Ramon Novarro

Across to Singapore (1928)

Across to Singapore Joan Crawford Ramon NovarroJoel Shore (Ramon Novarro) is the youngest son in a family full of sailors.  While his older brother Mark (Ernest Torrence) is off on a trip, Joel has been in his hometown with Priscilla (Joan Crawford), who he has been in love with for a long time.  Priscilla is also in love with Joel, but when Mark returns, he falls in love with Priscilla and publicly announces his plans to marry her, which is news to Priscilla.

The day after announcing their betrothal, Mark and his crew head out on a voyage to Singapore.  For the first time, Joel comes along for the trip.  Before they leave, Priscilla declares her love for Joel and refuses to kiss Mark goodbye.  Mark is heartbroken and spends the trip distraught and drinking himself into oblivion.  When they arrive in Singapore, Mark continues to wallow in his drunken stupor and his crew, led by Finch (Jim Mason), decide to overthrow Mark.  They put Joel in irons and head back home, leaving Mark behind.

When the crew arrives at home again, they tell everyone Mark was killed in a fight in Singapore and that Joel was a coward who deserted Mark during the fight.  After being freed, Joel sees Priscilla and tells her the truth about what really happened in Singapore.  He sets out to sail back to Singapore to find Mark and brings Priscilla along for the trip.  Joel succeeds in finding Mark and after being found, finds out the truth about what Finch has done.  There is a huge fight which Mark dies in, but not before asking Joel to take care of Priscilla.

I can file Across to Singapore under “Oh, the things I will sit through for the sake of Joan Crawford.”  As bad as movies like Trog were, at least Trog was bad enough to be fun.  Across to Singapore was just plain boring.  It has absolutely nothing interesting going for it.  I didn’t care much for the story, there were no memorable performances, it was just dull and forgettable.  Across to Singapore is so forgettable that I hope that by writing about it, I will at least remember that I watched it.  I don’t want to mistakenly waste another 85 minutes re-watching it because I forgot that I had seen it already.

The Barbarian (1933)

Jamil (Ramon Novarro) lives in Cairo and makes a living out of being a driver for wealthy female American visitors and then scamming them for whatever he can get from them.  As soon as Diana Standing (Myrna Loy) gets off the train in Cairo, Jamil knows he’s found his next mark.  He immediately tries to become her driver, but Diana’s fiance Gerald (Reginald Denny) puts a stop to him.  Undeterred, Jamil ups his game from “scam artist” to “frighteningly manipulative” by stealing her dog and returning it to her later.  When she offers him a reward, he tells her to repay the favor by letting him be her driver.

This time around, Diana agrees and Jamil’s frightening behavior only continues and gets worse. He constantly sets up situations that would allow him to come off as a hero to Diana and that get her alone with him.  Once he starts trying to romantically woo her, she tries to send him away and heads off on a caravan through the desert to visit Gerald, who has been away on business.

But even in the desert, there is no escape from Jamil and he forces his way into being her guide again. Once again, he tries to woo Diana, who isn’t having it and demands that they go back to Cairo immediately. So what does Jamil do? Send her chaperone on a different route so that it’s just him and Diana alone in the middle of the desert. Then he brings her to Achmed Pasha’s (Edward Arnold) oasis. Pasha is Gerald’s business partner who also has designs on Diana, so Jamil tells him that it was her idea to be there so that he would try to come onto her and he could come to her rescue again.

After Jamil and Diana flee from Pasha’s oasis, Pasha sends some people after them to bring her back, but Jamil not only kills them, but kills Diana’s horse in the process.  Jamil forces Diana to walk along side him while he rides on the horse and when they stop for water, he refuses to let her have a drink before him and the horse. With Diana’s spirit now completely broken, he drags her to his home village where he plans to marry her. She breaks away from the ceremony and returns to Gerald to marry him.  But just as she’s about to marry Gerald, guess who shows up yet again?  Yep, Jamil’s back to make another attempt for Diana.  Only this time Diana, for some reason, decides she’d rather be with Jamil and leaves Gerald standing at the altar.

My two GIF review of The Barbarian:

Oh, good Lord, this movie.  I …just…WHAT WAS THAT?!  Allegedly, this was supposed to be a romance, but it seemed more like a horror film to me.  It was outright disturbing. There is absolutely nothing romantic or charming about Jamil’s pursuit of Diana; it’s nothing but stalking and dangerously manipulative behavior.  I certainly wasn’t rooting for Jamil and Diana to wind up together. The only union I wanted to see between these people was of her fist meeting his face.  I could not get past Jamil’s astounding creepiness to possibly enjoy The Barbarian on any other levels.  I wish I could get those 83 minutes back so I could spend it doing something more productive like watching my cats sleep.

