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Music in the Air (1934)
Kern-Hammerstein froth with stars at their peak
This is a lightweight piece of musical fluff- very stagebound from the Broadway hit as it is transferred to early musical film. The libretto isn't much and only one of the seven songs became a hit - I'VE TOLD EVERY LITTLE STAR. However, it is the star personalities that make this a delightful romp.
Gloria Swanson and John Boles are the protypes for Fred and Lili Graham, the feuding husband and wife leads in KISS ME KATE. Here they perfectly assess the comedic and vocal requirements of their roles and play them to the hilt. As the young male lead Douglass Montgomery gives one of his finest performances, full of joy and innocence. June Lang fares somewhat less as the ingenue support, registering neither talent nor personality. Al Shean does his usual Charles-Winniger want to be turn as the old song writer. Marjorie Main has a silent role as Swanson's maid.
The score contains two dances and the songs: SCHOOL PRAYER; BEYOND THE HILL; WE BELONG TOGETHER; I'M COMING HOME; ALL ALONE; ONE MORE DANCE; and the hit I'VE TOLD EVERY LITTLE STAR.
A must-see for Swanson fans - after seeing this and TONIGHT OR NEVER, it stll baffles me why she wasn't a big talkies star - she could do anything - drama, comedy, musical - with flair and inventiveness. It was certainly our loss.
Flying with Music (1942)
Grade B programmer musical - minor in every way
A private collector has finally allowed me to see this almost forgotten musical -and it deserves to be forgotten. It is a 50 minute Hal Roach musical programmer that is grade B in every way - there is an erroneous official timing of 71 minutes that proliferates but I am trying to get that removed.
The plot is almost non-existant. The characters are thinly drawn and the direction, acting and production values are beneath contempt.
George Givot plays a man on the lam from a divorce and alimony. He disguises himself as a tour guide for five young socialites. The lead socialite, Marjorie Woodworth, is looking for love from a latin singer she idolizes - the reason for the trip - but is romanced by a pilot. Eventually all things end happily. The only bright spot is a midget, Jerry Bergen, who plays the comic foil for the detective who is trying to nail Givot.
The score (five forgettable numbers) and the song PENNIES FOR PEPPINO earned Oscar noms - totally and irrevocably undeserved - these were the days when every studio could submit its "best" as nominees in the categories of sound, score, scoring, song and special effects.
It took me over forty years to find this turkey and the result was not worth the effort. Note that lyricists Chet Forrest and Bob Wright went on to create SONG OF NORWAY and KISMET on Broadway.
Lenya steals the film.
This is perhaps Warren Beatty's best screen performance- he is perfectly cast as the Italian gigolo and both his accent and his heavy-lidded loucheness, not to mention his beauty, bring Paolo to life. One feels more for him than for the person we are supposed to feel for- poor Karen Stone. Vivien Leigh with her newly developed deep contralto voice plays Karen in an emotional vacuum. She "walks through" the role and we never "feel" what she is supposed to be feeling. Perhaps this is Quintero but I doubt it. I just think Ms. Leigh was tired and unable to dredge up the required feelings on cue.
The film goes on a bit too long - the languidity of certain scenes which merely repeat what has already been established draws it out longer than necessary.
All said, the best thing in it (and deservedly Oscar-nominated) is Lotte Lenya's Contessa - in nine perfectly crafted and acted scenes, she steals the film and is the one character we remember the most.
Ship of Fools (1965)
Leigh, Werner and Signoret keep boat afloat.
Yes, it is very preachy about prejudice, but then Hollywood was full of Jewish people and they always loved a film set against anti-Semitism. It was safe to place it in a period era - here 1933- where they might not offend enough of its audience to deny it a healthy cash return at the boxoffice. Oddly enough it was the sugary sweet anti-Nazi R&H bonbon, The Sound of Music, that took the trophy that year, but then this was only a subplot in that opus.
