THE BARBARIAN. MGM, 1933. Ramon Navarro, Myrna Loy, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith, Edward Arnold, Hedda Hopper.  Screenwriters: Anita Loos & Elmer Harris. Directed by
Sam Wood.

   Myrna Loy is the only reason that anyone would watch this movie today. (And whatever became of Ramon Navarro?) It’s a strange mixture of comedy and strong melodrama, and maybe all the more fascinating (and “keepable”) because of it. (Or maybe not, since I’ve already reused the tape and recorded over it after watching it only once.)

   Here’s the story line. Besides being a guide, Navarro is a romantic gigolo who spends his time watching the Cairo train station for the arrival of rich foreign tourist women – rich, lonesome, and easy prey for men such as this. When Myrna Loy’s train comes in, however, he immediately drops everything (and everyone) else, and from that time on, she is the object of his never-ending attention and affection.

   This causes some problems, mostly amusing, at the beginning. She is already engaged to be married. (Reginald Denny is a stuffed shirt, true, but she loves him.) She also has the unfortunate ability to see through Navarro’s “charms.” She is flattered, but she spurns his advances – and this is a bad mistake. Suddenly the movie isn’t quite so funny any more. In fact, in a wedding scene that comes soon after, the atmosphere is extremely tense indeed.

   From here, this slightly risque, crazy-quilt tale muddles its way through to a conclusion that could only be described as “totally expected,” but through it all, Myrna Loy somehow still manages to hold her own. This maybe the only movie in which she is seen taking (and leaving) a bubble bath, and now that I am thinking about it, maybe I shouldn’t have erased it after all.

– Reprinted from Mystery*File #32, July 1991, in slightly revised form.