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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film's portentous title implies that it's the story of a man who
returned from the dead, or at any rate from some undiscovered bourne.
In fact, it's a character study dealing with the moral regeneration of
a protagonist who starts out unsympathetically, and who is intended to
earn our sympathy.
The attractive and classy Dorothy Mackaill plays a nightclub chantoosey whose stage name is Marcelle, apparently because of her marcelled hairdo. It's explained (in some clumsy inter titles) that she isn't *really* a nightclub singer (you could've fooled me); she's only deigning to warble because her poor aunt Isabel needs the money.
George O'Brien plays Henry Potter, the spoilt playboy son of New York shipping magnate Thomas Potter. There are some awkward flashback scenes, depicting Henry's childhood relationship with his father. Now that Henry's an adult, Thomas offers him $500 and a railway ticket to San Francisco, where a job in the father's district office awaits the son. Playboy Henry takes the money and the ticket, and duly arrives in Frisco, but never shows up for his job. Henry and Marcelle meet, but before they can lock tonsils he falls afoul of a press gang and gets abducted by Captain Gallon, who apparently never heard of the metric system.
Henry has been shanghaied to (go ahead, have a guess) Shanghai. This is fairly plausible; rather less plausible are the Chinese characters played by white actors with sellotaped eyelids. Plausibility breathes its last dying gasp when Henry crosses paths with Marcelle again, now slumming in a Chinese opium den. (Apparently they got fed up with her in Frisco.) SPOILERS COMING. It seems that Marcelle has a substance-abuse problem, which explains why she's in the opium den. But Henry has no cause to criticise, as he has a wee problem with alcohol. Together they manage to kick their habits, but not before Henry slashes Marcelle's pretty face with a riding crop. Having waved bye-bye to the bloated corpse of credibility, they both get clean and sober, and the final fade-out finds them in Honolulu, raising pineapples.
This movie's script is rubbish, but George O'Brien goes a considerable way to transcend the material. In 'Sunrise', O'Brien played a man who attempted to murder his wife, yet who afterwards managed to convince her to trust him again; more astonishingly, he also convinces the audience to accept his sincere penitence for this rash act. In 'The Man Who Came Back', O'Brien's considerable talent as an actor goes far to render this ridiculous material almost plausible ... almost, but not quite.
There are several good performances in supporting roles: Ralph Lewis and Emily Fitzroy both deserve to be better known, and Cyril Chadwick and Harvey Clark are excellent here. Dorothy Mackaill is pleasant enough to look at, but not much of an actress. I'll rate this tosh 3 points in 10.
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