Granted it is a bit overdone, but the screenplay has its heart in the right place and we are enriched by the performances of Oskar Werner and Simone Signoret - justly Oscar nommed - as well as the last film performance of Vivien Leigh (who not only deserved a nom and didn't get it - she deserved to WIN the Best Supporting Actress trophy - a very sad and serious error). Her fifteen scenes, six without dialogue, are superbly played, with bitter acid. When she speaks of her husband and her age, one believes she is talking about herself. Her soliloquy in front of her mirror is worth an Oscar in itself. Here she displays the deep throaty voice she gained in later years, such a contrast to the light, wispy girlish trill she displayed in most of her films.
Nominated for eight Oscars and winner of trophies for Art Direction and Cinematography. A worthy effort worth seeing.
Things Are Looking Up (1935)
Delightful Courtneidge comedy vehicle
This film is a fun romp and a perfect vehicle for Ms. Courtneidge's talents- mugging of the grand school ala Marie Dressler - both coming from the vaudeville training of broad comic gesture and both homely, matronly but lovable.
The title tune is quite infectious and well done. Note the continuity error in the Wimbledon audience. The fellow in the front row bottom right of screen sometimes wears a hat and sometimes not.
Vivien Leigh is most noticeable in three scenes- she is behind the girl in the geometry class who gives Cicely a hard time; she is in front row of third window scene during the title tune production number; she has her one line towards the end in a checkered dress as she tells Courtneidge she won't return to the school if the latter isn't elected headmistress.
Do make an effort to see this- much fun.
Tillie Wakes Up (1917)
Grade B slapstick follow-up to successful "Punctured Romance"
Marie Dressler's considerable acting and comedic talents were not truly realized until the talkies, but here in her third film, she again uses the character of Tillie, which she originated onstage in TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE and made her first film (incidentally, the first feature film comedy). Tillie is a comic caricature - quick to innocence, quick to anger. Here she is unhappily married to a business man who flirts with his young upstairs neighbor, a woman who henpecks her husband (Johnny Hines). Johnny decides to end it all but first he will have a last fling. Tillie decides to make her husband jealous by finding a "Romeo." It's all an excuse for Hines and Dressler to go to Coney Island and take advantage of all of the rides, before the forsaken husband and wife come to find them and ask forgiveness. Total nonsense!!!!
The slapstick is practically non-stop. Dressler does her first-time drunk bit as she did in PUNCTURED ROMANCE and the pratfalls are many. Hines' character never gels and Dressler does nothing more than mug outrageously and keep falling down. Her agility considering her age and weight were a constant surprise.
This is a Grade B minor comedy that isn't even particularly funny unless you love pure slapstick for its own sake.
Dressler fans - you won't be amused much.
Bird of Paradise (1932)
Passionate romance in tropical setting
I despair of non-romantics taking the time to denigrate with their reviews ultra-romantic films, such as this.
BIRD OF PARADISE is a masterwork - superbly photographed (the lighting, composition and mobility of the camera are astonishing), lushly scored (Max Steiner's score is the first ever to run from beginning to end of a talking film), and lyrically directed. Del Rio's performance is perfection - a native woman whose only future is to be sacrificed to Pele, the God of Volcanos, who finds true love with a white man who visits her island and chooses to stay.
For romantics, this is a classic tear-jerker and an exercise in sheer visual beauty. The underwater swimming scene between a nude Del Rio and a McCrea clad only in the thinnest of briefs is unique in cinema.
Perhaps the Academy's shut-out of this work is due to its coming on the heel of the semi-documentary Murnau TABU, the year before which explored similar themes. No reason however not to nominate it for Del Rio's performance, the cinematography and the score.
One of the most visually beautiful films ever made and a must-see for romantics.
The Mysterious Lady (1928)
Effective spy melodrama - one of Garbo's last silents
This is a blueprint for the screenplay to Garbo's later talkie, MATA HARI. Here she plays a spy who seduces officer Nagel. She manages to fall in love with him but he rejects her, once he knows she is a spy. She goes ahead with her plans to steal documents from him. He is stripped of his officer's rank. Later, she kills her superior in order to save his life and flee with him.
