(director: Tod Browning; screenwriter: from the novel Days of Souls by Charles Tenney Jackson/Waldemar Young; cinematographer: John Arnold; editor: Errol Taggart; music: Darrell Raby; cast: John Gilbert (Cock Robin), Lionel Barrymore (The Greek), Renée Adorée(Salome – the Dancer), Gertrude Short (Lena – the sheep herder’ daughter), Edward Connelly (The Soldier), Andy MacLennan (The Ferret), Zalla Zarana (Zela), Betty Boyd (Neptuna), Edna Tichenor (Arachnida); Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Tod Browning; MGM; 1927-silent)
“The location shots around the carnival are atmospheric.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The long-lost silent resurfaced in the mid-1970s. It’s set at a Hungarian carnival, which features a “freak show” known as the Palace of Illusions. Director Tod Browning(“Freaks”/”Devil Doll”/”Dracula”) keeps it fairly entertaining, and the location shots around the carnival are atmospheric. Writer Waldemar Young adapts it from the novel Days of Souls by Charles Tenney Jackson, but only keeps intact from the book the subplots of the blind father and the anti-hero’s moral redemption.
The performers in the Hungarian carnival include the womanizer Cock Robin (John Gilbert), who plays John the Baptist and is the show’s “ballyhoo man”; the dancer Salome (Renée Adorée), and a fiendish jealous villain known as the Greek (Lionel Barrymore).
Robin steals money from a farm girl (Gertrude Short), whose shepherd father was murdered by the Greek, and Salome agrees to hide Robin in her room while the police search for him. Meanwhile the Greek, jealous that his girlfriend Salome is paying attention to Robin, tries killing him during the show (like beheading him in his John the Baptist act), but fails. The compassionate Salome, as an act of kindness, writes letters to her father, a blind soldier (Edward Connelly), pretending to be his condemned to death imprisoned son, while keeping from dad anything bad about his son.
In Salome’s room, the Greek tries killing Robin with a venomous iguana, but instead gets poisoned and dies. Meanwhile Robin has a change of heart and falls in love with Salome, and in act of redemption returns the stolen money to the police.
This was Tod Browning, in his favorite carnival environment, preparing for future great horror pics. Too bad the climax had such a sugary and unconvincing end, in an otherwise satisfactory thriller.
REVIEWED ON 7/10/2013 GRADE: B-