This first talking-picture version of Leoncavallo's one-act opera I Pagliacci was filmed in Hollywood, but sung in Italian. Tenor Fernando Bertini dominates the proceedings as Canio, the tragic travelling-show impresario who must continue playing the fool before the audience while his unfaithful spouse Nedda (Alba Novella) dallies with her lover Tonio (Mario Valle). As in every production of Pagliacci before and since, the film's singular highlight is Canio's heartrending aria Vesti la Gubbia. Critics in 1931 were bowled over by Bertini's towering performance, but less so by the film itself, which proved to be a working definition of the phrase "photographed stage play." Indeed, the entire action is framed by a proscenium arch, as if the director merely plunked his camera in the third row during a live performance of Pagliacci.
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