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Jon Kolenchak26 December 2002
Ramon Novarro is quite charming in the title role of this little-known film. All of the other stars also do a superb job: Renee Adoree, Dorothy Janis, and Donald Crisp. It's amazing to me how natural and contemporary this film seems after 72 years. Novarro is funny, dramatic and quite believable in the title role.

It just about breaks one's heart to realize that Renee Adoree died at the age of 35, about 3 years after the release of this film. If you enjoy her in this film, be sure to see her performance in "The Big Parade".

Donald Crisp's role harkens back to his character in "Broken Blossoms", and his is the only performance in this film that teeters a little toward the melodramatic side.

Viewers may also be interested to know that Novarro had attempted a legitimate singing career in opera and recitals, and it is his voice you hear in the overdubbed recording.
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A Pagan Song
Maliejandra Kay4 August 2006
This short and sweet silent film stars one of the brightest stars of the era, Ramon Novarro. Novarro's trademark energy is channeled into a great performance as a half white half native on an island where he is not accepted by everyone. He is a wealthy man but would rather spend his time lounging in the sun eating bananas and coconuts than doing business. He meets a beautiful native girl named Tito (Dorothy Janis), half white and half native like himself. However, she is restricted by her benefactor, a hypocrite Christian businessman (Donald Crisp) who wants to train her to be white. The natives begin to have a love affair much to the chagrin of the wealthy benefactor and a prostitute (Renée Adorée) who is in love with Novarro.

As a silent made after the talkies swept entertainment, this film features a recorded soundtrack with sung music and sound effects. Sometimes the lips do not match the recording, but the track works quite well with illustrating the story.
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Actually first talkie sequences for Ramon Novarro
kevintdoherty27 March 2006
While this film is a silent with synchronized score, there are two short scenes where Novarro sings a portion of the theme, "Pagan Love Song". First, when he is thrown off the boat by Donald Crisp and toward the climatic end when he lays down, humming the tune, and finds Crisp's cane.

You can hear him tapping the cane against the bamboo hut "live", not added sound. Both of these scenes are in perfect sync (probably Vitaphone--sounds like disc surface noise). You can usually tell the "sound stage sound" as opposed to studio sound added later.

The reason for these two short sequences is probably because the film was filmed "on location" in the Pacific. At that time, location sound recording would have not been practical. The scenes were most likely shot on a sound stage at M-G-M. Many silents were still in production in 1929. Adding sound sequences, or "goat glands", as they were called, was a transitional way of making silents "part-talkies", as referred by Photoplay magazine.
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Entertaining fare
Servo-1117 May 1999
I love this movie! I've seen it about four times, and every time I see it, Ramon Novarro gets cuter and cuter. He portrays the lazy and carefree islander to perfection, and Renee Adoree's performance is as heartbreaking as that in THE BIG PARADE. As a big fan of Donald Crisp, and used to his roles as kindly father figures, the lech he portrays in this film is a bit jarring, but he does an admirable job, considering he was really a big-hearted marshmallow. One of the greatest films in the twilight of the silent era.
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Ramon Novarro was one of the greats!
David Atfield18 November 1999
In this funny, moving and magnificent film Ramon Novarro again proves that he was one of the best actors of the silent era. Physically he is more beautiful than any man has a right to be, but his beauty also comes from within because he projects a warmth and humanity that few actors can convey. The film itself is brilliantly directed by W.S. Van Dyke, with a witty and poignant screenplay. It is also quite subversive as the Christian is definitely the bad guy, and a life of pagan lust and laziness is held up as the ideal. And it is all superbly shot in Tahiti.

The three other stars are also fine. Donald Crisp is lecherous and loathsome, Dorothy Janis spectacularly beautiful and delightfully innocent, and Renee Adoree unforgettable as the "whore with a heart of gold". Her unrequited love for Novarro is subtlely conveyed and very moving. But Ramon's joy of life, he is truly gay in the old sense of the word, makes this film live. See it with someone you love.

