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I have fond memories of the Penny Arcade on Main St. at Disneyland from
my childhood. I don't think I'll remember this one-reeler quite as
long. It's essentially two old silent films thrown together with new
(in 1934) narration, couched in the antics of a family in a penny
The first silent has Annette Kellerman (an Australian swimmer and diver born in 1887) giving a diving demonstration. Problem here was, she was diving from the deck of the pool. She was just leaning forward into the water. Not a very impressive dive to be sure. Perhaps people were easier to impress in 1910.
The second silent was Mary Pickford playing an American Indian princess. It, and the accompanying "humorous" narration, pretty much insults and denigrates Indians everywhere.
A Penny a Peep has some interest as an oddity, but it's not the kind of thing you'll wish to see twice, even at a brisk 11 minutes. One of Ted Turner's little time killers on TCM. Has that man bought the rights to EVERY piece of film made before 1940?
this 1934 short is composed of 3 parts: a man, his wife and his
overgrown son visit a penny arcade (1), where he drops a penny in the
movieola and he (and we)watch The Perfectly Formed Woman(2),(1910, and
another penny to watch The Song of the Wildwood Flutes (3),(1910). the
man encounters the disdain of his goody-two-shoes plump wife because of
his lascivious ogling.
what's curious about this one-reeler is the quality of the excerpts from the 1910 shorts. mary pickford appears in the dw griffith directed Wildwood Flutes, and she's as attractive here as i've ever seen her. the Formed Woman short was made in Australia and also is a first-run- quality piece. re-using the original 1910 material appears to have been a way to fill out the picture, and it looks like WB must have had access in 1934 to the original film elements. in the case of the Australian film, that would have been extraordinary.
as a movie short this is so-so; as a piece of movie history which preserved in a backhanded way long forgotten (and possibly lost forever) one-reeler material it deserves a look. you'll cringe at the rampant sexism and racism in both 1910 and 1934.
Penny a Peep, A (1934)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Leo Donnelly narrates this Vitaphone short that has a family going to the movies but these are the early days and they must drop in a penny to view the shows out of a box. We then get Donnelly stepping in to add narration over a couple silent movies including D.W. Griffith's THE SONG OF THE WILDWOOD FLUTE with Mary Pickford playing an Indian princess and Annette Kellerman in THE PERFECTLY FORMED WOMAN. This is a mixed bag in terms of entertainment because on one hand the narration is quite poorly written and the jokes are never funny. They're actually bad enough to make you want to skip the movie but the reason this is a must see is because of the two silent shorts. The Griffith film is available but extremely hard to see and I'm really not sure if the Kellerman movie is out there or not. Being able to see them is certainly a major plus as is the early stuff of seeing these old-time movie machines.
This imitation Pete Smith short has me of two minds. I enjoy Pete's
shorts, his snarky voice making fun of the mores and methods of his
contemporaries. But I also am a great fan of silent movies, from back
when they were experimenting with the medium and discovering what, if
anything it would become.
And therefore the lack of respect for the society of thirty and forty years earlier -- two featured performers in the silent movies this short highlights are Annette Kellerman, who was not only alive when this was released, but would live another forty years and Mary Pickford, whose last starring movie had been released the previous year is actually narrated by Leo Donnelly. So this movie irritates me, not only with its lack of understanding, but its cruelty.
And yet I still enjoyed listening to Pete's supercilious, made-up narration. And I think that clip of Kellerman only survives because of its inclusion here.
Ah well. Make of that what you will.
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