Toronto Film Society at GEM in Rochester, NY

This was Toronto Film Society’s 34th consecutive year of viewing films at the Eastman House Museum.  The line up of films was an exciting mixture of silent and talkies screened (mostly) in 35mm in the attractive Dryden Theatre.  It’s a small crowd but filled with appreciative film buffs not only from Toronto and its surrounding areas but from the States as well. People from GEM’s hometown of Rochester and nearby Farmington and as far as Fayetteville New York, Culpeper Virginia, Cincinnati and Lakewood Ohio, Brunswick Maine, Philadelphia and Mendenhall Pennsylvania, and Ottawa Ontario come to this event.  Over the years most of us TFS members have become well acquainted and it’s wonderful to greet old friends as well as meet new ones.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Man, Woman and Sin (1)

I was excited to see the first film of the day, MAN, WOMAN AND SIN (1927), directed by Monta Bell.  It was a crisp print in 35mm and starred the exuberant Jeanne Eagels.  Ever since Warners had released the 1929 The Letter, which I screened at home for friends and then at TFS’s pre-Code May 2013 weekend, I have always wanted to see more of her. This would be it, as there isn’t much more available.  And it doesn’t even need mentioning (although I just did) that I will see anything with John Gilbert, regardless if it’s silent or talkie, as I adore him in either.

The story is about a poor boy who lives with his loving but eventually overbearing mother, Mrs. Whitcomb (Gladys Brockwell).  She comes across as very caring and protective when Al is young, but keep watching.  The two don’t seem to have, or for that matter, need another soul in the world as they totally rely on each other for every sort of basic sustenance a human could want; food, love, support.  Even though young Albert (Philip Anderson) is too poor to go to school or so we gather, he has no issue with, nor they with him, the rich or black kids in his world.  Never able to attend the birthday parties the affluent folks can afford, he still thrills the pretty, rich girl who lives across the way from the “haunted house”.  He’s the only boy who appears to have no fear entering the place while all the rich boys give reasons for holding back, as young Vera (Nanci Price), licking her candy cane, looks on in admiration.  Lots of sweet flirting between these two juveniles which is interrupted by Vera’s barking, impolite snob of a mother.  Still, you already have the idea that Vera isn’t going to take too much stalk in her mother’s world view even at this tender age.

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But time moves on and Albert (John Gilbert) is now a young man of 20 or so.  He and his mother are moving to the Big City where there are more opportunities and Al finds himself employed in the bowels of a newspaper company.

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The question of Al’s education did pop up in my thoughts every once in a while.  He could read and write, which is an important stepping stone for the character, so I decided that his mother took the effort to teach him the basic three Rs.

John Gilbert is a little too old for this role, but besides that obvious fact, he is perfect in his interpretation of an naive young man being swept up in an alien lifestyle.  He is nonchalantly promoted from working in the inky press-room to cub reporter by helping out a high-and-mighty employee in a sticky speakeasy situation.

And that’s when he first sets eyes on Vera Worth (Jeanne Eagels), the attractive society editor who, unbeknownst to him is the mistress of the married City Editor (Charles K. French).  When her gaze falls on handsome Al, she offhandedly chooses him to accompany her to that evening’s superstar event where not only the crème de la crème of society is hobnobbing but the President of the United States is also in attendance.  And so is bedazzled Al.  He’s totally in love with it all—especially with Vera Worth.

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Now things start to get sticky at home.  Grown up Al’s mother is unhappy that her son is staying out late—and with a woman she considers a bad influence.  There’s this totally weird and unhealthy scene where he is arriving home late, and tiptoeing up the stairs so as not to awaken his mother—whose bed he still shares!!!  What’s up with this?  I’m sorry, but even if they are poor, no male child past the age of 12 wants to share his bed with his mother!  It’s high time Al lives his own life, making his own mistakes—which he surely does when he kills someone in self defence—without his mother’s interference. His mother never meets Vera when she pronounces her as “no good”.  Is it Al’s fault that she never made one friend throughout his lifetime?  What a heavy burden this kid carries, feeling such guilt and responsibility for his mother’s happiness.

The only argument I have for the mother’s point of view with regards to Vera is that we assume that this grownup Vera is the same Vera Al thrilled by going into the haunted house when he was a boy.  She has the same name and both came from wealthy homes when we learn that the adult Vera’s family lost their fortune.  Perhaps she had a reputation of being a “wild”, unconventional girl when Al and Mrs. Whitcomb lived in the same vicinity.  After all, Al’s mother made her living by sewing for the wealthier people in the neighbourhood while Al was her delivery boy, so she may have heard rumours about any number of people.  But this is never made obvious to us, and there is never any acknowledgement between Albert and Vera about having been acquainted at any point in their young life.  Perhaps that one early scene is the only time their paths crossed, but it seems doubtful since the two seemed somewhat smitten with each other.

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Monta Bell is a fine director and I had taken notice. Out of the twenty films he’s directed, I’ve seen Lady of the Night (1925), East is West (1930), Personal Maid (1931), Downstairs (1932) and The Worst Woman in Paris? (1933).  I’d like to add that he also directed Greta Garbo in Torrent (1926) but it was years ago that I’d seen it so that my next viewing will be totally fresh.  I also have a truly silent copy of Pretty Ladies (1925) and that is something just waiting to be watched.

19th August 1927: Director Monta Bell (1891 - 1958) consults with his star Jeanne Eagels (1890 - 1929) during the filming of 'Man, Woman and Sin'. (Photo via John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images)

19th August 1927: Director Monta Bell (1891 – 1958) consults with his star Jeanne Eagels (1890 – 1929) during the filming of ‘Man, Woman and Sin’. (Photo via John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images)

Interestingly, a Library of Congress friend mentioned to me that it looked like even then, in 1927, MGM was attempting to sabotage Gilbert by using incorrect and harsh lighting for his opening scene.  Our first glimpse of him is when he and his mother are travelling on the back of an open truck which is carrying their possessions to their new home.  The lighting appears to be natural sunlight and Gilbert looks at least 15 years older than his character, older even than his true 28 years.

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As well, a couple of people discussed during lunch that they thought Jeanne Eagels reminded them physically of actress Kirsten Dunst.

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Lots of wonderful scenes, sets, story and craziness befalls Al and Vera.  (You can read about the making of this film in Eve Golden’s John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars, pages 160-164.  She gives a possible reason for Mayer’s sabotage of Gilbert.) Definitely a precursor of the pre-Code era.  A perfect beginning to the first day of films.

Waterloo Bridge (1)

The next film that morning was WATERLOO BRIDGE (1931), directed by James Whale.  This would be the third time I’ve had the opportunity to see this film, many years ago through TFS and again when I purchased Volume 1 of the Forbidden Hollywood Collection.

It’s the story of Myra Deauville (Mae Clarke) an orphaned American showgirl who is out of work and living in London, England during WWI.  The film begins where we see Myra performing in the closing performance and receiving a fur stole from some unseen admirer.

Yes, her bra is sheer

Yes, her bra is sheer

Two years later the stole looks ratty and she’s had to resort to the oldest profession to attempt to make ends meet.  Standing outside a theatre with her neighbour and colleague Kitty (Doris Lloyd), they both fail at making a sale.  When they decide to move on, the conversation is rather prophetic.  Myra says that it’s a lovely night and Kitty replies, “For what?  An air raid?  Those fellows up there give me the willies.”  Myra responds with, “Well, they’re men aren’t they.  I’d rather they throw bombs on me than take no notice of me at all.”

Doris Lloyd and Mae Clarke

Doris Lloyd and Mae Clarke

When they part company, Myra heads towards and arrives at Waterloo Bridge just as an air raid siren warns everyone to evacuate for the underground shelters.  But an old woman (Rita Carlyle) spills her basket of potatoes and isn’t about to leave this precious sustenance lying around for others to find.  She’s willing to risk her life to gather these goods and Myra decides to help figuring “what’s the odds”.  And this is when she meets fellow American, 19-year-old Roy Cronin (Kent Douglass, later on known as Douglass Montgomery), who had enlisted in the Canadian army and is on leave to visit his family now living in Britain.

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Another story of a decent, sensitive, naïve young man who hasn’t an inkling that the young American woman he just met, with no other recourse to make ends meet, is a prostitute.  And decent she is, we learn, when she does everything in her power to not take advantage of the love Roy has for her, or eventually, the love she feels for him.

