novarro's own sexuality, it is possible that there was more sub-text going on here than the writers intended!