“I will create my own being: that boy! That boy will be my counterpart, he shall be what I should have been…”
A crippled puppeteer (John Barrymore) named Tsarakov channels his desire for fame as a dancer into an adopted young boy (Frankie Darro); but his unwillingness to allow grown Fedor (Donald Cook) a chance for love with a beautiful ballerina (Marian Marsh) leads to tragic consequences.
Warner Brothers’ follow-up to the box office success of Svengali (1931) afforded John Barrymore another scenery-chewing role as a demented impresario who will stop at nothing to achieve his dreams of fame and fortune. While the story itself feels somewhat contrived — after all, what proof does Tsarakov have that Fedor’s “serious” relationship with Nana (Marsh) will ruin his chances for success? — Barrymore remains a pleasure to watch, and Barney McGill’s shadowy cinematography creates an appropriately stylized air of imminent doom. Cook, unfortunately, is instantly forgettable as Tsarakov’s young protegee (perhaps he was intentionally cast as someone without much personality?), but Marsh is at least beautiful to look at, and Luis Alberni as Tsarakov’s drug-addicted musical director is appropriately over-the-top. Film fanatics take note: Boris Karloff appears briefly in the beginning of the story as Fedor’s abusive father, though only his distinctive voice emerges as proof that he’s part of the proceedings.
P.S. It’s always enjoyable to look for evidence of “Pre-Code” sensibilities in early Hollywood films; the following comment — made by Nana’s new lover, Count Renaud (Andre Luguet), as they travel together on a train for the first time — is a good example:
Listen to this one, Nana: It was their wedding night. The timid bride knelt by their bedside, saying her prayers. The Groom waited patiently beside her. At last she said, “And now I lay me down to sleep,” and the groom said, “Oh, yeah?” Good, eh?
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- John Barrymore as Tsarakov
- Barney McGill’s atmospheric cinematography
- A refreshingly risque pre-Code script
No, but it’s certainly worth a look.
Posted on August 10th, 2008 by admin
Filed under: Original Reviews