SIREN OF THE TROPICS
(director/writer: Henri Étiévant; screenwriters:Maurice Dekobra; cinematographers: Albert Duverger/Paul Cotteret; music: Scott Paulson; cast: Josephine Baker (Papitou), Pierre Batcheff (André Berval), Georges Melchior (Marquis Sévéro), Regina Dalthy (Marquise Severo), Adolphe Candé ((Papitou’s drunken father), Colette, Janine, Jean Borelli (Baby triplets), Joe Alex (Hangho), Regina Thomas (Denise), Wladimire Kwanine (Le régisseur Alvarez); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer; Louis Aubert: Kino Lorber Home Video; 1927-silent- B/W-France-in French with English subtitles)
“Though the story lacks credibility, the star is terrific.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The American ex-pat Josephine Baker became the first Black woman to star in a major studio picture. This is her first film role after starring in nightclub acts in Paris in 1926. French filmmaker Henri Étiévant (“The Drunkard”/”A Night of Romance”) is director and co-writer with Maurice Dekobra. It plays out as a drama, a romance and a comedy, as its unable to settle on a genre as it moves along.
Marquis Sévéro (Georges Melchior) is a rich and lazy Parisian who wants to divorce his wife (Regina Dalthy) so that he can marry his pretty young goddaughter Denise (Regina Thomas). She rejects the advances of the sleazy Marquis, who refuses to give her permission to marry the one she loves, a young engineer, André Berval (Pierre Batcheff), who was hired by the elegant Marquise (Regina Dalthy). The conniving Marquis orders Berval to go to the West Indies and its fictional mining town of Monte Puebla to do prospecting for his mining company and promises he can marry Denise when he returns home. The Marquis then arranges for the ruthless manager of his mining company, his right-hand man, Alvarez (Wladimire Kwanine), to make sure the engineer never returns to France.
Upon arriving in the tropics, the engineer saves the free-spirited native girl Papitou (Josephine Baker) from being sexually assaulted at a pond. She is suspicious when Alvarez the next day takes Berval by a shortcut to Monte Puebla and follows them unseen as they ride there on horses. When one of Alvarez’s henchmen knocks Berval unconscious at a river crossing and leaves him for dead in that isolated area, she comes along to revive him and save his life.
When Berval soon returns to Paris, the primitive native has fallen for him and becomes a stowaway on a boat to follow him to Paris. In Paris she learns he is in love with Denise. Papitou thereby finds salvation by remaining in Paris and becoming a hit as a dancer in the nightclubs.
The lively star shows off her dancing ability, gift for comedy and to look good coming out of a role where she’s cast as the primitive Negro (a stereotyped Negro role) who through her strong performance evolves as a survivor in a sophisticated world by being exotic, cunning and herself. Though the story lacks credibility, the star is terrific.
REVIEWED ON 5/1/2022 GRADE: B