Both Garbo and Nagel are effective, but in no way extraordinary. The film is well made without being memorable overall. Scenes of interest are: Garbo's first shot as camera pulls back from Nagel's face, revealing her engrossed in the opera and a side shot of her face which follows; lighting as she lights a candleabra; cinematography and editing in Nagel's degradation scene; composition of a shot of Nagel at the piano with mirrored reflections; Garbo at the fireplace; and a tracking shot with Garbo as she greets guests on her way to a rendezvous.
The MGM/UA VHS release of 1990 includes an original orchestral score and sound effects. The print used was quite poor - very scratched, decomposing in spots and with tints turning on and off within scenes. Supposedly MGM had no surviving negative or prints and had to make do with a well-worn one. This video release has since been discontinued and it has never been released on DVD.
All in all, an okay film, but nothing extraordinary.
The Rogue Song (1930)
Complete audio track reveals dull and sluggish operetta
I have finally been able to hear the entire 101 minute audio track, preserved on disc. The film is lethargically paced and the ten Laurel and Hardy scenes are very short and have nothing to do with the plotting, just gags tacked onto the film to liven it up after poor preview response. The sound is not that good and of the ten musical numbers only two songs are worthy of praise - SWEET WHITE DOVE and WHEN I'M LOOKING AT YOU. In addition we have a RIDING SONG, SONG OF THE ROGUE, LOVE COMES, SONG OF THE LAUGHING MAN, NADJA'S SONG. There are two ballets and a lament.
Tibbett comes off well, self-confident and masculine in his bravura and sexy performance and his singing voice here is put to good use. One can see how he garnered a Best Actor nomination that year. There were a number of other performances nominated on the basis of pure charm (Ronald Colman in BULLDOG DRUMMOND, Maurice Chevalier in THE LOVE PARADE and THE BIG POND).
If this is ever found, it probably will be a disappointment for those who waited. The fragment of Laurel and Hardy with the bear (just over a minute) and the ballet (a few minutes) have surfaced as visual fragments and are housed at UCLA.
The Song of the Flame (1930)
Extant sound reels reveal good music/good sound
The five extant sound discs from this film reveal a very high quality Vitaphone sound - round, warm and clear with good sound effects and a quality reproduction of speaking and singing voices as well as orchestrations. It would seem it fully deserved its Oscar nomination for Best Sound.
Performance-wise Alexander Gray comes off as charming as usual- he made a handful of early talkies and proved himself a charming and handsome man, very much at ease. Sadly both his work in NO NO NANETTE and the pictorial portion of SONG OF THE FLAME is lost.
Bernice Claire in the lead has a babyish voice and poor dramatic ability -she sings well, but does not seem at home in talkies. Noah Beery as the villain is word perfect and pronounces so carefully that he lacks any dramatic vocal flair - an unnatural speaking voice with over careful diction.
The score is a marvelously operatic one. All nine songs are preserved in the sound disc performances. There were four choruses as well, three of traditional Russian folk tunes and one drawn from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.
A delight to the ear - this "lost" operetta of the early days of talkies and film musicals.
Effective but unremarkable adaptation of ANNA KARENINA
With a mix of modern dresses for the ladies and typical regimental outfits for the men, this adaptation of ANNA KARENINA is quite different from the novel and other film versions in a few ways. After deserting her family for Vronsky, he does not tire of and desert her - he stays faithful - it is she who voluntarily gives him up to prevent his being thrown out of the Guards and thereby saves his name from disgrace - her suicide is to save him, rather than being an act of despair.
Anna's completely "losing it" when his horse falls in a race - in front of society - is her downfall as it exposes their affair to the world, after which society must wreak its revenge. Without this "flaw," things might have gone otherwise for her.
The finest scenes are between Garbo and Philippe de Lacy, who plays her son. Their two scenes are so full of playful mother-son love as to prove to better than Garbo's scenes with Gilbert. Indeed, there is none of the passion or obsession here that the two displayed earlier that year in FLESH AND THE DEVIL. de Lacy is a beautiful young actor and a "natural." One of the annoying things about Vronsky is his inability to understand this love - he selfishly wants Anna all to himself - the cad!
