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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
On a picturesque South Seas island, "half-caste" handsome Ramon Novarro (as Henry Shoesmith Jr.) sunbathes on his coconut plantation. Rather than develop the wealth on his estate, Mr. Novarro likes to sing, laugh, and bask in the sunshine. His rendition of "Pagan Love Song" attracts pretty Polynesian Dorothy Janis (as Tito), who is likewise "half white". Ms. Janis tells Novarro, "Your song nice, your face nice, too." The pair frolic romantically, but Janis' guardian is wicked white businessman Donald Crisp (as Roger Slater), who cheats Novarro out of his land, and lusts after his nubile ward...
This late term silent film is nicely preserved, and includes its original "synchronized sound effects" soundtrack. The score, as you'll hear, beautifully matches the lush island location. "The Pagan" found Novarro reaching a new peak of popular appeal, and helped propel him into the "talkie" era. His singing voice recorded well; soon, MGM learned their stars' accents did not concern audiences, who responded to rich speaking voices of all types. Director W.S. Van Dyke and cameraman Clyde De Vinna, who worked together on "White Shadows in the South Seas" (1928), were at their best.
The story seems, in hindsight, to be daring for the time; its balance favors naturalistic Paganism over hypocritical Christianity, but Novarro and the studio easily put "The Pagan" over the top. Of course, the film does not attack religion; the villain is hypocrisy, portrayed as perverted "Christian duty" by Mr. Crisp. Renée Adorée, an leading actress on a career slide, is given a good supporting role as a tarnished white outcast who helps Novarro and Janis. Unfortunately, Ms. Adorée didn't live long enough for a talking pictures success, and the promisingly beautiful Janis soon retired.
******** The Pagan (4/27/29) W.S. Van Dyke ~ Ramon Novarro, Dorothy Janis, Donald Crisp, Renee Adoree
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