comedies

The Road to TCMFF 2017: My Wish List

Since only a portion of the TCM Classic Film Festival offerings has been revealed, I’m going to fantasize about what else the festival programmers could schedule. In making my ideal list, I’ll pretend rights or physical print restrictions don’t exist, and I’ll stick to this year’s theme of MAKE ‘EM LAUGH: COMEDY IN THE MOVIES. I’m sure some of the programs and films I’d like to see at the festival will surprise you!

SPEEDY showing Harold Llloyd and Ann Christy at Coney Island

Harold Lloyd and Ann Christy in SPEEDY (1928)

Long-term readers and Twitter followers know I’m a silent film buff, and I know the perfect gateway to introduce others to the medium is comedy. I have multiple suggestions in this category. Harold Lloyd will be shown, but due to his granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd‘s activism in preserving and promoting his work, his work screening at the fest is usually likely. I’m a fan, so I don’t object. I’d like more silents at the festival!

Alice Howell in Cinderella Cinders

Alice Howell in CINDERELLA CINDERS (1920)

I’d love TCM to put together a program of silent film comediennes’ shorts. That way the audience could get exposure to or reacquaint themselves with multiple women stars from that era. There have been recent restorations, including some recently screened on the network, that could help fill the bill. Gloria Swanson, Louise Fazenda, Mabel Normand, Bebe Daniels, Flora Finch, Carole Lombard, Alice Howell, Marie Dressler, and Elsa Lanchester are all comediennes with existing silent shorts. If looking for a longer bill, shorts could be paired with Constance Talmadge‘s hour-long, recently found and restored comedy GOOD REFERENCES (1920).

Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers in GET YOUR MAN

Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers in GET YOUR MAN (1927)

Clara Bow‘s GET YOUR MAN (1927) provides the perfect excuse for a spotlight on the jazziest silent film comedienne. More exposure for Bow, especially with an introduction by her biographer David Stenn, will spotlight why America’s former favorite redhead deserves to be remembered as a talented comedienne whose onscreen naturalism belied self-aware technique. Discussion of how an incomplete film was reconstructed by the Library of Congress using “still photographs and inter-titles from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to fill in the narrative gaps” would be a mini-course in film preservation. If the program needs filling out because GET YOUR MAN is fifty-seven minutes long, short materials like the fragment of RED HAIR (1928) can be screened.

ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd Laughing in Bed

ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd

I’m divided whether I want a program of comedy duo shorts or one featuring duos whatever the length of their films. Shorts duos I’d be delighted to watch at TCMFF included Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts, Todd and Patsy Kelly, Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle, and Laurel and Hardy. If the fest highlights comedic duos’ best moments even from longer fare, I’d want to see added Marie Dressler and Polly Moran, Abbott and Costello, and Wheeler and Woolsey. I’m sure including Bob Hope and Bing Crosby along with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis would make even more fans happy!

Moonstruck Moon over Bridge Shot

MOONSTRUCK (1987)

With Norman Jewison already in attendance for the fiftieth anniversary of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967), I hope another one of his films celebrating its thirtieth anniversary gets snuck onto the schedule–MOONSTRUCK (1987). It’s laugh out loud funny in an idiosyncratic way, and it celebrates life and the mistakes that make it interesting with no cynicism. It, also, captures an old New York City that’s been disappearing via gentrification, displacement, and the passing of the older generations.

Now that you’ve read my picks, what films or programs would you like to see at TCMFF?

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Book Review: The Ice Cream Blonde

The Ice Cream Blonde Book Cover Michelle Morgan Chicago Review Press Large

While Thelma Todd‘s death often overshadows her work, Michelle Morgan has written the biography the actress deserves. Any book about Thelma must mention her death and the mystery that surrounds it, but Morgan spends the majority of The Ice Cream Blonde discussing the slapstick comedienne’s life and career.

Thelma Todd and Charley Chase

Morgan researched her subject well. The book is filled with details whose sources are carefully listed in the notes and bibliography sections. She shows how a prim and proper New Englander originally intent on becoming a schoolteacher became “Hot Toddy” roughhousing with a veritable who’s who of silent and early talkie comedy. Her famous co-stars included the Marx BrothersCharley ChaseBuster Keaton, Harry LangdonJoe E. BrownWheeler and Woolsey, and Laurel and Hardy.

Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd in Asleep in the Feet (1933)

Producer Hal Roach sought to make a female comedy short duo as popular as his Laurel and Hardy pairing. He first paired Thelma with ZaSu Pitts, and when Pitts left his studio, he replaced her with Patsy Kelly. While the shorts’ detractors call them derivative and uninspired, Thelma and her co-stars draw laughs in their roles, and the films’ plots, while sometimes bizarre like The Tin Man, put slapstick into female realms, seemingly to offer a woman’s take on this comedy form despite being written and directed by men.

Buster Keaton and Thelma Todd in Speak Easily (1932)

Even though Thelma wanted a break-out role to lead to feature starring work, she was more concerned with expanding her talent and roles and securing her future than the fame associated with stardom. She was never too proud to not take a pratfall or to recognize and respect everyone working on-set. She knew the names of those working behind the scenes because she chatted with them about their families. As a consequence, she was beloved wherever she worked, at Roach’s or on loan.

Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly

Her generosity helped many a friend. When New York stage star Patsy Kelly wasn’t adapting to life on the West Coast or slapstick screen work, and her debts threatened to drown her, Thelma’s intervention prevented Patsy from returning east in defeat. When Patsy was fleeing California, Thelma became determined to save Patsy before the studio got word. Thelma hopped into her car and dragged Patsy off of her eastbound train. The two had an all-nighter, full of heart-to-hearts and advice. A lifelong friendship developed.

Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café

When her big break didn’t seem to be coming, Thelma’s practical side made her plan for her post-screen future by becoming a businesswoman. She partnered with former lover Roland West and his wife Jewel Carmen to open Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café. Initially Thelma was to provide her name and presence, while the Wests were to provide the financing and management, but Thelma became very hands on, learning to run most aspects of the business. She could be found hostessing and personally preparing food, and her presence attracted everyone from tourists to fellow film stars.

Roland West

Her business put her on the trajectory to tragedy. Soon after becoming partners with West, the two became romantically involved again, and Thelma moved into the café’s apartment in a room next to his, only separated by a sliding door. The pair’s relationship was volatile, and at least once resulted in physical violence. Her alleged mobster ex-husband Pat DiCicco had been physically abusive as well. The smart starlet was not so smart in her choice of men. The eatery’s success and perhaps secret on-site gambling of Hollywood stars attracted mob interest. Meanwhile Thelma started receiving anonymous blackmail threats in the mail. Whatever your theory about Thelma’s subsequent death in the café’s garage, these incidents provided possible motives for murder.

Newspaper Diagram of Thelma Todd's Death Scene

In dissecting the available evidence surrounding Thelma’s death and the subsequent inquests, Morgan carefully conveys which testimonies and pieces of evidence she finds credible and why. She reviews the theories relating to accidental death, suicide, and murder, and she favors one, but she doesn’t belittle those coming in with others. For instance, she asks if Thelma truly walked to the garage herself why was no mention made of the state of her hosiery? Thelma was wearing high-heeled sandals, and such a long walk in or not in non-protective footwear would have resulted in dirtiness and runs.

Thelma Todd's Shoes Worn at Death in 1935Don’t think Morgan’s fact-focused approached leads to a dry style, quite the contrary. While her style is non-sensationalistic, it is engaging and allows the personalities she describes to be experienced through her words, especially in the book’s concluding and haunting quote from the actress. Maybe Thelma truly had the last word. Always the planner, she had posted Christmas cards and presents early. Friends and family received them a few days after her death. Still trying to make others happy. Her true legacy.

Merry Christmas from Thelma Todd

Disclosure: I was provided a review copy by the book’s publisher, Chicago Review Press.

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Black Friday Treat: The Bargain of the Century (1933)

Thelma Todd Still from The Bargain of the Century (1933) sharpenned

Feeling Black Friday fatigue? Here’s a delightful Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts comedy teaming, The Bargain of the Century (1933), that pokes fun at battling for bargains for you! The duo’s slapstick antics bring humor to scenes best experienced secondhand. In their quest for a good deal, the women give and get bruises in a rough shopping crowd. Each lady does so in her own inherently idiosyncratic style. Thelma’s character is a scrapper, not afraid to get into the mêlée, and ZaSu’s character eventually gets a grabbing with her formerly timid, fluttering hands. Their shopping excursion ends up costing them more than they saved when they accidentally get a policeman (James P. Burtis) fired, whom they have to house and feed until they find him a new job. Of course, that task turns out not to be so easy! Watch the videos below to see how it all plays out.