Garbo's farewell scene with Gilbert, she knowing she'll never see him again and he oblivious to this fact, is also quite well done.
The TCM print is flawed by having a live audience reacting poorly on the soundtrack, although the newly commissioned score by Arnold Brostoff is quite fine. This soundtrack addition occurred in 1994 and seems the only one accompanying prints of the film currently.
There is a beautifully photographed waltz with Garbo and Gilbert - oft seen in compilations and reminiscent of his waltz scenes with Mae Murray in THE MERRY WIDOW.
All in all, worth catching for Garbo, but the two later remakes of the work are much better.
Garbo's first film a showcase for her talent
Garbo's first two films were adaptations of Ibanez novels. This first, TORRENT, fares much better than the second, THE TEMPTRESS. The latter was overlong and uninteresting, giving Garbo little to do but stand around and look seductive until her last scene, when she is finally allowed to act. Here in TORRENT, she is in total command from beginning to end and as convincing as a Spanish peasant girl, all innocent and loving, as she is portraying a famous diva.
She and Ricardo Cortez are in love but he is a landowner and his mother forbids the alliance, causing the young girl's family to be ousted from their home. The father takes his daughter off to Paris where her trained voice (she had been taking lessons from the local barber) is sure to be a hit. Mother is left behind. Cortez gets his second chance when the famous La Brunna (Garbo) returns to her home to see her mother and entice Cortez yet again. He fails to win her and she leaves. As she is about to depart for America he visits her again but again he fails to have the courage to "break his mother's heart" and marry against her wishes.
The only thing difficult to sustain us through all this is that Garbo still loves him although he is obviously a weak-willed, mother-dominated man. Garbo is radiant and totally believable throughout.
The film holds up well despite some plot problems. Why did the moneyed and successful La Brunna allow her mother to continue to live in poverty as a charwoman? Why is everyone in the home town so dim as to not figure out how La Brunna got her wealth until the confrontation scene where even Garbo's mother rejects her for being "a bad woman?" She does have a wonderful scene when confronted by Cortez, she blames him for her state, since his initial rejection of her led her to her current path for survival.
Despite these bits of unbelievability, this tale of lost love and bittersweet romance plays well. In Garbo's first two films she was paired with "latin" hopefuls, Ricardo Cortez and Antonio Moreno. Neither could hold their own against her, although Cortez is memorable here in the last scenes as an older broken man.
TCM shows a tinted print using four tones (sepia, blue, lavender, red) with a fine orchestral score and sound effects. The new score is by Arthur Barrow. There is some obvious deterioration in some of the title cards. The special effects of a dam breaking during a rain storm and the torrent gaining on two characters in a boat are quite well done. Another dam breaks in THE TEMPTRESS- Ibanez was fond of this device, no doubt.
Garbo wears two wonderful creations - a striped chinchilla outfit and a harlequin outfit. There is a brief kissing scene where Cortez is prone and she takes the active on top position - this was to be repeated in FLESH AND THE DEVIL with John Gilbert.
All in all, this tale of honor, love and the importance of being true to oneself is well done - the double irony at the end is quite poignant.
Recommended for all, not just Garbo fans.
The Temptress (1926)
Overlong curio of man-destroying seductress - Garbo's second film
At 117 minutes this is way too long and ought to have been cut by half an hour. It was Garbo's second MGM film, and like the first, was derived from an Ibanez novel. Ibanez, as a source, proved beneficial for Valentino (THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APPOCALYPSE), but not for Garbo. For most of the film, she just stands around and does what she is good at, enticing men to make fools of themselves over her - and wouldn't you know it, they then blame her! Her weakling husband sells her to a banker, who ruins himself for her and commits suicide. The husband is shot by a bandit. Two friends of the main character vie for her and one kills the other. Our hero keeps vascillating, he loves her but hates her for ruining men's lives.
She, like most women of her type, lived as best they could - in a man's world, a plaything, she survived as a courtesan, securing jewelry for her support. Yes, she is weak, but she is not to blame.
The second half of the film is set in the Argentine where our hero has gone to build a dam, which the villain blows up, but which our hero rebuilds.
