Ramon Novarro 'The Red Lily' & Pedro Infante 'Las Mujeres de Mi General': TCM

Early Mexican-born screen heartthrob Ramon Novarro is back on Turner Classic Movies this evening with a presentation of Fred Niblo's silent melodrama The Red Lily (1924).

That will be followed by another Ismael Rodríguez effort, Las mujeres de mi general (“The Women of My General”), a 1951 starring Mexican icon Pedro Infante as a rebel general torn between two women, as TCM continues its celebration of 100 years of the start of the Mexican Revolution (which coincides with Hispanic Heritage Month).

The Red Lily isn't one of Novarro's best silent films. Both in terms of style and plot, it's quite dated. In fact, it probably felt dated even back in 1924.

Historically, The Red Lily is important merely as the the second time Novarro worked with director Fred Niblo, who would guide him the following year in the monumental Ben-Hur, and as Novarro's first effort at the newly founded Metro-Goldwyn, an amalgamation of Metro Pictures (where Novarro was a contract player), Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Productions. (The name Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would be coined a little later.)

The information below is from my Novarro biography Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro:

Following his contract renewal [from $500 to $1,000 a week], Novarro started work on The Red Lily, his first picture to be produced by the new studio. This project reunited him with Thy Name Is Woman director Fred Niblo, whose wife, the blonde and round-faced Enid Bennett (a type similar to Alice Terry [Novarro's leading lady in most of his previous films]), was cast as the female lead—her fifteenth role under her husband's guidance. The story, created by Niblo and adapted by Bess Meredyth for the screen, concerns two young lovers who leave their French village for Paris to begin a new life away from small-town intolerance. In spite of the young couple's high hopes, a series of mishaps turn life in the big city into an urban nightmare—the boy becomes a thief, and the girl a prostitute known as the Red Lily—but all ends (absurdly) well at the final fade-out.

When Niblo was unable to find a boy to play Novarro's character as a child, the actor suggested his thirteen-year-old brother Eduardo, who was reportedly hired for the part (if so, his scenes were cut from the final continuity).

Four months after wrapping up, The Red Lily opened at the Capitol Theater on September 28 to mostly negative reviews. Critics described the picture as “sordid” and “hackneyed,” and its characters as “revolting” and “prime specimens of degraded humanity.” Only Enid Bennett's small-town girl turned prostitute was singled out for praise, with the New York Times declaring that the actress “gives one of the most remarkable performances ever seen on the screen.” Novarro was generally panned for his immature and contrived performance, which is especially unsettling when compared to Bennett's subtler and more complex portrayal. Without [mentor Rex] Ingram to tone him down, Novarro's pantomime in this heavy-handed melodrama seems exaggerated even by silent film standards. Nonetheless, the actor was pleased with the results, later referring to The Red Lily as “quite a good picture.”

Variety predicted that The Red Lily would wither once word spread of its downbeat tone, but even though final numbers are unavailable, according to trade magazine reports The Red Lily performed quite well in the fall of 1924. Scaramouche was Novarro's biggest blockbuster of the year, followed by three medium-range successes: The Arab, Thy Name Is Woman, and The Red Lily. Yet, his four pictures notwithstanding, Novarro failed to be included among the top ten box office stars in the 1924 Film Daily poll of exhibitors—an especially puzzling omission, since Rex Ingram, with only Scaramouche and The Arab to his credit, was ranked in third place in the directors' list. 


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  Ramon Novarro 'The Red Lily' & Pedro Infante 'Las Mujeres de Mi General': TCM © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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  1. darlarosa says:

    Part of me wonders if the immature and contrived nature of his performance was partially initial. The character of Jean is incredibly childish. He tosses Marise away because she no longer has the "face of an angel", and expects his choice to leave his father to simply leave him alone. He's such a man child. At times its SO over the top, but at other moments it seems to be almost intentional.