 

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The William Wellman Blogathon: Maybe It’s Love (1930)

Maybe It's Love 1930 Sheet Music

After William Wellman got sick of his treatment at Paramount Pictures, he showed why his nickname “Wild Bill” stuck. He covered Producer B.P. Schulberg‘s desk in manure and left a note on top of the pile reading: “Here’s what I think of your lousy script!” Despite his bad boy behavior, Wellman was in demand. He could make any script better by adding his distinctive touches, and he did it while staying on schedule and under budget. After he was done demonstrating his opinion to Schulberg, Wellman literally hopped into his roadster and sped from Paramount in Hollywood to Warner Brothers in Burbank, where he was signed for a two-year deal by Darryl F. Zanuck. While Zanuck promised that Wellman would get to make his own projects, the first picture Wellman worked on was an assignment, Maybe It’s Love.

The College Widow 1927

Dolores Costello & William Collier, Jr. in The College Widow (1927)

It wasn’t a hoary old chestnut like Charley’s Aunt, but the movie’s original source material was twenty-six years old, and it had been adapted in one form or another multiple times. The project’s original DNA came from a play. George Ade‘s The College Widow was a stage hit in 1904. The play kept its original title when it was filmed by the Lubin Company in 1915. That was the era of simply filming a play as is, and stage and film star Ethel Clayton played the title role. In 1917 Jerome KernGuy Bolton, and P. G. Wodehouse turned the play into a stage musical called Leave It to Jane. Its’ first run was a critical hit, but a modest commercial success. Another silent film adaptation followed in 1927, and again the play’s title was kept. Dolores Costello took her turn playing the college vamp. This last film was a Warner Brothers project, so the studio was remaking its own product three years later for the sound era.

Daryl F. Zanuck 1937 by Peter Stackpole

Daryl F. Zanuck in 1937 by Peter Stackpole

Why the studio interest in this material? Zanuck favored seeing the movie produced because he had co-authored a new take under the pen name Mark Canfield. The studio could exploit the subject’s sound possibilities and the college movie craze all at once. Wellman had little interest in the project, but he wanted to please Zanuck, whom Wellman held in high regard: “I admired him for his guts and the quality he had of grabbing a headline and generating the speed and enthusiasm all down the line to make a good picture quickly–at this he was a master and the hardest-working little guy you have ever seen in all your life.” Wellman accepted the assignment.

Maybe It's Love Flirting Tutorial

Joe E. Brown’s Speed Teaches Joan Bennett’s Nan to How to Flirt

The plot of the movie is as follows. Joan Bennett plays Nan. She’s the daughter of Upton College’s president, and he’s been threatened to lose his position by the school’s board if the football team doesn’t finally have a winning season. They’ve lost for the last twelve years to rival school Parsons. Joe E. Brown plays Speed. He’s the football team’s star player, and its only valuable one. The rest of the team would be bench sitters at another school with quality players. Speed convinces the “mousy” Nancy to turn herself into a college widow and seduce the nation’s best footballers to enroll at Upton. Nan is willing to do almost anything to save her father’s career, and she agrees. She gets a makeover and flirting lessons from Speed. The rest of the movie mixes comedy and drama. We see Nan’s choreographed seductions of football stars and how she tries to juggle multiple men on campus at once before falling for one of the lot, James Hall‘s Tommy Nelson. Of course, Nan’s machinations get found out, which puts the big game and her in peril.

Maybe It's Love Canoe Tipped Scene

There are plenty of pre-code elements in the picture. What a college widow can get up to is shown. Normally a college widow goes through a succession of men, not dating the whole team at once like Nan does! Then there’s an implication that maybe Nan goes to a greater extent in her seductions than simply flirting. We see Nan seduce fella after fella using different tricks. One lad goes canoeing to canoodle with her, only to end up tipped into the drink on purpose. When Nan emerges from the water, her thin dress is plastered against her body, and every curve is evident as are her pointing nipples. Her body is on display as bait. When Nan falls for Tommy, they take their romance behind a pillar. The audience is left to imagine at least necking if not heavy petting. There’s a dance scene in which the football team circle Nan and dance around her with their bottoms in the air. The oddest pre-code moments are Speed hiding, watching, coaching, and commenting on Nan’s shenanigans. He comes off very creepy. He seems pimp-like and to be taking too much pleasure in the goings on. When the players later turn on Nan after realizing her manipulations, there’s a momentary feeling of danger. They want to humiliate her as they feel humiliated by her. How far will they take their revenge?

Maybe It's Love Football Practice

Despite having Wellman as a helmer, Maybe It’s Love isn’t a successful picture. “Originally planned as a full scale musical, much of the music was removed before release because of the public’s apathy and aversion towards musicals in the autumn of 1930.” These cuts turned the picture into a comedy with some musical numbers. The film feels disjointed. Joe E. Brown would become a major star one year later, and he seems like he should be featured more throughout the movie as its billed second lead. His character is mostly sidelined after Nan’s real romance ignites, and James Hall becomes the film’s de facto male lead. Brown isn’t well shown either. His character comes off as weird, loud, and annoying. His comedic college athlete persona would be much better shown in 1931’s Local Boy Makes Good. Laura Lee appears as Betty at film’s start. She’s Speed’s girl, so I expected the Brown and Lee characters’ romance would parallel the one of the straight romantic leads like in 1930’s Top Speed, but she disappears until the film’s end. The energy and enthusiasm lacking in the shooting of most of the comedic scenes becomes even more apparent when the final game hits the screen. Those football scenes are much more dynamic and show more of Wellman’s directorial mastery.

William Wellman Directing “Young Eagles” in 1930

William Wellman Directing Young Eagles in 1930

Any Wellman fan watching this picture would look for evidence of his direction, and it can be found. As Frank Thompson once wrote, “No matter how slight the film seemed to be, no matter how trivial the subject matter, Wellman was able to leave his personal imprint on the finished product.” Maybe It’s Love falls on the slighter picture scale, yet there are undeniably Wellman moments. During Tommy and Nan’s falling in love scene, a long, slow dolly shot goes through the water bursts of a fountain to the lovers and pulls back as they disappear to continue their lovemaking offscreen. Before that moment, he shoots some of the love scenes so that his leading lady’s face is obscured by leaves and the pillar. He sacrifices showcasing his actress during a big moment for his signature preoccupation of making an audience work as they watch a scene. Wellman was a former football player, and he knows how to feature the sport. During the final game, Wellman intercuts newsreel or stock footage from at least one football game with his scenes to give a sense of scale. The crowd attending looks huge which makes the pressure on the athletes feel greater. A really clever moment has Wellman doing quick cuts between a referee and a player on the field. We get flashes of two different actions occurring simultaneously, increasing the sense of dynamism as our minds process the fast layering of images. Such flashes of brilliance momentarily elevate this lesser quality programmer.

If you’d like to view Maybe It’s Love look for it under the more salacious title of  Eleven Men and a Girl.  For television airing, the movie’s title was changed. It sometimes airs on Turner Classic Movies, and Warner Archive released a disc for those unwilling to wait for a repeat airing or wanting to add to their home collection.

 

This post is part of Now Voyaging‘s William Wellman blogathon. For other posts celebrating this director’s work and life, please click the banner below. Many great classic and silent film bloggers are participating, and they’ve written their hearts out. Visit their blogs and leave comments, and you will thrill them!

William Wellman Blogathon 2015

Additional Source

Wellman, William, Jr. Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel. N.p.: Pantheon, 2015. Print.

 

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San Francisco Silent Film Festival Preview, Part 2

SPEEDY (Paramount, 1928) Harold Lloyd, Ann Christie

Speedy (1928) Photo Courtesy of the Harold Lloyd Trust

Saturday morning’s program starts with the family-friendly Speedy (1928), and some parents likely will bring their tots for an outing to this screening. I love seeing kids getting their introduction to silents or enjoying a return trip to the festival. Comedies are a great gateway into silent film for all ages. In this slapstick feature, Harold Lloyd plays baseball obsessed Harold “Speedy” Swift, who can’t keep a job as well as he can keep up with his team. His being able to find a job every Monday after he’s lost one the previous week keeps dashing the marriage hopes of his honey, Jane Dillon (Ann Christy). While the younger generation discovers life’s tribulations anew, Speedy’s dad Pop Dillon (Bert Woodruff) moves more slowly. He’s the last horse-drawn streetcar driver in New York City, and a wheeler and dealer wants Pop’s track. Will big business push or buy him out? A son’s love for his father becomes an indefatigable force in a battle for a family’s future. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra accompanies the film.

