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The Squall
IMDB Rating: 4.8/10 from NOT RATED votes
Release: 01 May 1929 /

The Squall

Genre: Drama
Director: Alexander Korda,
Synopsis: In Hungary, a prosperous and happy family of farmers take in a Gypsy girl, Nubi, when she runs away from her cruel master. Her fickle and seductive nature soon causes discord among the ...

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Critic Reviews

No one is going to mistake The Squall for a good movie, but it sure is a memorable one. Once you've witnessed Myrna Loy's performance as Nubi the hot-blooded gypsy girl you're not likely to forget the experience. When this film was made the exotically beautiful Miss Loy was still being cast as foreign vixens, often Asian and usually sinister. She's certainly an eyeful here. It appears that her skin was darkened and her hair was curled. In most scenes she's barefoot and wearing little more than a skirt and a loose-fitting peasant blouse, while in one scene she wears nothing but a patterned towel. I'm focusing on Miss Loy's appearance because she is by far the best if not the only reason to tune in to this antiquated early talkie and to stick with it. You sure won't be held by the dialog, which is hopeless. In one typical passage, Nubi gazes out the window at the departing caravan and waxes poetic: "Always the gypsies, they sing. Weird and sad. When the big sun have breath of fire that burn, and when the pale moon look from behind cloud and breathe air cold as death, they sing." Poetic, or what? Lovers of purple prose will have a field day. I can't help but wonder, however, if in her later years Miss Loy preferred to forget her involvement with this project.

Like so many early talkies this one was an adaptation of a Broadway success. The stage version opened at the 48th Street Theatre in November of 1926 and ran for over a year. The play provoked a famous episode involving the humorist and theater critic Robert Benchley, who had a well-known aversion to characters who spoke in thick dialect or pidgin English. According to a much-repeated anecdote Mr. Benchley squirmed uncomfortably through the opening portion of this show. The Spanish village setting (which became a village in Hungary for the movie, for some reason) gave the actors license to practice accents with varying degrees of success, but Benchley's patience reached its limit when, during a family dinner sequence, a door burst open and an actress dressed as a gypsy girl dashed into the room shouting "Help! Help! He keel me!" She then threw herself at the feet of the mistress of the household and exclaimed "Me Nubi! Me good girl! Me stay here!" At that point Mr. Benchley rose and announced to his companion: "Me Bobby. Me bad boy. Me go now," and left the theater.

The film version offers numerous examples of unintended humor but never approaches Benchley's level of wit. The melodramatic plot concerns the Lajos family: father Josef, mother Maria, and son Paul, a student at the nearby college. We would consider this prosperous family "upper-middle class" as they are landowners with servants and all the comforts of life, but their comfortable existence is abruptly thrown into turmoil when a gypsy caravan arrives in the village and their home is invaded by, yes, Nubi the nubile gypsy girl. She arrives at their door during the storm of the title-- symbolizing stormy emotions, I daresay. The girl is fleeing an abusive relationship and begs for sanctuary. After considering the matter the Lajos family agrees to hide her from her angry lover, who shows up shortly afterward but is turned away. Nubi becomes a servant in the household. Kindness motivated the family's decision to take her in, but soon enough that conniving little Nubi pays them back by seducing every able-bodied male in the vicinity, starting with the Lajos' servant Peter, then working her way up to son Paul. Nubi breaks up Paul's relationship with his fiancé Irma (played by Loretta Young, still a teenager), causes him to flunk out of school, and then prompts him to buy jewelry for her by stealing the savings of the family's maid Lena (ZaSu Pitts). Lena, for her part, is still mourning the loss of her own fiancé Peter, seduced and tossed aside by Nubi when she turned her attentions to Paul. Ultimately Nubi sets her sights on the patriarch Josef, and I suppose if the running time had been longer she also would've gone after Uncle Dani, Maria, the village priest and God knows who else.

I guess it goes without saying that a scenario like this one easily lends itself to parody, but even so during its first half The Squall exerts the undeniable fascination of a daytime soap: we watch, hypnotized, as the Bad Girl works her spell on the men-folk and wreaks havoc like an irresistible force of nature, almost like-- a storm! Ah-ha, another metaphor! But as the plot machinations grind onward the campy fun fades. During the later scenes we see less of Nubi as the focus switches to the dysfunctional dynamics of the Lajos family, and frankly after a while these people get to be a real drag. The son in particular behaves like an absolute heel, yet the parents never acknowledge this or face up to their own shortcomings; everything, we're told, is the fault of Nubi, that no-good tramp.

The men of the cast are dull. Aside from Miss Loy the only actress who rises to the occasion is ZaSu Pitts, terrific as usual. The mother of the Lajos household is played by Alice Joyce, a longtime silent star who seemed out of her element with speaking roles, and who retired soon after this. Loretta Young's fresh prettiness provides a nice contrast to Nubi's dusky allure, but her line readings are so awkward it's kind of endearing. No, there's only one reason to watch this flick, and that's Nubi herself. I can't think of another actress who could've played this silly role and managed to come off half as well. I'm not an objective observer, however. I have a desperate crush on Myrna Loy and will watch her in anything, even The Squall.

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