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2013 May

Archives for May 2013

Mysticism, Exoticism, and Eroticism in “The Young Rajah”

Not only was this picture bold in addressing prejudice and racism, it attempted to normalize clairvoyance as well as provide audiences with a window on another culture, East Indian societal and religious points of view ~ things that were foreign to most American moviegoers in the 1920’s and therefore considered exotic.

Here we have June Mathis creating allure, magic on the screen, with Rudy in the leading role! But she is also fashioning the fable that is her script to reflect some of her most strongly held principles, and that is what gives this film an extra punch. June was very much the metaphysician in her personal life, participating in numerous séances and automatic writing sessions, often in the company of Rudy and Natacha, who were also believers in life beyond death. So, because it can, given the story line, “The Young Rajah” embraces mysticism ~ in short, the “bigger” picture, to an even greater extent than some of her other efforts.

Although Paramount may have considered this production low budget, they did employ Natacha to design the costumes, which must have cost plenty! Her renderings, I contend, introduced elements of another “ism” into the mix, eroticism. Amos, Rudy’s character, was very much at ease in his own skin, and the nature of his costumes, swathing him in pearls for example, added to that luster, and at the same time helped create a certain languor. That said, the character was also very vital, athletic and sporty ~ like the wild cat he held in his arms in one scene, always ready to spring into action.

One could easily make the case that given the costumes she designed for Rudy in this film, Natacha was more than willing to share him with the world, and she most certainly was successful in that endeavor!

Wayne Hatford

The Promise of Daleford

One of the most intriguing aspects of “The Young Rajah,” Rudy’s final film at Paramount prior to his self-imposed hiatus from that studio, is that it confronts racism, the idea of the “other” ~ those who are somehow different from us.

As others have also noted, the all-American boy look was the standard for leading men in pictures when Rudy burst upon the scene, became a star, in 1921. He almost single-handedly changed that calculation and, right on cue, lots of Latino-looking actors were suddenly offered contracts at pretty much all the major studios. Rudolph Valentino cracked the code. And his character in “The Young Rajah,” Amos Judd, did the same.

Amos was of East Indian origin in the script, mostly raised in the US, and a student at Harvard. He met Molly Cabot, Wanda Hawley’s character, at a “Reincarnation” party where the guests dressed in costumes that reflected who they thought they might have been (and/or wanted to be) in a “past” life. Kudos to June Mathis, by the way, for slipping this idea into the script! Doing so reflected her personal interests, also her desire to inform, as well as entertain, moviegoers.

By the end of the party, Amos is smitten and then he finds out that Molly and her father have rented a house in Daleford, Connecticut for the summer, which is where he lives.

So, Daleford, a mythical New England town, with solid American values! Amos fits in, but does he? There is some degree of racism implied, couched in the hostility directed at him by several fellow students, and a touch of the overt, in Molly’s case. She is very attracted to Amos but can’t get past his exoticism, darker complexion, commenting to her father, who supports the idea of their being a couple, that she “ couldn’t marry a man that was not of her own people” even though she has already discovered that his mother was European. By dint of a few plot machinations, however, Molly sees the light, literally and figuratively, her love for Amos rising above her own objections.

June Mathis was blunt in this film, two of the inter-titles referring to Molly’s views as prejudiced. She also injected respect for all religions, as well as a plea to judge people by the thoughts they think, not by the way they look. Ms. Mathis was a gifted screenwriter and even though this script did not quite hit the mark for the audiences of the time, I applaud the fact that she, and Rudy, were willing to take on these issues, especially given that Rudy had had some experience with them himself as an Italian immigrant.

This is an important film, for all sorts of reasons, not the bagatelle it was once thought to be. We are indeed fortunate that it has been restored and is available on DVD.

Wayne Hatford