Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Pagan

Go To

The Pagan is a 1929 film directed by W.S. Van Dyke, starring Ramon Novarro.

A greedy white trader, Slater (Donald Crisp) stops off at an island somewhere in the Paumotu Islands of French Polynesia, looking for a source of copra (dried cocoanut meat). He is intrigued to hear about one Henry Shoesmith (Novarro), a "half-caste" who inherited a cocoanut plantation from his white father, but has made no effort to work it.

Slater meets Shoesmith, who clearly was raised as a Polynesian and is so innocent and guileless that he simply lets Slater have the cocoanuts for free. Henry becomes annoyed at the frenzy of activity that disturbs his formerly quiet estate, but he's more interested in Slater's young female ward, Tito (Dorothy Janis). Tito is an orphan who has been in the care of Slater for some indefinite period. Slater, who is quite racist towards Polynesians, has been training Tito, a "half-caste" like Henry, to act and talk white. Henry and Tito are immediately attracted to each other, to the extreme displeasure of Slater, who has less than wholesome intentions for his young ward.


Made at the tail end of the silent era, this film has an original soundtrack, some sound effects, and some songs performed by Novarro and Janis. Compare White Shadows in the South Seas, another film shot by Van Dyke in the south Pacific around this same time, which dealt with similar themes.


  • Actually, I Am Him: Slater insults Henry when they first meet, thinking him some random loafing native instead of the plantation owner that Slater has come to see. Henry, who really is excessively nice, takes no offense.
  • Evil Colonialist: Slater is the standard-issue white racist and ruthless exploiter of the natives. He takes advantage of Henry's naivete to get his coconuts for free. He later gives Henry some disingenuous advice to "borrow money from the bank" to stock his store. Slater owns the bank. He forecloses.
  • Advertisement:
  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: Sort of—it isn't new money, as Henry inherited the plantation, even if he's never bothered to work it. But his attempt to become a businessman rapidly results in his plantation being foreclosed, as he has no clue that the loans he's been taking out have to be repaid.
  • Hong Kong Dub: Whenever Novarro or Janis are shown singing, their mouths are horribly out of sync with the songs.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Madge, the village whore (Renee Adoree). She is deeply in love with Henry, and helps him find happiness with Tito.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Madge. She creates a distraction to help Henry steal Tito away from the wedding party. When the reality hits home, she breaks down sobbing.
  • Meet Cute: Tito hears Henry singing "Pagan Love Song" while he's lounging on the beach and she's lounging on Slater's boat in the harbor. She starts singing as well. He hears her, and swims to her boat.
  • Neutral Female: Tito cowers and looks fearful in the standard way when Slater and Henry are battling on the boat.
  • Noble Savage: Henry is the hero and protagonist but the film still takes a rather condescending view. Apparently he's too lazy to do anything with his plantation, content to sit around all day and pluck his ukulele. He is so innocent and childlike that he doesn't even appear to understand commerce, simply giving the coconuts away to Slater rather than charging him. And when Slater forecloses on his plantation he's hardly bothered.
  • Oblivious to Love: Henry is completely clueless as to Madge's love for him. When she says that she wishes he liked her, he grins cheerfully and says "But I do like you!"
  • A Taste of the Lash: Slater whips Tito after recapturing her from Henry.
  • Title Drop: Slater calls Henry a "sun-baked Pagan!" This does not tip Henry off that Slater is a bad guy.
  • Translation Convention: It's French Polynesia, as demonstrated when a couple of posters shift from French to English.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Except for the brief interlude where Henry is trying to make it as a trader white-man style, he spends the movie shirtless. Ramon Novarro's chiseled physique is on display throughout.
  • Wife Husbandry: Eventually it becomes clear why Slater has been making Tito act white, teaching her diction and dressing her in Western clothing. Slater, who refers to her as his "ward" and has apparently been looking after her for some time, decides to marry her. By force.
  • You No Take Candle: Evidently Henry didn't pick up a lot of French from his father.
    "I not like you to do that."

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: