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F Gwynplaine MacIntyre

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Metropolis (1927)
17 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
My favourite film, my last review., 24 June 2010
10/10

'Metropolis' is my all-time favourite movie, so I've saved this for the last review that I plan to write for this wonderful website IMDb. I've enjoyed sharing my experiences of the movies I've seen, but now I'm moving on to other passions.

Although written by Fritz Lang's wife Thea von Harbou, 'Metropolis' was originally Lang's idea: he was inspired by the sight of New York's skyscrapers when he sailed to America in 1925. During his American trip, he visited the set of 'The Phantom of the Opera' and met Lon Chaney! Too bad the encounter wasn't filmed.

Despite its epic power, 'Metropolis' makes very little sense. The two major male characters are a father and son named Freder and Fredersen, so why is the one named Freder*sen* the father (not son) of the one cried Freder? Why does the master of Metropolis deliberately connive to destroy the city that he built? Why is Rotwang's crude little cottage the only pre-Fredersen building that wasn't demolished during the construction of this city? (Von Harbou's very long and unwieldy novelisation of her script establishes this fact but never explains it.) How and why did Rotwang's high-tech laboratory manage to get constructed BENEATH that cottage without disturbing it?

For modern viewers, some of the plot's incoherence can be blamed on missing footage, particularly in American prints. The distributors for this film's original Stateside release commissioned playwright Channing Pollock to translate the German titles. A major subplot of the backstory features a deceased woman named Hel, who was married to Rotwang but left him to marry Fredersen and give birth to Freder. This unseen woman's name could not easily be changed for the American version, due to a couple of shots of her memorial, engraved with the Teutonic name HEL. Apparently, Pollock feared that American viewers would be offended by this word's similarity to 'Hell', so he simply excised the entire subplot from this long movie.

The real-life drama on the set of 'Metropolis' must've been quite interesting in itself. Mad scientist Rotwang (alias Doctor Strangeglove) is played by actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge, who had been married to scenarist von Harbou before she left him to marry Fritz Lang, the mastermind of this film. In 'Metropolis', Rotwang's wife left him to marry the master of Metropolis. I'd love to know how Klein-Rogge felt about the fact that his real-life marital (and sexual) situation was the inspiration for key plot elements of this movie ... and I wonder how Klein-Rogge felt about knowing that the entire cast and crew knew this as well.

Most astonishing about this gargantuan production is the fact that nearly all of 'Metropolis' was actually built to scale, with just a couple of miniatures.

Trivia tidbit: actress Brigitte Helm was cast in the dual female role largely because she was flat-chested, and therefore she could easily fit inside the mechanical suit for the Robotrix. A more busty actress would have suffered constant discomfort inside those galvanised bosoms of the metal costume. I learnt this more than 20 years ago from an eldery Austrian stagehand who worked on the film.

For all its flaws, 'Metropolis' will always be my favourite movie. I've enjoyed writing all these reviews for IMDb. The joy of posting my reviews on this site has brought me many friendships and a few enemies. Well, you can't win 'em all.

Nitrate film stock doesn't last forever, and all good things come to a happy ending. This is my last review here. I'll keep watching movies, but other passions are important to me as well. Thank you, IMDb, and thank you to everyone who has read my reviews. I will happily rate 'Metropolis' a full 10 out of 10.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Here's why the French like Jerry Lewis., 24 June 2010
8/10

I saw 'Paris in Five Days' in October 2008 at the Cinema Muto festival in Pordenone. They screened a print from Cinematheque Francaise with the original French intertitles. I'm glad that I saw this movie in its original language. The two main characters are Americans who only barely parley-voo, and there are some very amusing Miles Kington-style dialogue titles written in mangled Franglais. This intentionally inept dialogue would likely be less funny in any other language.

Interestingly, the print screened at Pordenone is a silent version of a 1930 sound reissue, apparently with some scenes missing.

Harry Mascaret (is that meant to be an American name?) is a Chicago accountant who's always wanted to see Paris, although his knowledge of that city largely consists of the Three Musketeers. He takes his girlfriend Dolly on a whirlwind tour of Paree, intending to propose to her in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. (I guess the Eiffel Tower wasn't mentioned in any of those Dumas novels he's been reading.)

