Wednesday, July 11, 2018


Film in Focus

By Ed Garea

Untamed (MGM, 1929) – Director: Jack Conway. Writers: Sylvia Thalberg & Frank Butler (adaptation), Willard Mack (dialogue), Charles E. Scroggins (story), Lucille Newmark (titles), Stars: Joan Crawford, Robert Montgomery, Ernest Torrence, Holmes Herbert, John Miljan, Gwen Lee, Edward J. Nugent, Don Terry, Gertrude Astor, Milton J. Fahrney, Lloyd Ingraham, Grace Cunard. Tom O’Brien & Wilson Benge. B&W, 86 minutes.

Now that sound was the norm, MGM decided to try out two of their more promising stars, Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery, in this rather bizarre romance that moves from the jungles of South America to the urban sprawl of New York City with a little music added, being as it’s a sound picture.

Crawford is Alice Dowling, raised in the jungle by her oil-exploring father Hank (Ingraham). Nicknamed “Bingo” by the natives, she loves to sing and dance, as is shown in the film’s opening sequence. Yes, Bingo is her name-o. One thing Crawford proves is that she can dance, but she’s no singer. Warbling “Chant of the Jungle,” she sounds like a cat in heat. The natives, obviously desperate for entertainment, love her singing and gyrations. 

In the midst of her revelry she is interrupted by the arrival of several oil workers, led by Bennock (Miljan). He tells her it’s been a long time since he’s seen a woman sing and dance, and would she repeat the performance. Of course, she would, but as she goes into her dance he gets amorous and attacks her, only to be beaten off by a flurry of fists from Bingo and threats from the natives.

Meanwhile Hank is indulging in his hobby – getting stone drunk – at the local waterhole. There he’s found by old friends Ben Murchison (Torrence) and Howard Presley (Herbert). The meeting its broken up by the arrival of Bennock, who offers Hank drinking money in return for Bingo. Hank takes umbrage at the offer and gets into a brief scuffle during the course of which his weak heart gives out. Taken back to his hut Hank tells Ben and Howard about a tin box underneath his bed that contains a clear title to huge tracts of oil rich land further south, Before he dies he has them promise to take Bingo out of the jungle and make sure she gets her fair share of the royalties. 

Ben and Howard take Bingo to New York City aboard a tramp steamer, where she meets and falls for Andy McAllister (Montgomery). Andy has looks, charm and education, but lacks money. The romance worries Ben and Howard, not only because Andy is poor, but also that realize that while they have taken Bingo out of the jungle, it will take some time to take the jungle out of Bingo and make her into a proper lady. For instance, Bingo later threatens to beat up Marjorie (Lee), the woman Andy had been dating, if she doesn’t give him up.

Just when we begin to wonder just how Ben and Howard are going to civilize Bingo, a title tells it that it’s eight months later, and Bingo, now known by her proper name of Alice Dowling, is a proper society woman, save for her quick temper. She still loves Andy and he still loves her, but he refuses to live off her money. On the eve of their engagement party Ben writes Andy a check for $50,000. The plan is that Andy will be so insulted he will tear the check up and leave forever. In that case Howard, who has fallen himself for Alice, can marry her, even though she never once considered him as a romantic partner. Andy, however, throws a monkey wrench into their plan when he tells them he’ll take the money and marry Marjorie on it.

Later, after he gets thoroughly soused at the party, Andy decides to tear up the check after all. At the urging of Bingo, Ben and Howard offer Andy a job running the Dowling mines in South America. He can now marry Alice and not have to worry about her money becoming an issue.


This was the first pairing of Crawford and Montgomery and was a box-office success, returning a profit of $508,000 for MGM,

The critics, though, weren’t as kind. Mordaunt Hall, in The New York Times, noted that, “… this pictorial effusion never really appears to get outside the wall of a Hollywood studio. It does wander, however, from anything real, and the trite dialogue and vacillating natures of some of the persons involved make one shudder to think to what queer lengths producers can go with their relatively new vocalized toy … Miss Crawford has a good voice, but she never strikes one as a girl who has been away from civilization for most of her life. There are moments when the fault is with Miss Crawford, and then there are instances where one is impelled to sympathize with her because of her lines.”  

The Brooklyn Eagle, on the other hand, was kinder in its evaluation: “If Untamed does little else for Miss Crawford, it proves that she is an actress for whom the microphones should hold no fear. Her diction is clear and unaffected and while there is nothing in the lines that offers her opportunity for exceptional acting, she managed to make the impulsive heroine of the story somewhat more credible than the part deserves.”     

Crawford took an understandable interest in the film, as it was to be her featured sound debut. Though she never doubted her ability to talk, she bought a Dictaphone in 1929 and with husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr. supervising her, began reading verse from the English love-poets into it. Lowering the timbre of her voice, she found it recorded well, causing some at MGM to hail her as a new singing star. However, after getting a load of her singing in the film the studio decided to focus just on her acting abilities. Worse, later in the film she and Montgomery sing a duet of “That Wonderful Something Is Love,” proving Montgomery was an even worse singer than his co-star.

Technically, Untamed was a good movie, with varied camera movement and the actors delivering their lines in a naturalistic manner without obviously hunching over into a microphone and taking pauses between each other’s lines. Crawford shines in her part, though Montgomery comes off a little stiff. Torrence and Herbert acquit themselves nicely, and the direction by Jack Conway combines with the production values for a well made film, despite the dizzy plot. 


During post-production a fire broke out at Consolidated Film Industries Laboratories where the negatives for Untamed were being edited, resulting in one death and the destruction of the physical plant. However, five of six adjoining vaults containing film negatives were undamaged. MGM reportedly “lost negatives” for Untamed, but no further information was given as to the extent of the loss, and no resulting release delays were announced.

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