Garbo does have one stunning outfit - a slinky black thing, edged in white ermine with an orchid pinned over her right breast.
Garbo DOES get to act but only in the last sequence. Back in Paris, a successful architect, Antonio Moreno encounters the fallen Garbo, who drunkenly does not remember him -"I meet so many men." It is of course a lie, but one to make him forget her. Mistaking a fellow drunk for Christ, she gives him a ruby and wanders off into the sunset. Garbo is quite fine in this sequence but it is the only thing of value in the film, which is turgidly and boringly directed by her mentor, Mauritz Stiller (who was fired from the project part way through) and Fred Niblo (who completed it and got sole credit).
The cinematography contains two interesting silhouette shots, an amusing "under the table" sequence at a dinner party where men and women's legs and feet engage in some risque flirting - and the ubiquitous MGM long banquet table tracking shot (we'll see it again in ANNA KARENINA, not to mention a number of other MGM films.)
This one plays on Turner Classic Movies occasionally and is worth catching for Garbo alone. It has never been released commercially on video (one of only three Garbo silents which have not - we wonder why).
The James Dean Story (1957)
Mediocre documentary of Dean's life
This 1957 documentary was thrown together to capitalize on the Dean legend and hopefully cash in on it. Out of luck - even Dean's ardent fans avoided this turkey. Using still photography and a morose narrator, Martin Gabel, this contains little useful information not already known about Dean. Interviews with family and neighbors back home shed little light - they are so terminally dull and brimming with flat affect, one is astonished that Dean's fluidity of expression and sensitivity grew out of this environment. Of some value is an outtake from EAST OF EDEN (presented here in dimly lit black and white) between Dean and Davalos. It's a gruelling 82 minutes.
Armstrong Circle Theatre (1950)
Dean effective in early tv drama
Gene Lockhart stars as an old irishman, longing to win the lottery to return home, in THE BELLS OF COCKAIGNE, a half hour drama, co-starring James Dean. Dean is effective as a young husband and father, who needs money to move to a dry climate in order to aid his ailing son. When Lockhart wins the lottery with a lucky number at the same time, Dean loses his pay in a poker game, Lockhart slips him the lucky lottery number, aiding the young couple as he simultaneously gives up his dream of returning to Ireland. Lockhart is fine. The DVD release of this production states it is an hour long, but it is not. It's 30 minutes. It's paired with the 1957 documentary THE JAMES DEAN STORY.
Robert Montgomery Presents (1950)
James Dean in support - family Thanksgiving drama
This episode of Robert Montgomery Presents, entitled HARVEST, aired in the early fifties. Although Dorothy Gish and Ed Begley star as a farming couple, James Dean provides memorable support as the last of three sons, who will soon be leaving the farm as did his older brothers. The family's small wheat crop fails when a hailstorm appears with no warning. Dean as Paul has a crush on a wealthy girl - a summertime romance - and imagines he wants to marry her. His eyes are soon opened when he visits her on her own turf and he joins the Navy. It takes the death of the 99-year-old grandfather to bring all three sons home for Thanksgiving and the middle son's realization that he wants to stay rounds out the happy ending.
This is a warm production for family viewing and is in no way outstanding. Montgomery's "Christian vallues" can be nauseating at times (he was a bigot and a rather nasty man in real life), but the cast performs well. Dean is fine but not outstanding - he shows promise but is given no material to really shine here.
The dress rehearsal kinescope of this b&w production is available on video with one of the sponsor's (Johnson's wax) commercials left in. It's a little fuzzy but the lighting is primarily fine.
Kraft Television Theatre (1947)
Dean superb in last live television drama
A LONG TIME TILL DAWN was one of James Dean's last television appearances (out of 25 or so between 1951 and 1954). A Kraft Playhouse hour long presentation in 1953, it starred Dean as Joe Harris, a sociopathic young man who has been unable to make it in NYC with his young wife and whose barely repressed rage has resulted in felony charges - beatings and robberies - that have ended in two prison terms. The drama opens as he has just been let out of his last six month prison term and returns to his NYC neighborhood, looking for his wife, who has returned home to their small town and is living with his father.