American hero Mascaret is played by Russian actor Nicolas Rimsky, who also co-directed from a Russian scenarist's script. American heroine Dolly is played by an actress cried Dolly Davis who appears to have been French despite her name.

This is an episodic film, with the Yank couple incurring mayhem at first one Parisian locale, then another. They cross paths with a suave Italian count who, being a suave Italian count, tries to seduce Dolly.

Rimsky overacts dreadfully throughout this movie, and his overacting is made even worse because his portrayal of this gormless American seems to be based on a French (or Franco-Russian) stereotype of what Americans are supposed to be like. Did you ever wonder why Jerry Lewis is so popular in France? It's because the French have got their minds made up about what Americans are like, and Jerry Lewis embodies that stereotype. This fellow Rimsky seems to be doing a bad imitation of Jerry Lewis!

Despite an uneven pace and some dull patches, this is a funny movie with some fascinating views of 1920s Paris. But it would've been a much better comedy with a different actor in the lead role. I'm in a good mood, though, so I'll rate this movie 8 out of 10.

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Looks pretty, but utterly implausible., 24 June 2010
4/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This turgid romantic drama 'Into Her Kingdom' (oughtn't it to be 'Queendom'?) seems to have been inspired by the rumour that Russian princess Anastasia somehow survived the slaughter at Ekaterinburg. There have been several excellent movies and plays based on the Anastasia legend, but this is none of them. There's some impressive production design here, in the sets and costumes for the early sequences before the peasants get revolting (ha ha), and in the final scene, but this movie's merits are far thinner than its flaws.

SPOILERS THROUGHOUT. Corinne Griffith is regally pretty as Grand Duchess Tatiana. (If somebody knows the difference between a grand duchess and a mere garden-variety duchess, please let me know.) Early on, we see her as a child along with Stepan, a peasant boy slightly older. For some reason, the princess and the pauper are both pupils of the same tutor (Claude Gillingwater, looking elderly even in the 1920s). Was it the custom among Russian bluebloods for a female aristocrat to be educated alongside a peasant boy? I could only just barely accept that premise here.

Eight years later, along comes the Bolshevik uprising. All the Russian royals know their goose is cooked. The lowly Stepan, at the tender age of 22, has somehow become the commissar who personally gives the order to execute the royal family ... including Tatiana, age 20.

Tatiana's maid Sonia (good performance by Marcelle Corday) is so utterly loyal to royalty that she willingly trades clothes with Tatiana, allowing herself to be executed (disguised as the duchess) while Tatiana pretends to be Sonia the maid. I had no problem believing that a loyal servant would do this ... except for the fact that, in real life, the Russian aristocracy's servants were executed alongside them, partly because the servants themselves also came from highborn families. Anyway, the swap gets the maid killed, but then Stepan discovers that Tatiana is alive after all. So he decides to marry her(!) to break her haughty spirit. Hoo-boyovich.

Well, of course Stepan falls in love with Tatiana. But when the miscellaneous Bolshies discover she's still alive, her goose is cooked again. Now, what do you do if you're a grand duchess and things get too hot for you in Russia? You head for New Jersey!

Oh, and somehow Tatiana manages to bring her royal raiments to New Jersey too. Now, if I were a grand duchess fleeing the Russian revolution, I wouldn't pack any fancy finery in my tuckerbag on my way out of town. This whole movie is full of faulty logic.

Some time passes. In New Jersey, Tatiana and Stepan settle down as a married couple and try to forget the pesky revolution. They have a baby girl, who in theory is now the heir to the grand duchy.

But Tatiana is a typical housewife, until one day she overhears some local kids playing fairy princess, and she decides to show them what a real princess looks like. She takes her fancy clothes out of mothballs, puts them on for the first time in years, and displays herself to the admiring children. When Stepan sees his wife all swanked up, he suddenly regrets that she's been cheated out of her noble birthright. He takes her and their daughter to Europe, hoping that the surviving royalty will recognise Tatiana as nobility, and reinstate her 'into her kingdom' ... as a title card says in the last reel, finally explaining this film's title.