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They are both at crossroads because of the war and they are both stubborn, persistent and work very hard to get what they want from the other.  Roy has fallen hard for her and thinking it’s reciprocal, which it eventually is, goes as far as asking her to marry him, never understanding her reluctance.

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This includes tricking her into meeting his family at their country estate.  His mother, Mary Cronin Wetherby, (Enid Bennett) is kind and wise, understanding who Myra is almost immediately.  So is his sister, Janet, (Bette Davis) who is welcoming and happy to share her clothes with the unprepared Myra.  His hard-of-hearing step-father, Major Fred Wetherby, (Frederick Kerr) has no concept of who Myra is other than a “lovely girl” and he is loved, teased and put up with by his wife and step-children.

Frederick Kerr and Bette Davis

Frederick Kerr and Bette Davis

Even when Roy discovers from her nasty-minded landlady, Mrs. Hobley (Ethel Griffies) how Myra manages to feed herself, it doesn’t change his feelings for her one iota.

Kent Douglass and Ethel Griffies

Kent Douglass and Ethel Griffies

If you haven’t had an opportunity to view this remarkable pre-Code picture and have access to a copy, don’t hesitate to see it.  It’s a beautifully photographed, wonderfully directed and acted, moving film.

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From the James Whale biography by James Curtis, here is an excerpt about Universal Studios and the making of WATERLOO BRIDGE:

In 1931, Universal was an interesting place.  It was the largest of the motion picture lots in Southern California, presided over by Carl Laemmle, a middle-class Jew from the south of Germany, born in 1867 and in the film business since opening a nickelodeon in Chicago called “The White House” in 1906.  From there he got into distribution and produced his first film, Hiawatha, in 1909.  His company became The Universal Film Manufacturing Company and went west in 1914.  After a short time in Hollywood at Sunset and Gower, Laemmle acquired 230 acres in the San Fernando Valley, roughly ten miles north of Los Angeles, and, in March 1915, Universal City was opened on the site.

Laemmle was an engaging promoter who knew little of the production side of motion pictures but held a rich instinct for talent and was a shrewd businessman.  His name was on everything from the films Universal made to the keep-off-the-grass signs, and his employees were expected to think of him as “Uncle Carl.”  In 1918, he hired young Irving Thalberg as an assistant’s secretary in New York, later made him his own secretary and, eventually, General Manager of the studio.  During the twenties, Universal made Outside the Law, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney; Erich von Stroheim’s Blind Husbands and Foolish Wives; The Cat and the Canary; scores of cheap westerns; and the popular Reginald Denny comedies.

Uncle Carl begat a daughter, Rosabelle, and a son, Carl, Jr. (born Julius), who was expected to carry on the tradition.  “Junior” Laemmle, as he came to be know, was born in April 1908 and finished school at the age of 15.  When 16, he was producing Collegian shorts for his father; he was made an associate producer in 1928.  Rosabelle married an agent named Stanley Bergerman, who promptly went to work for Universal.  For his 21st birthday, Junior was placed in charge of production.

Rosabelle, Carl and Julius Laemmle

Rosabelle, Carl and Julius Laemmle

Universal had been doing nicely on a steady diet of programmers, with an occasional “class” production thrown in.  Junior announced a new policy of important, attention-getting features costing considerably more, and his father proudly backed him.  Under the policy, the all-star, all-talking, all-color King of Jazz was made, as was All Quiet on the Western Front, only half-kiddingly known around the studio as “Junior’s End”.  Both were great successes; soon Carl Laemmle, Jr. was well-known throughout the industry.

“His office,” wrote an interviewer in late 1930, “done in regal reds and dark mahogany, is a veritable throne room.  He looks such a babe sitting in his big chair behind his great desk.  Like his dad, he is only about 5 feet tall, and is very slender and youthful.  Universal Pictures are his whole life.  Next year, he says, they will only put out twenty first-class pictures instead of the usual forty, of which a percentage were of indifferent value.”

One of those intended twenty was Robert Emmet Sherwood’s two-act play Waterloo Bridge, which was snapped up after a somewhat disappointing run on Broadway early in the year.  It wasn’t Sherwood’s best work, being predictable and not overly popular.  The story was inspired by an American prostitute Sherwood had met briefly in Trafalgar Square at the end of the world war.  In the wild celebration, he found himself confronting a pretty woman who told him she had come over from America in the chorus of The Pink Lady and gotten stuck.  They said little to each other, never met again, but Sherwood expanded the incident into a play of a young American wounded in France while fighting in the Royal Canadian Regiment, like himself.  The character, Roy Cronin, meets Myra the whore on Waterloo Bridge and falls in love with her.

“…Would you like to go out with me?” he asks.  “I mean to shows and things like that?”

“Why, yes—sure—of course I would.  But you can find lots of better things to do than that.”

Myra is incapable of a lasting relationship; the two part in the last scene—he to go back to the war, she to possibly be killed in a raid some night.

The problem at Universal was to find a director who could handle it properly.  John M. Stahl, the studio ace, was finishing with Seed and preparing to direct Preston Sturges’ play Strictly Dishonorable.  Junior didn’t think anyone else under contract could do the job correctly and was open to outside suggestions.  (Writer) Mary Alice Scully, aware of Whale’s impasse with (production company) Tiffany, suggested him for the task; he was English, and had already brought two wartime stories to the screen with considerable success.  Junior Laemmle had seen and liked Journey’s End.

Scully arranged for Whale to meet with Laemmle, and the two hit it off well.  “He spoke so simply and frankly,” Laemmle recalled.  An agreement between Whale and Universal was soon reached.  But Tiffany—on the verge of a major reorganization—pointed out that he was still contractually bound to make two pictures for them.  Moving to Universal would require a cash settlement that Whale was loath to pay.  Tiffany insisted they would soon proclaim a full slate of features, but to Whale waiting was out of the question.  He’d be damned if he’d make X Marks the Spot in lieu of WATERLOO BRIDGE.  In mid-March, Universal announced that he would direct it, starring Rose Hobart and Kent Douglass.  Tiffany stubbornly maintained that he would soon start their picture also.

Whale retained attorney Walter C. Burke to help find a loophole in the Tiffany pact.  Burke suggested he sue Tiffany for back salary: originally, he had agreed to do Journey’s End for $20,000, although his contract broke that figure down to $1,333 per week.  Whale was paid for the 15 weeks, but, counting preparation and post-production, the figure would rightly be for 21 weeks.  In May, Whale went to court seeking $12,998 in damages, and the studio admitted he had them.  An out-of-court settlement was effected—Whale dropped the suit and they dropped the contract.

His deal with Universal was for five years—forty weeks a year—starting at $2,500 a week.  Filming began in late May with Columbia Pictures contractee Mae Clarke selected for the role of Myra.  “I think Whale saw something I know I had then,” she ventured, “and that is a basic confusion and insecurity I didn’t mind projecting and putting into my work.  It would give a little timidity to a scene that would normally have a lot of bite in it, and I think that might be what he saw in me.”

Clearly, Whale also saw a tremendous talent, as he and Clarke evolved one of the great unsung performances of the early sound period.

(Mae Clark): He wanted to see what you thought of it [she said of his approach to a scene].  He’d say, “Now this is where you’re trying to pass the time before he comes to visit you.  You know he’s coming and you don’t know what you’re going to say to him.  He’s going to try to take you out and you don’t want this thing to go any farther—still you’d like it to—and so you’re in a general snit.  So to overcome it you’re going to sit here and you’re going to knit.  You’re not a knitter, but you want him to catch you knitting.  It’s also going to give you something to do when he comes in.  Beyond that, all you can think about is that HE is coming to that door any minute…but you can’t get out of here; you’ve got to open it and he’s going to come into here.  And what you’re going to say to each other you don’t know.  You’re just breathless and caught.  Now let’s see what you want to do.”

He wouldn’t say how to do it, he would tell you what was happening.

WATERLOO BRIDGE was not as adaptable to screenplay form as Journey’s End.  Benn Levy expanded the story, changed much of the dialogue, and made it a much better piece of work (both Whale and Sherwood felt so).