Visages d'enfants Table Scene with Mother

Visages d’enfants (1925)

Visages d’enfants (1925), or Faces of Children, is another film that focuses on a family. It covers a theme that often appears at this festival–what makes a family. Son Jean Amsler (Jean Forest) is only a child, and he’s having a hard time coping with his mother’s passing. His father Pierre (Victor Vina) temporarily sends Jean away, and Pierre remarries during his son’s absence. Jean returns to a household changed once again. Not only does he get a Step-Mother (Jeanne Dutois played by Rachel Devirys), but also he gains a Step-Sister (Arlette portrayed by Arlette Peyran). He takes his resentment of Jeanne out on Arlette, and his actions escalate until they could cause a tragedy. Director Jacques Feyder‘s exploration of psychological family drama and childhood grief earned him critical acclaim, and it’s been called his best workStephen Horne accompanies the film.

Capra's The Donovan Affair (1929)

The Donovan Affair (1929)

Silent film purists might object to the The Donovan Affair (1929) being placed on the schedule. Technically it’s only a silent through circumstance. Director Frank Capra filmed the dark house mystery as a talkie. It was “his first ‘100% all-Dialogue Picture.’” “Its original soundtrack, recorded on transcription discs,” was lost. Ignore the pedants! The solutions to the challenges this screening presents are fun. Bruce Goldstein, director of programming at New York’s Film Forum, made it his mission to make screening the film possible. The original script was lost, but he found “half the dialogue in the archives of the now-defunct New York State Censorship Board.” He searched for actors with a feel for the era who could convincingly sound of it and become the voices of Capra’s onscreen cast. Goldstein’s actors became the Gower Gulch Players, and they helped him recreate the script further. They pieced together more of the movie’s dialogue through lipreading its actors. Pianist Steve Sterner created the film’s “new score.” This will be the troupe’s fourth public performance of The Donovan Affair. Frank Buxton is a guest performer.

Flesh and the Devil (1926)  Directed by Clarence Brown Shown: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert

Flesh and the Devil (1926)

Flesh and the Devil (1926) starring John Gilbert and Greta Garbo likely will be a sold-out screening, so you should get the the Castro Theatre early for this film! A crowd will turn-out to see Garbo and Gilbert sizzle on the screen. Their character’s onscreen romance was paralleled by the actors’ offscreen one, and because Gilbert fell hard for his leading lady, he made sure she would shine in what was only her third American picture. Gilbert was the bigger, more established star of the two, and Irving Thalberg, “banked on his highest paid player to help define an unknown entity.” Gilbert’s help went much further than agreeing to stare with the mysterious new discovery and share equal billing. He was an experienced actor, and he was a screenwriter and an assistant director. While she had “It,” he had the knowledge of what worked in front of the camera. He asked for retakes of any scenes where Garbo could have shone better,  and he didn’t object to camera angles designed or requested to show off her beauty. Garbo was grateful for his help. “If he had not come into my life at this time, I should probably have come home to Sweden at once, my American career over.” While the behind-the-scenes history of the movie overshadows its conventional romantic melodramatic plot of a friendship torn apart by a woman’s love, its luminous stars and their multi-layered romances show the power silent film icons had to seem more than us watching them on the screen. They were bigger in size, the most beautiful, grander in lifestyle, fuller of feeling, and capable of great love.

From the silent film community’s murmurings after 2014’s Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pan (1922) will be the sleeper hit of the San Francisco festival. Descriptions of Knut Hamsun‘s book make it seem a straightforward tale. Two disparate strangers are pulled together by an “overwhelming attraction“. She is a wealthy, educated townswoman, and he is an ex-soldier turned hunter living in a forest with his dog. Despite their love, they don’t understand each other’s ways, and they seem fated not to be together. It’s the rendering of this story that makes it outstanding. Silent London wrote, “Lush, detailed photography, delicately tinted, with epigrammatic intertitles, and many a layer of mystery to uncover, this was a film of great beauty and unique oddity.” Pan was a success, but it was Harald Schwenzen‘s only directing credit. He’s like the debut novelist who retires after writing a masterpiece. See why the Film Noir Foundation said Pan “secured Schwenzen’s reputation in cinema history.” Guenter Buchwald accompanies the film.

There it is (1928), a Charley Bowers Silent Comedy

There It Is (1928)

More all ages comedy kicks off Sunday’s screenings! There’s an entire program devoted to the shorts of The Amazing Charley Bowers.  He was almost forgotten in his home country the United States until “Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films revived his oeuvre in 2010.” The shorts he restored are thought to be a portion of Bowers’ existing work. More may exist in archives. What a shame it would be for Bowers’ works to be lost by lack of interest! His films are surrealistic slapstick outings mixing live action with animation and often featuring “complex Rube Goldberg gadgets.” The best comedians make us look at the world or life in a new way while we laugh, and Bowers had that talent and a singular vision. Who else would make a film starring a kilt mad laddie investigating a mystery with a cockroach detective also clad in a kilt? No wonder Bowers was beloved by André Breton and the Surrealists. Featured shorts include A Wild Roomer (1926, 24 minutes), Now You Tell One (1926, 22 minutes), Many a Slip (1927, 12 minutes), and There It Is (1928, 17 minutes). Serge Bromberg accompanies the films.

Ménilmontant directed by Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1926

Ménilmontant (1926)

Avant-Garde Paris showcases two films from 1920s Paris that illustrate the creative experimentation of the city, making it a beacon for artists.

Emak-Bakia (1927, 16 minutes) is a cinépoème by visual artist Man Ray. The title is “Basque for Leave me alone.How that relates to the film is up to individual interpretation. After the title and credits, the first image seen is a man with his camera with human eye on its side, so everything that follows could be a film dreamed up by a crazed cinematographer. Light, image, double exposure, speed, rhythm, angle, extreme close-ups, and a sometimes unsteady camera are played with. Images range from the abstract to the identifiable. Fans of vintage personalities should know Kiki of Montparnasse (Alice Prin) makes an appearance. Earplay accompanies the film with a score created by Nicolas Tzortzis.

Ménilmontant (1926, 44 minutes) may look more conventional in comparison to Emak-Bakia, since the former film is a narrative, but Ménilmontant’s director Dimitri Kirsanoff experimented with techniques and images in telling a comprehendible story, and he didn’t use intertitles. His leads (Nadia Sibirskaïa and Yolande Beaulieu) portray two sisters. When the film starts, they look like innocent D.W. Griffith heroines. The girls are wearing big bows, running about, and playing with each other and their cats. An axe murderer kills their parents, and their lives are disrupted. When we next see them, they’re chaperoneless young women of the flapper era, and their bond is threatened by a man with no intent of joining the family.  Stephen Horne accompanies the film.

My San Francisco Silent Film Festival preview continues with Part 3 tomorrow. If you missed Part 1 of my preview, you can read it here.

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Fabulous Films of the 50s CMBA Blogathon: It Should Happen to You (1954)

 

It Should Happen to You Poster

 

Garson Kanin originally wrote It Should Happen to You as a vehicle for Danny Kaye. When his creative partner and wife Ruth Gordon read it, she knew who would be perfect for the part—Judy Holliday! The script was rewritten for her. What resulted was part satire on the pursuit of fame and part romantic comedy.  At its center is Judy’s character Gladys Glover, an American girl who’s average, but not too average, possessing more than a smidgen of Billie Dawn’s initial ditziness, but a lot more ambition. She wants to make a name for herself. She’s not sure at what or how, but she’s got the will to make her way, and the $1,000 in her bank account will help her.

It Should Happen to You Gladys's Feet

When we first meet Gladys, she’s roaming the park depressed and shoeless. She’s lost her job modeling girdles on account of being ¾ of an inch too wide. A transplant to New York City, she travelled there with the hopes of many young women. She wanted to make it big in the city and not through marriage. Now she’s been there two years, and she fears even if she had not lost her job she would be getting nowhere in her quest not to be nobody. She’s removed her shoes in order to think about what to do next.

