Karim, a collector of jewels, is one of the richest men in Bombay, which belies his humble beginnings and being poor as little as ten years ago. His wealth was derived from a diamond he received from his jewel merchant father, who was killed by marauding bandits because of the jewels in his possession. Twice, ten years ago, Karim was saved from people who would kill, steal or lie to get the diamond. His two saviors were an Indian holy man, and an American tourist. When Karim and American tourist Janice Darsey meet, it is mutual love at first sight. Their interracial romance has many obstacles to happiness, including the disapproval by Janice's aunt, with who she is traveling through India. As Karim and Janice begin a courtship against all odds, two people from Karim's past may ultimately factor into whether it will be happily ever after for Karim and Janice together. Written by
Ramon Novarro, MGM's sound era answer to succeed Rudolph Valentino as Hollywood's great lover is cringingly and unintentionally hilarious in this tale of forbidden interracial love. Looking a touch more feminine than Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce and flatly delivering his lines with perfectly manicured arched eyebrows and clear Mexican accent Novarro's career disintegrates before your eyes.
Karim (Novarro) is the diamond obsessed son of a merchant making his way through some lawless terrain of India where he is befriended by a holy man that saves him from a bandit massacre in which he is the only survivor. Reduced to poverty the rag attired Karim attempts to sell the most precious diamond of his fathers collection but is in turn accused of stealing it from an unscrupulous Indian jewelry dealer. A visiting American (Conrad Nagel) saves Karim from prison and gets his diamond back. Karim then enters into a passionate affair with his sister Janice though he is unaware they are related. Janice's aunt is aghast at this blatant act of miscegenation involving the family name and takes steps to prevent it.
Son of India may have had a decent chance in dealing with a social taboo in the same exotically sensual way Frank Capra does in The Bitter Tea of General Yen with a different and more natural lead. Novarro's wooden style is further inhibited by the fact his character has a spoiled surly immature side to him that would make Sabu look like an intellectual. Madge Evans as Janice is feisty and natural as an innocent abroad and holds up her end of the bargain in spite of Ramon. Marjorie Rambeau as a microcosm of "proper" American society gets her racist message across with wide eyed disapproval and inflective disdain.
Cedric Gibbons and staff provide the usual lush and exotic sets while Harold Rosson's camera records some beautifully lit compositions and portraits of minor characters but with Novarro at the center of this weepie no amount of flawless make-up can make up for such a flawed performance.
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