Whale opened the film with Myra’s introduction backstage at a musical comedy, and took her and Roy to the latter’s home in the English country, where it was possible to use two fine character actors, Enid Bennett and Fredrick Kerr, as his mother and father.  Robert Sherwood, who had come to California to do screenplays himself, visited the set one day and complimented Levy on the quality of his work.  He watched at a rehearsal, and later commented that he had “a hard time choking back the tears” when he saw Kent Douglass in his Canadian uniform.  Whale worked efficiently, confidently, and brought the film in within its 26-day schedule, more than $25,000 under its $252,000 estimate.  Working with editor Clarence Kolster, the film was ready for previewing in late July and received its premiere at the R.K.O.-Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles in early September.

“It’s the nearest thing to that first-night thrill on the stage,” Mae Clarke enthused to a reporter, “and I love it.  Why, to satisfy my ego, I’d even fly to New York for the opening if I had time off.”  Clarke had started on the vaudeville stage and was making good money performing with her husband, Lew Brice, before testing for Fox’s Big Time in 1929.

After the deal was made for WATERLOO BRIDGE, Whale signed with Myron Selznick, the most powerful talent agent in Hollywood….  Whale liked him, but the jobs he got while under his representation were generally of his own doing.

Junior Laemmle was delighted with WATERLOO BRIDGE, and developing an immense respect for his new directorial property.  While still filming in late June, talk of Whale’s next picture began.  Laemmle, in effect, offered him anything Universal owned—which amounted to some thirty properties—with special emphasis toward Frankenstein.

But that’s a whole other story.

First Born (1)

The film following the lunch break was THE FIRST BORN (1928), a British silent film directed by and starring Miles Mander who was the reason I was looking forward to seeing it.  Although it turns out I had seen Mander in oh so many films, even recently without realizing, it was seeing him in Hitchcock’s 1925 The Pleasure Garden (to read, click and scroll down to November 3), that made me sit up and take notice.

The film also stars Madeleine Carroll as a beautiful brunette, hair colouring that most of us don’t think of when we think of her character of Pamela from Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. One last Hitchcockian connection is that Alma Reville, Hitchcock’s wife, shares co-writing credits along with Mander.

First Born (2)

It’s the story of a wealthy married couple, Sir Hugo Boycott (Miles Mander), a self-centred and adulterous husband who leaves his wife, Lady Madeleine Boycott (Madeleine Carroll) whenever he feels dissatisfied with her.  At the start of the film, he heads out the door and off to Africa because of her “petty” jealousies as well as for the fact that she hasn’t given him a son.

Lady Madeleine’s problem is she just doesn’t have enough to do to keep her busy.  If she did, it might help her to not take her husband’s criticisms too much to heart—and eventually realize that she made a poor choice by marrying him.  Nice he is not but that doesn’t stop her from being in love with him.  So while he’s enjoying himself somewhere in the heart of Africa, frolicking with lovely native women and playing with their male offspring that we can assume may well be his, Madeleine is behaving herself at a small dinner party.  Invited by an eccentric couple—the wife likes to cross-dress—they know that handsome Lord David Harborough (John Loder) has been mooning over her forever, Madeleine thinks about it but doesn’t give into temptation.

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The scene where we watch the sad Madeleine being given a manicure by her equally sad manicurist is a lovely composition of camera angles.  Introduced into the mix is Madeleine’s husband’s mistress and her destructive friend, Nina de Lande (Ella Atherton) whispering calming untruths into Madeleine’s ear.

When Madeleine learns that the manicurist’s sadness comes from the same place, the abandonment of her lover who also left her in the family way, Madeleine comes up with a plan.  Store the manicurist away in the country where she can have the baby and then present this baby to her husband as theirs when he finally returns home to her.  And when that time occurs, Hugo is delighted.  As we all know, this isn’t going to change him or their relationship and as another baby boy comes their way, Madeleine is feeling even more isolated.  But steadfastly standing by her side is Lord David, ever hoping she will become available to him.  Why he doesn’t move on, is anyone’s guess.

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The only person that the still philandering Hugo loves deeply is his firstborn son, Stephen (played by Mander’s real life son, Theodore). Even when Madeleine gives him that second son, Hugo states that he isn’t particularly interested in the child.

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The film eventually resolves itself to the happily-ever-after ending that so many stories do, where the villain gets his comeuppance in a dramatic way, involving a lover, an umbrella and an elevator shaft; where we discover the secret of who fathered the manicurist’s baby—which we the audience have to take with a large grain of salt because it’s so implausible that his true identity was ever unknown by her; that David waited in the wings for his true love; and somewhat ambiguously what will be the fate of little Stephen.

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Even if the story is somewhat nonsensical, what makes it such an interesting film is the acting, directing and the cinematography by Walter Blakeley.  There’s a scene where the nasty Hugo enters his bedroom after a night away from home in hopes that he will discover his wife having been unfaithful.  It’s done from the point of view of Hugo in a very unusual way for 1928, with the use of a hand-held camera.  Click here to see the short scene.

Seventh Cross (1)

The following film was THE SEVENTH CROSS (1944), directed by Fred Zinnemann.  A continuous theme from last year’s So Ends Our Night (1941), [read below], but not as interesting a narrative.  It stars Spencer Tracy as George Heisler, one of seven anti-Nazi prisoners who escape a concentration camp in Germany in 1936.  They all go their separate ways aiming to meet up at a destination where they will be able to pick up documentation that will help them flee the country.  But one by one, George sees or hears the capture of the other six and we see their bodies crucified on crudely erected crosses as they are dragged back to a barren Nazi-run landscape.  And this is all told by the ghost of the first man to be recaptured, Ernst Wallau (Ray Collins).

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People who George loved, such as Leni (Karen Verme) or old friends, all turn their back on him in disgust.

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When the man he’s looking for has also been arrested, he is at the point of despair.  But he gets help from a number of unusual people including Madame Marelli (Agnes Moorehead, and Paul and Liesel Roeder (Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy).  Eventually, Toni (Signe Hasso) a woman who loves him, is his salvation.

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Made near the end of the war, and based on the 1942 novel by Anna Seghers, it’s a liberal portrayal of placing evil with a specific group of people, the Nazi regime and Gestapo, rather than with the people of the German nation.  As Bosley Crowther wrote in his contemporary review in the New York Times:

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The big reservation which this writer holds with regard to this film is that concerning the discretion of its theme at this particular time.  Without any question, it creates a human sympathy for the people of a nation with whom we are at war, and it tends, as have some others, to load Germany’s national crime on Nazi backs.  Obviously this picture can make sentiment for a “soft” peace.  It looks as though we are getting a dandy “thriller” at a pretty high price.

Hello.  I’m back from a long break.  I went to see films at the Capitolfest festival in Rome, New York and didn’t have a chance to do any more writing about the TFS film festival until now.  Such a busy film-viewing life!

Law and Order (1)

The first film shown on the Sunday evening was the quite captivating LAW AND ORDER (1932) and I’m not usually a fan of westerns.  It was Edward L. Cahn’s third effort at directing, although with his first, Fires of Youth (1931), the credit was given to Monta Bell.  All-in-all he directed well over 100 films including shorts.  LAW AND ORDER showed someone who definitely had talent and knew how to hold his audience in thrall.

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Based on the lives of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday leading up to the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral”, the story was written by W.R. Burnett, famous for many other novels including Little Caesar, Dark Hazard and the story The Whole Town’s Talking.  Incidentally, all three were made into films and starred Edward G. Robinson with the latter being tonight’s last film.  This was also John Huston’s first credit for screen adaptation and his fourth for dialogue.

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The star of the film was the inimitable Walter Huston as Frame ‘Saint’ Johnson, who, along with his brother Luther (Russell Hopton), Ed Brandt (Harry Carey) and Deadwood (Raymond Hatton), took it on themselves to bring law and order to small towns riddled with crime.  Although Saint Johnson has decided to hang up his guns along with his halo when the quartet settle in Tombstone, Arizona, he is urged by the town council to take the job of Marshal.  The town is controlled by the Northrup brothers, Poe (Ralph Ince), Walt (Harry Woods) and Kurt (Richard Alexander).  These three men are out-and-out murderers and have no qualms pulling the trigger for any little thing they consider a transgression against their lawlessness.

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There is a most unusual scene with Andy Devine playing bad man Johnny Kinsman.  Actually, saying he’s a bad man is not correct.  He’s a bad child in a man’s body, possibly also mentally stunted.  He killed someone for some reason I don’t rightly remember, most probably minor, and he hides behind the “skirts” of Frame.  He doesn’t want to die, but when Frame draws his death in a heroic-like light, Johnny bucks up by truly looking forward to his inevitable fate.  A very different take on a hanging.