Joe's rage erupts at the storekeeper who advised his wife to leave and he assaults him. Back in his hometown he attempts to make believe he has turned over a new leaf and that all of his mistakes are behind him. However, the old man he has assaulted dies and the police are looking for Joe.
This production is typical of early television dramas but it is far better written (Rod Serling) than most and Dean is brilliant in a very complex role. He far outshines everyone else in the cast. Although the ending is melodramatic and a bit irrational in terms of continuity, it doesn't really hurt the essentially way ahead of its time character study of the sociopathic personality. All fans of Dean are encouraged to add this to their collection.
A kinescope of the final dress rehearsal in b&w is available on videotape. The lighting tends to vary from good to rather dark, but it tends to apply mainly to the quality of the commercials (which are left in) and only infringes on a few minutes of act two of the drama.
Women in War (1940)
Mother/daughter film set in WW II England
This is a good little film, derived from the story idea of CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS. Wendy Barrie stars as an American woman of loose morals, whose parents divorced shortly after her birth. She has been raised by her libertine father and has never seen her mother. When she repels an unwanted advance of an evening, it ends in the accidental death of the masher. She is unrepentant and the jury is only swung to her favor by the fabricated story that she has enlisted in the nursing corps. She of course has to make good on this and winds up in England. The matron is her mother, played by Elsie Janis. Mom knows since she finagled the whole thing to save her daughter from prison, but daughter doesn't know mom is matron.
Because of her past, she does not fit in with the other nurses and tries to get even by stealing one's fiance, but inadvertently falls for the lug (Patric Knowles). Mom tries to instill discipline and affection in her daughter's life. In the climactic final scenes the jilted woman deliberately drives both of them into no man's land. Of course mom and the nurses have to rescue them. The special effects (the burning village, bombs and guns exploding everywhere, and the rather obvious use of miniatures in an aerial attack on a ship) earned an Oscar nom and for Republic's stature, I must say they were effective and well done for the period.
Former vaudeville star, Elsie Janis, shines in a serious dramatic role as mom and Wendy Barrie is quite fine as the disillusioned, chip on her shoulder lead. Mae Clarke (WATERLOO BRIDGE, FRANKENSTEIN) is on hand as the jilted woman.
All in all, a good little war film from Republic.
Three Is a Family (1944)
Amusing wartime comedy with infants galore
This is nothing more than an amusing wartime comedy, practically the photographed stage play it is drawn from with nary more than the one-set living room used in the original. Housing shortages and Navy husbands called up force young newly married mothers to descend in ever confusing waves on one elderly family. There are the usual plots and subplots with a few interesting characterizations: Hattie McDaniel as an imbibing, ever-laughing maid; John Philliber as an ancient doctor who is practically blind; and Arthur Lake as a nerve-frazzled expectant father. A standout (as always) is Helen Broderick as the sarcastic Aunt Irma - she gets all the best lines.
The Sound Recording earned an Oscar nom - it is crisp and full-bodied but I believe it was the sound editing being honored here - being able to hear dialogue over the wails of infants is the achievement.
Very rare film, especially on video. Excellent casting all around and a mildly amusing romp - but definitely a "woman's picture" of the period - aimed at women and young mothers.
The Affairs of Anatol (1921)
Entertaining though overlong social comedy
The plot and an analysis is elsewhere here well done with Ron Oliver's review. Suffice to say that the hand-tinted titles and the sepia-toned film itself, hinting at reds along with its browns are a real joy to behold. Seeing so many luminaries in one film is also a treat - Reid, Swanson, Moran, Daniels, Ayres.
However, the film could easily have been a half hour shorter with less wear and tear on the viewer and with virtually little loss in the morality tale or sense of the work. It's all enjoyable but it does drag a bit.
Grapevine and Kino both have excellent prints. Important for its director and his non-epic style as well as for the presence of Reid and Swanson, but far from a great or important film.