It Should Happen to You Altercation

Her shoelessness and a hilarious altercation with another park patron accusing her of trying to pick him up draw the attention of documentary filmmaker Pete Sheppard (Jack Lemmon). He’s another transplant, and the two bond over the unfriendliness of New Yorkers. That may be an in-joke because offscreen Judy and Jack bonded because they were both native New Yorkers in Hollywood. She’s very hard on herself to him saying her name isn’t “much of a name” because “nobody ever heard of it, and I guess nobody ever will.” He thinks she’s on the “young side,” and that’s why she’s so bothered.

It Should Happen to You Serious Talk

In some ways, Gladys’s lament could be made by any person. He or she moves somewhere like a big city and struggles to get ahead or even just to live. The grand ambitions of being important or doing something important can get lost in the daily grind of making that living. Combine that with the alienation involved in living somewhere you don’t know hardly anyone in an unfriendly seeming place, and the world becomes too much for some. As Gladys says, “Some people when they get to that point, when they realize they’re getting nowhere, you know, they just kill themselves. I don’t feel like it.”

It Should Happen to You You'll Get It

As a woman, she knows her options. “The only other thing is to go back home. Do the same thing as everybody else. Go back to work in the shoe factory. Marry the first man that asks or the second. And then good-bye name for yourself. Good-bye dreams. In fact, good-bye Charlie.” Her name could be replaced by her husband’s before she’s done anything with it. She’s presenting two options: Will she keep up her pursuit or give in to conventionality and become somebody’s wife? Pete assures her, “Good luck to you, Gladys. I sure hope you make a name for yourself if that’s what you want. If that’s what you really want, you’ll get it.” He gets her number to call her later, and he does.

It Should Happen to You This Space For Rent

 

It Should Happen to You Epiphany

 

It Should Happen to You Fantasy Billboard

Inspiration strikes when she sees an empty billboard in Columbus Circle! She will spend her savings to put her name up on the billboard. We’re treated to a fantasy sequence of Gladys imaging all the ways her name and image can be painted on the billboard. Judy makes Gladys seem so happy and genuine in her awe that we feel excited for her, too. She has no further plans than seeing her name erected in big letters for the maximum amount of time she can afford. She’s found her way to be “above the crowd.” She sets about her task immediately.

It Should Happen to You Weight Loss Ad

The film shows its screwball comedy roots by making the situation spiral out of control. That one billboard will lead to others and eventually a job of being famous to be famous. Gladys becomes a hit, especially on the TV circuit, where her quirky responses make audiences laugh. Soon those who contributed to her rise will find ways to make money off of her. Her name becomes known, but what will it mean to those who know it? Will success spoil Gladys Glover and cause a rift in her nascent relationship with Pete? Will she make her name stand for something or has she sold-out permanently?

It Should Happen to You Let's Fall in Love Reprise

Hidden within the comedy is a conservatism in Gladys’s represented choices. She can keep pursuing fame and become an oddity, or she can become Pete’s wife. What of a middle way? Kanin hints to us about her remaining ambition at film’s end. All that ambition would need an outlet. Daily household tasks would not be likely releases. Judy “liked playing characters who wouldn’t settle for being ordinary, who struggled to live their lives as responsibly and creatively as possible.” Judy enchants us as Gladys, and we want Gladys to be happy. We don’t want Gladys to settle even if she settles down with Pete. Judy keeps enough sparkle in Gladys’s eyes to hint at this third option.

 

CMBA May 2014 Blogathon Fabulous Films of the 50s Banner

This post has been part of the Classic Movie Blog Association‘s blogathon Fabulous Films of the 50s. Find its other fun and fabulous entries here.

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Romantic Comedy Blogathon: Love Crazy (1941)

Love Crazy Poster

Love Crazy opens with Steve Ireland (William Powell) singing along with It’s Delightful to be Married. The film reunites him with frequent co-star Myrna Loy, playing his wife Susan. Together in the Thin Man series, they showed screengoers how delightful it was to be married. Their chemistry combined with their characters’ mature relationship with each other stood out in an industry often selling new love. Love Crazy takes that wonderfully familiar chemistry and slightly alters the actors’ Thin Man personas and inserts them into a romantic, screw ball comedy. The film even borrows a plot point from the original source material of its theme song. It came from Anna Held‘s Broadway hit The Parisian Model. In it, her character pretends to be something she is not. Steve has to pretend he is legally crazy to save his marriage!

Love Crazy Cuddlers

How did Steve get to that point? When the film starts, he’s revealed to be a devoted, romantic husband. He and Susan are about to celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary. He has music and flowers ready. Combined with a nice dinner, that comprise the average man’s effort. Steve, being an architect, has grander plans. The couple’s anniversary ritual is to recreate their wedding night. It includes a four hour walk and canoe rowing. He’s just the sort of man that thought incorporating an “Eskimo” wedding ritual into his own would be great fun and make them legally married among the Eskimos. Because of his quirks and past partying, he’s the sort of man that will have difficulty convincing those familiar with him that he’s crazy. They’ll merely think he is tight. The man who likes to play has a harder time convincing others he has not reverted to his playboy ways when an ex-girlfriend moves into his apartment building.

Love Crazy Susan Ireland

Susan, “Honey Face,” seems like the perfect wife. Since Myrna portrays her, she’s beautiful in face, voice, and fashion. Her close-ups featuring that face framed by set curls don’t need to be shot using a haze lens to be dreamy. Her lilting voice charms, and her accent shows her character’s upper-class status. Her glamorous outfits enhance her stream-lined, yet womanly shape, and some of her gowns feature plunging necklines that might only be tasteful on her. Physically and in her character’s interactions with Powell’s (the “man who knew exactly what I wanted”), she embodies a healthy sexuality, made non-threatening by cinematic marriage. All these attributes alone would make female filmgoers want to be Myrna and thus Susan, even before Powell or Steve is taken into consideration. Her character is game for whatever fun her husband thinks up, even if it means celebrating their anniversary backwards.

Love Crazy Mrs. Cooper

Susan’s downfall is being too influenced by her mother, Florence Bates‘s Mrs. Cooper, and that woman does not like Steve.  Susan has a temper, so when hurt, she’s not above seeking revenge, a trait that is exploited by her mother. It’s no accident she chooses to interrupt their wedding anniversary. She pops by bearing a gift wanted by neither spouse, a circular carpet that not only does not go with their hallway floor, but also it’s actually dangerous. The floor is so polished that to walk on the carpet is to risk injury from falling. It’s almost as though she has left a trap to dispatch her son-in-law. She should be awarded a gold medal in undermining. She observes and waits to ask prying questions to find fault and aggravate any situation. Her being an interfering busybody leads to a misunderstanding that almost results in her daughter’s divorce!

Love Crazy Isobel Grayson

The movie follows the screwball convention of adding complication upon complication. Besides the meddling mother-in-law, there’s the previously mentioned ex-girlfriend, Isobel Grayson (Gail Patrick). She dated Steve immediately prior to him proposing to Susan, who has a very low opinion of Isobel. Susan doesn’t trust her. Susan shouldn’t. Steve has an elevator accident that provides one of film’s top visual gags. It even incorporates a dog for those missing Asta. Isobel happens to be present and takes him back to her apartment to recuperate, where she plies him alcohol and talks nostalgically about the “old times” and the “same old Stevie.” He resists her words and tickles(!) by saying “I’m married now,” and she quickly responds with “Well, so am I! What’s that got to do with it?” He answers, “You don’t stick to the rules.” Isobel and he have two different views of what marriage entails. His view matches her husband’s.

Love Crazy Mrs. Cooper Who Came to Dinner

So what’s the catalyst for the disharmony ahead? The unwanted carpet! The Mrs. Cooper finally decides to do the right thing and leave the lovebirds to celebrate alone. Shades of The Man Who Came to Dinner as she goes to exit, she walks across her gift, slips, and twists her ankle. Susan has to take over her mother’s errand of picking up her aunt from the train station, which will take all night. Steve gets stuck with his mother-in-law that whole time. That makes for some anniversary! He can’t be blamed for escaping out for the evening, but he makes a poor decision of accepting Isobel’s invitation to go out. Susan doesn’t like that one bit when her mother tattles. She decides to pull her own prank and sets up a scene for Steve to walk into. She will make him and Isobel jealous by getting caught in a set-up scene with Mr. “Pinky” Grayson (Donald MacBride).