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The build-up towards the shootout at the film’s end has you gripping the edge of your seat.  You know how it ends, and it’s not a good one with so many lives lost.  These people feel real to you, and the one’s you’ve grown to admire, you don’t want to watch die.  And you know that the survivor will never be the same; his life, and what remains of it, will be empty and isolated, no matter who he befriends in the future.

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Here’s what film historian William K. Everson had to say about the film on May 21, 1963:

I can think of no other sound western, save perhaps Billy the Kid by King Vidor, which so recaptured the documentary-like austerity of the Hart (and Ince) westerns as this forgotten little classic. There is of course no rule of thumb that says that westerns have to be “stark” and “austere” to be good, but it is a pity that this unglamorous and gutsy approach was so ignored in sound westerns. All of the great sound westerns, from Stagecoach and Shane back to Cimarron and Plainsman and thence to The Wagon Master, regardless of their own individual merits, have all been glossy pictures. That recent little gem Ride the High Country almost made it, but not quite. Ford’s own Wyatt Earp film, My Darling Clementine, which we showed a few weeks ago, is a magnificent job — yet by the side of this one, it is just too patently a “production”, put together with the best cameramen, art directors and musical direction. LAW AND ORDER may not be one of the “great” westerns, but it is certainly one of the “best”.

Although based on a novel by W.R. Burnett and presented as fiction, it is patently based on the Wyatt Earp legends and facts — and Huston makes one of the most convincing of all the Earps. (Others have included Fonda, George O’Brien, Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, Hugh O’Brian, Richard Dix, Bill Elliott and Burt Lancaster). It is slowly paced, never exploiting action for its own sake, but it comes to its climax (the O.K. Corral battle) with one of the most savage and exciting gun-fights ever put on film. Its flawless construction, photography (the camera seems to dart in and out of the action like a participant rather than a spectator) and editing quite outclass the similar, more highly touted yet inferior climactic battle in High Noon. In its bravado it recalls the climactic duel in Hart’s Wild Bill Hickok, but it is far more logical and believable than that colorful but rather unconvincing set-to.

Law and Order (9)

Despite the quality of the film, its director, Edward L. Cahn, remained comparatively obscure though consistently active. A former editor who had worked for Paul Fejos on The Last Performance and Broadway, Cahn was here directing his first film. In its frequent use of crane shots, it suggests that he was still very much under the influence of Fejos. However, although some of Cahn’s immediate follow-up films were interesting, he never again duplicated the quality of this film, and like Dupont with Variety {aka Jealousy or Vaudeville}, remained essentially a one-picture director. However, if he didn’t achieve greater stature as a director of note, he did achieve considerable stature, at least within the trade, as a slick, fast, always reliable director of quickies — and there’s an art in that too. Not many directors can be given an eight-day schedule, bring the picture in on five days, and still give it that fast-paced, professional look. Cahn has — and still does. And while thirty expert but unimportant quickies aren’t worth one LAW AND ORDER, still such a talent — in such a niche — is not to be despised.

No small share of the credit for LAW AND ORDER should be allocated to scripter Huston, for a narrative that is straightforward, exciting, and often curiously poignant. One regrets minor elements — the clichéd use of the undertakers for an unnecessary and obvious joke — and there is a sort of error in folk-lore in having one of the characters refer to Aces and Eights as a “dead man’s hand” while elsewhere in the film mention is made of the still-living Hickok (whose murder occasioned that superstition). But these are minor flaws in a powerful and often creative narrative, that has one of the most perfect endings of any western. It is rather sad to compare this script with the revamped one whipped up for Universal’s technicolored, gory and sexy remake in 1953. Although the plot’s essentials remained the same, all the strength and subtlety of the original were removed and replaced with violence and eroticism. The original film had no leading lady at all, the remake had two, and a plethora of plunging necklines and bedroom suggestiveness. The very touching sequence in this original in which the honest lawmen are forced to hang a good-natured, accidental killer, became a stereotyped lynching by the villains in the new version.

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Other than a piano tinkling “Those Endearing Young Charms” there is no music in LAW AND ORDER. Tombstone’s saloon looks like a crude Inceville collection of boards and planking. (How did Ford’s Tombstone in My Darling Clementine ever manage to acquire that magnificently photogenic bar?) The costuming has that “right” look to it, and as the main heavy, Ralph Ince lends an appropriately authentic flavor. From its opening montage of the building of the West (lifted quite largely from the serial The Indians Are Coming — you may spot Tim McCoy and Francis Ford in odd shots) to its effective closing of dawn, dust, and a mournful church bell tolling, LAW AND ORDER is a classic piece of western Americana. It doesn’t seem likely that Universal, at the time, realised quite what a good film it was; certainly it must have seemed rather small potatoes stacked up against Cimarron and The Big Trail. When it was reissued in the early 50’s, Realart gave it a new title (Guns A’Blazing) and promptly forgot it. It had but three plays in New York — one in Harlem, one at the Chelsea on 8th Avenue, and, much later, a two-day run at the Times Square in 42nd St.

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To read W.K. Everson’s shorter review of October 9, 1970, click here.

Whole Town's Talking (1)

The last film of the evening, mentioned above, was THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING (1935) directed by John Ford, starring Edward G. Robinson and Jean Arthur.  I wrote about this film on April 18, 2014.  To read my short review, click here and scroll down to the April date.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Cry of the Children (1)

The first film of the day was the short THE CRY OF THE CHILDREN (1912) which depicted the state of immigrant and child labour in the States at that time.  This is before unions, and the workers attempt to halt production with a strike but to no avail as the owners just hire others to do their work.  When the strikers admit defeat and slink back to the job, they are met with a wage reduction.

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The main characters in the story orbit around a family of five.  The parents are played by Ethel Wright and James Cruze (mainly known for his directing) and work in a factory along with their two older children while their youngest, Alice (Marie Eline), stays at home.  They’ve all agreed that she is to be protected from hard labour.  When the factory owner’s wife (Lila Chester) sees Alice she tells her husband (William Russell) that she wants to adopt this happy, sweet child for her own.  Of course Alice’s family love her and decline the offer, quite shocked that these people think they would want to sell her.  But when the strike is over, the family are so impoverished that Alice has to go to work at the factory as well.  Her parents decide that the only thing they can do for her now, is give her up to the factory owners.  However, now that she is no longer a happy, carefree child, they consider her damaged goods and are no longer interested in possessing her.

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The short story is based on a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  To view it online, click here.

Girl Without a Soul (1)

After the second short, UNCLE BIM’S GIFT (1923) we watched THE GIRL WITHOUT A SOUL (1917), directed by John Hancock Collins, with Viola Dana.  Unlike the story Stella Maris (1918) with Mary Pickford playing two roles, the rich but lame Stella and the poor but totally unrecognizable Unity Blake, here, one year earlier in 1917, we have Viola Dana playing identical twin sisters Priscilla and Unity Beaumont.  The way we could tell the two sisters apart was due to their hairstyles.  Or when Priscilla played her violin and Unity, well, didn’t.

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A number of us who talked after the film understood Unity’s attraction to Hiram, played by Robert D. Walker.  He played a blacksmith who had beautiful arms.

Robert D. Walker

Robert D. Walker

Here’s what Graham Petrie wrote about the film in the TFS notes:

The brilliant young American director, John H. Collins, who died at the age of 31 in the world-wide flue epidemic that followed World War I, produced several masterpieces in his short career, including Blue Jeans and The Cossack Whip (both of which have been shown by TFS).  THE GIRL WITHOUT A SOUL, like several of his other films, stars his wife, Viola Dana, in the dual role of twin sisters Unity and Priscilla—the latter a talented musician who is the apple of her widowed father’s eye (Henry Hallam), while he dismisses Unity as a worthless household drudge, prompting rivalry and jealousy between the sisters.  Unity is courted by the local blacksmith, Hiram Miller (Robert D. Walker), while Priscilla is in thrall with Ivor (Fred C. Jones), an unscrupulous Russian violinist who encourages her dreams of artistic fame and glory, but needs money to achieve these.  Unity tells her about money belonging to the local church that Hiram is responsible for and Priscilla steals it, leaving Hiram accused of the theft and put on trial.  The George Eastman Museum, the repository of much of Collins’ extant work, describes his films as showing both “a subtle understanding of human nature and often breathtakingly daring cinematography and editing.”

Daybreak (1)

The second feature-length film shown was DAYBREAK (1931), directed by Jacques Feyder, featuring Ramon Novarro, Helen Chandler, Jean Hersholt, C. Aubrey Smith, Karen Morley and Clara Blandick, famous for playing Aunt Em.

Uncle General and Nephew Officer

Uncle General and Nephew Officer

Lately I’ve been watching films with a similar theme, where the young royal falls in love with someone too far below him to ever have the chance to marry her.  Although he’s a step or two below royalty, being an attractive, affluent and confident officer of the guard, Willi Kasda (Ramon Novarro) has perfected the art of seduction.  For whatever psychological reasons prevail, he, along with the other men from these other films (The Merry Widow [1925], The Wedding March [1928] Queen Kelly [1929], all von Stroheim’s) don’t realize that they may actually fall for their victims when they’re in pursuit.  This doesn’t make for a happy life if you have to marry someone else.

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On Day 1, you read that we saw WATERLOO BRIDGE.  The main actor, Kent Douglass had a very small role in DAYBREAK.  It was made the same year but was two films earlier, with Marion Davies’ Daughter of Luxury made in-between.  It was a bit disconcerting though to watch them in this order only because we all recognized Kent playing the soldier Von Lear but were quite surprised to see his role last less than a minute and a half.  Lucky for him that he went from this very minor role—although a pivotal character when it came to precedent and meaning—to a leading role in a film released just two months later.

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I’m always on the lookout for Karen Morley, who this time had a small role playing Emily Kessner, Willi’s betrothed.  At their engagement party she appears just about as thrilled as he does with regard to their upcoming nuptials.  While this formal event is still going strong, a message is delivered to Willi informing him that he has been called away for duty.  Yes, drinking duty with his buddies—the note was from himself.

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Herr Schnabel (Jean Hersholt) is an older, somewhat sleazy man who has invited the sweet, naïve music teacher Laura Taub (Helen Chandler) to his drinking and gambling establishment in order to seduce her.  Willi, who serves under his uncle General von Hertz (C. Aubrey Smith), frequenting the same gin joint, introduces himself to Laura and escorts her up to Schnabel’s office to Schnabel’s chagrin, foiling his plans.  When Laura leaves, Willi is charmingly annoying her while following her like a puppy.  She heads to work, on her own she believes, where she must teach piano to her totally uninterested, never mind untalented student, August (Jackie Searle).  When Willi shows up pretending to be Laura’s cousin, August’s parents, the Hoffman’s (Edwin Maxell and Clara Blandick) believe the story.  Eventually he gets her out of their clutches and into his.  There’s a lovely little scene where Laura shares a bottle of wine with Willi, being her first intoxicating drink and her reaction is quite sweet and natural.

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His persistence pays off and he is finally invited back up to her little apartment where you can guess the rest.  The striking blow for Laura comes in the morning when she finds the money he has left for her as he says adieu.  Lightening strikes and Laura is a changed woman.  She decides to take Schnabel up on his offer and learns how to drink and entertain in his lively but ill-reputed establishment.

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Meanwhile, another officer finds himself in a dishonourable predicament, similar to their friend Von Lear’s and Willi decides to save him from further disaster.  Only, this puts Willi in a very precarious predicament that could cause him to end his own life.

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Jean Hersholt is an actor whose appearance I’ve also enjoyed in any number of films, effective whether he plays a scoundrel (Greed and Mamba) or a sweet man (The Student Prince and Skyscraper Souls), as his acting is always nuanced.  He is the namesake for The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, an Oscar bestowed upon a person whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.  The reason it is named for him is due to his very active philanthropy, part of which was his role for 18 years as president of the Motion Picture Relief Fund.

Click here to find out whether Willi must commit suicide, ends up with Emily or Laura or none of the above.

Policeman (1)

After the short THE LOVE CHARM (1928), we watched the silent Japanese film KEISATSUKAN [POLICEMAN] (1933).  It was an intricate story of two old friends who meet up by chance, one having become a police officer, Itami (Isamu Kosugi) and the other, Tetsuo (Eiji Nakano) who’s on the wrong side of the law.

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What follows is a rather modern-looking film by director Tomu Uchida, with noir-ish cinematography by Sôichi Aisaka and art direction by Hiroshi Mizutani.

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Suffice to say that it certainly didn’t look like an easy life for Itami as a policeman.

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One difficult scene has him doing all-night surveillance, hiding behind tall stalk during the pouring rain.  Very uncomfortable to watch, and I mean that in a good way.

Shoeshine (1)

The last film of the day was the realistic and devastating SCIUSCIÀ [SHOESHINE] (1946), directed by Vittorio De Sica.  It’s the story of two boys, fast friends, who’s relationship unravels due to devastating deceits that befall them during their incarceration in a juvenile prison in Rome.

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These two poor post-war Italian shoeshine boys, Giuseppe Fililpucci (Rinaldo Smordoni) and orphaned Pasquale Maggi (Franco Interlenghi) have a dream to buy a horse.  This could become a possibility when Giuseppe’s much older brother dupes him into fronting a crime.

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The brother and his two accomplices aren’t thrilled at first to have Pasquale tag along, but these two friends are inseparable and they all work out what they believe is a lucrative deal.  Certainly enough for them to buy the horse of their dreams!  All they have to do is convince a woman who makes her living as an occultist (Maria Campi) to purchase some contraband blankets they are given to palm to her.

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The boys have no idea that minutes later, a raid by the “police”, lead by Giuseppe’s brother is going to occur and they are told to vamoose and not breathe a word of the affair to anyone.

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The boys buy their horse and proudly ride it to their shoeshine station.

Shoeshine (4)

When the occultist soon identifies them as the boys who instigated the scam which allowed her to be robbed, they are duty-bound not to tell anything to the detectives when they are arrested.  Then the real trouble begins.

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The boys are separated by being put into different cells with other poor, street urchins and teens, losing contact with each other.  When they are both brought once again to the warden’s office, Pasquale is tricked into thinking that his best friend is being beaten and spills the story.  But we know that Giuseppe has been sent back to his cell and the beating Pasquale only hears is another boy screaming while the detective whips some inanimate object with his belt.

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When Giuseppe learns that his brother was betrayed by his best friend, Pasquale becomes his bitter enemy.  It’s so sad especially because we know that Pasquale has no one else who loves him; even Giuseppe’s mother has no sympathy for the poor boy, asking him why he would rat on her older son.  In her opinion, he should have just taken the consequences.  Here is where we see the suffering of post war-torn people who, we presume, will live by any means.  Still, knowing this worn-out mother can’t find the compassion for this lovable orphaned boy is hard to take.

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The final scene is even worse than the ending to De Sica’s most famous film, The Bicycle Thief (1948).  When it was over, we knew we had seen something great, but it was a difficult finale to a wonderful film festival.


I have recently returned from two annual film festivals. Here’s my review of what I saw at Toronto Film Society’s Raiding the Vaults at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Godless Girl (3)The first film of the morning was THE GODLESS GIRL (1929), directed by Cecil B. DeMille, with Lina Basquette, Marie Prevost, Tom Keene, Noah Beery and Eddie Quillan. This was DeMille’s last silent film, apparently with the last two scenes released in sound, although that’s not the version we saw. It’s the story of atheist youth thumbing its nose at the older generation of religious folk while forced to engage in “war” with other youthful Christians. Both groups of students exasperate the older people by either flaunting their contempt of organized religion with some nasty looking media or dealing with their religious discrepancies in a violent manner.

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People have a hard time allowing others to think their own thoughts or believe their own beliefs without trying to convert. Well, actually the atheists are more covert than the Christians. If you want to join them, do so at their secret club. If you don’t, then mind your own business. The Christians outnumber the atheists about 5 to 1.

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The leader of the atheist group is a girl with a devilish look in her eye, Judy Craig (Lina Basquette) whose white round face and kohl-lined eyes sometimes have that modern Goth look to them.

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Her antithesis is the extremely good looking religious boy, Bob Hathaway (Tom Keene) who, incidentally, looks too old to be a high school student. They’re also extremely attracted to each other which helps add to the chaos.

