Monday, May 01, 2006


A romantic melodrama based on a novel by Arthur Schnitzler, who also wrote the novel on which Stanley Kubrick's EYES WIDE SHUT was based. The film begins with a young Austrian soldier being encouraged by his commander, C. Aubrey Smith, to commit suicide because he cannot meet a "debt of honor." He does indeed kill himself, in a rather startling scene showing his hand hanging limply out of a bathtub with a large puddle of blood forming beneath it. We then see Smith dealing more charitably with his nephew, the handsome and callow soldier Ramon Novarro (see right); Smith agrees to pay off the boy's debts but pressures him to marry the respectable but boring Karen Morley. At his engagement party, Novarro and his buddies sneak off to a fancy club (which seems to be the most sophisticated brothel in existence) and he meets the lovely but quiet Helen Chandler, a music teacher who is at the party only to deliver a manuscript to Jean Hersholt, an overbearing cad who tries to take advantage of Chandler. Novarro saves her from his attentions and the two go out for a romantic night on the town, ending at her place. The next morning, he leaves money for her and she suddenly realizes he has made a whore out of her. In anger, she goes back to the rich Hersholt and lets him have his way with her. When Novarro meets up with her some time later, she is an experienced mistress but is clearly unhappy with her position. At the gaming tables trying to win enough money to pay a debt, Novarro gambles with Hersholt and loses to him, but leaves with Chandler. Again, they spend the night and this time, she leaves *him* some money. Of course, he won't accept it and goes back to his barracks prepared to kill himself as the honorable way out. Will his uncle let him off the hook? And if he does, will Chandler take him back? Much of the story is indeed light in tone, but still the all-around happy ending rings false, especially the ludicrous finale with Novarro, having left the army, kissing the blissful Chandler who has returned to her Marian-the-librarian piano-teacher career. The casual sexual relationships are all treated openly in this pre-Code film, and there's a strange scene involving Novarro's manservant prancing about in Novarro's underwear. Chandler is convincing as the delicate innocent who grows up in a hurry; Novarro is equally good in his early scenes but his change is not played as effectively. Directed rather plainly by Jacques Feyder, known for his later French classic CARNIVAL IN FLANDERS. [TCM]

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