But Tatiana chooses to greet her peers (and peeresses) in a housewife's dress, clutching her child and indicating her husband while she announces that *this* is her kingdom. Fade out.

That closing scene seems to imply that motherhood and marriage are the only true role for all women, not merely Tatiana. The actor playing Czar Nicholas resembles him slightly, whilst the actress playing Czarina Alexandra doesn't resemble that lady at all. Einar Hanson is excellent in a badly-written role, but the subordinate Bolsheviks in this movie are a bunch of stock characters.

The best performance is by Claude Gillingwater as the tutor. In the 1930s, Gillingwater consistently played sourpuss misers (sometimes with a good heart underneath, sometimes not), and he was already typecast in such roles during his silent-film career. As the tutor in this film, Gillingwater is more sympathetic than usual, and after his last scene this boring movie becomes much more boring. For a couple of performances and some impressive sets and costumes (dressing up a ridiculous script), I'll rate this one 4 out of 10.

0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
At the old brawl game, 24 June 2010
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This comedy was shot on the Roach lot in California, and I could've sworn that the Orioles are the baseball team in Baltimore, but for some reason the title cards establish that these Orioles play in New York City.

IMDb reviewer FrankFob2 has already provided a synopsis, so I'll just fill in some details that he skipped. For some reason, all the players on the Oriole ball club live together in a dormitory clubhouse, which surely has never been the case for real baseball players. There are some gags establishing the various injuries and ailments that the Orioles have. The team are in a long slump, and getting slumpier.

Glenn Tryon is goodish but not great as Tommy Tucker, a small-town barber whose father was an Oriole until he moulted. I enjoyed some good physical comedy in a scene with Tommy's customer Cappy in the barber's chair. Small-town boy Tommy has a small-town girlfriend, Hope: played by Blanche Mehaffey, who's slightly pretty but a bit too pouty for my tastes. Hope goes off to visit her uncle Sid, who runs a nightclub in New York City.

For old time's sake, the Orioles decide to break their slump by hiring Tommy as their mascot and pep leader. Since this means moving to New York, he has a hope to see Hope.

Of course, well-meaning Tommy is woefully inept as the team's mascot and all-purpose dogsbody, and the players dislike him. Meanwhile, Hope's uncle Sid is the head of a criminal gang. Sid is played by Noah Young, long-time supporting comedian in Hal Roach's films and for Harold Lloyd. Noah Young nearly always played either dimwits or bullies, but here he displays his range by playing an outright villain rather than a crude heavy.

SPOILERS COMING. It takes a while, but eventually Tommy makes good with the team, and they accept him as a true Oriole. When Tommy learns that Hope is being held prisoner by her uncle's gang, he rallies the Orioles (with baseball bats in hand) to rescue her. There's a rousing climax in which the baseball club wrecks the nightclub.

Producer Hal Roach was a shrewd businessman, and one of his clever strategies was his habit of giving his contract players cameo roles in other Roach films. 'The Battling Orioles' features guest appearances by several kids from the 'Our Gang' troupe. (They were only called the Little Rascals on television.) Fat kid Joe Cobb, lug-eared Mickey Daniels and the talented 'Sunshine Sammy' (later the only African-American member of the Dead End Kids) are on the scene only briefly in this movie. Fortunately, there's enough slapstick and action to keep things moving. I'll rate this one 8 out of 10, with at least one star just for Noah Young's performance.

0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Horton has a touching romantic scene, chased but chaste., 24 June 2010
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Taxi! Taxi!" (why the double title?) is a weak comedy: its only real merits are a performance by Edward Everett Horton in a rare (for him) romantic-comedy lead role, and good supporting performances by Burr McIntosh and the under-rated Lucien Littlefield.

Horton's character here is Peter, an architect ... which sounds impressive, except that he's merely one lowly draughtsman in Burr McIntosh's architectural firm. Also on the premises is McIntosh's niece Rose, played by Marian Nixon; an actress who was pretty and talented but not a huge amount of either.

There's a touching scene in which Peter sketches out for Rose the blueprints for their dream home. Horton is quite impressive here as the guy who gets the gal. For some reason, after 'The Terror' (in which he played a dithering nitwit who turned out to be a resourceful hero), Horton got side-tracked into fusspot and 'nelly' roles.

