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From a poor working class background, Juan de Dios is a cantina performer in Seville, singing and dancing with his partner Lola. They have a contentious professional and personal relationship, her jealous self who cannot tolerate his constant flirting. He really aspires to be a serious opera singer, he under the tutelage of Estaban. Once the greatest impresario in Spain himself, Estaban lost everything because of the same reckless behavior that Juan now exhibits, that behavior which Estaban is trying to quell in Juan. Estaban's plan is to get one of his old contacts in Madrid, an impresario, to manage Juan's career to get him serious singing gigs, leading to that fame and fortune Esteban once used to have. It's love at first sight when Juan meets Maria Consuelo Vargas. What he initially doesn't know is that their meeting was by no accident, as she, a postulant at St. Agustín convent who just escaped from that life, had been mesmerized by him and his singing every time she saw him as ... Written by
Renée Adorée was ill with tuberculosis during filming, and the strenuous nature of filming aggravated her condition so much that she suffered hemorrhaging on set twice on set, almost shutting the production. See more »
I watched "Call of the Flesh" (1930) a romantic, musical melodrama with touches of comedy, that was a huge surprise for me. Surprise, because after watching "In Gay Madrid" (1930) filmed and released earlier the same year and after re-reading the pertinent passages from André Soares' very good Bio on Novarro "Beyond Paradise" my expectations were low, since Mr. Soares believes "In Gay Madrid" (1930) to be the best film that Novarro made with co-star Dorothy Jordan. (the other one was "Devil-May-Care" (1929)). Well, I am sorry to totally disagree, but for me "Call of the Flesh" is simply one of Novarro's best talkies along with "The Barbarian" (1933), "The Cat and the Fiddle" (1934) and "Daybreak" (1931) - I'm not counting "Mata-Hari" (1931) because it's a Garbo vehicle and not really Ramon's film.
Mr. Soares and some other reviewers felt that Novarro plays an obnoxious, difficult to tolerate character, especially at the beginning of the film, but I found him most amusing and likable in a way. A sort of immature, mischievous, full-of-life young lad -much more appealing than Haines' truly obnoxious characters. Novarro is very charming and natural, in spite that some times he could be perceived by some to be a little bit "too much". For me he's fine.
On the other hand, the chemistry between him and Dorothy Jordan is far more effective here than in the previous film I saw. Ms. Jordan really redeemed herself in my eyes in terms of acting. She's no Duse, but she did fine and she conveys the innocence and charm of a naive convent girl who falls for life outside the convent and for Novarro. The musical interludes, singing and dancing are much better in this film and it has better production values. In terms of cinematography, camera movement, pacing and editing it's "eons" beyond "In Gay Madrid" (1930); definitely Charles Brabin and his crew did a much better job that Bob Z. Leonard and his' in the aforementioned film. "Call of the Flesh" (1930) doesn't look at all stilted, stiff and creaky like "In Gay Madrid" (1930) did. Probably by the time they filmed the former the crew at MGM had already learnt how to overcome those shortcomings.
"Call of the Flesh" also benefits from an overall superior supporting cast, with Ernest Torrence fantastic as Novarro's mentor; ailing, lovely Rénée Adorée very moving as Novarro's fiery lover "Lolita" and Mathilde Comont hilarious as Novarro's landlady in Madrid.
Adorée was gravely ill with TBC and was in very bad condition during the making of the film (and one can see it; she looks very frail and thin). In fact she and Ernest Torrence died a couple of years after this film was finished. I think that it was her final film.
There are two alternate versions of this film: in Spanish and French, which I don't know if they are still extant, but I'd love to see.
I was so surprised by this film (maybe, because I didn't really expect much), I enjoyed the romance, the musical interludes, the comedic touches, even the Operatic Arias (although like Jeanette MacDonald people who know about Opera, say that Novarro hasn't got a voice of a caliber enough to tackle such a challenge) and I was sincerely moved by the scenes towards the ending.
All in all, a rewarding experience.
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