Marquis Sévéro, a rich, lazy Parisian, wants to divorce his wife so that he can marry his own goddaughter Denise. But Denise herself loves André Berval, an engineer employed by the marquis....
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Marquis Sévéro, a rich, lazy Parisian, wants to divorce his wife so that he can marry his own goddaughter Denise. But Denise herself loves André Berval, an engineer employed by the marquis. Filled with jealousy, the marquis sends André to the Antilles, to prospect some land he has just acquired. He promises André that he can marry Denise if he is successful in the tropics, but he then writes to Alvarez, his manager at the site, asking him to prevent André from ever returning to France. The brutal Alvarez forms an instant hatred for André when the engineer breaks up Alvarez's attempt to rape Papitou, a beautiful native girl. Papitou becomes devoted to André, and protects him against Alvarez's schemes. But she faces a crisis herself when she learns that André plans to marry Denise. Written by
SIREN OF THE TROPICS (Henri Etievant and, uncredited, Mario Nalpas, 1927) **1/2
Though I had read John Baxter's Luis Bunuel biography some years back, I only recalled while leafing through it again the other day that the Spanish Surrealist had served as Assistant Director on this exotic romance intended as a showcase for legendary black performing artist Josephine Baker hence, its belated viewing in this segment in my ongoing Bunuel retrospective dedicated to his formative years. Anyway, having acquired this and already owning another of the star's vehicles i.e. ZOUZOU (1934), I decided to also add to my collection the third film of hers and the most famous PRINCESS TAM TAM (1935) which was released first separately and then re-packaged in a Baker-related Box Set by Kino.
Though I was not particularly enthused by the prospect of watching the title under review, being essentially a melodrama with interpolated dance routines, it turned out to be harmless enough more importantly, it was delightfully typical of its period (including a couple of sequences which feature the shapely star in the nude!). As I said, the film's settings high-society Paris, the tropics and even the ship-board section were much in vogue in cinema of this era; hence, for someone who loves Silents as much as I do, they certainly evoked a pleasant air of nostalgia. Even so, these do not really jell together and the picture basically feels like three shorts pasted together!; predictably, the island sequences (with the obligatory hissable villain looking quite a bit like the great Lon Chaney!) prove the most engaging while those at sea, featuring rampant politically Incorrect comedy relief (with Baker repeatedly chased all over the liner by virtually the entire crew and passenger list simply for being a stowaway!), make up its least appealing component.
Bunuel cannot have been much inspired by the film (save, perhaps, for its notion of unabashed lechery on the two heavies' part) but he did retain its leading man, Pierre Batcheff, for his own notorious debut UN CHIEN ANDALOU (1929); at one point, the latter is even made to break the fourth wall by suddenly interacting with the audience something which Bunuel himself would have the lead character do a quarter of a century later at the very end of his DAUGHTER OF DECEIT (1951)! To get to Baker's presence, which is the reason the film got made in the first place, she manages to exude star quality despite being surprisingly relegated to a secondary Other Woman role (Batcheff's relationship with his true love is plagued by the misplaced affection of her Godfather, the hero's unscrupulous employer a situation eventually resolved by Baker's own timely, albeit clandestine, intervention); while undeniably an accomplished dancer (highlighted first in a native jig during an island festivity and, later, a full-blown Charleston number on stage at the "Folies Bergere"), I liked her best when displaying great affection towards animals (her large pet dog and a cat she has rescued from a well, which the canine amazingly helps in drying up!).
Finally, I could not help noticing the choppiness of certain scenes the key moment of Batcheff's attempted murder on a bridge suffers the most in this regard but this appears to be the result of footage lost to the ravages of time (in fact, it was long thought that all of three reels had survived from SIREN OF THE TROPICS!). Having said that, the print I watched was attractively tinted from time to time.
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