One of Judy’s gang (Mary Jane Irving) helps to promote the atheist club by anonymously sliding flyers through the slots of students’ lockers. Bozo (Eddie Quillan), a cute kid who looks the right age for high school even when he’s really 22 decides to attend the evening’s meeting mainly because he likes Judy. He is the sole comedic relief in a film that shouldn’t have one.

Godless Girl (1)

I was interested in seeing Eddie Quillan again. Although I have seen him in other films without realizing it (Show Folks [1928] also with Lina Basquette, Mutiny on the Bounty [1935] and The Grapes of Wrath [1940] to name a few), I had seen him in Hi, Good Lookin’! (1944) which was shown at Cinevent in 2014. Older, but just as much the comedic relief, he caught my interest and later on the same bill, I saw his sister Marie Quillan in one of her rare screen appearances, Campus Knights (1929). Both of them came from a family of vaudevillians with Eddie starting his film career making shorts for Mack Sennett beginning in 1922.

Godless Girl (8)

The scene that has the most impact of any within this film is the brawl that breaks out between the believers and non-believers. While the atheists are having their secret meeting on the top floor of a deserted building, an army of believers led by Bob are spiralling up the staircase to confront and disassemble them.

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When the inescapable fight breaks out, the staircase is overwhelmed with bodies and we know someone is going to fall to their death and it’s the girl who was slipping the flyers into the lockers.

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Both Bob and Judy feel responsible for her death while Bozo is identified as someone who pushed her, which is not what happened. All three of them are sent to juvie jail. Most of the kids, looking too old to be juveniles, are white although there is one token black boy as well as one child. Wonder what horrific thing he was sent away for? There’s also one of those lines about being “white = honest” thrown into a conversation between a guard and a prisoner.

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The three’s first encounter with the judicial system is to have their hair cut. Judy’s is hacked crazily by Mame (Marie Prevost) while the boys’ have theirs shaved just over the right brow. Mame is an odd character. She’s pretty but hard. We don’t know what she’s in for (or I don’t remember) and she’s a believer in the Bible.

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Yet, she and Judy become fast friends. Although there’s little mixing among the sexes, there is some private communication made through the wire fence that separates the boys’ yard from the girls’.

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You begin to realize that Mame has fallen for Bob, and like me I think most of the audience would agree they are a better match.

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The matrons of the jail are played with severity and utter plainness of looks by Gertrude Quality, Kate Price and Hedwiga Reicher. Yet the girls, even with their wacky haircuts, are still glamorous and, whether allowed or not, wear great makeup.

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Another momentous scene is, while Judy and Bob are talking on either side of the fence, it becomes electrified while her hands are grasping it.

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The sign of the cross is burned into the palm of both hands. Hmmm…what is the Lord trying to tell her?

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The most sinister villain is played by Noah Beery. He’s the guard who’s only known as “The Brute”.

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As befits his name, he loves finding fault with and hurting anyone that crosses his path. Many a times the evil character, we all love to hiss, inwardly at least, until he (usually) meets his comeuppance.

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And after some undeserving punishment at his hands, both Bob and Judy decide to escape with the help of the sacrificing Mame. There’s more to it, but they manage this by escaping in a truck driven by Bob, disguised as the person who is picking up the cargo the girls are packing up. They drive off, abandon the truck and camp out in the countryside. Of course, it’s soon discovered they are missing and the guards and dogs are off to find them.

Meanwhile this gives Bob and Judy time to come to terms with their love for each other. Judy is becoming a believer in God, especially with those crosses burned into her palms! They occasionally kiss chastely and Bob is reluctant to stare while Judy bathes nude in a nearby stream. Perhaps considered racy, but we know DeMille has done way racier things in other films even with characters fully (and scantily) clothed.

There’s a couple of scenes in the film where our attention is drawn to the prison numbers given to Bob and Judy. There is deep meaning!

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Eventually they get found and brought back to the jail. Here The Brute gets to do a bit of torturing, handcuffing Judy in solitary somewhere in the basement of the building to a solid pipe above her head. Kind of sexual.

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The Brute is superstitious and when a black cat crosses his path, he shoos it away, causing it to knock over a gas lamp which starts a blazing fire. Hell, fury and damnation! The kids are evicted from their beds, rushed outside, but Mame aims to tell one of the matrons that Judy is missing. Bob and The Brute rush back into the building but with the fire ablaze around them, The Brute doesn’t want to risk his life. There’s all kinds of fighting, fumbling and ultimately The Brute gets electrocuted (but doesn’t die) while the fire is roaring around him. Thankfully this has happened because Bob had wanted God to stop The Brute from leaving Judy to burn. So it’s rather odd when he picks up a gun to shoot him, which I had to assume is what God told him to do. The electrocution is God’s way of intervening. When Bob reaches Judy, not wanting to let the guard die, she cries, “Don’t judge him Bob, save him,” we know she’s a good person, atheist or believer. But God had other plans and with the walls finally caving in—there’s so much wood burning you wonder where it all came from—The Brute burns, presumably foreshadowing Hell. God is the hero of the story.

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For interest sake, Tom Keene was actually billed as George Duryea in THE GODLESS GIRL. He didn’t change his name to Keene until making Tol’able David in 1930. When he made Up in Arms in 1944, he changed his name once again to Richard Powers.

Wife Wanted (6)

The next film was WIFE WANTED (1946), directed by Phil Karlson, with Kay Francis and Paul Cavanagh. As soon as Paul Cavanagh enters the picture we usually know he is going to be a bad man. Stylish Carole Raymond (Kay Francis) is an aging actress who is advised by her talent agent Philip Conway (Jonathan Hale) to consider partnering up with real estate investor Jeffrey Caldwell (Paul Cavanagh) where he assures her she’ll “mop up” just by knowing all the show biz people that she does.

Nola and Caldwell

Nola and Caldwell

Caldwell has a highly unpleasant secretary, Nola Reed (Veda Ann Borg), who we later learn is his wife, and she doesn’t speak nicely to one person that crosses her path! She’s perfect as the person in charge of The Friendship Club which is really a racket to embezzle money out of the hands of lonely people as well as defraud them in real estate deals, both run by Caldwell and his partner Lee Kirby (John Gallaudet). Kirby is worried that a smart cookie like Carole will figure out what the three of them are really up to. It doesn’t help matters that Carole’s first encounter with Nola is, you guessed it, unpleasant. Or at least it’s our first screen encounter of Carole encountering Nola.

Nola and Kirby

Nola and Kirby

Meanwhile Carole is seeing client Walter Desmond (Barton Yarborough) in the hopes of selling him a home actually owned by Caldwell. She is having a hard time with him mainly because he has fallen in love with her and she’s not particularly interested. That evening they visit the house, where champagne and two glasses have been left on the balcony which is overlooking the ocean so they can toast the closing of the deal. But Desmond only wants to buy the home if Carole comes with it. However, Desmond has even more to say: he knows that Caldwell is crooked and thinks that Carole, the woman he loves, is in on it. An odd choice then for romance I would say. He tells her he knows she’s in on the crooked $50,000 Arizona oil deal, and the girl from The Friendship Club who tried to blackmail him. Meanwhile he’s drawn a $40,000 cashier’s cheque for the purchase of the house. He wants her no matter what. Of course, we know that Carole is totally confused, knowing nothing about these crooked deals and goes to call Caldwell to come down to sort this all out.

Carole and Desmond

Carole and Desmond

As she places the call, Desmond sips on champagne while sitting on the ledge overlooking the ocean. Oh-oh; a shadowy figure has just emerged from the, yes, shadows and we know where Desmond plunges to. The cashier’s cheque is pocketed and the figure disappears. Receiving no answer, Carole heads back to the balcony only to find it deserted. She looks over the ledge and sees the body smashed on the rocks below. “Get me out of here”, you can hear her think. Nor does she call the police as far as we know. We learn a reporter discovered the body, although we don’t really know how or why.

Nola presents Jeffrey with the newspaper headline of the death with the comment “Nice going,” while Carole is waiting in Caldwell’s office to talk about what Desmond had told her. She says she plans to mention his accusations during the investigation and Caldwell’s real colours become apparent, telling Carole if she mentions anything he might let it slip that she may have had reason to kill Desmond herself. Nola is eavesdropping to all of this. Carole wants to get out of the partnership but Jeffrey won’t let her, instead upping the ante by promoting her to partnership in The Friendship Club. Nola interrupts letting Jeffrey know a newspaperman is wanting to interview him. “Remember,” she cattily says, “to mention how Carole leads men to suicide.”

