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I watched "Bright Lights" (1930) for the first time on TCM last night and felt that it would've been better if we could see it like it originally was presented.
First of all, I wish the film could be reconstructed. It seems disjointed in places because the movie was truncated between the time it was filmed and the time it was released. It's obvious that a few songs are missing. The part played by James Murray seems to have suffered the most. He was wonderful in King Vidor's "The Crowd" (1928). I knew of his tragic early death, but wondered if he truly showed promise, or was a one-time flash-in-the pan. His acting ability in this talkie was pretty good. His potential in sound movies can only be conjectured.
The screenplay was strong for the time, with witty lines and novel dramatic situations. There were unexplained holes in the plot, seemingly because of the cuts, not the screenplay. The dialog and gags delivered by Daphne Pollard and Tom Dugan were unexpected. Frank Fay's performance is likely the best he ever did on the screen. His delivery of the song, "Nobody Cares" is excellent. However, Dorothy Mackaill's singing and dancing are weak, to say the least.
The film stands out from other films of the time because of director Michael Curtiz and cinematographer Lee Garmes. Some shots are set up creatively. The visual pacing is above average for the time. There obviously was care and preparation used in making this film.
Now to the point of Technicolor. I think to film would make a much stronger impression on us if we could see it in the original color. The seemingly harsh make-up would have been more palatable in color. The costumes and musical numbers were obviously designed with color in mind. As we see it now, in mere black-and-white, the numbers pass in a blur of overblown activity. They are unquestionably over-done, probably to take the focus off Dorothy Mackaill's limited singing and dancing, but would be more impressive if we could see them in color.
It is unfair to judge "Bright Lights" as it exists today. We can only dream of what it originally was like. Only then it would seem better than we had originally thought!
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