Love Crazy Bow & Arrow Man

Of course, things don’t go as planned. This is a screwball comedy. She walks into the wrong man’s apartment. Ward Willoughby’s (Jack Carson) a world champion archer complete with athletic physique, and he thinks she’s pursuing him after seeing him in the elevator. What is it with that apartment building’s elevator inspiring possible romantic escapades? She thinks he’s Mr. Grayson. She’s surprised to find him in his undershirt practicing archery. When she confesses she’s waiting for her husband when he kisses her too enthusiastically, he suddenly fears a shakedown by blackmailers. He turns menacing, and her calling him Mr. Grayson makes him realize she’s in the wrong apartment. That’s his neighbor. He can’t help but be intrigued by this strange, beautiful woman.

Love Crazy Hall Confrontation

When she leaves his apartment, she sees Steve and Isobel in front of the Grayson apartment. Pinky returns home, realizes who Susan is, and wants to know why she kept him waiting at his studio upstairs. He was not home. Is Steve leaving the Grayson apartment, or are Steve and Isobel returning from a walk? The implication being that if he was in his married ex-girlfriend’s apartment with her and without her husband present some monkey business must have been going on. Will Susan trust Steve or jump to conclusions her mother would encourage? Susan’s jealousy ploy works, and Steve wants to know what she’s been up to with those two men.

Love Crazy Bedroom Heart-to-Heart

Later in Susan and Steve’s bedroom, they discuss the evening. Steve wants to be believed that he was on a walk with Isobel. She doesn’t want to be the “jealous type.” She asks for reassurance that her husband would never lie to her, and he responds, “Not on our anniversary.” Susan is amused by Steve wondering about her and Ward, and he wants to know why the other man was half-dressed. She tells him, “He has to have his torso free when he shoots his bow and arrow” “What kind of answer is that?” asks Steve. “He’s the world champion bow and arrower.” To that extraordinary sounding explanation, Steve can only respond, “You believe me, I’ll believe you.” A phone call soon shatters Susan’s belief in him. She no longer trusts him. Her mother has won.

Love Crazy Kissing Therapy

We spend the rest of the movie watching Steve try to win back Susan. First he has only two months to change her mind before their court hearing. When she hides away that whole time, he’s forced to take desperate measures. The only way to postpone their divorce is to appear to be crazy. His gags get crazier and funnier, and while they fool no one who knows him, they will be a little too convincing for the authorities. Can Steve get out of a sanatorium? Can he prevent Ward from stealing away his wife?  Can he convince her that nothing happened between him and Isobel? Can he win back Susan after all he’s done? Are you prepared to see Powell dressed as if he’s auditioning for Charley’s Aunt? Since the leads are played by Myrna Loy and William Powell, you likely will be able to answer before seeing the film!

Love Crazy "Miss" Ireland & Susan Ireland

The fun is watching how two film favorites play these love crazy fools and all the antics they get into. Because their characters are married and because of who plays them, the script can be a little franker about their sexuality and the possibility of adultery. The dialogue zingers reflect this, like when Susan and Steve talk about Isobel. Steve says, “She’s married now–got a husband.” Susan retorts, “Yeah? Whose husband has she got?” The film through comedy shows in an exaggerated way the pitfalls that could befall a modern marriage—lies, jealousy, meddlers, grudge holding, and outside interested parties. In providing us laughs and in reuniting the leads, we’re entertained and reassured. We’re reassured that despite the wacky situations they get themselves into they make it, so maybe our relationships can weather their more everyday ups and downs, too. The best romantic comedies always sell romance back to us.

Love Crazy The Wig is Off!

This has been a very belated entry in the Romantic Comedy Blogathon, hosted by Lara from Backlots and Vince from Carole & Co. To read entries from day one go here, day two here, day three here, and day four here. I’m sure you’ll find many of your favorite classic film romantic comedies being celebrated!

 

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The Little Tramp at 100, Part 1

Little Tramp at 100 A

Last month, The San Francisco Silent Film Festival joined a worldwide celebration of Charlie Chaplin with The Little Tramp at 100. Three programs celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of the Little Tramp persona’s first film appearance.

The first screening featured Charlie’s work from his third studio, Mutual Film Corporation. Someone at the fest wittily titled this program Our Mutual Friend. It featured three shorts accompanied by Jon Mirsalis on solo piano. The shorts were The Vagabond (1916), The Cure (1917), and Easy Street (1917).

The Vagabond Poster

The Vagabond features the Little Tramp’s characteristic blend of comedy and drama. He’s a wandering violinist trying to earn his living busking. He settles on a saloon as a prime place to play only to be displaced by a much louder band. If his violin is going to be drowned out, he decides to “join” the band, collecting their tips for himself! Eventually his trickery is discovered, and he’s forced to flee those he fleeced, which sets him upon the path where he finds Edna Purviance‘s Gypsy Drudge.

Image Source: Discovering Chaplin

Her story is Dickensian. She was born to a wealthy family, but abducted by gypsies and forced into slavery. A chance meeting with the Little Tramp changes her life. He mistakes her for a paying audience, but while she loves his music, she has no money to give him. He ends up rescuing her from her captors, and their newly shared life is hardscrabble, but happy until a chance encounter with an artist threatens their relationship.

The Vagabond Cleaning Scene

The Tramp starts to take care of the Drudge, as he makes her more presentable to the world in his eyes. He cleans her face removing any dirt of the past, and he vigorously scrubs out every facial orifice, earholes and nostrils included! For maximum comedic effect, Edna the actress makes herself look as silly and awkward as possible, as she grimaces exaggeratedly during the Drudge’s cleaning. In her next scene with the Tramp, he’s “fixes” her hair. Her new hairstyle may be less wild, but it’s no more fashionable. The intimate physicality of these scenes shows the trust built between the characters, and it mirrors Edna’s offscreen trust in Charlie’s comedic instincts.

The Vagabond Eric Campbell

Eric Campbell, a former stage actor, was part of Charlie’s film troupe at this time. The role isn’t the most developed villain he played in Charlie’s films, but he uses his bulk to make the Gypsy Chieftain menacing, while finding the funny in the brute. The imposing Chieftain’s movements are comically floundering as he’s outwitted by Charlie’s tiny violinist.

The Cure Poster

The Cure spoofs the mineral water craze of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Spas or resorts used to be built around wells and springs spouting what was lauded as medicinal waters. They were reputed to do everything from improving libido to curing insanity. Though Charlie’s character The Inebriate goes to such a health spa to dry out with the wet cure, he arrives packing more liquor than some bars. He causes chaos everywhere he goes, especially when fleeing his treatments.

The Cure Chaplin & Purviance

The film features the comedy trio of Charlie, Edna, and Eric Campbell. The drunkard may have drink on the mind, but he’s not so distracted that he can’t find time to romance Edna’s The Girl. He has to work hard to impress her. Campbell’s The Man with Gout complicates their romance. The Inebriate accidentally keeps getting into scuffles with The Man, and The Man continually pesters The Girl. He follows her about, tries to sit near her, and tries to touch her. He’s much too forward.

The Cure's Inebriate vs the Masseur

Charlie’s outfits in this film aren’t the Little Tramp ones we’re used to. His resort clothes and the fact he can afford a rest stay show he’s portraying a much posher character. Later there are scenes of him resisting rough massages while attired in bathing gear. Seeing him stripped down, I could see how young he was by his skinniness, yet he possessed a trim muscularity that enabled his slapstick acrobatics. When The Inebriate starts dancing away from the feared Masseur, the bathing suit emphasizes his graceful control of limbs and movements.

The Cure Revolving Door Trap

There are no sad or dark moments in this film. It’s pure slapstick and satire. When The Inebriate attempts to enter the resort though its revolving door, Charlie signals we’re in for silliness. He spins round and round, popping in and out of the building, and soon traps The Man with Gout and an attendant in the door. The Inebriate finally ends up inside the building, still spinning his way through the lobby, up the stairs, and to his room. Those familiar with slapstick conventions might guess the giggle water he smuggles in will end up in the well, a situation that promises a film that will leave viewers drunk with good humor.

Easy Street Poster

Easy Street starts off with a darker world view. Charlie is back in his familiar tramp costume at the film’s beginning. His character, The Derelict, is so badly off he almost robs a rescue mission. Edna portrays a mission worker. Her kindness to him and his attraction to her inspires him to reform. He seeks work and gets hired as a policeman assigned an awful called slum Easy Street.

Easy Street Brawl

Our first view of Easy Street shows Eric Campbell’s The Bully brawling with the borough’s other crooks in the street. The living is not easy there, but if you’ve got brawn or guile, it’s easy to get away with whatever you want. It’s an anything goes place. We see that when two men are revealed on the ground at the center of the crowd. They’re getting mugged by the brawlers, who are fighting each over the pickings from their victims’ pockets.

