Fascinating farewell to film by the great Rex Ingram.
This was the final film, and only talkie, of one of the great visual stylists of the silent era. It is a flawed work, but its virtues far outweigh its short-comings. Like Pasolini many years later with ARABIAN NIGHTS, Ingram chose to film on real Arabian locations and with a largely unprofessional cast. Both of these things were virtually unheard of in film-making at this time. Both give the film a greater authenticity than a studio bound Hollywood fantasy like MOROCCO. The location photography is sublime, and the real scenery extraordinary in its beauty. If the non-professional actors are sometimes a little self-conscious, the magnificence of their faces makes up for it.
But it is the overly ambitious nature of the work that is its major short-coming. While Hollywood was making its early talkies safely indoors, where the primitive sound recording equipment could cope more easily, Ingram wanted to give his first talkie the grandeur of a silent epic. In the spectacular climactic battle sequence literally hundreds of extras fill the screen, but the sound recording does not match the images. The sound effects are weak and ineffectual - crowd noise, gun-fire etc are all unconvincing. As a result the scene is totally unbelievable and even unintentionally funny. You really wish he had just shot it silent and added only music later.
The professional members of the cast are all terrific. ROSITA GARCIA has real presence and an unusual beauty, and PIERRE BATCHEFF is really splendid as the young sheik. His striking resemblance to Ingram's favorite leading man RAMON NOVARRO is hard to miss. Batcheff apparently committed suicide shortly after this film was completed - I would like to know more about this truly charismatic actor. REX INGRAM himself plays the second lead, and he is very good. Perhaps less appealing is ARABELLA FIELDS as the "mammy" style black nanny. As this was her only film I suspect she was a non-professional. Her attempts at comic relief often fall flat.
As a final film of a master of cinema this is essential viewing. It should be mentioned too that Ingram's wife and artistic collaborator ALICE TERRY is credited as co-director, and that this was also her final film. One can only speculate what new ground Ingram and Terry may have broken had ill health, and a refusal to work in the Hollywood system, not prevented them from working again. In the last moments of the film Ingram is seen waving toward the camera - it adds a sad poignancy to BAROUD.
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