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Ramon Novarro is really great in this fairly ordinary film about a young
singer and his love for an innocent girl. The plot calls on him to sing a
lot - and he does so quite brilliantly. He is also called upon to go
through some pretty heavy emotional stuff and he is nothing short of
astonishing in these scenes. Also he demonstrates his usual charm, wit and
joy of life - and proves yet again that he deserved better material than
It's easy to see why this sweet film was so popular in its day, and why it was re-made twice (in Spanish and French) in 1931, with Ramon starring in and directing both versions. It's all impossibly romantic and quite charming.
Ramon's regular leading lady, Dorothy Jordan, is pretty good here, Ernest Torrence hams a bit as Ramon's dad, and Renee Adoree is wonderful in her last screen performance (she died very young of TB) - just as in "The Pagan" her love for Ramon is unrequited and she is ultimately self-sacrificing. Russell Hopton is, unfortunately, wooden as Jordan's brother and, as a consequence, his crucial climactic scene with Ramon does not work as well as it should have.
Charles Brabin's direction and the screenplay are uninspired, but the film is worth seeing for Ramon Novarro's extraordinary performance.
I watched The Call of the Flesh and enjoyed it despite the dueling
accents. Ramon Novarro plays a saucy singer who teams with Renee Adoree
to appear at local cantinas and is pushed by his friend (Ernest
Torrence) to get serious about opera. But then he meets a "runaway"
from a convent (Dorothy Jordan) who knows nothing of the world. He
falls in love and dumps Adoree. But Adoree gets even by finding
Jordan's military brother who tracks them down and sends her back to
the convent. Meanwhile Novarro is turned down by a local opera house
because he's never had his heart broken and his singing has no soul.
Torrence buys a night for Novarro to sing at the opera and he
grudgingly does to, bringing down the house. But his heart is so broken
he's actually dying until Adoree takes action.
Novarro is quite good here, especially when singing. A few of the dramatic scenes are badly done, but the rest of the film is lively. Novarro co-wrote the song "Lonely" with Herbert Stothart. I have no idea what Novarro sings in the finale but he's good despite having rather thin high notes. It's quite a shock to see Torrence break out in song, but the burly Scottish actor, a dependable heavy in silent films, was a trained opera singer. Jordan and Adoree handle the music well.
There's a great scene where Torrence at the piano joins Novarro in a burst of song only to be joined by the landlady (Mathilde Comont). It all seems so spontaneous.
Sadly this was Adoree's final film. Her other talkie was Redemption with John Gilbert.
This is one of my favorite films of all time. I loved every character, and every actor and actress. The film is charming. It is serious, funny, heartwarming; and the music is both charming and beautiful. This story must have been written with Ramon Novarro, Dorothy Jordan, and Renee Adoree in mind; but the whole cast is "perfect". I wish that this film will someday be available on video. Some may find this film naive or too simplistic, but it's innocence and sincerity overwhelm me.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I realize that this is an operetta from the first generation of early
sound musicals, but the film could have benefited from tighter pacing
and therefore a shorter running time. There is no portion of the movie
that I would call padding - it all seems necessary to tell the story
and maintain the atmosphere, but there are lulls here and there that
are short in and of themselves that begin to add up. Plus there is
virtually no back-scoring in this film, also typical for early sound,
that just makes the lulls seem more pronounced.
The story opens at a convent in Spain as a group of postulates prepare to take their vows and become actual nuns. Maria Vargas (Dorothy Jordon) gets a visit from her soldier brother Enrique (Russell Hopton). From their conversation it is clear that Maria is here because her entire family wants a nun in the family, not because of any independent will on Maria's part. As a result of a weird and possibly unfortunate choice of zoning, Maria hears Juan de Dios (Ramon Navarro) singing at the cabaret next door. (What is a cabaret doing next to a convent???) Maria climbs up to the top of the convent wall, sees Juan and it is love at first sight. This is most unfortunate for her, since Juan de Dios seems to love nothing but trouble. Maria, who has not yet taken her vows, runs away from the convent in search of him.
Juan callously casts girls aside, steals from local vendors for the thrill of it all, and then runs across Maria staring at him adoringly as he evades the police for the latest chaos he has caused at the market. He takes the girl in and takes advantage of the fact that she obviously adores him to have her cook for him, clean for him, and take extraordinary criticism from him anytime he wants to feel better about himself - however relations between them are squeaky clean thus belying the film's title. In what seems like a bit of miscasting, Ernest Torrence, a big craggy mountain of a man who looks like he should be playing a pirate sailing the seven seas, instead plays Juan's mentor and voice instructor. Why he puts up with this selfish kid's abuse and insubordination is beyond me.
There is a reason for making Navarro's character so unlikable though. At his audition for the opera in Madrid, Juan's mentor is told that Juan will never be a great singer because his heart has not been broken - there s no there there in short. Since Juan seems to have no heart that could possibly ever be broken it seems like his soul and his singing have hit a dead end. What can turn all of this around? Watch and find out.
