New York Times Review
Devil May Care (1929)
December 23, 1929
By MORDAUNT HALL.
Published: December 23, 1929
If Armand de Treville, the gallant young officer of "Devil May Care," the talking and incidental singing film in which Ramon Novarro makes his bow in the new scheme of things, is torn between love and war (fighting for Napoleon after he escapes from Elba), then war loses, for here love is triumphant throughout, especially in the number of times the word ("Love") is uttered. Be that as it may, this "Devil May Care," which came to the Astor Theatre last night under the auspices of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer forces, is a pleasant entertainment in which Armand de Treville, played, of course, by Mr. Novarro, is escorted by the clinging shadow of coincidence.
It all happens just before and immediately after Napoleon breezed away from Elba, and, if one is to believe the lines of the dialogue, just when l'Empereur was counting on Armand de Treville to furnish him men and give a good fight to Louis XVIII's numbskulls, Armand was more in love than ever. Napoleon, however, was not aware that this d'Artagnan-like Armand had met his fate and was desperately in love, so much so that possibly tears of affection obscured his vision for the tricolor.
In this "Devil May Care" the fair sex are not in their places. They belong to 1929 and to Hollywood, and even the redoubtable and respectable, musical Mr. Novarro is not impressive as a Frenchman. He sings agreeably, but not as freely as one might anticipate after the constant references to his operatic career. And Sidney Franklin, the director, has helped matters with his romantic guidance. But the dialogue, especially the words uttered by Dorothy Jordan and Marion Harris, is hardly suited to a photoplay dated more than a century ago.
The valiant and fortunate Armand during one episode finds himself ready to be backed against a wall to face the carbines of the King's men. The Count de Grignon, being in a good humor, asks de Treville whether he has any last request, and the young officer hazards that he would like to direct his own execution. As a matter of fact, he is a wily fellow, for what he does, after de Grignon grants the plea, is to drill the soldiers, and while their weapons are on their shoulders, he decides to skip over a wall, and braving the bullets that hail after him, he succeeds in making his escape, after protesting his affection for the heroine and stealing a cuirassier's useful cape and helmet.
De Treville is an impudent fellow. He is disguised as a footman in the Countess Louise's home, but his admiration for the fair Leonie impels him to frighten the groom into abandoning his job, so that he, de Treville, can escort Leonie when she goes riding.
Such a man, even while facing guns or a sword duel, is bound in a film to come out virtually unscathed. As a footman, Armand pours forth his love in melody, just when he is cleaning the 1929 Leonie's many pairs of shoes. This passage is quite charming, and one does not exactly regret the fortuitous experiences of the silver-throated Napoleonic officer.
To say that there is suspense in this rigamarole would be a trifle imaginative, for does not one know full well that the gallant Armand, whether he be footman, groom, Napoleonic officer or what not, is going to deal defeat—and in a gallant fashion, mind you—to the obnoxious and far-from-Latin de Grignon, and also win the damsel of his heart, the trim Leonie.
Armand is a Gascon and like his prototype, d'Artagnan, he wills what he wants and he gets it, either through dear old coincidence, or co-incidence and his happy sword, or because Leonie wills that whether she is a Royalist or not, she can't resist the handsome de Treville.
Mr. Novarro gives a pleasing performance. He is youthful, happy and looks adventurous. Marion Harris fills the part of the Countess Louise and Dorothy Jordan does what she can with the role of Leonie. William Humphrey has some flowery lines in what here is the minor role of Napoleon, and John Miljan talks and acts wickedly as De Grignon.
The reproduction is fairly good, but once or twice last night the mechanics got beyond control of the operators in the projection booth.
The lyrics were composed by Clifford Grey and the music by Herbert Stothart. The story itself is said to be an adaptation of a French drama, Bataille des Dames.