|Index||8 reviews in total|
An enjoyable romantic comedy and an interesting window into its era, "The
Girl With the Hatbox" is a pleasant and unusual feature. The characters are
slightly exaggerated to just the right degree, and the story makes quite
creative use of a couple of relatively simple situations. Anna Sten brings
plenty of energy to the title role, and the supporting cast members work
well with her.
The story is pleasantly offbeat, while never seeming forced. It's also quite interesting to see the portrayal of daily life in the USSR of the 1920's. Some of the bureaucratic encumbrances of the early Soviet era are used as plot devices, and it's noteworthy that the bureaucrats and their regulations are not depicted as frightening menaces, but as mere tools that the main characters use for their own purposes. At least a part of the movie's charm comes from the chance to get this kind of good-natured look at the era.
While it's primarily meant as light entertainment, it works very well as such. It's well worth the time to see.
I'm sure there are probably tons of Russian comedies, but for some reason
seems like most of the Russian movies that have achieved any kind of fame
the US are very heavy and serious, and usually fatalistic. Eisenstein
great sense of fun, and his films often contain comedic scenes, but they
tend to be high-minded and serious overall. I'm pretty sure the Girl
the Hat Box is the first pure Russian comedy I've ever seen. I loved it.
The story and the characters were extremely charming. Anna Sten was beautiful. The baddies were more comical than they were truly evil. And everything turns out happily in the end. It could have almost been a Hollywood movie, except the photography is better.
I'd like to see more Russian comedies.
As it happens with his compatriot Evgenii Bauer, Barnet is one of the most unknown and great Russian filmmakers. Of course he passed several seasons in hell, because of the "stalinism" but the average quality of a quite long career is high enough to consider him a master. This is his funniest movie, a delightful, almost screwball comedy played with that old charm and grace that only in silent cinema you can find. Far from politics, socialism and - the great mother Russia that will grow us all- "The girl..." follows the traces of DeMille, La Cava and Lubitsch. Moscow seems even a great city to live, with his problems, but human. Some hilarious moments and laughs assured. Marvellous feature
I have been lately surveying silent film for two major reasons. One is
looking to see cinema when it was still new, before all manner of rules
and shorthands were in place. The distance between life and movies was
much shorter, for one, far less complicated, which means you get to see
very transparent workings.
Take this for example. Reviewers have it noted as an early riff on screwball comedy plus slapstick sweetness from Chaplin, with no bearing whatsoever to Eisenstein and the likes, nary an outspoken prole or montage in sight.
Then note again a much more subtle class conflict than anyone else from Kuleshov's film workshop at VGIK envisioned. Two adjacent rooms in the same house, one leased by the well-to-do couple who own the house to a poor girl from the countryside selling hats, who in turn agrees out of pity to be the mock wife to an itinerant bum just to shelter him from the cold. Money drives the world. A feudal relationship exists in essence between the two rooms. The girl is busy working on hats, while the couple mooch off her efforts because they have a place to sell. Authorities come knocking on the door, tax-collectors, the house committee, and are met with cunning wit and deception.
The main gag in the finale is that the husband of the couple bought the lottery ticket standing to win a small fortune but has given it to the hatbox girl.
The scene where he finds out is marvellously rendered as visual radio, with the listener tuning into different excerpts of films. These days he would be shown watching TV. A similar - more sophisticated - scene exists in L'Herbier's superb L'Inhumaine from 1924. My guess is the film was studied at VGIK.
The other reason I've been delving into these films, is for a window in time that sharpens perception. Because silent film portrays a world a little damp and sunless after centuries of cinematic prehistory, caught suddenly in the light of the camera, and really seen for the first time as it prepares to lunge forward from the precipice, so both antiquated and modern at the same time, you get the strange effect of reality in the process. My pet project with these is to see not old times feted in history then, but a modern, contemporary world out the window. Here, it's Moscow as was not often depicted by the Soviets, not completely gloomy and downtrodden, or caught in revolutionary frenzy. Some life going on basically. Also very precious in this regard are Vertov's Kino-Pravda reels.
