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Pola Negri 'The Spanish Dancer' Restored

Pola Negri The Spanish Dancer
Pola Negri, The Spanish Dancer

Silent-film lovers in The Netherlands will be able to enjoy a new restoration of the 1923 Pola Negri period comedy The Spanish Dancer. Screening with live musical accompaniment, the film will be presented at 4:15 p.m. on Friday, April 6, and at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 8, 2012, at the EYE Film Institute Netherlands in Amsterdam.

On the Eye Film Institute website, The Spanish Dancer is described as a “comical costume drama.” Set in early 17th-century Spain, the story follows gypsy singer Maritana (Negri) and her lover, penniless nobleman Don César de Bazan (Antonio Moreno), as they become enmeshed in court intrigue. The screenplay is based on Adolphe d'Ennery and Philippe Dumanoir's play Don César de Bazan, itself taken from a Victor Hugo novella. Beulah Marie Dix and powerhouse producer-screenwriter June Mathis adapted the tale.

Directed by future Academy Award nominee Herbert Brenon (Sorrell and Son in 1927-28, the awards' first year), The Spanish Dancer also features future Oscar winner Wallace Beery (The Champ) as King Philip IV, former serial queen Kathlyn Williams as Queen Isabel of Bourbon, in addition to future Best Actor Academy Award nominee Adolphe Menjou (The Front Page) and Gareth Hughes (according to Metro star Viola Dana, a very sexually active gay man – one who would later in life leave acting behind to become a priest). I should add that as per the IMDb, future Oscar nominee Anne Shirley (Barbara Stanwyck's daughter in Stella Dallas) is also in the film, billed as Dawn O'Day in the role of Don Balthazar Carlos. That may not sound quite right, though I'm assuming the five-year-old Shirley/O'Day's Don Balthazar is a little (androgynous) boy.

A major star in post-World War I Germany, where she was featured in historical pageants directed by Ernst Lubitsch, the Polish-born Negri was lured to Hollywood by a lucrative offer from Paramount in 1923. In addition to The Spanish Dancer, that year she was also seen in Bella Donna and The Cheat. Though quite popular in her Hollywood movies, Negri was never able to maintain her superstar status on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. At Paramount, her much-publicized “rival” Gloria Swanson remained the Queen of the Lot.

Negri died at age 90 in San Antonio, Texas. For several decades, she shared her life with wealthy heiress Margaret West.

Now, the politically correct will quite likely bitch that The Spanish Dancer is proof of Hollywood's long-standing “racism,” for the film stars a Slavic actress playing a “Latina.” Well, even without delving into the inanity of the “Latino/a” label or discussing the fact that both Spain and Poland have always been melting pots of various European (and non-European) ethnicities, to be outraged by Negri's casting would be pure and simple ignorant bullshit.

If Spaniard Antonio Moreno and Mexicans Lupe Velez, Dolores Del Rio, and Ramon Novarro could (and did) play Germans and Americans and Frenchmen/women and Pacific Islanders and Arabs and Italians and you-name-it, surely Pola Negri was more than entitled to play a Spanish character. Or (at least) two: five years before The Spanish Dancer, Negri played Carmen in the Lubitsch-directed Carmen / Gypsy Blood.

The Spanish Dancer will be introduced by EYE silent film collection specialist Elif Rongen Kaynaçki and British film critic David Robinson. The live musical accompaniment will be provided by Sebastiaan van Delft (organ), Jacob Plooij (violin), Kay Sleking (guitar), Pien Straesser (soprano), and Martin de Ruiter (piano, composition and musical direction).

Also of note, premiering at the The Spanish Dancer EYE screening is the organ used to accompany silent films since 1929 at The Hague's Passagebioscoop (Passage Cinema). The EYE website explains the organ “not only is … able to make music but also imitate sounds - of a bird, castanets or a siren - as well as conjure up special sound effects. It's been fully restored to its former glory especially for the EYE.” Sounds like both a must-see and must-hear.

Pola Negri / The Spanish Dancer photo: EYE Film Institute


         
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1 Comment to Pola Negri 'The Spanish Dancer' Restored

  1. Cheryl Monteiro

    As a huge fan of Antonio Moreno's (and Pola's), I am very saddened I cannot see this new restored version without physically traveling to the Eye Institute. Is there ANY way the institute could put it onto a disc for a price, or will this lovely, new version EVER make it onto a commerical DVD? It's hard to get excited when no one can view it other than film students who can make such a trip!