An Arab prince born and raised in the desert and a beautiful Frenchwoman from Paris fall in love and marry, but the tremendous differences in their backgrounds and the cultural differences between their two different societies put strains on their marriage that may well prove irreparable.

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Prince Fazil
...
Fabienne
...
John Clavering
...
Helen Dubreuze
Tyler Brooke ...
Jacques Dubreuze
John T. Murray ...
Gondolier
Vadim Uraneff ...
Ahmed
Josephine Borio ...
Aicha
Eddie Sturgis ...
Rice
Erville Alderson ...
Iman Idris
Dale Fuller ...
Zouroya - Keeper of the Harem
Hank Mann ...
Ali - the Eunuch
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Storyline

An Arab prince born and raised in the desert and a beautiful Frenchwoman from Paris fall in love and marry, but the tremendous differences in their backgrounds and the cultural differences between their two different societies put strains on their marriage that may well prove irreparable.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Drama | Romance

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Details

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Release Date:

4 June 1928 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Der Harem des Prinzen Fazil  »

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

| (musical score and sound effects) (Movietone)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
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Version of La ley del harem (1931) See more »

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User Reviews

 
And never the twain shall meet
13 May 2006 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

Considering the extensive critical attention Howard Hawks has received over the years, it's rather surprising that this film, the sixth he directed, is so little known. Admittedly, 'Fazil' is not at all typical of Hawks' work, and lacks most of his recognizable directorial motifs, and on top of that features stars whose names only buffs will recognize. Even so, it's a beautifully filmed, sumptuously mounted late silent drama worth seeing for its production values alone. For viewers of our era, the most striking aspect of the film is that its story is based on a culture clash of West vs. East, specifically, the difficulties that arise when a European (presumably secular) woman who prides herself on being modern and "free," marries an Arab man who follows the old ways, and is a devout Muslim. Even in recent years, Hollywood filmmaker seldom venture into this particular danger zone, and while to our eyes 'Fazil' appears quite dated and very much a product of its time, it's nonetheless surprisingly even-handed in presenting both sides of the case in a painful divide which, needless to say, is still with us.

Two aspects mark 'Fazil' as distinctly different from most of the director's later work: first, there is minimal action because the emphasis is placed squarely on the central romance, and second, the ending is tragic. Once our lovers meet in Venice we are given many long, languid close-ups of Fazil (Charles Farrell) exchanging looks of adoration with Fabienne (Greta Nissen). They fall in love at a dance -

  • a hint of tragic foreshadowing for Shakespeare devotees -- and then


share a gondola ride while the gondolier sings the film's theme, "Nights of Splendor," courtesy of the film's Movietone soundtrack. But almost as soon as they are married the culture clash begins, and we never get a sense that the two will manage to overcome their differences, as they have entirely opposite notions of what marriage is supposed to be. Fazil believes that love is possession, i.e. that a husband commands his wife, and he has no intention of adapting to Western customs, while Fabienne, who is French, considers herself a liberated woman and chafes under Fazil's possessiveness. Neither will compromise. Soon it's clear that tragedy lies ahead, and it's just a question of what exactly is going to go wrong, and when.

While it was daring for Hollywood movie-makers to tackle this subject matter in 1928, the prospect of casting an actual Arab actor in the title role was highly unlikely, so handsome young Charles Farrell was cast in the lead. They gave him a pencil-line mustache and darkened his skin slightly, and this was apparently considered sufficient. Farrell gives the role his best shot, although he's obviously no more Arab than Barry Fitzgerald. His performance is generally restrained and seems to improve as the film goes on, that is, after an early scene when he indulges in unfortunate eye-popping histrionics when he first sees his leading lady. The beautiful Greta Nissen, who was Norwegian, might not have gotten this role in a talkie, but she's perfectly well cast here, and gives a sensitive, nuanced performance. Both Fabienne and Fazil have their faults but neither is presented as the villain of the piece, which is refreshing but also deepens our sadness and frustration as their relationship falls apart.

This film isn't for all tastes, and Howard Hawks fans familiar with his later work may wonder if it was truly directed by the same guy who made The Big Sleep and Rio Bravo, but for viewers willing to adjust to a more romantic (even "soapy") sensibility this is a movie well worth seeing, especially for those interested in the culture clash issues at the heart of the story, and in the way Hollywood has portrayed the Arab world. Film buffs interested in the late silent era will most definitely want to give this one a look.


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