Sunday, August 18, 2013

Devil-May-Care (1929)

Although Ramon Novarro first sang on film in The Pagan (1929), Devil-May-Care, made the same year, is his first all-talking picture. He passes this crucial test with ease (many other Hollywood stars were not so lucky). His accent may be out of place in a Napoleonic-era film (the same was true of his co-stars, especially blues and jazz singer Marion Harris), but his voice and singing are splendid.

Devil-May-Care is very much in the swashbuckler mode and, in fact, is somewhat similar to MGM's earlier Bardelys the Magnificent (1926). Novarro plays a Napoleon loyalist who, while escaping from Royalist forces attempting to execute him, falls for a stubborn Royalist daughter, Dorothy Jordan. Compared to other early sound films, Sidney Franklin's direction is remarkably smooth and accomplished. It doesn't seem as stagebound as most other 1929 films and only suffers from a few of the odd editing choices one sees in MGM films of this period. It even features a completely superfluous Technicolor ballet sequence.

That the film is so technically accomplished is made more remarkable when you take into account this was one of the first Hollywood musicals (the songs by Herbert Stothart and Clifford Grey range from okay to annoying). It's a missed opportunity that Marion Harris didn't sing in the film.

Ramon Novarro is fine in the film, ensuring more years of work at MGM. His mischevious pursuit (some might call it stalking) of Dorothy Jordan can seem a little creepy, though, perhaps depending on what mood you're in when you watch it. John Miljan's also in this film. But, you knew that.

Devil-May-Care has been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

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