Easy Street Lamp Scene

One of Chaplin’s chief conceits is coming up with imaginative ways for the little Derelict to defeat bigger and oftener brawnier bad guys. For example, being struck in the head with a police baton doesn’t phase The Bully. His thick skull protects him. He demonstrates his superior strength by bending a streetlight. The Tramp seems outmatched, but he gets a bright idea on how to use that gas lamp against his foe. The moment is hilariously surreal.

Easy Street Chaplin & Charlotte Mineau

The film gets darker when we meet more of the slum’s denizens. A sweet couple has too many children to feed, so Edna brings aid with assistance from Charlie. Charlie lightens the scene by feeding the babes like they’re a flock of chickens. In another apartment, there’s domestic violence. The Bully fights with his woman, and she pays him back in kind. Later Edna is threatened with rape by a heroin addict.

Easy Street Resolved

Since this is a comedy, it’s no spoiler to reveal that in the end Charlie makes life on easy street a little easier. How he does it brings laughs and it brings reassurance that the little guy can prevail and order can be restored.

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San Francisco Silent Film Festival Preview

In one week, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival kicks off with a return of everyone’s favorite former showgirl, Louise Brooks. She stars in the recently restored Prix de Beauté. Thirteen other feature-length films follow as do two programs of shorts. Amazing Tales from the Archives returns to highlight film preservation. Since silent film crossed international boundaries easily, so do the festival’s featured movies and musicians. The major programs represent the creative production of nine countries, and as there are always shorts before each feature, the count may go up by the festival’s end.

All screenings occur in the Castro Theatre. Details from the program follow below!

Louise Brooks in Prix de Beauté

Thursday, July 18 at 7:00 PM
Prix de Beauté (France, 1930)
Musical Accompaniment by Stephen Horne
Director: Augusto Genina
Cast: Louise Brooks, Georges Charlia, H. Bandini, A. Nicolle, M. Ziboulsky, Yves Glad, Alex Bernard

“Prix de Beauté marks Louise Brooks’s last starring role in a feature. Less known than her work with G.W. Pabst (Pandora’s Box, Diary of a Lost Girl), Prix de Beauté was marred by its foray into early sound (Brooks’s voice was dubbed). Our presentation is the superior silent version recently restored by the Cineteca di Bologna. Brooks is stunning as Lucienne, the ‘everygirl’ typist who enters a beauty contest and is introduced to a shiny world of fame and modernity. But Prix’s script, a collaboration between René Clair and G.W. Pabst, doesn’t leave Lucienne in a fairy tale bubble but leads to a powerful, moving denouement. Cinematographers Rudolph Maté and Louis Née make beautiful use of Brooks’s glorious face. Approximately 108 minutes. 2012 Restoration courtesy of Cineteca Bologna, screening in DCP.”

San Francisco Silent Film Party 2012

Thursday, July 18 at 9:00 PM
Opening Night Party
Location: McRoskey Mattress Company

“Celebrate the start of SFSFF 2013 with drinks, hors d’oeuvres, dancing to the Frisky Frolics, and the first-ever SF Silent Film Festival Beauty Contest, all on the amazing top floor loft of the historic McRoskey Mattress Company!”

SF Silent Film Archive Photo

Friday, July 19 at 11:00 AM
Amazing Tales from the Archives (Free!)
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne

“Céline Ruivo, Director of Film Collections at the Cinémathèque française, will present on the Cinémathèque’s restoration of films from the Paris Exposition of 1900, Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre. Rob Byrne, film preservationist, will present on his restoration of Allan Dwan’s The Half-Breed starring Douglas Fairbanks (and premiering on July 20).”

The First Born

Friday, July 19 at 2:00 PM
The First Born (UK, 1928)
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne
Director: Miles Mander
Cast: Miles Mander, Madeleine Carroll, John Loder, Margot Armand, Ellat Atherton, Ivo Dawson Scenario Miles Mander, Alma Reville

“The directorial debut of actor, writer, and producer Miles Mander, The First Born was adapted from his own novel and play, set in a British upper-class milieu and touching on morality, politics, and the disintegration of a marriage. Sir Hugh Boycott (Mander) and his young bride Madeleine (Madeleine Carroll) have a passionate marriage that is rocked when she fails to produce an heir. Mander’s gem rises above standard melodrama with its deft observance of character, perhaps helped by its co-writer Alma Reville, a well-known advisor to her husband Alfred Hitchcock. The First Born was recently restored by the BFI National Archive. Approximately 88 minutes. 35mm restored print from the BFI National Archive.”

Tokyo Chorus 1

Friday, July 19 at 4:30 PM
Tokyo Chorus (Japan, 1931)
Musical accompaniment by Günter Buchwald
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Cast: Tokihiko Okada, Emiko Yagumo, Hideo Sugawara, Hideko Takamine, Tatsuo Saito, Chouko Iida

“Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Chorus is a delicately composed tale of parental love, middle-class dreams, and suburban and urban realities. A young insurance salesman finds his life turned upside-down when he defends a fired co-worker. His family’s response, particularly his young son who wants a bicycle, is the heart of this film which shows the emergence of Ozu’s mature style—and a wonderful blend of comedy and drama. Approximately 90 minutes. 35mm print from Janus Films.”

The Patsy (1928)directed by King Vidorshown: Marion Davies

Friday, July 19 at 7:00 PM
The Patsy (USA, 1928)
Musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Director: King Vidor
Cast: Marion Davies, Orville Caldwell, Marie Dressler, Dell Henderson, Lawrence Gray, Jane Winton

“Before William Randolph Hearst decided that comedic roles were beneath her, Marion Davies had already established herself as a madcap comedienne on the musical stage. Director King Vidor had enough Hollywood clout to defy Hearst and play to Davies’ true strengths and the result is demonstrated in her incandescent performance in The Patsy. J.B. Kaufman writes, “Energetic, irrepressible, bubbling over with good humor yet capable of quiet sensitivity, she proves herself once and for all a genuine star. In her most celebrated scene she demonstrates her talent for mimicry by offering devastatingly accurate impressions of Mae Murray, Lillian Gish, and Pola Negri. (Mae Murray and Lillian Gish were, like Davies, MGM stars at the time, and Pola Negri’s Three Sinners was released almost simultaneously with The Patsy.)” Approximately 84 minutes. 35mm print from the Library of Congress.”

Klovnen (A.W. Sandberg, DK, 1926)

Friday, July 19 at 9:30 PM
The Golden Clown/Klovnen (Denmark, 1926)
Musical Accompaniment by Matti Bye Ensemble
Director: A.W. Sandberg
Cast: Gösta Ekman, Maurice de Féraudy, Kate Fabian, Karina Bell, Robert Schmidt, Erik Bertner

“Gösta Ekman is the eponymous clown in this tale of rural ways confronting the glamour and danger of the big city. The small town Joe (Ekman) and his circus princess Daisy (Karina Bell) find success in Paris, but become embroiled in a love triangle with a Parisian bon vivant. This beautiful restoration by the Danish Film Institute highlights the exquisite cinematography of Chresten Jørgensen and Einar Olsen. Approximately 128 minutes. 35mm restored print courtesy of the Danish Film Institute.”

Gertie The Dinosaur

Saturday, July 20 at 10:00 AM
Winsor McCay: His Life and Art
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne

“John Canemaker acclaimed biography Winsor McCay: His Life and Art celebrates the early-twentieth-century genius who gave the world Little Nemo and Gertie the Dinosaur. This special presentation is illustrated with stunning images from Canemaker’s book, as well as screenings of four of McCay’s greatest films: Little Nemo (1911, 3 mins), the first adaptation of a comic strip to a film format; the indelibly disturbing How a Mosquito Operates (1912, 6 mins); Gertie the Dinosaur (1914, 18 mins), the charming and infinitely influential animation McCay designed as part of a Vaudeville act; and The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918, 12 mins), a somber animated counterpart to McCay’s editorial cartoons. Approximately 70 minutes.”