Okay, they over-use the theme tune, but isn't it gorgeous?
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Ramon Novarro's Final Silent Film
Ron Oliver5 August 2000
Henry Shoesmith is THE PAGAN, a happy, handsome half-caste, perfectly attune with his South Seas home. Henry is also the owner of the largest cocoanut plantation on the island, which arouses the greed of an unscrupulous white trader with a beautiful native 'ward'...

Ramon Novarro is charming in this, his final silent film. Once again, MGM has their Mexican star playing another in his wide range of ethnic roles. Here he is a Polynesian, but he plays his part so well, and is obviously having such a good time, that he gives one of his most entertaining of performances.

He is served well by his excellent supporting cast. Dorothy Janis is Novarro's beautiful love interest - innocent, vulnerable & passionately in love. Donald Crisp is superb as the villainous white trader, consumed with lust for the girl he calls his 'Christian duty' and embittered with hatred for Novarro. His final fate is most proper & welcome. Renée Adorée scores as the island harlot, a staunch friend to both Novarro & Janis.

Directed by peripatetic W. S. Van Dyke, the location filming in & around Papeete, Tahiti enhances the story greatly.

Coming as it did at the very cusp of the new talkie era, this is essentially a silent film with an effective soundtrack that includes musical interludes & background dialogue. Novarro croons 'Pagan Love Song' (by Nacio Herb Brown & Arthur Freed) to good effect - giving Hollywood one of its first hit tunes - and his fine singing voice would be heard again in forthcoming films.
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Romance and racism in the South Seas
st-shot10 November 2010
Slacker Henry Shoesmith (Ramon Novarro), the product of a white father and native mother has inherited a business he couldn't care less about. He'd rather pass his days taking in the beauty he was surrounded by on his South Sea island. When devious capitalist Roger Slater (Donald Crisp) shows up with his beautiful charge in tow to exploit the island Shoesmith's world is thrown into turmoil. With all his attention on Tito he ignores his business and Slater uses the opportunity to ruin him. Forever the romantic, Henry's is more concerned with the pursuit of Tito allowing him to become vulnerable to the iniquitous Slater whose designs of Christian salvation for Tito have given way to carnal cravings.

This silent made after the advent of sound film clumsily adds some out of sync singing (the immortal Pagan Love Song) to remain au courant but it is a catchy tune and not much of a distraction from the beautiful Tahitian landscape in which the naive lovers reside.

Novarro's disposition of child like innocence and laid back style fronted by his killer looks and smile charm you into his corner from beginning to end. A handsome Harpo, he is more sweet than seductive, displaying a talent for slapstick that makes him impossible to dislike. Dislike is all one can feel for the greedy, vengeful and hypocritical Slater. Crisp picks up where he left off as a racist lout in Broken Blossoms turning on a dime to gain and maim when needed. Bedecked in a white suit, earring and snarling most of the time Crisp's effective silent heavies totally belies the wise patient grandfatherly parts that would mark his sound period. Loudly attired Renee Adoree as a prostitute with principles has some fine scenes and serves as an ironic counterpoint to the hypocritical but respectable Slater.

With the vile Slater as a punching bag The Pagan reveals some ugly truths about western society but Novarro's irrepressible boyish charm keeps it upbeat most of the way. I would also add the warning that for a 48 hour period and perhaps longer you will not be able to get The Pagan Love Song melody out of your mind.
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"And We'll Cheer Each Other, With The Pagan Love Song"
bkoganbing6 September 2010
Woody Van Dyke captained an entire MGM crew for a location shooting in Tahiti for The Pagan where Ramon Novarro made his sound debut. This film was done like Warner Brothers The Jazz Singer where it was silent except for Al Jolson's musical numbers and some introductory dialog to one of them.

Novarro looked properly exotic and did exhibit a pleasant singing voice when he sang one of the first songs ever written expressly for the screen, Nacio Herb Brown's and Arthur Freed's The Pagan Love Song which was a big hit in 1929. Novarro sang in a few of his sound films after The Pagan.

Ramon plays a half Caucasian, half Tahitian lad who owns some land and a store courtesy of his white father, but prefers the lazy life the natives enjoy. Donald Crisp is a white trader with young native ward Dorothy Janis. Novarro and she are attracted to each other, but Crisp wants her brought up as a proper Christian and doesn't want her associating with her own kind. Actually he's got quite the yen himself for her.