Rose's uncle is entertaining his big client Parmalee, and he wants Rose to come along ... implying that he wants Rose to date this man. She pulls a sickie, claiming to be ill. Then she goes out for the evening with Peter, who takes her to a nightclub cried Sweeny's.

SPOILERS COMING. At Sweeny's, of course, Peter and Rose run into her uncle and Parmalee. The two lovers try to flee ... but it's raining, so they can't hail a cab. In desperation, Peter actually *buys* a cab from a lout named Jersey who purports to be its owner. I had difficulty believing that Horton's benighted protagonist had enough money to buy a taxi, but this movie isn't very plausible anyway.

The cab is in fact the getaway vehicle from a jewel heist, and Jersey's criminal partner (Littlefield) left a valuable necklace in the cab. So, now the crooks high-tail it after the cab containing Peter, Rose and the hot rocks.

'Taxi! Taxi!' is much too slow — poorly paced and badly edited — in its early scenes, and takes too long to set up the eventual chase. Once the chase is finally afoot (or awheel), it simply isn't either funny enough or thrilling enough. Harold Lloyd could have made something brilliant with this script and a different director, except that the results would've been too similar to his film 'Speedy'.

As it is, 'Taxi! Taxi!' never shifts out of first gear, and this taxi is so slow and stodgy that it needs a Taxi!-dermist. I'll rate this would-be romantic-thrill comedy just 5 out of 10, mostly for the pleasure of seeing Edward Everett Horton play a role outside of his later typecasting.

4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
The episode that spawned the untrue rumour., 21 June 2010

THIS, folks, is the "Gomer Pyle" episode which spawned that notorious rumour.

You've all heard the stupid (and untrue) urban legend. Supposedly, the closeted gay actor Rock Hudson was secretly married to a male actor in the cast of the sitcom "Gomer Pyle". This rumour was obvious nonsense, since same-sex marriage wasn't legal during Rock Hudson's lifetime. When someone asked Hudson to confirm the rumour, Hudson denied it and then he guessed that the rumour had started as a sophomoric joke: "If Rock Hudson married Gomer Pyle, he'd be Rock Pyle."

No, folks. Here's the real truth about the fake rumour.

Episode #87 of "Gomer Pyle" is titled "Lost: The Colonel's Daughter". In this episode, Colonel Gray's innocent teen daughter Janice is visiting the sleepy town that houses the local Marine base. The colonel delegates Gomer to chaperone Janice and show her an age-appropriate good time. But little Janice turns out to be a swinging party girl in her late teens. She's a Joey Heatherton type, though regrettably not played by Joey Heatherton. After some dumb laugh-track jokes, Janice ditches Gomer and she heads for a disco full of "groovy" hippies played by guys like Rob Reiner.

Now, here's how the urban legend got started. When Gomer first meets Janice at the depot, he eagerly suggests several ways that the two of them can have fun together: all very innocent stuff, such as a hot fudge sundae. Party-girl Janice rejects all of these notions, and she asks Gomer if there's anything else in this hick town. He offers to take her to the local picture-show ... and then, to sweeten the deal, he tells her: "There's a Rochelle Hudson film festival."

Rochelle Hudson (1916-1972) was an old-time movie actress, pretty but dull, who played bland good-girl roles. The (bad) joke here is that a Rochelle Hudson film festival would be pretty boring.

But not everyone got the joke ... and when this "Gomer Pyle" episode aired in 1967, lots of people had never heard of Rochelle Hudson. Some gay men, for whatever reason, like to give each other female names. At least one viewer of this "Gomer Pyle" episode had his mind in the wrong place, and he mistakenly thought that the name "Rochelle Hudson" was a gay shout-out from Gomer to a certain closeted gay actor. The rumour spread, and some people chose to believe it without any evidence.

Now you finally know. Please give the credit for this scoop to me, your faithful IMDb reporter F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre.

4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Barely passable, 19 June 2010
4/10

I saw "Ask Harriet" during its brief run and I actually liked it, though I might've changed my mind if this sitcom had run a bit longer.

