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Oklahoma mechanic Pike Peters finds himself part owner of an oil field. His wife Idy, hitherto content, decides the family must go to Paris to get "culture" and meet "the right kind of people." Pike and his grown son and daughter soon have flirtatious French admirers; Idy rents a chateau from an impoverished aristocrat; while Pike responds to each new development with homespun wit. In the inevitable clash, will pretentiousness and sophistication or common sense triumph? Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
I have just seen this delightful satirical film for the first time. It is one of the earliest sound films, having been made in the first year of full sound. It contains numerous excellent scenes shot in Paris by a second unit, which are carefully intercut by director Frank Borzage with the studio-based material. It is interesting, for instance, to see the American Express Building on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris where all the American expatriates went to receive their remittances from home, collect their mail, and do their banking in the 1920s. So people seeking twenties Paris shots should look not only through newsreels and documentaries but in such feature films as this, where the quality and relevance are often superior. There is a very good shot of the corner of the Café de la Paix, for instance. This film is based on a novel of the same title published in 1926 by Homer Croy (I have the copy which he signed to his editor). I met Homer when I was 16 because I wrote to him after reading his book STARMAKER about D. W. Griffith, whom he had known well. Homer invited me to come and see him, and I did so several times. He and his wife Mae Bell (I thought it was 'Maybell') lived on Pinehurst Avenue, opposite the small Bennett Park, in the northwest Bronx. It was a quiet and tranquil area where they had lived for decades. There was little crime, but they said it had been much nicer and more genteel before the War. He and 'Maybell' had been married since 1915. They knew all the old-timers of the cinema, and frequently had tea with Lillian and Dorothy Gish at the Elysee Hotel in Manhattan. Homer knew Stan Laurel very well and got him to sign a book for me. Homer wanted to introduce me to all of them, because he was so thrilled that there was a teenager who knew and cared about D. W. Griffith. (Although I did not meet her through him, Anita Loos nearly fell over when the next year I told her I admired D. W. Griffith. She said: 'There's hope for the young yet! I could never imagine that a teenaged boy of these days would speak to me about D.W.') The Croys were very charming, countrified (he was a Missouri farm boy and liked to boast about it), and old-fashioned. Homer talked constantly about Will Rogers, the star of this film, for whom he wrote many scripts, and whom he idolized as a person. Homer was a real eccentric. He wrote to me a lot and always put foreign postage stamps on the envelopes, with crazy comments on the backs of the envelopes, and the stationery and envelopes were from strange hotels all over the world, which he had obviously collected on his travels. I still have these. But back to the film. Will Rogers plays Pike Peters, who has a garage in Claremore, Oklahoma (Rogers was himself from Oklahoma, by the way). He owns some land on which a trial oil well is drilled, and it comes a gusher. Suddenly from poverty he becomes rich and, as Rogers says in the film: 'I can't get used to earning $1000 a day.' His wife (played by Irene Rich), newly emboldened by riches, turns into an insufferable snob and speaks constantly of the need to 'meet the right people'. Rogers has no interest in 'the right people' but decides that he must humour his wife and indulge her high-fallutin' whims. She insists that they must go to Paris, where all 'the right people' are, and with any luck, a 'right person' suitable for their unmarried daughter Opal (played by Marguerite Churchill) to marry, preferably acquiring a title in the process. This is of course a dig by Homer at the Americans who had already done this, such as Winaretta Singer, who had managed to marry a French aristocrat and thus at a stroke become the Princesse de Polignac, one of France's oldest and most distinguished titles. The Croys had visited Paris in the 1920s, and are occasionally mentioned in memoirs of the period. They thus had first-hand experience of the setting of this story. (Anita Loos made a much greater hit when she went to Paris because she had become so controversial as a result of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES.) The family duly make their way to Paris and ensconce themselves in one of those huge suites which rich Americans and South Americans used on their trips to Paris in those days. Rogers is often left behind as his wife goes social-climbing because she finds him too embarrassing. They meet a marquis who says he wants to marry Opal and is in love with her. But when he demands a huge dowry, Rogers refuses to pay it and infuriates his wife. But Opal realizes the man may be a gold-digger, which of course he is. However, before this he had encouraged them to rent a gigantic château and to hold a reception for over a hundred people. Rogers gets a shock when he realizes that all the guests are being paid to attend, with an exiled Russian grand duke getting 1000 francs for the evening. When he complains to his wife that she is buying a reception's worth of guests she is furious and bans him from the reception, so he has to wait upstairs. But he creeps out and peeks down the grand stairway and ends up meeting and befriending the grand duke. They both escape the horrible reception and have drinks and then go to sleep in the same bed for the night. The wife is astounded that her hick husband has bonded with her grandest and most expensive guest. The film is very amusing and satirical, and Rogers is his usual softly-spoken and self-effacing country-boy self. The film is highly recommended.
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