The Half-Breed

Saturday, July 20 at 12:00 PM
The Half-Breed (USA, 1916)
Musical accompaniment by Günter Buchwald
Director: Allan Dwan
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Alma Rubens, Sam De Grasse, Tom Wilson, Frank Brownlee, Jewel Carmen, George Beranger

“The great Allan Dwan directed this western drama set amongst the redwoods and filmed in part near Boulder Creek (with Victor Fleming behind the camera!). Based on a story by Bret Harte and adapted by Anita Loos, The Half-Breed stars Douglas Fairbanks as Lo Dorman, a half-Indian outcast from society who lives in the forest and makes his home in a hollow tree. The coquettish pastor’s daughter (Jewel Carmen) toys with his affections, but it is Teresa (Alma Reuben) on the run from the law, who shares Lo’s status as an outsider. This brand new restoration is the result of a partnership between Cinémathèque Française and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. World Premiere! Approximately 70 minutes. 2013 Restoration 35mm print.”

Legong

Saturday, July 20 at 2:15 PM
Legong: Dance of the Virgins (Bali, 1935)
Musical accompaniment by Clubfoot Orchestra & Gamelan Sekar Jaya
Director: Henri de la Falaise
Cast: Poetoe Aloes Goesti, Bagus Mara Goesti, Saplak Njoman, Njong Njong Njoman

“One of the last features shot in two-strip Technicolor, Legong was filmed entirely on location in Bali in 1935 by the Marquis Henry de la Falaise (a WWI hero, the ex-husband of Gloria Swanson, and the current spouse of Constance Bennett). The film is a tragic tale of love denied—Poutou, a respected Legong dancer, falls in love with young musician, Nyoung. Her father is delighted with Poutou’s choice and wants to help her to conquer Nyoung’s heart. But Poutou’s half-sister Saplak pines for the musician. When Nyoung chooses Saplak, Poutou drowns herself. Legong’s real theme is much more than mere melodrama—it is the delineation of Balinese culture. De la Falaise captured religious rituals including frenetic dances and mystical parades, and everyday dealings at the local marketplace. Small details chronicling the life of the villagers make the film an absorbing and mesmerizing quasi-documentary in gorgeous Two-Color Technicolor! Approximately 65 minutes. 35mm restored print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.”

Gribiche

Saturday, July 20 at 4:00 PM
Gribiche (France, 1926)
Musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Director: Jacques Feyder
Cast: Jean Forest, Françoise Rosay, Cécile Guyon, Rolla Norman, Charles Barrois, Andrée Canti, Armand Dufour, Serge Otto, Alice Tissot, Major Heitner, Georges Pionnier, Soufflot, Mme. Surgères

“Jacques Feyder’s first film for Films Albatros is the story of a young boy (Jean Forest) who lives with his widowed mother (Cécile Guyon) in a lower-middle-class Paris neighborhood when he is ‘discovered’ by a rich American widow, Mrs. Maranet (Françoise Rosay in her first important role), who decides to adopt the boy and give him a ‘proper education.’ This charming film was recently restored by the Cinémathèque Française with the collaboration of the Franco-American Cultural Fund—DGA, MPA, SACEM, WGA. Approximately 112 minutes. Restored 35mm print from the Cinémathèque Française.”

Parasha from House on Trubnaya Square

Saturday, July 20 at 6:30 PM
The House on Trubnaya Square (USSR, 1928)
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne
Director: Boris Barnet
Cast: Vera Maretskaya, Vladimir Fogel, Yelena Tyapkina, Sergei Komarov, Anel Duakevich, Ada Vojtsik

“Our vote for Best Soviet Silent Comedy ever, Trubnaya is a brilliant look at class distinctions in the newly urbanized Soviet Union. ‘Set in a Moscow housing project, where a young scrubwoman discovers a new sense of self after she sees a film about Joan of Arc, this silent 1928 comedy displays a superb technique, a grace with actors, and a talent for eccentric characterizations that suggest Leo McCarey more than Karl Marx.’-—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader. Approximately 64 minutes. 35mm print courtesy of the Pacific Film Archive.”

Joyless Street Scene 2

Saturday, July 20 at 8:30 PM
The Joyless Street/Die freudlose Gasse (Germany, 1925)
Musical accompaniment by Matti Bye Ensemble
Director: G.W. Pabst
Cast: Asta Nielsen, Greta Garbo, Gräfin, Agnes Esterhazy, Werner Krauß, Henry Stuart, Einar Hanson, Grigori Chmara

“Not only one of the most important films of Weimar-era Germany, The Joyless Street is also one of the most spectacular censorship cases of the era. The story from the inflationary period in Vienna in the years immediately after World War I was considered too much of a provocation with its juxtaposition of haves and have nots—that and its frank sexuality. Pabst’s film was twice shortened by the German censors and other countries made cuts or outright banned the film. This painstaking restoration supervised by Stefan Drössler has reconstructed the film as close as possible to Pabst’s intention. It is a magnificent achievement. Approximately 150 minutes. Restored 35mm print from Filmmuseum München.”

Love Nest

Sunday, July 21 at 10:00 AM
Kings of (Silent) Comedy
Musical accompaniment by Günter Buchwald

“Preservationist and showman Serge Bromberg has selected some of his favorite silent era shorts to make gorgeous new transfers using the best materials possible. The films in our program feature titans of silent comedy—Charley Chase, Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and of course, Felix the Cat. The Silent Film Festival starts Sunday morning right–with a program fit for the entire family. Titles include: Felix Goes West (USA, d. Otto Messmer, 1924), Mighty Like a Moose (USA, d. Leo McCarey, 1926), The Love Nest (USA, d. Buster Keaton, 1923), The Immigrant (USA, d. Charles Chaplin, 1917). Approximately 71 minutes. DCP presentation.”

Outlaw and His Wife

Sunday, July 21 at 1:00 PM
The Outlaw and His Wife/Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru (Sweden, 1918)
Musical accompaniment by Matti Bye Ensemble
Director: Victor Sjöström
Cast: Victor Sjöström, Edith Erastoff, John Ekman, Jenny Tschernichin-Larsson, Artur Rolén, Nils Aréhn

“Produced during a renaissance in the Swedish film industry, The Outlaw and His Wife confirmed the promise of director Victor Sjöström, whose previous film, Terje Vigen, had been a big success for Svenska Biograf. Like a western with a romanticized renegade hero, The Outlaw and His Wife is the ballad of an accused thief on the run (played by Sjöström) who finds work on the farm of a generous, self-sufficient widow, and their growing attraction turns to love. When a jealous rival alerts the authorities to the thief’s real identity, the couple take off together into the wilds of Iceland. Approximately 105 minutes. 2013 35mm restoration courtesy of the Swedish Film Institute.”

Last Edition.3

Sunday, July 21 at 3:30 PM
The Last Edition (USA)
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne

“In 2011, film preservationist and SFSFF Board President Rob Byrne learned that an original nitrate print—the only known surviving copy—of The Last Edition existed in the vaults of the Dutch national archive. One of the few surviving films created by Emory Johnson in the mid-1920s, The Last Edition stars veteran actor Ralph Lewis as a pressman at the San Francisco Chronicle. Shot in and around the Chronicle building, the action-packed drama features thrilling chases throughout San Francisco, newspaper production from press to print, and a (literally) ‘stop the presses’ climax that includes a dramatic fire and rescue. This brand new restoration is the result of a partnership between EYE Film Institute Netherlands and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. World Premiere! Approximately 105 minutes. 2013 35mm restoration.”

The Weavers

Sunday, July 21 at 6:00 PM
The Weavers/Die Weber (Germany, 1927)
Musical accompaniment by Günter Buchwald
Director: Friedrich Zelnik
Cast: Paul Wegener, Valeska Stock, Georg Burhahrdt, Emil Lind, Wilhelm Dieterle, Hermann Picha, Herta von Walther, Camilla von Hollay, Theodor Loos, Dagny Servaes

“Based on the 1892 play by Gerhart Hauptman dramatizing a Silesian cotton weavers uprising of 1844, The Weavers was once known as the German Potemkin. Its makers downplayed its radical message, but The Weavers resonated with viewers in 1927 whose social reality reflected a chasm between rich and poor. George Grosz’s sardonic, beautifully drawn intertitle art has been restored to this riveting film. Approximately 97 minutes. 2012 restoration courtesy of F. W. Murnau Stiftung and Transit Film GmbH. Screening in DCP.”