One thing that irritates me about most of these cross-dressing movies and sitcoms is that these guys never need to put any effort into acquiring female disguises: they just *happen* to have a handy supply of women's clothes, wigs, make-up and extra-large female shoes. In 'Some Like It Hot', the two male musicians leave the booking agency with no money and nowhere to live ... then they suddenly show up at the train station wearing complete women's outfits (which fit them!), plus luggage: how'd they get all that stuff, and where did they change clothes? At least in 'Mrs Doubtfire', Robin Williams needed some time to develop his female identity.

"Ask Harriet" was slightly atypical for a cross-dressed comedy, because male actor Anthony Tyler Quinn (what a bizarre name!) was actually somewhat passable as a faux female, although unusually tall and even taller in high-heeled boots. As "Harriet" in a long brunette wig, Quinn wore short skirts and knee-high boots that would've been quite sexy on a genuine woman. But where did tall Jack find pantyhose that fits him? I know petite women who can't find pantyhose that fits them.

There are some clichés here: macho sport columnist Jack Cody gets fired, but he becomes a better man by becoming a woman when he stops chasing skirts and starts wearing them to become agony-aunt advice columnist Harriet. Of course, the audience need to be assured that cross-dressing Jack isn't ... um, you know ... one of THOSE guys, so he continues to leer at the attractive women in the newsroom from behind his falsies, while they (the women, not the falsies) open up to 'Harriet' with some girl talk.

Most of the characters and dialogue were awful. In one episode, Ed Asner played a successful newspaperman who's also an idiot. Huh? Asner's usually convincing, but he wasn't believable here as an idiot.

The only person aware of Jack's double identity is his geeky little co-worker Ronnie, who clearly enjoyed controlling situations in which he's able to manipulate Jack into becoming Harriet. There was an annoying subplot (which never got very far) in which Ronnie and a very sexy woman (a real one) who works with him in the newsroom are attracted to each other but neither can work up the nerve to tell the other. Ronnie seemed to get more arousal from using Jack as his personal dress-up doll.

Female impersonation as comedy will usually get a quick laugh but is more difficult to sustain in a longer narrative. 'Some Like It Hot' worked because the cross-dressers were in a dangerous situation: they had to become live women to avoid becoming dead men. In 'Ask Harriet', Jack wasn't in danger of anything except losing his wig: I was never convinced that this elaborate sexual masquerade was the best career option for a male character who kept claiming to dislike dressing up as a woman. That was another cliché: we get the usual line about how it sure feels good to get back into men's clothes. Right, we get it, fella: you hate wearing women's clothes but you wear them anyway. Straighten your wig.

Rating: 4 out of 10. If you want to see a man dressed as a woman, either for comedy or for kink, there are better options elsewhere.

Diamonds in a biro, scripted by a tyro., 19 June 2010
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Here's a quickie programmer with plenty of action and thrills but not much logic: it has the feel of a cliffhanger serial, with thrills for their own sake and at the expense of a plausible script.

Raymond Davis is a handsome agent for some outfit called the Secret Police. (Do they really exist? I guess it's a secret.) His subchief (deadpan actor Paul Scardon) assigns Davis to meet an arriving ocean liner and to intercept its passenger Baron Barcellos. Anybody who calls himself Baron Barcellos might as well be carrying a flashing red neon sign that says "VILLAIN": sure enough, Barcellos is a diamonds smuggler.

Aboard the ship, Barcellos befriends a jeweller named Hall and his beautiful daughter Elaine. Barcellos hides his sparklies in a fountain pen (so that he can stay OUT of the pen) and asks Hall to hold it for him. Barcellos submits to a search by Davis but comes up clean (I guess the pen didn't leak) and he retrieves the diamonds that Hall kept on ice. Then Barcellos goes off to sell his hot ice to a mysterious crimelord.

SPOILERS NOW. The crimelord turns out to be Hall, a fact which Barcellos didn't know when he asked Hall to hold the diamonds! D'you see what I mean about logic? Meanwhile, the Plot-O-Matic keeps on churning. Davis and Elaine fall in love. Barcellos's vampy accomplice Tina tries to frame Davis for a crime. Everyone chases everyone else. (Well, Paul Scardon cools his heels at headquarters.)

