Saturday, July 28, 2007


This is the most interesting of the lost RKO films recently recovered by TCM. It plays out like a rough cut version of a Jeanette McDonald-Nelson Eddy operetta, more fun and with less singing. In Australia in 1874, the law and the gentry are in an uproar when they hear that the dashing highwayman Stingaree (Richard Dix) is in the country. He's the subject of ballads and legends, and the inspector (George Barraud, a Warner Baxter look-alike) has his men out in force to snare him. Mary Boland is a rich old lady who fancies herself an opera singer, though she's certainly not, and she's planning to hold a recital for visiting British composer Conway Tearle; Irene Dunne is her serving maid, a Cinderella-type orphan girl who actually has a wonderful voice, though Boland, knowing Dunne would show her up, will not allow her to be present for the recital. On a rainy night, with Barraud too drunk to be an effective policeman, Dix snatches Tearle, and, while passing himself off as the composer, meets and is charmed by Dunne and impressed by her voice. He snatches her away, though Tearle escapes, and on the night of Boland's party, Dix, risking capture, brings Dunne there to sing. Dix is shot and arrested, but Tearle is impressed with Dunne and when the furious Boland throws her out of the house, Tearle takes her to Europe to make her an opera star. Dunne goes, with encouragement from Dix, but can't get the romantic bandit out of her head, and years later, she returns in triumph to Australia, hoping to sing for Dix, who is back on the loose. The finale is romantic and exciting, and, as this is a pre-Code film, allows Dix and Dunne to escape both jail and repressive society to take off into the wild unknown together. I've not always been terribly impressed with Dix, but he fits the bill quite nicely here, and at times he sounds exactly like Robert Preston as Harold Hill in THE MUSIC MAN; Dunne and Boland are both perfect in their roles; Henry Stephenson is Boland's husband, Andy Devine is Dix's sidekick, and Una O'Connor is the nervous maid who calls Dix "Stinky-ree." Reginald Owen has a small but crucial role as an important official. The movie can't really be called a musical, though there are a few songs, the most fun one being "If I Were a Fisherman," sung badly by Boland. Quite fun. [TCM]

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