Die Austernprinzessin (1919)
delightful comedy and beginning of Lubitsch's real career
When one considers the age of this film and Lubitsch's failure as a dramatic director, especially with his ponderous MADAME DU BARRY (PASSION) that same year, it's both a delight and a relief to experience him finding his comic niche and beginning to blossom with his delightful little "touches." It is crude as were most films of 1919, but it is full of invention, delightful absurdities and nonsense. It all adds up to a frothy comedy that is most enjoyable. The fox trot mania sequence is particularly endearing. Seek this one out.
Fascinating early feature film epic worth a look
It is a little known fact that the feature film was born in Italy - that is, a film longer than the standard one or two reels in length -ten to twenty minutes. It is the crop of early Italian features, all epics, birthed in 1914, that influenced America's Griffith and DeMille. The length of CABIRIA is staggering - originally 2-1/2 hours in Italy and just over two hours here - considering most audiences were used to sitting and concentrating on a plot for only twenty minutes at most.
Were there Oscars then, the extraordinary art direction and special effects would have garnered noms - they are outstanding. The cinematography is unique in using early scanning and dollying techniques heretofore unknown in film. The plot becomes very hard to follow because the title cards are history lessons of alliances and battles that have little meaning for us and often we are aware of the cut 22 minutes in the surviving USA version as symbols and relationships which have great dramatic meaning for the players leave us baffled.
The print used by Kino and Grapevine video as well as Turner Classic Movies is impeccable - crystal clear and sharp.
For all fans of epic movies and for all film historians, this is a must see.
Madame DuBarry (1919)
Ponderous epic of Louis' XV' mistress- her rise and fall
Like Norma Shearer's MARIE ANTOINETTE almost twenty years later, this is an attempt to tell a rags to riches tale set in the last years of the French aristocracy. We see Jeanne rise from milliner to mistress of all who would have her, finally married to her protector's brother so she could become the king's favorite. Negri and Jannings do well as Du Barry and Louis XV but this is no intimate drama so it lacks character development and depth. Jeanne, it seems, is ever faithful to her first love, the student, Armand, and looks out for him unbeknownst of course, only to be shamed when he learns who his benefactress really is. So like a man!
Negri is early in her career and far from the subtle actress she would later become. She is so heavily made up that she is often rather grotesque. Jannings always pulls off a characterization with professional aplomb but here he has little to do until his death scene, where he pulls out the stops. There is a lot of posturing and it tries quite well to give us a history lesson - although it succeeds, it is dullsville along the way.
The lavish and elaborate art direction is worthy of award consideration. Don't seek this out unless you are a fan of the two leads, the director or the subject matter.
Note: that same year Lubitsch would "go mad" and find his niche with the delightfully funnny OYSTER PRINCESS. While that film is also worthy of art direction honors, it is Lubitsch's marvelous directorial touches that deserve as high a consideration.
Dancing Mothers (1926)
Solid adaptation of fine twenties play
I fell in love with this play when I read it in the Burns Mantle Best Play series - it was certainly the best of its year and perhaps of the decade in both its characterizations and structure and in the morality tale that was dead on for its time. This was the sort of thing that would have been remade as an early talkie if the stock market crash hadn't changed that flapper world forever.
The plot is laid out here in other reviews. Alice Joyce's leading performance and Clara Bow's supporting one are both of award calibre as is the screenplay adaptation. It is competently directed and photographed, nothing special in the technical categories. What stands out is the writing and the acting of the women. Startling and special. Very worth seeking out.
Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (1924)
Expressionistic O'Henry like hour of stories
These are three O'Henry-like stories with twist endings and although they don't add up to much, they are clever and pass the time. Jannings as a reprobate Caliph caught in a compromising moment with the baker's wife is humorous, Veidt as Ivan the Terrible caught in an inescapable twist of fate as the victim of his own cruelty and Werner Krauss as a momentary ghost of Jack the Ripper all have their moments. The Jannings story lasts 32 minutes, the Veidt 23 and the Krauss a mere 5. The most impressive thing visually are the expressionistic sets - the Art Direction deserved at least award consideration.
Leni's vision was singular. Worth seeing as an oddity.