At the same time The Pagan was being filmed Rain was on stage in the legitimate theater. The influence that W. Somerset Maugham's classic about the South Seas and particularly that of the character of Reverend Davidson on Crisp's screen persona is unmistakable.

Woody Van Dyke did a fine job of direction with his cast which also included Renee Adoree. He would soon be going to Africa for a trouble plagued shoot in Trader Horn, probably on the success he had bringing in this film shot in faraway places.

The Pagan holds up well and it's a piece of screen history besides.
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Serendipitously silent
John Seal12 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
It's just as well The Pagan was shot as a silent, because it it had been a talkie, the camera would have been nailed down, the sound hissy and distracting, and the melodramatic excess of the plot overemphasized. As it stands, this is a wonderful and beautifully made film that highlights the great artistry developed by Hollywood during the 1920s. Though Ramon Navarro was a physically absurd casting choice as the half-caste Henry Shoesmith, he is never less than enchanting in the role, and it's a great pity that he was unable to make the transition to sound. Dorothy Janis, who apparently only made a handful of films in her brief career, is stunningly beautiful and effective as the pagan girl Shoesmith wishes to wed, and Donald Crisp is first rate as Slater, the cad who disguises his lust as an act of Christian charity. Shot to great effect by Clyde de Vinna on location in the South Seas, The Pagan is satisfying on every level, and comes strongly recommended to those who think they don't like silent film.
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Ramon Novarro Sings a Pagan Love Song
wes-connors15 January 2011
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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"Come with me where moonbea-eeams..."
Jimmy L.16 September 2013
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 [1927]).

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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Credits of title song
vaughan-2528 March 2006
You left out the credits for the title song, "The Pagan Love Song," which has music by Nacio Herb Brown and lyrics by Arthur Freed, later well known as the producer of many great MGM musicals, such as "Meet Me in St Louis," "Easter Parade," "Singin' in the Rain." In fact there was a Freed unit that made those films. The song itself was used in an Esther Williams vehicle in 1950 whose title was then changed to "Pagan Love Song" (see your comments on that film). There is also no credit for whoever made the arrangement of the song as synchronized incidental music to this silent film. Another correction: Donald Crisp's character is called Slater in the movie, not Noranson as in your cast list.
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Evidence that MGM was slightly behind the times...
MartinHafer28 March 2013
Although MGM was probably the biggest and most prestigious studio in Hollywood, it was slower transitioning to sound than most of the other studios. This is because the studio chief, Louis B. Meyer, thought that sound was a passing fad and discouraged his filmmakers from using sound. However, eventually MGM got on the bandwagon. So, while other American film companies were making talking pictures in 1929, MGM was still making silents--albeit one with SHORT songs included along with the musical track throughout the film. This is the case with "The Pagan"--a decent silent with a few sound additions. Part of the reason for not using more sound was not just because of Meyer but because of the practicalities of filming in Tahiti. It wasn't like boom mikes and the like were readily available there!

"The Pagan" is a film with a very, very simple plot. In fact, the star of the film seems to be the locale--it certainly is not the rather scant plot. The movie is about a local man (Ramon Novarro) and his love for the ward of a nasty, nasty man (Donald Crisp). The problem is that the nasty guy HATES natives--and this is odd since he is a 'half-breed' as the film calls him. He also hates Novarro's character because of the ward--a native that BOTH men want. What will happen? See the film.

Overall, this is an incredibly beautiful and dated film. Terms like 'half-breed', 'half-caste' and 'pagan' aren't exactly nice when used today--and show a certain patronizing view of natives. Still, if you can look past this and the story (highly reminiscent of "Rain"), then it's worth seeing.
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Nice Cast Makes it Worth Watching
Michael_Elliott27 November 2010
Pagan, The (1929)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

