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Lee J. Cobb
A racy story of Myrna, who arrives in Cairo to meet her fiance. She attracts the attention of Ramon, a conniving Arab guide who enchants rich women tourists in order to take advantage of them. She falls under his spell, and he turns out to be more than he seems. Written by
Robert Tonsing <email@example.com>
Originally meant to be a steamy romance filled with temptation and scandal, The Barbarian comes off today as antiquated and shocking but for all the wrong reasons. Diana Standing (Myrna Loy) is a wealthy woman from America who comes to Egypt to visit the land of her heritage. Her mother was half Egyptian. There she meets a ruthless womanizer who cons himself into being her guide. Jamil El Shehab (Ramon Novarro) has a history of romancing women and taking their money. He sets his eyes on Diana who no matter how she resists, cannot escape the watchful and menacing eye of Jamil.
Beginning in the 20s, America went wild for all things Arab and mysterious. Women fainted at the thought of men like Rudolph Valentino ravaging them in the desert, something they feared but also longed for. These kinds of stories became commonplace both in Hollywood and in trashy romance novels. Thus, we have The Barbarian. What better subject (rape, brutality, forbidden desire) for a pre-code film? Although she wore a nude bodysuit in the scene, Loy takes a bath in a tub with no bubbles and few flower petals inside to cover her. The soft focus says it all; this movie is all about sex.
Unfortunately today, many women see Novarro as a brute and a savage. Their negative reactions to him make for difficult viewing. His character was intended to be representative of the nagging desire for the unattainable, but by todays standards, Jamil is creepy and bothersome.
Despite these obstacles, the film has some undeniably merits. Novarro's singing enhances the story with a lovely ballad that strains throughout. The direction by Sam Wood leaves the audience with just enough information to tell the story, but not too much as to be smutty. One shot in particular of Diana after her rape is movingly beautiful.
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