The D.A. and Caldwell

The D.A. and Caldwell

Interviewed by the D.A., Caldwell says nothing much except that Desmond was a heavy drinker but the D.A. doesn’t look impressed with what he heard when Caldwell leaves.

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Carole ends up at a local bar trying to drink her troubles away. The bartender doesn’t want her driving, which is kind of touching, and tries to get her to tell him what’s on her mind. A nice little scene.

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Now the D.A. is going to bring in its big guns in the form of Bill Tyler (Robert Shayne) who is going undercover by pretending to be a wealthy Utah sheep rancher, new in town. He checks into a classy hotel, orders some “giggle water” and calls his boss to expense him “lots of lettuce” which he’ll need when he joins The Friendship Club.

Tyler and Caldwell

Tyler and Caldwell

Carole wakes up with a hangover and discovers she has a guest. Mildred Kayes (Teala Loring) who she once gave small acting role to in one of her movies is sleeping on her divan. She has no memory of how they met up, but Mildred explains and starts to moan that she has nowhere to go and no one to turn to. And it’s all to do with her involvement with The Friendship Club and Walter Desmond.

Mildred and Carole

Mildred and Carole

When Tyler meets Nola for his interview with regard to joining The Friendship Club, she immediately doesn’t trust him. She’s not only mean, she’s sharp. But Caldwell doesn’t take her advice and gets Carole to start seeing Tyler.

The best scene is when Carole and Tyler go out for dinner to the Embassy Club. The piano is on a track and travels through the night club while being played by jazz musician Edgar Hayes.

Sara Berner plays one of the Friendship Club scammers

Sara Berner plays one of the Friendship Club scammers

Mildred, who’s way over the top, constantly considers doing away with herself. Maybe it’s because she’s bored and has absolutely nothing else to do or think about while holing up in Carole’s apartment for days on end. One day she expects Carole to call her at 4:30 but when Carole forgets but the phone rings, Mildred answers to find Jeffrey Caldwell on the other end of the line. He’s been looking for her and is happy to discover where she is. He heads up to the apartment to threaten and wheedle some information out of her but is distracted when he takes a call from Nola. Yes, he takes the chance of answering Carole’s phone. Mildred sees this as her chance to escape, runs out of the apartment, trips on the steps and flies down the stairs, landing in a crumpled heap at the bottom. But it was the oddest, funniest fall I’ve ever seen. When she hits the floor at the bottom, her body should have lain in the position it landed in. Instead, she flips from her right side to her left. It’s an especially weird piece of acting.

Kay always dressing to the nines

Kay always dressing to the nines

Although it ends so abruptly that you are taken by surprise, what makes this crime film fun to watch is the somewhat complicated plot and Kay Francis. She has a great wardrobe, looking beautiful as she usually does and she takes her role seriously, having a stake in this film being a co-producer.

Black Oxen (3)

After the lunch break we watched BLACK OXEN (1923), directed by Frank Lloyd, with Corinne Griffith, Conway Tearle, Alan Hale and Clara Bow. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen Conway Tearle in a film.

Frank Lloyd and Corinne Griffith

Frank Lloyd and Corinne Griffith

Although I haven’t seen The Age of Adaline, this story might be its precursor. One evening while at the theatre, playwright Lee Clavering (Conway Tearle) spots a beautiful woman looking around at the audience. (What I thought was interesting was that she is the only one standing, the cinematographer shone a sole light on her so her face is illuminated, and for someone supposedly not wanting to bring attention to herself we later learn, we wonder who is she looking for and who does she want to be noticed by?)

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When Lee asks his neighbour Charles Dinwiddle (Tom Ricketts) who this lovely creature might be, Charles, dumbstruck and ashen, takes leave of his seat to get a hold of himself with a fortifying drink in the foyer.   He is finally able to mutter that this woman is the spitting image of someone he once knew over 30 years in the past.

Black Oxen (6)

This beauty (Corinne Griffith) looks identical to Mary Ogden who when married became Madame Zatianny when she was in her 20s. What’s especially odd is that Ogden/Zatianny never had a daughter nor a niece. The last anyone saw of Mary was in the recent past as a feeble woman close to the age of 60! This certainly is a mystery!

Black Oxen (10)

I guess I will have to give it away. Mary Ogden was treated by a certain Doctor Steinbach with a rejuvenating glandular treatment and x-ray surgery that restored her to her youthful self. What I wanted to know was why not one other person in the entire story pursued the information of how to contact this doctor. Mary eventually reveals to her old (and of course they’re old) friends that she is really herself and this renewed strength of youthfulness has allowed her to return to America to dispose of her holdings so that she can assist in the restoration of her war-ridden country, Austria, where she has been living as the widowed Madame Zatianny.

Black Oxen (7)

Except for one spinsterish acquaintance, Agnes Trevor (Claire McDowell), who wonders if she could become attractive (the joke is that she appears never to have ever been attractive), the rest of her cronies believe her desire for youth is to (again?) tread the path of promiscuity. That just makes me think they’re secretly jealous and also want to “tread the path of promiscuity” themselves.

Black Oxen (9)

Lee, a confirmed bachelor, who has become smitten at first sight, is eventually introduced to Mary and a romance begins. Although Tearle looks older than his 45 years in his white, pancaked makeup, he’s supposed to be a young(ish) man of 35. Even when he learns Mary’s secret, her true age doesn’t dissuade him from wanting to marry her. But we learn that Prince Rohenhauer (Alan Hale) is very much interested in forming a marriage bond with Madame Zatianny for the good of Austria. So Mary must choose between a love match with Lee or a political alliance with the Prince. Which wins? The head or the heart? How does she make her choice? Well, if the heart wins, perhaps after a short period she’ll become bored with love and sex, but playing at politics will keep her intellectually stimulated, or so the thought goes.

Black Oxen (8)

And where does the teenage Clara Bow come into the story? She’s Janet, the flapper daughter of Jane and James Ogelthorpe (Kate Lester and Harry Mestayer) who hangs out with a gaggle of friends and is always the life of the party (that’s our Clara!)

Black Oxen (2)

She’s infatuated with the older Lee and what’s the most interesting aspect to this story is that of course it’s unthinkable that, while even though she’s again young looking, the 58 year old Ogden doesn’t end up with a man 23 years her junior, while it’s fine to surmise that our precocious teenage Clara ends up with man 18 years her senior.

Black Oxen (5)

And what’s even more interesting is that it appears he’s not even remotely interested in a silly creature like her but pines for the more intelligent and sophisticated woman. (Although I do recall that at one point he said that if Janet didn’t behave herself, he would take her over his knee and spank her.)

Black Oxen (4)

The film BLACK OXEN opens up with a quote from Yeats: “The years, like great black oxen, tread the world, and God, the Herdsman, goads them on behind.” I kept this in the back of my mind while watching the film and continued to wonder what the title and the quote had to do with the story. I suppose the quote is wide enough to be able to cover almost any subject that has to do with God and man but I never got the meaning of the title. When I was in the town of Watkins Glen in between film festivals, I found a shot glass with another Yeats quote that I liked better, although I don’t know if it was any more appropriate: “The problem with some people is that when they’re not drunk, they’re sober.” Maybe the God theme is a tie-in to all the movies.

Shakedown (4)

The next film was a little gem, THE SHAKEDOWN (1929), directed by William Wyler, with James Murray, Barbara Kent and Jack Hanlon.

Barbara Kent always looks modern to me. Until I’d seen Lonesome (1928), I’d never heard of her. But since that viewing a few years ago, I now know who she is in a heartbeat.

Barbara Kent in The Shakedown, 1929

Barbara Kent in The Shakedown, 1929

This film is the story of a likeable young man, Dave Roberts (James Murray), who gets himself established in a small town from time to time. We first meet him as unemployed, drinking in a local establishment when he chivalrously protects a woman from being molested by unwanted attention.

George Kotsonaros

George Kotsonaros

After striking him to the ground but before knowing the man he’s knocked down is Battling Roff (George Kotsonaros), Roff’s manager (Wheeler Oakman) offers a $1,000 to any man who can stay four rounds or beat Roff in a boxing match.