Dorothy Jordan starred opposite Navarro in the first three of his sound films - this was their third appearance together. Navarro had been an effective romantic lead in the silent era, but the coming of sound both blessed him and cursed him. It blessed him by allowing MGM to showcase his marvelous tenor voice. Sound cursed him because the pitch of his speaking voice projected sweetness rather than masculinity. This would explain Jordan as a frequent costar. Yes, she was a talented singer whose voice meshed well with his, but she was also capable of being femininely unintimidating which made Navarro's lack of machismo in sound films less stark. For example, in this film she is almost mimicking Minnie Mouse in her diminutive portrayal of Maria. Once more powerful female sound stars begin to take the field such as Barbara Stanwyck and Jean Harlow, there was just no way Navarro could hope to hold on to the leading roles he had once had, especially after musicals went out of fashion for a couple of years starting at the end of 1930.
I'd recommend this one because it is put together pretty well although it does have that characteristic of MGM films of the time - an abrupt right turn in the plot that causes an outlandish happy ending for all concerned.
A brash cantina singer in Sevilla heeds the CALL OF THE
when he romances a young postulant from a nearby convent.
Sometimes movie studios make most unwise decisions, resulting in ramifications that can be quite detrimental to the careers of even their biggest stars. CALL OF THE FLESH is a case in point. Good production values & fine performances can not save this film from its one fatal flaw: it is difficult to like, or even tolerate, the hero.
Ramon Novarro, usually quite the pleasant fellow, here is forced to play a repellent rogue who quickly irritates the audience with his cruel treatment of those who love him most. Oozing a smarmy charm, he alternately smirks & pouts his way through the plot, until his eventual - and much belated - regeneration. Novarro's undoubted acting abilities enable him to deliver a fine performance, but mischievousness mixed with too much meanness can result in viewer apathy.
This did not help his career. The fad for the Latin Lover was wearing mighty thin already and would soon be completely eclipsed by the All American Hero, and Novarro's sexual ambiguity was always a bit of a problem for the MGM front office. The advent of Sound, while finally revealing his strong singing voice, also exhibited his Mexican accent, making it difficult to cast him in traditional roles. The Studio simply couldn't come up with a definitive screen persona for him, and so Novarro was made into their ethnic chameleon, playing everything from Chinese to Arab to Navajo.
Novarro's costars come through very well. Dorothy Jordan is radiant as the innocent young woman who loves him with every fiber of her being; she delivers a heart touching, memorable performance. Flamboyant & hammy, Scottish actor Ernest Torrence is terrific as Novarro's friend & mentor - although one has to wonder just why he was willing to put up with so much nonsense from the little squirt. Equally adept at drama or comedy, Torrence's theatrical mannerisms and the contortions of his great homely face make him both entertaining to the audience and an enjoyable contrast to handsome Novarro. French actress Renée Adorée, in her final film, stirs up the flames in her role as Novarro's musical partner & lover. (Ill health would bring about the early deaths of both Torrence & Adorée in 1933 - he at 54 and she at 35. Today, these two fine performers are virtually forgotten.)
Mention should be made of Mathilde Comont, hilarious as a rotund little diva turned landlady.
Novarro is in good voice throughout, which is fortunate as the plot keeps him singing interminably.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I must disagree with several of the reviews here by our members. Not
because I think this is a great film -- it's not. But because they seem
a bit unaware of the situation.
First, in terms of why the popularity of his films fell off. This film was a healthy money-maker, and so were several of his films after this. But, particularly in the early days of Hollywood, the film industry tended to go through cycles of "taste". Some of the cycles were stories about rich people all taking place during the Depression, stories about jewel thieves, stories that took place in exotic lands, etc. And one cycle was "Latin lovers"...a cycle which lasted about a decade, beginning with Valentino and practically ending with Novarro. And why did that cycle end? The coming of the American hero -- Gable and Cagney in 1931, just one year after this film. American tastes were changing.
Second, rather than blame Novarro for the problems with this film, I choose to blame the director. Slow pace -- that's the director's responsibility. Meandering script -- how is that the actor's fault? Poor sound -- after all, the film was made just 3 years into the talkies and the big improvements that arrived right around this time. This looks like a fairly big budget film for MGM...consider the sets, for example.
I found the criticisms of Novarro's acting interesting. It certainly doesn't fit today's tastes (nor does his singing voice...a style that was totally outdated by a decade later when the crooners took over. What did I see in Novarro's acting? He appears pleasant on screen here; a good person. But I saw gay mannerisms by an actor trying to be suave and manly. And that's why I think his acting here doesn't quite work.