There are some thrilling sequences here, including an automobile chase, a fistfight, and some stunts aboard a moving train. Can I get off here, driver? Thrills and spills but no plausibility. The whole affair is nicely photographed, briskly paced and edited, and there are some impressive moving shots during the chases. Oh, and the title refers to room 413. This movie feels episodic, as if everyone involved just wants to get to the next thrill. When my head stops spinning, I'll rate this one 6 out of 10.

Maytime (1923)
5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Watch out for that tree!, 18 June 2010
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In 2009, U.S. film preservationist Brian Meacham (good man!), with archivists at the New Zealand Film Archive in Wellington, identified 75 'lost' U.S. silent films which had been stored in New Zealand all along. The discovery was announced in June 2010, after the archivists had learnt precisely which films were in the trove. 'Maytime' will be released on DVD, due to the presence (in a supporting role) of Clara Bow.

I've stated elsewhere that 'lost' films tend to surface at the terminus of an exhibition circuit -- New Zealand, Australia, the Yukon -- and that (as this case indicates) 'lost' films often turn up when someone actively seeks them. 'Maytime' was in the New Zealand archive for decades, but Paramount didn't bother to ask for it and the archivists were busy with other tasks.

Because the highly unstable nitrate film stock can't wait, the U.N. have granted permission for these dangerously combustible films to be shipped from New Zealand for conversion and image transfer at several Stateside locations. Since I can't wait either, I've been able to audit the restoration process of some of these, including 'Maytime'.

The final sequence on this print's last reel was in colour tint, and my source in the restoration tells me that this particular footage is especially challenging for the image transfer and preservation.

'Maytime' was originally a 1917 Sigmund Romberg operetta with no hit songs. The 1937 'Maytime', officially MGM's remake of this 1923 Paramount silent, actually has an almost entirely new plot; MGM's screenwriters despised the original.

IMDb's contributor Kieran Kenney has already posted a synopsis for this movie, but his synopsis more accurately describes the 1917 stage operetta rather than this 1923 film. You'll be able to see for yourself when the restored version is publicly available, but here's a preview:

SPOILERS NOW: Romantic leads Harrison Ford (no relation) and Ethel Shannon play the frustrated 19th-century lovers, and also play their respective grandchildren in the modern story. (We briefly see the second pair *as* children, en route to the final reels.) But (despite Mr Kenney's synopsis) the modern lovers don't recapitulate the original romance. The first Richard Wayne is an ardent suitor who loves the original Ottilie utterly, but his namesake grandson is a scapegrace whom we see eagerly attending an orgy. (Quite mild by modern standards, this sequence.) Ostensibly the modern Richard loves the modern Ottilie, but he feels entitled to control her and possess her. When he catches up with Ottilie inside a married man's mansion, in a compromising situation that's actually quite innocent, Richard refuses to accept her explanation.

There are some intriguing visual devices in this movie. A tree is significant during the climactic storm sequence, and this multi-generation romance uses trees as a motif to convey the passage of time. Karl Struss's splendid photography is warm and lush in the romantic sequences, sharp-edged when the romances go off the rails.

Modern viewers will be interested in this film because of Clara Bow: she actually plays a smallish supporting role, but she's as vivacious as usual and she's briefly given real emphasis in a few shots.

Silent-film actor Harrison Ford gives the most impressive performances (plural) here: the two Richard Waynes have two very different personalities, and Ford clearly makes them two very different people despite the physical similarity. Ethel Shannon, in the two female leads, overacts the bathos at several points. Her dual role gets more emphasis than Ford's, but he easily steals the film as the humble gardener's son who becomes a generous millionaire, and as his bad-boy grandson (more a scapegrace than an outright villain). Ethel Shannon's looks, alas, are not likely to impress modern viewers. She did impress me in this movie's middle sequences, as the heiress humbled when her fortune fails.

While a 'new' Clara Bow movie is welcome, this is really Harrison Ford's film, even though his two roles are meant to be subordinate to Shannon's. Silent-film star Ford was utterly forgotten by 1935; the modern actor with the same name hadn't even heard of him until he saw the original Ford's star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I'd be delighted if the interest in this lost film's reappearance leads to new awareness of the original Harrison Ford, a talented actor whose voice was unsuited for talkies ... although he actually made a few sound movies, unlike this film's star actress Ethel Shannon.

