Thursday, December 11, 2014


On the road to Moscow, Lisa (Eleanor Boardman) stops and has her fortune read by gypsies; she is told she will marry a dark man, but oddly, her fiancé Victor (Conrad Nagel) is light. When handsome Fedya (John Gilbert), a casual acquaintance of Victor's, arrives on the scene, he is struck by Boardman's beauty. She calls him a barbarian, and he replies that trying to change people is foolish, but if anyone could change him, it would be her. The two begin meeting on the sly and eventually get married, but it turns out that Lisa can't change his ways after all; even though they have a son, Fedya gets bored and loses all his money gambling. He goes bankrupt, Victor buys his estate at auction, and Fedya leaves Lisa. In Samarkand, Fedya lives with gypsies and falls in love with the sexy singing girl Masha (Renée Adoré). In order to free Lisa to marry her old flame Victor, Fedya sends a suicide note to her, so he can be declared legally dead, then runs off with Masha. After Lisa marries Victor, Fedya's plot is threatened with exposure by a blackmailer, leaving Fedya thinking: do I let my existence come to light and ruin Lisa and Victor's lives, or do I actually kill myself?

This is one of silent star John Gilbert's first talkies and it was a notorious bomb. It's often claimed that Gilbert's voice was his downfall, being too high and squeaky for his dark, masculine looks, but in this case, the problem is his silly, overly melodramatic dialogue and the schizophrenic style of the movie; the direction and acting are both stuck in a limbo between silent (florid visual style, exaggerated gestures) and early sound (static camerawork, subtle acting). Sadly, for much of the movie, Gilbert is on the verge of being laughable, though by the end, when Fedya is constantly drunk and sick, Gilbert's performance becomes more naturalistic and achieves some power. To be fair, no one else is particularly good in this, either, except perhaps Adoré. It’s not exactly a terrible movie—it's certainly worth seeing for fans of the actors or the era—but it won’t win Gilbert any converts. [TCM]

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