Musical Monday: Devil-May-Care (1929)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

devilThis week’s musical:
Devil-May-Care (1929) – Musical #536

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Sidney Franklin

Starring:
Ramon Novarro, Dorothy Jordan, Marion Harris, John Miljan, Ann Dvorak (uncredited), John Carroll (uncredited)

Plot:
Set during the Napoleonic era, Armand de Treville (Novarro) is a soldier for Napoleon and is jailed by the king. He is about to be killed by a firing squad and escapes. He hides in the bedroom of beautiful Leonie de Beaufort (Jordan), who immediately decides she hates Armand because she is a royalist. Armand continues to hide out from the royalists at the home of his friend Countess Louise (Harris), where he hides as a servant. Leonie ends up being the cousin of the Countess and she stays with her and resists the advances of Armand.

Trivia:
-Ramon Novarro’s talking debut.
-Labeled the “first dramatic operetta of talking pictures,” according to Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro
By Andre Soares
-Composer Dimitri Tiomkin wrote the ballet music in the musical score.

Notable Songs:
-Charming performed by Ramon Novarro
-March of the Guard performed by a chorus
-If He Cared performed by Dorothy Jordan

Highlights:
-Ramon Novarro singing.
-The brief Technicolor portion featuring the Albertina Rasch Dancers

My review:
I honestly wasn’t expecting much as I went into “Devil-May-Care.” In fact, I didn’t know it was going to be a musical until I saw the title card which detailed it as a “musical romance.” But as I continued watching, this ended up being a pleasant little film.
I think my biggest take away from “Devil-May-Care” was that I had no idea that Ramon Novarro could sing and with such a pleasant voice! “Devil-May-Care” wasn’t only the first time audiences heard Novarro sing, but also was the first time they ever heard him sing, as this was Novarro’s first talking film.
At one time, Novarro was a top draw in the box offices and was known the “New Valentino.” While this film is noteworthy as his first talkie, like many others, Novarro’s star began to slip with the dawn of talking pictures.
“Devil-May-Care” has a pretty slow moving story, but it flowed better with song and plot line than any other early (1929-1930) movie musical I have seen to date.
The movie was met with positive, but unenthusiastic reviews. The Dec. 23, 1929, review by Mordaut Hall called is “pleasant entertainment.”
“Mr. Novarro is not impressive as a Frenchman. He sings agreeably, but not as freely as one might anticipate after the constant references to his operatic career,” Hall wrote.
Hall also humorously wrote about troubles in the projection room during his “Devil-May-Care” experience: “The reproduction is fairly good, but once or twice last night the mechanics got beyond control of the operators in the projection booth.”
The plot line itself is uninspired and a bit slow, and it’s a bit distracting that Novarro is supposed to be French but speaks with a heavy Mexican accent. However, this little musical is notable for allowing fans to first hear the voice Ramon Novarro.

Ramon Novarro and Dorothy Jordan

Ramon Novarro and Dorothy Jordan

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2 thoughts on “Musical Monday: Devil-May-Care (1929)

  1. Please pardon my extended comments, but I just finished watching this movie, back-to-back with Mr. Novarro’s preceding film, the Pagan. It was my third time viewing The Pagan, which is my one of my favorite late silent (Pagan Love Song alone is one of my favorite songs), and my first seeing Devil May Care. I don’t think I’d ever watched the last silent and the first talking film of a performer in that order without having seen both of them.

    Like yourself, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. We know what a large step backwards the new technology was: gone are the visual fluidity and that combination of music and visuals that make silent films such a treasure and speak to us individually as to what they conjure up within us as part of the viewing experience. Also, I’m not terribly impressed with MGM’s early talkies. Except for Norma Shearer’s debut, The Trial of Mary Dugan, which was filmed so early in 1929 that it gets an automatic excuse from me for its drawbacks, that debuts of that studio’s stars (Gilbert–I just watched Redemption, which was filmed in the late spring of 1929–what an atrocious presentation of MGM’s highest-paid star, Haines, and Keaton) seem to lack presenting the star’s personality very well in the new medium. Also, their editing for scene transitions was borderline awful in 1929-30.

    Wow, what an exception for Ramon Novarro! It was definitely, along with Ronald Colman’s Bulldog Drummond, the best initial talkie by a major star that I have seen. I echo your comments about the non-static nature (for most of it, anyway) of the film. I feel as though MGM got it just right in presenting Novarro’s silent-film personality, and the music only helped. He was in such fine voice: by the time he re-visited musicals in 1933, after three straight initial musicals, his range seemed to have diminished, but he certainly hit the high notes well, despite what Mordaunt Hall thought. I thought his romantic scenes–far from being the usual awkward ordeals in early talkies–were full of that same passion that he showed in his silents, and Dorothy Jordan, whatever her vocal drawbacks, paired well with him for that. I also enjoyed the humor of the film, and found myself laughing much more than I thought that I would. I am so pleased that at least one MGM star got the proper A++ treatment; truly, one can tell that the studio lavished a great deal of care upon this film, and I would throw this film in the teeth of anyone who uses the Singin’ in the Rain cliché about how wooden early talkies are.

    Two other things: nice to see John Miljan NOT playing a cold-hearted gangster, but just a long-winded “other” man who seems to be having fun with his florid lines. Also, that scene where Marion Harris is singing while sitting on Dorothy Jordan’s bed: did you notice that most of it was shot to the side? I don’t recall seeing that much, and it was odd to see Dorothy Jordan’s side eye movements–just very curious to me.

    Thanks for bearing with this long posting. I know that some of what I wrote was off-track, but what a great film!

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