Safety Last Clock Scene

Sunday, July 21 at 8:30 PM
Safety Last! (USA, 1923)
Musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Directors: Sam Taylor, Fred Newmeyer
Cast: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young, Westcott B. Clarke

“A bespectacled man hanging off the hands of a collapsing clock on the side of a skyscraper high above teeming city streets is one of the most indelible images of cinema. The thrilling climax of Safety Last! is made all the more exciting because Harold Lloyd, one of the masters of silent-era comedy, didn’t need CGI to make it happen. But why he is up there in the first place? A girl of course! Safety Last! takes a familiar story of a boy meets girl and turns it into high-art comedy. Layered with expert gags, the 1923 film inspired Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Agee to write of the climb: ‘Each new floor is like a stanza in a poem.’ Approximately 70 minutes. 2013 restoration courtesy of Janus Films, screening in DCP.”

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The Valley of the Giants (1927) Bill

Saturday night I made a trip back in time to enjoy early cinema; I caught the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum‘s program. Judith Rosenberg, who’s well known in the Bay Area and beyond, she participated in the Master Class for silent film musicians at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, played piano scores for each film. Featured were two short comedies and the one full-length drama.

Jimmie Adams Doris Dawson in Swiss Movements

Swiss Movements (1927)
Directed by Robert P. Kerr
Written by Frank Roland Conklin
Starring Jimmie Adams, Doris Dawson, Billy Engle, William Irving, Cliff Lancaster, & Stella Adams
Production Company: Christie Film Company

This comedy short stars Jimmie Adams, sometimes called the poor man’s Charley Chase. The premise is very simple. Jimmie’s character Freddie wants to marry Doris Dawson’s character, but she’s thrown him over for a blowhard called Yodel. The two men compete for her hand in a mountain climbing contest. Scrawny Freddie looks like no match for his burly lederhosen-clad foe. Freddie’s tethered to his potential father-in-law, and even then two cannot compete against one, but their opponent isn’t content to rely on his athleticism to win. Yodel cheats multiple times mostly in telescopic view of their sweetheart, who refuses to cheer on someone who won’t play square. One of his tricks elevates this climbing comedy from purely being pedestrian. He enlists a friend to dress in a bear costume to scare off his opponents. The bear scenes and those of a mountain goat bring the greatest laughs in a picture that could use a few more.

Charley Chase & Buddy in Bath in Dog Shy

Dog Shy (1926)
Directed by Leo McCarey
Written by H.M. Walker (titles)
Cinematography by Floyd Jackman
Starring Charley Chase, Stuart Holmes, Mildred June, Josephine Crowell, William Orlamond, & Buddy the Dog
Production Company: Hal Roach Studios

Mildred June’s The Girl has a problem. Her family wants to marry her off to a nobleman. The Duke’s an older, self-absorbed bore. Lucky for her Charley Chase intercepts a phone call and hatches a plan to help the honey sight unseen, but her mother hangs up before he can get an address, phone number, or even a name. As filmic luck will have it, Charley accidentally gets a job as a butler–in her house and finds the girl! Adding to his troubles, he’s been dog shy his whole life, and chief amongst his duties is taking care of the family dog, Duke. Charley the actor’s funniest scenes are the ones he shares with the dog. They work well together. The comedic potential of having The Duke in a house with Duke are further wrung out when Charley misunderstands the command to bathe the dog. A plot twist allows Charley to become the hero to his future in-laws. Before Charley saves the day, there’s a very silly, but fun scene of six adults pretending to be howling dogs.

Kenyon & Sills in Valley of the Giants

The Valley of the Giants (1927)
Directed by Charles Brabin
From a Novel by Peter B. Kyne
Written by Wid Gunning & Gordon Rigby
Cinematography by Ted D. McCord
Starring Milton Sills, Doris Kenyon, Arthur Stone, George Fawcett, Paul Hurst, Yola d’Avril, Phil Brady, & Charles Sellon
Production Company: First National Pictures

This was my second viewing of Valley of the Giants, and I remain baffled why its director Charles Brabin became a footnote in film history. He’s often referred to as Theda Bara‘s husband, but he was a director before and during their marriage. He worked in film for over three decades. Even if his other movies were lost or not as strong as Valley of the Giants, he deserves credit for making a film that plays well in any era.

This was the second adaptation of the novel by Peter B. Kyne. The first was made in 1919 and starred Wallace Reid. A train accident during that filming led to his morphine addiction. At least two other adaptations followed. One was made in 1938 and starred Wayne Morris, and the other was made in 1952 and featured Kirk Douglas.

In this adaptation, Bryce Cardigan (Milton Sills) returns from Europe to his hometown Sequoia in Northern California. His father John Cardigan (George Fawcett) is a lumber baron of Humboldt county. Bryce returns to problems. His father has gone blind, and even worse an unscrupulous competitor named Seth Pennington (Charles Sellon) wants to destroy the Cardigans and monopolize northern lumber. Romantic complications are added in the form of Pennington’s niece, Shirley (Doris Kenyon). Bryce and Shirley fall in love during and despite the business battle between their families.

One of my main pleasures in watching this film is the location shooting. This outdoors film was shot in Humboldt county amongst the redwoods. Scenes of the trees, the coast, and the lumber industry give the movie an authenticity of place that’s also enticing to the eye. There’s a certain privilege in seeing a landscape before it changed more over time due to the logging industry and development. Today’s vantage point makes the in film threat of felling the Valley of the Giants particularly anxiety provoking.

Real-life husband and wife Milton Sills and Doris Kenyon have screen chemistry. Playing romantic foils doesn’t often work for spouses. Some actors hold back, afraid to exploit intimacies, preferring to keep the personal personal. Other pairings are so awkward onscreen they give off the whiff of contract relationships arranged to bolster careers. Not so here. There’s a sweet moment after Bryce saves Shirley’s life during a train accident. As they wait for rescue, she looks down. He leans toward her to sniff her hair a moment, but changes his mind and tries to kiss the top of her head. She looks up and ruins that moment, but when she realizes what was about to happen, Kenyon radiates happiness, which in response is reflected back at her by Sill’s Bryce. They seem like two people falling in love and connecting.

Kenyon makes an impression. Her part is essentially a supporting one. She doesn’t have the same amount of screen time as Sills, and her part is not as fleshed out. She looks beautiful and is believable as the romantic interest, but also she makes her character a presence even during her quiet moments. There’s a scene when Shirley thinks Bryce won’t like her anymore because of her uncle. She sits, and her body language shows dejection. The tilt of her head and shoulders combined with stillness conveys her upset.

Sills takes advantage of his big role as the loyal son driven to save the family business. He’s likable and believable playing the All American good guy. He’s a Romeo to his Juliet. He’s a fighter for the cause in some brutal and well choreographed fight scenes. Any viewer will want him to win the fight and the girl.

The supporting casting is great. Arthur Stone’s Buck Ogilvy, Bryce’s friend, is convincing as a city playboy who grows up and becomes dependable as he aids his friend. Paul Hurst’s Jules Randeau oozes despicability and brings menace. Phil Brady’s Half Pint adds some comic relief as does the corrupt city council won over by spiked lemonade. Even George Fawcett whose role’s actions are limited by his character’s blindness makes his presence felt. He’s a combination of determination, saintliness, and paternal love.

Briefly there’s a sense that foreigners of different sorts are the causes of problems in Sequoia. Seth Pennington is an Easterner. Jules Randeau is likely French Canadian. Even a member of the city council is suspicious of Buck as a “furrignor.” Buck and Shirley disprove that “outsiders” are the problem, and the council demonstrates that many insiders are.

What’s really being examined are two kinds of capitalism. John Cardigan started his business from scratch with only the love of his wife to support him. He remembers and honors his wife and how he started. He has made his fortune but he shares his profits with the men who work hard for him. He thinks of them, their families, and homes when his business is threatened. He’s an ideal model of compassionate capitalism.

Seth Pennington is the model of an out of control, dehumanizing capitalism. He implies that John is a fool that overpays his workers. It’s not enough for Seth to do well. He has to maximize his profits even to the detriment of his men, and he attracts a motley, violent crew. He doesn’t want to continually expand his business and his market share. He wants to drive any competitor out of business. It’s not enough for him to do well. He has to make others do poorly in comparison, and he plays dirty.

Besides business dealings, romance, and scenic shots, there’s a great deal of action in this film. A runaway train scene is made even more impressive by not resorting to models. There are multiple fight scenes. During the first scrap between Bryce and Randeau, there’s a moment when he tries to jump on Bryce’s head. The camera cuts to the metal cleats coming toward the audience giving an almost 3D effect. During their last fight, extreme close-ups of their sweaty and bloody faces are intercut with fuller body action shots, making their battle personal and its outcome determined by drive and will. You’ll want to see who wins these smaller battles and the bigger one.

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