One of the earliest of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by MCA ever since. See more »
I must admit that I feel rather guilty writing this: Richard Dix is one of my favorite actors, and has been since I was twelve. Nevertheless, I will say that I liked this film less than any other of his that I've seen. Not only am I a fan of Richard Dix, but I am fascinated by the transition from silents to sound that occurred from 1927 to 1929. As such, I am quite accustomed to the little idiosyncrasies of early talking films, and quite appreciate them for what they are, although it is tempting to notice how they are a step backwards of about fifteen years in terms of the naturalistic qualities of a late silent film.
Having said that, as Richard Dix was, in mid-1929, Paramount's greatest male box-office commodity, I cannot understand why he was put into a film like this. To be fair, the copy that I viewed ran about fifty-five minutes, which is about the average length of a star vehicle from the late 1910's. Thus, there might have been an extra five minutes that I did not see, although I doubt that it would have added anything to this film. As it is, Richard Dix is one of the few reasons to see this film. His acting is solid, natural, and gives good evidence that he was a natural for talkies. Unfortunately, he cannot rise above the ridiculous plot, which is thrust upon the viewer about thirty seconds into the film about a young woman (Ralston) wanting to commit suicide because she does not want to marry an older man (Heggie), who is also Dix's commanding officer. The plot takes the princpals to India, and there is a rather shallow lesson about reincarnation that really bears quite little upon the proceedings of the film, save that love is the principal thing in life, and not an allusion. Or, so Esther Ralston's character tells us.
What hampers this film is that the scenes between Dix and Ralston in their love-talk are too strongly declarative. I thought of the muted tenderness that are shown in many late silents, and although the mood for those scenes is aided by music, the addition of an on-again, off-again score interspersed with dialog does not aid this film at well. The words are too much, and although people's love speeches in real life may also be silly to those who hear them, we should expect better in a film. The opposite is also true: do love scenes in real life ever match the beauty of those in a silent film? But, I digress...in any case, Dix, a full two months before John Gilbert's oft-maligned "His Glorious Night" utters "I love you, I love you" to Ralston, and the effect is rather sincere. I don't know how audiences reacted, but it sounds natural enough.
Ralston emotes dreadfully, and I must say that not much of her beauty shines forth in this film either. She is just too high strung, over-acts, and is quite the ball and chain to Dix. Most of the other characters over-act as well, including OP Heggie, and an annoying author character played by Arthur Hoyt.
Director Victor Schertzinger had directed Dix's two previous films, the lovely "Redskin," and the decent talkie "Nothing But the Truth." If one to compare this trilogy, it would definitely descend in quality from "Redskin" onwards. He does try to redeem the film with music to relieve the static deadness (very much like real life) of early talkies, but it does not succeed. The acting competes with the music, and the two do not complement one another. There is an interesting sequence that is filmed outside, which is rather rare for such an early talking film, and is decidedly refreshing. A skirmish scene is nicely muted in its lack of dramatic pyrotechnics. It looks and feels like the clumsy affair that such events actually are.
Lastly, I had a rather unsavory feeling throughout the film about Ralston's character. She married an older man, wants Dix, and this is all rather unknown to Heggie. Heggie is disposed of just a bit too conveniently, and the effect is that the reward for Ralston is gained at an unfair price: Heggie's life. I felt very little sympathy with her character, and rather wondered what Dix would even see in her. The two do not have much chemistry, and it's not Dix's fault.
In sum, I think that Richard Dix deserved better parts than this melodramatic programmer. His corpus of three early Paramount talkies, while probably viable because they were all-talking in the first-place, make me not blame him for abandoning the studio, and going over to Radio Pictures. In retrospect, working for such a smaller studio as the latter surely made his star decline more swiftly, as the facility with which he bridges the divide into talking films is evident. I have read that he was originally slated to star in "The Virginian." One will never know what effect that would have had upon his career; surely early Paramount talkies exceed RKO's greatly in quality. But, with such films as this one, Dix proves that he can act in the new medium, but his studio is evidently expending little to capitalize upon it. Watch this one, and you'll see what I mean.
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