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Henry, the pagan son of a white father and native mother, has inherited land and a store, but he prefers the simple life. When he falls in love with a native girl, her guardian, who is trying to bring her up as a 'proper' Christian, but who also lusts after her himself, plots to keep them apart. Written by
THE PAGAN (1929) is a "silent" film with a synchronized audio track (music and sound effects). This wasn't uncommon during the transition from true silent film to "talkies". Synchronized soundtracks enhanced otherwise silent films in theaters equipped for sound, while on-set sound recording technology was still being perfected.
The highlights of THE PAGAN's audio track are sections where Ramon Novarro sings "Pagan Love Song". In certain scenes, the recorded singing syncs up with Novarro's on-screen performance, making it seem as if he's singing right out of the screen (as Al Jolson had done in the groundbreaking talkie THE JAZZ SINGER ).
Shot on location in Tahiti, THE PAGAN follows up directer W.S. Van Dyke's earlier tropical island drama WHITE SHADOWS IN THE SOUTH SEAS (1928), the first MGM film released with a synchronized soundtrack. Exotic silent screen star Novarro plays a carefree half-caste who owns a cocoanut plantation. Donald Crisp is a self-righteous white trader who considers it his "Christian duty" to raise beautiful half-caste orphan Dorothy Janis (King) as a "white" woman.
Novarro and Janis sing "Pagan Love Song" and fall in love, a match made in half-caste heaven. But Crisp doesn't want his ward associating with the heathen, even if Crisp paints on a hypocritical smile to do business with him. Hoping to earn Crisp's approval to romance Janis, Novarro decides to go into business, trading in his sarong for a suit of clothes. But Crisp has ideas of his own. Renée Adorée plays Novarro's friend, a white woman of dubious reputation living in the tropics.
The film is charming, with a nice romance and a taste of tropical exoticism. Viewers will have "Pagan Love Song" stuck in their heads for a while. The brunette Dorothy Janis is absolutely adorable, and it's surprising this film didn't launch her to stardom. Adorée gets higher billing for her supporting part, but it is Janis who makes an impression in a breakout role. Novarro comes out looking okay, too. The camera loves showing off his tanned body and this film led to more singing roles in the early talkie days.
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