I know what you may be thinking. This review is just written by a Novarro fan. Nope. First movie of his that I ever saw. But what is missing in many of the reviews here is context. And the context is a threshold of change in Hollywood -- change in what is desired in a leading man, change is the type of stories to be told, change in the technical abilities of the Hollywood studios, change in the tastes of the American public.
This is worth watching for a glimpse of really old Hollywood on the verge of morphing into the Gables and Loys and Cagneys and Davises.
In a Spanish convent, girlish-acting Dorothy Jordan (as Maria Consuelo
Vargas) is thinking about taking her final vows when she hears handsome
Ramon Novarro (as Juan de Dios) singing in a nearby cantina. She sneaks
away from the nunnery to watch Mr. Novarro sing. The seemingly aroused
Ms. Jordan looks like she may never become a nun. Novarro playfully
turns down some after-hours bedtime with attractive dancing partner
Renee Adoree (as Lola) proving "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets" is
not correct, this time. Next, Novarro sups with operatic mentor Ernest
Torrence (as Esteban), steals a few things at the market, and then
meets Jordan. The two become mutually attracted...
Hoping to advance his career, Novarro moves to Madrid with Mr. Torrence going along as singing coach. They take love-struck Jordan along to serve as cook. Back at the convent, Ms. Adoree jealously informs Jordan's brother Russell Hopton (as Enrique Vargas) about her association with Novarro. The nuns say Jordan never took her final vows, but Mr. Hopton expects his sister to remain holy he is understandably upset about her running away with a young man. We're supposed to think there is some danger in this, but there is none...
"Call of the Flesh" is a silly piece of fluff. Jordan was capable of much more here, she's stuck impersonating a giggling novice. Adoree does better with her role. Sadly, this was the last film for Adoree, who often appeared supporting bigger stars like Novarro, John Gilbert and Lon Chaney. She became ill during production and succumbed to tuberculosis in 1933. His female co-stars have a fine rapport with Novarro. Greater as a villain, Torrence is out of sorts as Novarro's loving mentor. The cameras adore Novarro. There are clearly times when director Charles Brabin is unable to reign him in, but Novarro is charming in spite of it all. Most important to his new generation of fans, he looks terrific.
***** Call of the Flesh (8/16/30) Charles Brabin ~ Ramon Novarro, Dorothy Jordan, Ernest Torrence, Renee Adoree
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.
By no means a "B" film in budget, but definitely one in story and technique. After seeing this effort, it's remarkably easy to understand why Novarro's stellar career declined so rapidly and dramatically in the sound era. It's not that there's anything wrong with his voice, it's just that his acting seems so ludicrously inept and his personality so colorless and lacking in charisma. Mind you, if you turn off the sound, then Novarro's gestures and even his persona appear quite acceptable. But with sound in this film, he's just ridiculous! True, the script itself is a load of old romantic melodrama that's about impossible to stomach, let alone get involved in. The only way to rescue this sort of operettish stew from the throw-out pot, is to pep it up with flair and imagination. Unfortunately, Charles Brabin is not this sort of chef at least not here. He did learn his lesson, but here his direction is little more than disinterested and/or routine. Even the sets lack the pictorial qualities we usually associate with Cedric Gibbons. The sound recording of course is poor. But at least the photography in the present wholly black-and-white version telecast by TCM retains appeal.
Ramon Novarro's pedestrian sound period hastened an end to his film
career and Call of the Flesh may well be the vehicle that pushed him
over the cliff. In the silent era Novarro's handsome chiseled features,
dark eyes and killer smile showed him adept at both drama (The Red
LIly, The Pagan) and romantic comedy ( The Student Prince of
Heidleberg) but in Call of the Flesh he is a triple fret as speaks,
sings and dances dreadfully.
Juan Di Deos is a carefree entertainer that loves to play tricks and chase the ladies. His fiery dance partner Lola (Renee Adoree) is often the victim of his childish pranks but is crazy about the guy. Nun in training Maria Vasquez however is the one that captures his heart. Career wise he has the same laissez faire attitude which frustrates his mentor Esteban who pulls strings to get him an audition with an opera impresario. When Juan botches it Esteban reverts to bribery to get him on the stage. Meanwhile Lola gets wind Juan's romancing the good sister and tries to break it up.
Call of the Flesh is early sound at its worst. Without his title cards doing the talking Novarro comes across like a mischievous twelve year old. The timber in his voice fails to live up to his look and his singing and dancing would get the hook at a local amateur show. Aquitting themselves as shabbily as Novarro fellow silent film alumni Ernest Torrence and the ailing Renee Adoree overact monstrously while fresh faces Dorothy Jordan and Russell Hopton make it clear they will have short careers.
Charles Brabin's direction is haphazard and flat as he allows his troupe to step on each others lines and display bad timing; some of it so poor you get the feeling he might have had his face buried in a newspaper oblivious to the action being recorded. One could hardly fault him for averting his eyes since Call of the Flesh is dead meat from the opening reel.
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