Napoleon Bonaparte has just abdicated the throne of France and Italy and has been banished to Elba, in the process restoring Louis XVIII to the throne. In the battle between the Bonapartists and the Royalists, Louis has ordered the execution of Napoleon's loyal soldiers, including Armand de Treville. However, Armand is able to escape just before he is to be executed. He is eventually able to take refuge in the south of France at the chateau of his friend, the Countess Louise, who, despite being a Royalist, is Armand's friend first and foremost. He is to be incognito working as one of her servants. Although Louise is in love with Armand, he in turn sees her more as a sister. En route to Louise's, Armand meets another Royalist, Leonie de Beaufort, with who, in their short encounter, he falls in love, although she would not even recognize him if she saw him again if only because of his face being hidden in the darkness during their encounter. Unknown to Armand, Leonie and Louise are ...Written by
In what must have been the easiest of all the transitions made by silent stars into talkies, Ramon Novarro, still at the height of his fame,talent and beauty, leaps into this glossy high budget MGM classic. It's not a great film, but thanks to Sidney Franklin's excellent direction, the picture is a lot less static than most early talkies. There are some good action sequences - including some excellent tracking shots of horse riding - and the camera and the actors move a lot more than was usual.
It's a period piece - set in Napoleon's France - and Cedric Gibbons usual attention to design detail and Adrian's great costumes make it a joy to watch. The supporting cast is so-so - Dorothy Jordan is cute if unspectacular as the heroine and Marion Harris is quite bad as Louise, and there are too many songs, not to mention a completely gratuitous technicolor dance sequence that seems to have been added as an afterthought (chorus girls dressed as Napoleon and Josephine? with a reflective pool and cascading fountains - was Busby Berkeley in on this?). As usual in early talkies there is also too many sound effects and not enough background music, and a couple of very static chat scenes.
But at its heart the film has Ramon Novarro - charming, energetic, seductive, full of life. The early sequence where he escapes from a firing squad is hilarious. He also sings beautifully. What a shame MGM did not give him more vehicles of this quality (see my review of "In Gay Madrid"). In summary it works well as comedy, a little less well as drama, and least well as musical - but overall a quality fun vehicle for Ramon.
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