Review: The Spanish Dancer (1923)
My review of The Spanish Dancer, a silent costume drama from director Herbert Brenon, could really be six words long Pola Negri, Pola Negri, Pola Negri. She is dazzling in this 1923 programmer. Sure, there’s action and romance; there’s a dissolute king and a dashing prince; there’s even Wallace Beery. But mostly, there is Pola Negri.
Pola Negri is a beautiful Gypsy dancer Maritana, who falls in love with a penniless nobleman Don Cesar de Bazan (Antonio Moreno). But debauched King Philip IV (Wallace Beery) has his roving eye on Maritana as well and he’s not above executing a romantic rival to get what he wants. There’s a bit of political intrigue thrown into the mix as well with Queen Isabel of Bourbon (Kathlyn Williams) not only suspicious of the King’s extracurricular activities, but his intentions toward her native France.
In terms of filmmaking, The Spanish Dancer doesn’t set the world on fire. It is, however, a fine example of the kind of melodramatic action-adventure tale an average movie goer of 1923 would see. While director Brenon doesn’t get too fancy, he does an excellent job of keeping the multiple characters and plot points concise and clear, and he manages to keep the tale front of two lovers front and center. Moreno makes a charming rake and Wallace Beery simply oozes creepy smarm. Kathlyn Williams is also excellent as the imperious Queen, but as I noted, Pola Negri steals the show.
Unlike poor Theda Bara who wore her vampishness about as elegantly as a burlap sack, Pola Negri wears her exotic sensuality like a sable coat. In The Spanish Dancer, Negri is all eyes – lovely, mysterious, and dark eyes. Except when she is a all hips while dancing with her Gypsy troupe for the King’s court. It’s completely plausible that a nobleman would risk pissing off the King for her love.
This transfer of The Spanish Dancer from reelclassicdvd.com is in fine shape. There’s no problems with the picture and the original score from Richard Price strikes the right note. Working mostly with piano (always my preference with a home release of a silent), the score supports the plot and the action without being overwhelming, but provided the right playful accent when appropriate. What village festival scene shouldn’t have a kazoo?
In short, The Spanish Dancer is not one of those pinnacles of silent movie making. But is fun and entertaining, and those are the chief reasons to watch a movie, no? Full of romance and intrigue and the lovely, lovely Pola Negri, this movie should be on every silent film fan’s wish list.
The Spanish Dancer disc also includes the fun oater short “The Man from Tia Juana” (1917). Directed by James W. Horne and starring Martin Sais and Jack Hoaxie, this short is the 15th installment in the Kalem “American Girl” series. You know the story – good guys and bad guys, bank robbers and lawmen, and big shoot ‘em up. And you know if all equals FUN!
I got my copy of The Bells on dvd from reelclassicdvd.com. For a mere $20, you can too. You can also pick up any of a number of hard to find silent era films on dvd.
Produced by Famous Players-Lasky
Written by Adolphe Philippe d’Ennery(novel Don Cesar de Bazan)
Dumanoir (Philippe Francois Pinel) (novel Don Cesar de Bazan)
June Mathis (treatment, scenario)
Beulah Marie Dix (treatment, scenario)
Cinematography James Wong Howe
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) November 4, 1923
Running time 9 reels at 8,434 feet (appr. 90-100 minutes)
Country United States
Language English subtitles
Antonio Moreno as Don Cesar de Bazan
Wallace Beery as King Philip IV
Kathlyn Williams as Queen Isabel of Bourbon
Gareth Hughes as Lazarillo
Adolphe Menjou as Don Salluste
Edward Kipling as Marquis de Rotundo
Anne Shirley as Don Balthazar Carlos (billed as Dawn O’Day)
Charles A. Stevenson as Cardinal’s Ambassador
Robert Agnew as Juan
Have you seen this movie?
Be sure to add your rating and review in the comments!
While the filmmaking is a little work-a-day, there's always Pola Negri, Pola Negri, Pola Negri.
"The Spanish Dancer" might not set the screen afire, but there's no real con. The story is engaging and exciting and even the pacing is fairly modern for a silent film. Oh and did I mention Pola Negri.