Call of the Flesh (1930) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • From a poor working class background, Juan de Dios is a cantina performer in Seville, singing and dancing with his partner Lola. They have a contentious professional and personal relationship, her jealous self who cannot tolerate his constant flirting. He really aspires to be a serious opera singer, he under the tutelage of Estaban. Once the greatest impresario in Spain himself, Estaban lost everything because of the same reckless behavior that Juan now exhibits, that behavior which Estaban is trying to quell in Juan. Estaban's plan is to get one of his old contacts in Madrid, an impresario, to manage Juan's career to get him serious singing gigs, leading to that fame and fortune Esteban once used to have. It's love at first sight when Juan meets Maria Consuelo Vargas. What he initially doesn't know is that their meeting was by no accident, as she, a postulant at St. Agustín convent who just escaped from that life, had been mesmerized by him and his singing every time she saw him as she peered over the convent wall to the cantina. As she tells him that she has no home, he takes her in. When he learns that she used to be a nun in training, he has to decide whether to marry her as is his want, or try to get her back to the convent. Factored into his decision may be her brother, Army Captain Enrique Vargas, who believes she is destined to be married to God, jealous Lola, and his and Estaban's own aspirations for his singing career.



The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In Seville, Spain, a cantina is located across the street from San Agustín convent. At the convent, postulant Maria Consuelo Vargas (Dorothy Jordan) receives a visit from her brother, Captain Enrique Vargas (Russell Hopton). They have not seen each other in seven years, as he has been stationed in Africa. During the intervening time, their mother has died, which left Maria alone in the world, until she entered the convent. Enrique is thrilled that she will soon be married to God. Maria is enthralled by the music that comes from across the street implying that she wants to explore life outside the convent - but Enrique prefers that she remain behind the safety of the convent walls, as he considers the outside world evil.

    After Enrique leaves, Maria peers over the convent walls to watch Juan de Dios (Ramon Novarro) perform at the cantina. Later in the set, Juan sings and dances with his partner, Lola (Renée Adorée). After the set, Juan flirts with some female customers, which irks Lola. Juan walks Lola home, during which time he treats her badly, knowing that she is in love with him, and thus will tolerate the abuse.

    At home, Juan meets with his music teacher, Esteban (Ernest Torrence). Esteban believes Juan has the makings of a great singer like he himself once was. Esteban squandered away his fame and fortune by reckless behavior the same reckless behavior Juan now exhibits which he is trying to steer Juan away from. If his old contacts will listen, Esteban plans to take Juan to Madrid so that he can truly become a great serious singer under the management of one of the great impresarios.

    After a day outing at the market where he steals some oranges and some cloth and thus is trying to escape from the police, Juan runs into Maria in a private courtyard, she who he has never met. She has escaped from the convent and is stealing a dress from a clothes line to replace her convent garb. She leaves a token for the dress. She recognizes him. As she tells him she has no home, he, who is immediately attracted to her, takes her home with him. Maria eventually tells Juan that she has escaped from the convent to find him, as she has always been drawn to the magic that is his singing. Then, Lola shows up. Juan is able to make her go away without knowing that Maria is there.

    Esteban believes Maria to be nothing more than a street harlot, but Juan is able to convince him that she is a child of God. Juan then tells Esteban that they will indeed go to Madrid, and bring Maria along as their housekeeper.

    At the convent, Enrique is trying to find Maria. The Mother Superior (Nance O'Neil) tells him that as Maria had taken her vows, she was free to leave. Maria being drawn to music may provide a clue as to her whereabouts. Then, Lola arrives she has found a convent garment in Juans room, the garment which Enrique and the Mother Superior recognize as Marias. Enrique vows to travel to Madrid to kill Juan.

    In Madrid, Juan, Esteban and Maria rent a three-bedroom flat that is managed by a music aficionado, La Rumbarita (Mathilde Comont). A once great singer used to reside there, which they all believe is karma. Later at the audition with impresario Mischa, Juan displays his arrogant attitude about what he sees as the greatness of his singing. Although the audition is technically sound, Mischa tells Juan that he has no soul in his singing, and that he needs to have his heart broken to achieve true greatness. As such, Mischa, will not accept him as a client. After Juan storms out in disgust, Esteban negotiates payment all the money that he has - to Mischa to take Juan on as a client in lower level musical events, Juan not to know the financial arrangement. Mischa happily agrees, seeing this arrangement as a windfall.

    Back at the flat, Juan, angry about Mischas assessment, takes it out on Maria by berating her. But seeing how loyal she is to him, Juan changes his tune and declares his undying love for her. They embrace. Later, he visits a priest to make arrangements for their marriage. As Juan tells Esteban and La Rumbarita of the wedding, they go off to buy items for an engagement celebration party, but not before Esteban is able to tell Juan that Mischa has arranged for him to sing Pagliacci that evening. Juan is excited, but believes that Mischa has just come to his senses, not knowing about Esteban and Mischas financial arrangement.

    While Juan is alone at the flat, Enrique tracks Juan down, ready to kill him. Although they initially argue about the situation with Maria, Enrique, with a little help from Lola, is able to convince Juan to send Maria back to the convent, as his act of love is stealing her away from her vow to God, and that she would always be seen as harlot if they were to get married, thus sending her to eternal damnation. Knowing that Maria will not go willingly, Juan convinces Maria that he no longer loves her as he has reconciled with Lola. A tearful Maria, now believing the outside world is evil as Enrique once said, leaves with her brother back to Seville and San Agustín.

    Despite Juans broken heart, Esteban is able to convince Juan to proceed with the performance of Pagliacci by telling him the truth about his and Mischas financial arrangement. Juans performance ends up being a triumph, Juan who is emotionally spent after it. Mischa remarks that this Juan and the Juan at the audition are two totally different people. Mischa now wants to sign a legitimate contract with Juan. Regardless, Juan does not recover emotionally. As Esteban takes him back to Seville, Juan is bedridden, dying from a broken heart. Seeing what is happening to Juan, Lola decides to go to the convent to tell Maria the truth about their deception, which Lola now knows will lead to certain death for both Juan and Maria of broken hearts. Maria rushes to Juans side, the two who enter into a loving embrace.

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