One more reason to see this is for the brief experiment with synchronous sound.
This movie is really cute. Unfortunately, that adjective has a rather
derogatory connotation, especially when referring to a work of art. I
certainly don't mean it that way. Frankly, I could use a little delight of
the sort The Girl with the Hat Box provided me. It's an utterly charming
story about a young girl who makes hats. The comedy of errors is
complicated, and is not worth telling in whole.
Anna Sten stars in the lead. Does that name ring any bells? Well, I didn't recognize the name, but I clicked on it and read up on her. Apparently Samuel Goldwyn brought her over to the United States (surely based on her performance in Hat Box) to be the next Garbo in the early 1930s. She starred in Nana (Dorothy Arzner & George Fitzmaurice, 1934), We Live Again (Rouben Mamoulien, 1934; also starring Frederic March), and The Wedding Night (King Vidor, 1935, and she starred opposite Gary Cooper). All were enormous bombs, each more astronomical than the last. Afterwards, she appeared in several more Hollywood films in secondary roles. I really, really want to see any of her Hollywood films to see what her problem was. You'd never know there was one from The Girl with the Hat Box. She's gorgeous, charming, and very funny.
The male lead is played, also delightfully, by Ivan Koval-Samborsky, who had a major role in 1926's Mother by Pudovkin. He plays a homeless student whom Sten at first pities and tries to help, but they soon find love in each other. The villains in the film are played by Serafima Birman and P. Paul. They are both exceptional. The latter doesn't seem to have any other film credits, but the former later played Efrosinia, Ivan the Terrible's aunt in Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible movies. I didn't recognize her, as this was 18 years earlier. Plus, in Ivan she is always covered in huge robes. But you can recognize her from the nose.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sunday July 16, 2:40pm The Castro, San Francisco
This Boris Barnett film starring Anna Sten is a marvelous slapstick romp with a definite Russian twist. A Moscow couple lists a young girl as their tenant to get a larger apartment from the housing authority. When she takes pity on a student who sleeps in the train depot she tells her landlords he is her husband to claim the room and retaliation follows. Things are further complicated when a lottery ticket she was given as payment wins. The husband and wife are quite amusing. He is short, fat and bald, with a mustache resembling toothbrush bristles. She, is a tall, lanky, bird like creature with wonderful facial expressions. They also employ an odd little cleaning woman that seems to defy gravity as they watch her dust while she balances on the end of a ladder. The two young people, who are actually 'not' married, attempting to sleep in the empty room with some degree of privacy is hilarious!
Here's great fun. Sometimes a film, or any art I suppose, is targeted
to a specific consumer someone different than us. Then, perhaps we
will find it and experience it in ways not intended, or intended
effects are exaggerated.
For me, nearly any old film needs to be considered this way, and many from cultures other than mine, though these are rare these days.
This is a slight comedy of the type Hollywood would patent as screwball, but with the heavy dose of physical humor popular in silents. It was made in the Stalinist "union," for a contemporary audience. So you'll see Soviet commissars and effects of contemporary rules. Certain alien stereotypes, including Russian Jews from a Russian perspective.
What's common here with my world is a pretty girl, lust and greed, the stuff of a universal dynamo. But these are cast off kilter from the way you normally see them, so they seem fresh. It helps that the production values are very high, better it seems that your typical American or French film of the era.
Its light, but its placement makes it profound.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
The Girl With the Hatbox" is a cute, charming silent comedy of Russian
girl who travels between her home in the country and an apartment owned
by a greedy, rich couple in Moscow.
She meets a poor student with nowhere to go, and ends up marrying him to give him the right to stay in the apartment although the marriage starts as just a platonic arrangement.
Lots of hi-jinx ensue, almost all well acted, and I found myself enjoying it way more than I expected to.
Yes, there are some over the top performances, and a couple of unneeded sub-plots, including our heroines cruel ignoring of the post man who is in love with her, but overall this is a breezy, sweet comedy, well worth watching.
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