I didn't audit the entire restoration of this long-lost film, but what I saw impressed me. This 'Maytime' is definitely superior to the talkie 'remake'. My rating, from only a partial viewing: 7 out of 10.

Upstream (1927)
16 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
John Ford's most Murnau-esquire film, 18 June 2010
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This 'lost' film will officially re-premiere in L.A. in September 2010. As I write this, 12 other people have already rated 'Upstream' for IMDb, so clearly I'm not the only person who's been given access to the restoration at 20th Century-Fox.

In 2009, U.S. film preservationist Brian Meacham (good man!), with archivists at the New Zealand Film Archive in Wellington, identified a nitrate print of 'Upstream' among 75 'lost' U.S. silent films which had been stored in Wellington all along.

I've stated elsewhere that 'lost' films tend to surface at the terminus of an exhibition circuit -- New Zealand, Australia, the Yukon -- and that (as this case indicates) 'lost' films are often merely mislaid due to lack of communication: the Wellington archive had this print for decades, but nobody told 20th Century-Fox, and nobody at Fox bothered to ask.

The original negatives of 'Upstream' and many other silents of the Fox studio were destroyed (not merely 'lost') in a warehouse fire in New Jersey, and many early Fox films are, indeed, gone forever.

Because the highly unstable nitrate film stock can't wait, the U.N. granted permission for these dangerously combustible films to be shipped overseas for conversion and image transfer. 'Upstream' will likely be on DVD soon, so you'll be able to see it yourself; since I can't wait either, I've been able to audit this movie's restoration process (after those 12 other IMDb'ers, apparently).

'Upstream' depicts the disparate lives of the performers in Hattie Breckenridge's theatrical boarding-house. Jack La Velle is a vaudeville knife-thrower, in love with his pretty target Gertie ... but she loves egotistical ham actor Eric, an ostensible Shakespearean tragedian who's being coached by mouldy ham Mandare. (As the latter, a wonderful performance by Emile Chautard, conveying both the dignity and the decrepitude of this role.)

When I saw the cast list -- billing two actors as Callahan and Callahan, one of them being Sammy Cohen -- I guessed that the Callahans must be cross-talk comedians. I guessed wrong: they're a dance act. Good job I saw this film before I reviewed it! (Actually they're hoofers; not quite the same as dancers.)

SLIGHT SPOILER: Ham actor Eric can't succeed in America, so he goes to England and becomes a hit. Does England need to import bad Shakespearean actors?

'Upstream' (the film's title refers to uphill struggle) is hardly typical material for John Ford. He made this ensemble drama at Fox under the tutelage of the great F.W. Murnau, and 'Upstream' shows Murnau's clear influence in the back-lighting and frame compositions. A wedding reception sequence (which Eric mistakes for a homecoming party in his honour), with all these diverse vaudevillains, reminded me of the wedding feast in 'Freaks'.

If I'd seen 'Upstream' without knowing who directed it, I almost certainly would've guessed either Murnau or King Vidor: some of Murnau's directorial touches which Ford borrows here were later integrated into Ford's own, somewhat less disciplined technique. But other Murnau traits which Ford uses well here -- such as the pacing, and the contrast between foreground and background action in the same shot -- he eventually abandoned as he found his own two-fisted style. Several camera set-ups in 'Upstream' favour actresses in a way quite typical for Murnau but unusual for Ford.

Yet John Ford is firmly in charge, and some of his own distinctive traits -- his deep affection for actors, his distinctive comic relief in dramatic sequences -- is on evidence in 'Upstream'.

Female lead Nancy Nash is quite pretty here, but not much of an actress. (A Hollywood old-timer told me that the late Ms. Nash was briefly producer William Fox's mistress, well before his auto accident.) She ended up a mere chorus girl for Sam Goldwyn. Grant Withers and Earle Foxe (playing a BAD actor) are good actors here, and comedian Raymond Hitchcock is effective. Welcome home, 'Upstream'! I'll rate you 9 out of 10, and my respect for John Ford is now even higher than before.


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