If you're looking to find out what drove women crazy for Ramon Novarro then this late silent picture is going to give you all you need to know. In the film he plays Henry, a half-white, half-Tahitian man who lives the simple life but things change when a greedy businessman (Donald Crisp) shows up with a woman (Dorothy Janis). Sure enough the woman and Henry fall in love but the other man refuses to see her in the arms of anyone but a white man. This later day silent has some synchronized sound moments including a couple quick bits where Novarro himself sings the "Pagan Love Song" and we hear a few other odds and ends. While the sound effects aren't going to impress very many today I think the film at least shows that MGM knew how to get a female crowd into the theater. The first fifteen-minutes or so of this film features Novarro running around without his shirt on. No big deal as he does this throughout the entire film but this opening sequence really serves no purpose except to show women what they want to see. I was really starting to get worried that the entire film would be like this but thankfully the story then kicked in and what followed was a pretty good movie. The love story angle really doesn't do anything ground breaking and it's certainly nothing we hadn't already seen countless times before but the appeal of the two stars certainly make it entertaining and worth sitting through. Novarro really does a great job with the free-spirited character and he manages to be very believable in the part. The way he carried himself certainly made one feel he really was this character and the dim-witted nature of the character is also perfectly brought out. Janis is also quite good as she too manages to make us feel pity for her abused character. Then, we have the one and only Donald Crisp who could play a villain like no other. He seems to be having a wonderful time pushing everyone around, forcing his views on others and just look at the slimy grin on his face when he tells Henry that he's worthless because he's not fully white. Another plus for the film is that it was all shot on location so we get some beautiful views of the island and its people. THE PAGAN certainly isn't a masterpiece or even a classic but fans of silent films or the stars will enjoy the good moments here.
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A pre-code gem
rdoyle2928 June 2017
Ramon Novarro stars as a half white/half native denizen of a South Seas island. He owns a plantation and a store, but he can't really be bothered to work them very much. All this changes when white guy Donald Crisp shows up looking to do business with him. Crisp has a half white/half native orphaned ward that he's raising to be a good Christian girl. Novarro falls for her, but Crisp secretly lusts after her himself. Novarro starts to work in earnest to gain enough wealth to be worthy of her, but Crisp has dirty deeds a workin' in the background. This very late period silent is hardly racially sensitive, essentially portraying native islanders as lazy and childlike, but it's at least worth noting that all of the bad guys in this film are white Christians, and the movie genuinely sympathizes with the Islanders. Novarro is a really appealing screen presence, and the film is decidedly (and delightfully) pre-code with some pretty racy scenes between Novarro and the improbably named Renée Adorée.
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Charming South Seas romance shot on location in Tahiti.
Alan Foster16 July 2017
Beautifully shot on location in Tahiti, the Pagan features fine performances by a charming Ramon Novarro, the beautiful and hard-working Dorothy Janis, a glowering Donald Crisp, and an overdressed Renee Adoree. Adoree is heart-breaking as the local prostitute who loves Novarro's free-spirited character enough to help him win the love of Janis' Tito.

Despite featuring the standard white man's burden racial philosophy of its time, the film is notable for taking the side of the locals, as exemplified by Novarro's half-breed. The local bank clerk, patently a man of some learning, is not white but Chinese. While Novarro's character is shown as indifferent and indolent, the rest of Tahitian society is shown as industrious and active.

It's unique to see some street scenes of French Polynesia's capital, Papeete, in 1929. Some actual shooting locations can be plotted based on the position of the nearby island of Moorea, which is visible in a number of shots.
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Disappointing Renee Adoree number
BigSkyMax8 August 2013
Unlike most reviewers, I watched this movie specifically because it stars the beautiful French actress Renee Adoree. She gets top billing over Dorothy Janis, although her character gets half the screen time of Janis (who is also admittedly beautiful). Presumably because Adoree was the more accomplished actress. Adoree is wasted in her role as a prostitute with no clients. Sample come- on line: "Hi there Cutie." Oh, and she chews gum. Although a hooker in Tahiti, she wears enough clothes for a Minneapolis January. There is one in-joke scene where a couple of French gendarmes give her the bums rush and the title card says she wished she "spoke their language" to tell 'em what-for. This film is so incredibly racist and imperialist only a FOX-News viewer would defend it. Tragically, Adoree would die of tuberculosis (!) less than four years later, aged 35. Navarro's fate, of course, came much later but was even more tragic.
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