The decline in the career of Ramon Novarro, MGM’s eager & energetic romantic leading man, can trace its beginnings to this unfortunate little film. After his great success with THE PAGAN & DEVIL-MAY-CARE (both 1929), this had to have been quite a disappointment. With his pleasant accent & fine singing voice, Novarro had already proved that talking pictures would be no problem for him – if given the right roles.
But Hollywood was about to go out of the Latin Lover movie business. With new stars like Robert Montgomery & Clark Gable soon to ascend, male masculinity would be the vogue and gender ambiguity – represented by Novarro, Billy Haines & Nils Asther – would not only no longer be in fashion, but could be viewed as rather dangerous by the Studio front offices.
Starting with IN GAY MADRID, Novarro would enter a bumpy flight of highs & lows in the films he would be assigned, ending with a crash landing in THE NIGHT IS YOUNG (1934). He would play the parts well, in a kaleidoscope of ethnic disguises, but ultimately his MGM stardom was doomed.
In MADRID, Novarro once again plays a school boy, a part for which he was about a dozen years too old. The love story is pure soap opera and not very compelling. Novarro’s fellow students, strangely all male, have the distressing habit of frequently breaking into rousing campus choruses, sounding rather too much like Wiffenpoof wannabes. Novarro is the only member of the cast who seems to care about exhibiting even a scintilla of Spanish sensibility.
Novarro is reunited with lovely Dorothy Jordan, his costar in DEVIL-MAY-CARE, but she is essentially given mostly silly señorita dialogue and so becomes tedious quite quickly. Plump little Beryl Mercer provides some moments of sly fun as Miss Jordan’s maiden aunt.
Novarro’s natural charm gets to slip out at times. His songs, especially the serenaded ballads, are very enjoyable (Xavier Cugat was responsible for some of the music). And in the scene in which he tries to regale his father with details of an imaginary taxi accident, Novarro is very funny. Too bad the rest of the film kept tripping him up…
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