Finally re-watched this documentary after a 15-year span and enjoyed it though it seems sketchier than I remembered. But for a 2001 production, it mostly gets it right.
It's nice to see Kevin Brownlow and Davies' biographer Fred Lawrence Guiles (who died in June 2000) and others. But I think they spend too much time on the Hearst connection, important as that may be. At some point Davies' film career has to stand on its own merits ... and there are many.
Marion Davies' film career started in 1917 and lasted until 1937. She was a star, always the star, of all her films (with the exception of the all-star Hollywood REVUE OF 1929). Davies was a star when her MGM "rivals" Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Greta Garbo were unknowns and who all started in films as bit players. Indeed, Shearer was an extra in Davies' THE RESTLESS SEX in 1920. Davies starred in 48 feature films, wrote the scenario for her film debut in RUNAWAY ROMANY (1917), and was an active film producer through Cosmopolitan Productions for many years.
While the documentary shows silent-film clips and names titles like BEAUTY'S WORTH, WHEN KNIGHTHOOD WAS IN FLOWER, LITTLE OLD NEW YORK, JANICE MEREDITH, THE RED MILL, QUALITY STREET, THE PATSY, THE CARDBOARD LOVER, and SHOW PEOPLE, I also recognized short clips from GETTING MARY MARRIED, THE RESTLESS SEX, and TILLIE THE TOILER.
Just in the last few years, GETTING MARY MARRIED, THE RESTLESS SEX, ENCHANTMENT, and THE BRIDE'S PLAY have seen limited DVD releases, and ENCHANTMENT has aired on TCM. The incomplete BURIED TREASURE is likely to see a limited DVD release in 2017. These films would have been hard to see in 2001.
The documentary gets it right in showing the breadth of Davies range in films. She is best remembered for her comedies, but she also starred in costume epics and romantic dramas. When talkies came, she added a few musical performances, having been a Ziegfeld show girl and featured player in other Broadway shows of the 1910s.
The documentary also gets it right in discussing Davies' business acumen and extraordinary generosity to studio crewmen and fellow players as well as her civic philanthropies.
The documentary ignores the late 1930s trade papers' reports of Hearst's attempts to set up his production company at other major studios after he and Davies left Warners in 1937. As late as 1939, these deals were in development. Davies never really intended to retire from the screen in 1937.
Quibbles aside, this is a marvelous and much-needed documentary record of a very neglected star. In the late silent era, Marion Davies was one of MGM's top 5 box office stars. And while her MGM rivals' careers lasted into the 1940s or later (Crawford), Davies had a very big jump on them all.
And so a big thanks to all responsible for getting this documentary made. And let's hope more of Davies' MGM copyrighted silents get restored and released on DVD.
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