Movies That Could Have Been: The March of Time (1930)

Recently, I had the pleasure of revisiting the That’s Entertainment! trilogy.  As much as I love the first That’s Entertainment!, I love how much rare footage is featured in part three.  One of the movies discussed in part three is an abandoned project from 1930 called The March of Time.  The March of Time was intended to be a follow-up to The Hollywood Revue of 1929 and was set to be shot in two-color Technicolor and feature stars like Bing Crosby, Joan Crawford, Buster Keaton, Jimmy Durante, Ramon Novarro, and Marie Dressler.  Only unlike The Hollywood Revue of 1929, The March of Time seemed to have more of a central concept — the past, present, and future of entertainment.  A number of musical scenes were shot for the film, but then the project was scrapped and never completed.

I’m sure that if The March of Time had been completed, it’d be thought of as a historical curiosity today, but I kind of wish that it had been completed.  As awkward and creaky as they are, I sort of love early musical efforts.  They’re just so earnest that I can’t help but find them endearing.  Especially in cases like this where lots of top stars of the era were put together in one movie just because it’s interesting to see all those stars together.  I’d also be quite interested in seeing what they thought the future of entertainment would be.

Even though The March of Time was abandoned, some of the filmed scenes eventually ended up being included in other things.  You can find some of these scenes on YouTube, but I want to specifically highlight one scene called The Lock Step featuring The Dodge Twins:

What I want to know is if this number was supposed to be representing the present or the future of entertainment.  Because if this was supposed to be the future, then they were surprisingly accurate in predicting Elvis’ Jailhouse Rock number.

Mata Hari (1931)

In the midst of World War I, Chief Dubois (C. Henry Gordon) is hard at work seeing that traitors and spies are put to their deaths.  Lately, he’s been seeing a lot of men put in front of a firing squad for getting involved with Mata Hari (Greta Garbo), a spy who has been seducing important military officials to steal sensitive information from them.  Dubois wants to see to it that she is stopped.  Meanwhile, Russian Imperial Air Force Lieutenant Alexis Rosanoff (Ramon Novarro) has come to Paris to pick up some confidential documents he needs to deliver.  After he arrives, he is invited by General Shubin (Lionel Barrymore) to go see the infamous Mata Hari dance that night.

While Mata Hari dances, she wins over everybody in the room, but especially Alexis.  As soon as her performance is over, he is obsessed with meeting her.  Unbeknownst to him, Shubin has been carrying on an affair with Mata.  He knows that being caught with her would certainly mean his death, but he just can’t resist her charms.  After the show, Alexis waits for her outside the theater and does get to meet Mata.  Mata has had plenty of men in her life, but for the first time, she’s starting to feel something real for Alexis.  But when she finds out Alexis is the one with some documents she needs to steal, she has no other choice but to seduce him, too.  Mata’s feelings for Alexis pose a problem for her at work since her boss Andriani (Lewis Stone) very strongly believes that spies should never fall in love.  In fact, he feels so strongly about it that he even had one of Mata’s fellow spies killed after she fell in love.  Mata is ordered to carry on her relationship with Alexis but not get too attached to him.

Meanwhile, Dubois is still hot on Mata Hari’s trail and knows about Shubin’s relationship with her.  In an attempt to get Shubin to turn Mata in, he tells Shubin that she and Alexis have been having an affair, hoping that he would be so mad that he’d gladly give up all the information they need.  His plan works and Shubin confronts Mata, threatening to have her arrested.  Mata pulls out a gun and shoots him.  Andriani plans to send her to Amsterdam to avoid arrest, but before she leaves, she finds out that Alexis had been injured in a plane crash.  Andriani warns her not to go see him, but Mata isn’t willing to stay away and resigns from the spy ring.  But the only way to leave Andriani’s spy ring is by death.  Mata goes to the hospital to see Alexis and although she avoids Andriani’s hit man, she’s nabbed by the police, instead.  She pleads guilty and is set to be executed, but the last thing she wants is for Alexis to know what she has done.

I adore Greta Garbo, but Mata Hari isn’t one of my favorite movies of hers.  She’s good in it, but she’s been in movies with far better plots and Lionel Barrymore and Ramon Novarro have both given better performances in better movies.  The costumes are definitely interesting to look at.  They’re not the sort of things you look at and say, “Wow, I wish I had that in my closet!” but they’re fascinating because they are so completely over the top.  The way Adrian’s got her dressed, Mata Hari was the least inconspicuous spy of all time.  I’d say the best thing about Mata Hari is the cinematography, I liked what they did with shadows in several scenes.