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For decades I heard that superstar Norma Talmadge fled from talkies because of her New York accent. Not true! Finally getting to see DuBarry, it's evident that Talmadge's accent and voice were just fine. While the film is static and the story tame, Talmadge is quite good as the French courtesan. Her opening scene is a hoot. With her foot caught in the water, she is caught by Conrad Nagel. Her clothes are in a nearby tree. Norma comes up for air sputtering and spitting water. Always known as a great dramatic actress, Talmadge was also a good comic and has fun in a few scenes in this film. The print I have is lousy, but it's good enough to get a glimpse of what Talmadge could have been in talkies. Nagel is OK as the doomed lover. William Farnum is Louis, Alison Skipworth the madame, Ullrich Haupt is the "husband," and Eugenie Besserer is Rosalie. Although the sound revolution destroyed many Hollywood careers, Norma Talmadage may have been the greatest victim.
For nearly 20 years Norma Talmadge was one of early cinema's 5 greatest superstars (The others being Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Chaplin and Gloria Swanson). Supposedly she had a dreadful NEW YORK accent like Jean Hagen's silent queen parody in "Singin in the Rain"(1952). This film proves that this is indeed not true. Norma at 37 makes a lovely heroine and her voice is a pleasing combination of Claudette Colbert and Irene Dunne. Her acting is very good as she was known at the time to be one of the silver screen's finest actresses of the late 10's and 20's. Her leading man is the excellent and handsome Conrad Nagel and receives fine support from silent veteran William Farnum and the funny Alison Skipworth. The problem with the film lies in the too static direction and the ridiculous dialogue Norma is forced to utter in one or two dreadful scenes(especially the sceptor scene where she stands on her bed).But her acting is often excellent. SHe handles all the dialogue like a pro and her silent film technique of emoting works wonderfully well in many scenes especially the fine closing sequence. This still made nearly half a million dollars in the states plus probably a lot more in Europe where Norma still had a huge following in late 1930. Why the critics at the time attacked her so is outrageous. They were probably just sick of her "invincible popularity" that had kept her a top favorite from the flicker days of 1911's "Tale of Two Cities" through her first highly popular but critically panned first talkie "New York Nights"(late 1929). Plus her torrid affair with the Latin lover Gilbert Roland in the late 20's and early 30's hardly endeared her to her homely extremely powerful husband producer Joseph Schenk who probably enjoyed seeing his wayward wife's career collapse so easily amid terrible reviews and his sudden lack of concern. Schenk used Norma's enormous drawing power to buy his was into United Artists where he became President. His brothers owned MGM. So obviously Norma slit her own career throat by hooking up with Roland. This is probably why her career collapsed so suddenly. Filthy rich Norma and her equally popular sister Constance walked away from films forever and their great reputations crumbled away. This film proves that Norma could of had quite a career in talking pictures. Sadly Constance never made a talkie so we will never be able to see what a great comedienne she could have been with dialogue. Constance's wonderful performance in Griffith's "Intolerance"(1916) is on DVD for modern audiences. None of Norma's greatest hits from "Panthea"(1917) through the Oscar winning "The Dove"(1928) are available for viewing. Her legacy rests on her maligned "Dubarry" which is obviously quite available. It's not good but Norma makes it worth a look. She is after all a very important part of film history.
Typical early talkie, a little stiff. However, when Norma Talmadge is on screen she is vivacious and wonderful. She should have made more talking films. She would have been a great actress in the 1930s. Definitely worth looking at.
The talkies didn't agree with Norma Talmadge. She left Hollywood after only making a few. This was to be her last. According to Greta de Groat's website, this plot revolves around a shopgirl who becomes mistress to a king but falls victim to the French Revolution. It is one of her few films available on video and has been shown on television. The Library of Congress is reported to have a copy but this is unconfirmed.
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