The Sunday Intertitle: Zenda and the Art of Monocle Maintenance

The Rex Ingram PRISONER OF ZENDA (1922) might contain Ramon Novarro’s best work. As the villainous Rupert of Hentzau, and still using his birth name, Ramon Samaniegos, he’s suave and charismatic, and his unmistakable air of camp fits neatly with the stereotype of the effete villain.

David Wingrove tells me that Ingram named Novarro because the actor’s bottom reminded him of the Novarro Valley — a scenic beauty spot south of the border.

Relieved of the later need to centre a film or be sympathetic, Novarro is awesomely charismatic, leaving the boring stuff to the awesomely boring Lewis Stone. In his first scene, where the conspirators plot the uncrowned heir to the throne’s abduction, he gets no intertitles of his own, but has the tightest close-up as he draws a line across his throat to suggest what ought to be done, and then makes a hilarious and sulky “Oh, pooh!” face when told violence is off the table.

Stardom awaits!

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4 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Zenda and the Art of Monocle Maintenance”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Novarro was a great actor with a wide range and enormous charm. His death was exceptionally sad.

  2. And horrible! Particularly for the court’s failure to really take murder seriously when it involved a gay man as victim.

  3. revelator60 Says:

    The Prisoner of Zenda definitely features Novarro’s most enjoyable performance. His best straight-up dramatic role might be The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg or Jacques Feyder’s Daybreak (1931), one of the few sound credits Novarro had an any affection for. He’s also very good in The Red Lily (1924) and The Pagan (1929) and very campy as an Arab sheik in The Barbarian (1933).

    Alas, I don’t remember that most interesting story about Novarro’s name being in AndrĂ© Soares’s Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro, the best and most reliable source on the man, or in Ruth Barton’s excellent Rex Ingram: Visionary Director of the Silent Screen.

  4. Yes, I don’y know if there’s a respectable source for the bottom story. There wouldn’t be, would there?

    Student Prince is great, he really works in that.

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