1920s, 2/4, Drama, Howard Hawks, Review


Fazil (1928) - Photo Gallery - IMDb

#34 in my ranking of Howard Hawks’ filmography.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this romantic drama from the earliest days of the sound era (though only with a dedicated sound track and some sound effects, this is no talkie), but there’s also nothing particularly right with it either. It’s a rather bland and shallow clash of cultures that never convincingly establishes its characters or central relationship enough in order to actually pull any emotional reaction from the audience. It’s technically adept but kind of an empty, forgettable bit of filmmaking.

The Arabian prince Fazil, who shares the exact same starting point as Michael in Paid to Love interestingly enough, must go to Venice for diplomatic purposes. Uninterested in women, finding them to have little utility, he instantly falls in love with Fabienne, a Parisian woman in Venice and staying across the canal from the apartment he’s taken up residence in. They meet at a ball where he steals her away and they fall in love in a gondola. The movie then skips ahead weeks to where they are married in Paris.

Now, the version I saw was 71 minutes long, but the IMDb lists the movie’s length at an hour and twenty-eight minutes. I’m not sure where the seventeen minutes of footage went, but I have a feeling that a bulk of it might have come from here. The two go from newly met lovers to married instantly without ever getting a solid feel for either the characters themselves or the relationship that seems to make them so happy in this moment of bliss. That conflict is immediately introduced causing drama in a relationship that we don’t really have a grounding in undermines the overall effect.

Fabienne had a fiancé of sorts in John Clavering who has taken the news that his intended ran off with a foreign prince and married him rather well. He’s friendly still with only a very brief scene showing him being cordial and no more to Fabienne where she invites him to dinner. This invitation enrages Fazil who demands that Fabienne call him right back and cancel the invitation, which she flauntingly does not do in front of him. This causes a huge rift between the two and Fazil goes back to Arabia alone, determined to forget his Western wife.

Now, considering what comes next, I find this turn of events to be a mistake. This ends up essentially happening twice where Fabienne discovers two separate times that Fazil is a controlling and domineering husband who expects his wife to be so completely subservient of his interests that any exertion of her own freedom is anathema to him. That she would pine for him is one thing. That she would then go to Arabia in pursuit of her husband who takes her back before immediately oppressing her again ends up feeling off. It feels like the first break shouldn’t have happened and instead what we should have seen was the first, subtler manifestations of the culture shock awaiting Fabienne.

Well, it all comes to a head when Fabienne, trapped in Fazil’s palace for weeks even after having convinced him to send away the entirety of his harem, discovers from the sole remaining girl left on as her servant that Fazil has gone off to wed another woman. Then we get the second big moment of culture shock from Fabienne as she discovers, yet again, that Fazil is a controlling monster who thinks of her as less of a person than any man in the West would consider her. That she has to go through this twice feels off.

The movie ends with an escape attempt from Fabienne’s Western friends, a perfectly fine little slice of tension and action, where Fabienne gets shot and Fazil holds her, tears in his eyes, as his wife dies in his arms with him having poisoned himself so that they can be together forever in the afterlife. None of this is really bad, mind you, it’s just thin. For example, the idea that Fazil and Fabienne are great lovers is carried only by their interactions near the beginning of the film when they instantly fell into each other’s arms. With only a couple of small moments afterwards, the rest of the film is them being acrimonious to each other, so the weight of the film is towards them actually actively disliking each other not being great lovers. Is it unbelievable? No. Is it unconvincing? Yes.

Is it also pretty much completely forgettable? Yeah. I imagine that this will be the one film that I’ll forget the first from Hawks’ early body of work.

Rating: 2/4

4 thoughts on “Fazil”

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