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A police wagon speeds through pre-dawn Manhattan streets as the credits roll. The siren screams, there is no music. Two policemen rouse a doctor to a stricken man, he's dying. "Who did it, Dopie?" Cut to a tuxedoed silk hat in the back of a chauffered limo. "Gee, boss, that was a nervy hit." An I. O. U. for $25,000 payable to Dopie Brown is being torn, "Somebody's always gotta pay for a fourflush." A cackling John Wray (as Joe Prividi) chews the I. O. U. pieces into a spitwad, then flings it out the window. Joe then breaks into a flower shop and takes a stolen bouquet to "his goil".
Norma Talmadge as Jill Deverne is the object of Joe's affections. Leaning into a clever two shot in a dumbwaiter, she reminds her Broadway show's producer that her husband might object. Jill walks the knife edge between offending her benefactor and encouraging his romantic inclinations. She is polite, yet firm. In another room, her husband, Fred (Gilbert Roland) works on a tune with buddy, Johnny (Roscoe Karnes). Fred's stuck for a closing lyric and Jill enters with a plum, then falls into his arms. In one scene, Gilbert Roland and Norma Talmadge exhibit their fine voices and sparkling, well-honed chemistry. Roland and Talmadge had been teamed in THE DOVE (1927) and A WOMAN DISPUTED (1928) and here, the magic pops out of the screen. Norma has several close-ups that display her acting mastery. Halfway through the first reel you'll be in love with this movie.
Lilyan Tashman, as Jill's friend Peggy, has a backstage scene where her beauty is truly revealed. With her hair hidden by a cloche-like headpiece, Ms. Tashman's face is revealed to be the most beautiful ever photographed. Also revealed, in this pre-code picture, is her body. Were it not for the wings of a bird seemingly painted on Lilyan's front, all of her modesty would be lost.
The direction is excellent, tightly handled by Lewis Milestone right before he started ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. The pace is rapid and only relents for one brief reconciliation between Jill and Fred. They plot their getaway in a booth in a diner. As they hash out the final details, the camera dollies slowly to the next booth, chillingly revealing Joe's chauffer eavesdropping.
Ray June keeps interesting shots coming throughout the 64 minutes my print ran. And this is where a discrepency arises. The runtime is given as 108 minutes (IMBD), then a release footage of (approx.) 7380 ft (IMDB). AFI lists the release footage at 7447. As both footages run 81 or 82 mins, one wonders what happened to the rest of the film. [I know film shrinks, but that's rediculous] I can find only evidence of one song ever having been in the picture.
73 years after its release, it is impossible to determine what sank this wonderful film at the box office. But, sank it did. Impossible to ascertain whether it failed to be promoted, what the rumor mill ground out or just how the public expected silent film stars to sound. After one more picture, the glittering career of Norma Talmadge, a star that shone so bright as to bring two sisters into the arc light, would be extinguished. Only a year later, as writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz noted, the end of the silent era was typified by Norma Talmadge leaving the Brown Derby and telling a gang of autograph hounds, "Get away, you little b*****ds, I don't need you anymore." And thus fell silent a splendid, promising new talking picture career.
At least we have this terrific movie to remind us of how good silent film technique could be in talkies.
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