16 September 2007 | bensonj
Unexpected, Vital Must-See performance!
This is the Spanish version of Fox's PURSUED, with the Spanish title translated literally as Nothing Like a Woman. A small boat arrives at the squalid dock of a small south seas port. (The port being too small for a seagoing ship, passengers must come ashore by small boat.) A woman with an interesting face, but not particularly young or beautiful (Singerman), comes ashore and takes a rickshaw to a seedy night club. It's morning and the floor is being scrubbed, the chairs atop the tables. The woman approaches the female owner of the club and asks for a job. "Can you sing?" "No." "Can you dance?" "No." "What do you do?" "Recitations." Although background material for the film has indicated that the actress is a "legendary cabaret poetry reciter," foreign language versions of early thirties Hollywood films are generally lackluster, so the viewer is inclined, with the café owner, to give a cynical chuckle. But the owner's sycophantic side-kick suggests that she hear her out, and so the stranger stands before them to start a recitation. Immediately, though she continues the recitation uninterrupted, the scene changes to the club in the evening, with a crowded audience, and the performer on a balcony. The scene change serves economically to tell us that the audition was successful. But the recitation itself is the real convincement. Like the owner, we're forced to swallow our chuckle in the face of an awesome, powerful, exciting performance. The poem is a paean to physical love, startlingly explicit, haunting, vigorously poetic, and with a use of onomatopoeia similar to Vachel Lindsay's "The Congo." One can hardly believe that a recitation could be so thrilling, so dynamic and visceral. Naturally, nothing in the film that follows matches this performance, but still, it hovers over the entire film, even though the story is a somewhat conventional south seas tale, with the stock characters of a powerful, menacing, ugly big wheel in a white suit and hat, and a handsome, innocent, weak (and temporarily blind) young man who falls for the poet. The pictorialization of the tropics and the seedy digs of the poet, the little public square, and the jungles of the plantation is well done and appropriate to the melodrama. The players, especially the villain and the sympathetic doctor, are all quite good, though none besides Singerman go beyond standard professional performances. Singerman performs recitations three more times in the film, one a word-picture essay of the sights and sounds of Buenos Aires, complete with the calls of street vendors. They're all good but don't match the power of the opening performance. As a whole, the film more than holds its own when compared to other tropical-isle films of the time. Jory probably made a good villain in Fox's English-language version, but for Singerman's performance alone, I'm sure this is a more memorable production!