“In the Theaters” by Benton Dembow
“Gypsy Blood,” a new moving picture at the Mark Strand Theatre, is the imported version of a German-made picture from the creators of the celebrated “Passion.” This time they have taken on the story known to opera lovers from Bizet’s “Carmen.” And the Carmencita of the astonishing Pola Negri is not the Carmencita we have known or seen before. Her Gypsy cigarette maker sparkles with a vivid touch of the hoyden–her appeal to men is not a subtle one–it is entirely forceful and direct.

In a remarkable feat of acting, Pola Negri has made Carmencita the unscrupulous Gypsy girl of the opera— cruel–unmoral rather than immoral–you feel constantly the primitive instinct of her–you find it in your heart to understand the men who do not quite trust her, yet who love her in spite of themselves–who give up their homes and beloveds to follow her.

For the first time, the wayward heroine of Prospero Merimee’s novelette actually appears before us–a woman of flesh and blood, of verity and conviction, captivating and unforgettable–a Gypsy through and through, passionate, instinctive and perverse—a dirty, fickle, seductive, cruel, wild-blooded creature of uncontrolled desire and primitive ferocity, careless of personal appearance, shameless and self-sufficient, brazenly independent. Her face and hands and arms are soiled and grimy; her clothes ragged and unsightly. And yet she is seductive to all who witness her, characters and audience alike, for her seductiveness goes far deeper than mere appearances; it springs from an inner, hidden flame of powerful desire and wantonness. And Pola Negri makes this power felt, and breathes life into her characterization despite the dirt and the tattered aspect of her garments. Of all of the Carmen’s we have seen over the years, hers will be the truest, the least artificial–the least “acted”– and the nearest to the actuality of Merimee’s conception. It takes great courage and a high capacity of talent to portray so real and unadorned a Carmen; but Negri’s brilliance is equal to the task, and this role will live when the others are forgotten, because she subordinated herself–and her beauty even–to the demands of an unlovely but compelling truth.

(Author’s note:  Benton Dembow was a drama critic in 1921 when Pola Negri first took America be storm–and suffered some obsessive complications because of it.  Read my forthcoming novel, “The Ardent Admirer” for the whole story of fame, celebrity, blackmail and murder.)