Wheeler Oakman

Wheeler Oakman

The town backs Dave and places their good, hard-earned cash on him winning the fight. Dave starts training with Dugan (Harry Gribbon), a comedic bloke who doesn’t give you much confidence in his abilities as a trainer. But little does the town know that the whole scenario is a setup and that Dave is set to lose the fight even if he had the skill to win, which he doesn’t.

 Harry Gribbon

Harry Gribbon

Dave moves on to the oil boom town of Boonton, this time picking up work as a driller. James Murray, a handsome man, is made to look dustier and dark eyed with makeup used to exaggerate his good looks while doing manly work.

Shakedown (1)

When on break, he visits Marjorie (Barbara Kent) who works at the little diner which caters to the working men. While a romance blossoms between them, little hands poke through a cut screen, stealing a cooling pie.

Shakedown (3)

Dave takes off after the waif, chasing him down to the railway tracks, where the boy trips and hits his head on the steel rods. Dave, reacting to the situation of a hurt child, cradles the unconscious boy and manages to swerve both of them out of the way of an oncoming train in the nick of time. From thereon in, the two become fast friends, with the orphaned boy, Clem (Jack Hanlon) moving in with Dave.

Shakedown (6)

Jack Clem Hanlon was wonderful in his first feature role. A natural actor, he won your heart with his good nature and, when needed, tough demeanour. I had seen this actor before, recently in The Easiest Way (1931) which I wrote about in my Short Reviews 2015 (scroll down to April 20th). He was good even in that small role. But after just one more film, a western in 1933, King of the Arena, he was gone from films yet lived a long, private life, dying on December 13, 2012 at the age of 96.

Jack Hanlon

Jack Hanlon

But the scam is on the horizon and when it arrives, the bets are high that Dave will win. Not only do the townsfolks like him, but the stakes are even higher now that he has a girlfriend he loves and a boy who thinks of him as a father and hero. But he carries on, pretending to train with the silly-faced and immature Dugan until he decides he needs to fight honourably, regardless the outcome.

This looks like a scene from the film, but the kid isn't Jack Hanlon

This looks like a scene from the film, but the kid isn’t Jack Hanlon

When the fight scenes in the ring come round, it was brought to our attention that the man holding up the cards letting us know what round was being fought was William Wyler himself.

Devil's Doorway (4)

After the dinner break we came back to see DEVIL’S DOORWAY (1950), directed by Anthony Mann, with Robert Taylor, Louis Calhern and Spring Byington.

Devil's Doorway (1)

In the past, I’ve mentioned that I’m not a fan of the western, but I am liking more of them since being “forced” to watch more at film festivals or at TFS screenings. This was a good one with Robert Taylor in a well-suited role for his wooden acting skills. I don’t mean that to be a Native Indian, you have to act wooden. What I mean is that I usually found Taylor a non-emotive actor, rather wooden, and for some reason this role combined with his talent, worked. He plays Shoshone Indian Lance Pool, who has just returned from his stint as a sergeant in the Civil War, winning the Congressional Medal of Honour for bravery at Gettysburg in the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry.

Devil's Doorway (3)

The whites are encroaching on Shoshone territory and the laws are so biased against the Natives that there’s no chance for either culture to find some sort of fair way of settling land disputes. The Shoshone need their land to continue cattle ranching while the white men want this fertile land for sheep raising.

Devil's Doorway (7)

But the Shoshones are not allowed to stake a claim for the land they own and even when Pool hires lawyer Orrie Masters (Paula Raymond), she’s unable to set new precedents. This would be allowing Indians equal rights to the Homestead Act. Certainly it’s an interesting dynamic that two subdominant humans, Native and female, team up together and try to obtain justice for this small Shoshone tribe. Both understand prejudice and they both respect each other.

Devil's Doorway (1)

Louis Calhern plays the highly racist and hate-filled lawyer who manages to roust the white farmers into bloody battle against the Shoshone tribe.

Devil's Doorway (2)

This is the climactic scene of the film, with the Natives being the victims, never the enemy. Such a terrible and shocking ending.

Track of the Cat (1)

The last film of the evening was TRACK OF THE CAT (1954), directed by William A. Wellman, with Robert Mitchum, Teresa Wright, Tab Hunter, Beaulah Bondi, William Hopper and Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer.

Curt and Arthur

Curt and Arthur

I just couldn’t sit through this film. It was a coloured western with a good director and Robert Mitchum. But I just didn’t like what I was watching, and maybe I just couldn’t bear two westerns in a row. Maybe if it had been the first film of the day, I could have borne it. It’s the story of a highly dysfunctional family.



Ma Bridges (the wonderful Beulah Bondi) is the miserable mother of a clan of males, Curt (Robert Mitchum), Arthur (William Hopper) and Harold (Tab Hunter), one spinster daughter, Grace (Teresa Wright) and married to the alcoholic (he apparently has good reason to be) Pa Bridges (Philip Tonge). Gwen Williams (Diana Lynn) is unofficially engaged to the meek Harold and has been visiting with the family in the hopes that she will be accepted as a suitable bride.

Gwen and Harold

Gwen and Harold

In the middle of the night Joe Sam (Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, in a role you would never, ever recognize him in) informs the brothers that an enormous panther is killing their cattle. Both Curt and Arthur head out to hunt him down, with Curt turning back for something (I can’t remember what) leaving Arthur with a wonky shotgun. When the wild cat attacks Arthur, he misses (or his gun jams), and is killed by the beast whom we never see. That’s the end of William Hopper, famous for his role as Paul Drake in Perry Mason, and son of actress-turned-gossip-columnist Hedda Hopper and actor DeWolf Hopper Sr.



As much as I adore Robert Mitchum, I could see that Curt was not going to ever be a pleasant character, and I just wasn’t in the mood for that. Tab Hunter is cute, but not cute enough to make me sit through the long monologues. I’ve never been a fan of the—oh, how shall I put it—the sucky Teresa Wright. There I said it. There’s also this ridiculous scene right at the beginning of the film where Ma, Pa, Harold and possibly the Curt and Arthur before heading out, are in the kitchen and we can hear the girls, Grace and Gwen, in the bedroom. And what do we hear? No dialogue, just constant laughter. What could they possibly be laughing at for five or ten minutes straight? Are they making animal shadows with their hands? Telling jokes via sign language?

Gwen, Grace and Ma

Gwen, Grace and Ma

Arthur’s body is lain to rest in a coffin in a room while his mother sits and talks to him for what seems like about half an hour. This felt like a stage play rather than a film, a fault I regularly find of films from the 50s. At this juncture I had to leave. I know quite a number of other people attending this festival really, really liked this film; I just wasn’t one of them.

Joe Sam

Joe Sam

So that ended the first of two days of TFS’s Raiding the Vaults at GEH Film Festival. A glorious day of films. Stay tuned for Day 2.

Monday, August 3, 2015
Before I start with Day 2’s reviews, I wanted to mention that the film DEVIL’S DOORWAY made me think of Will Rogers. He, as many people know, was of Cherokee descent. His father, Clem, owned a lot of land but he also had issues with having to return a portion of it to the US government. Slowly, over the years he and Will were able to purchase some of the surrounding land back. Although Will was proud of his Native blood, I think he was mainly known by the public as a cowboy (which he was as well) once he acclaimed world-wide fame.

Now on with Day 2.

Only Thing (6)

The first movie of the morning was a film that TFS screened at GEH in 2006. Other than remembering that Joan Crawford made two uncredited appearances as a guest at a ball and during a revolution scene, I didn’t remember much else about the story. And I still couldn’t spot her.

Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford

THE ONLY THING (1925), directed by Jack Conway, starred Eleanor Boardman, Conrad Nagel and Ned Sparks and was adapted from the novel by Elinor Glyn (of It fame) as well was made under her “personal supervision”. Jack Conway must have loved that, even if this was his directorial debut.

Only Thing (7)

The King of Chekia (Edward Connelly) had to have known that his looks weren’t what was going to secure him a beautiful bride, but his position and wealth might possibly make him a “catch”. Thyra, Princess of Svendborg (Eleanor Boardman) is betrothed to the buck-toothed King, a trait that seems to run far and wide in the kingdom. Although she falls for the handsome Harry Vane, Duke of Chevenix (Conrad Nagel), she feels it’s her duty to keep her promise and marry the King. What the Duke can’t get though, the Duke wants, so he pursues the lovely Thyra with the very, very, very long golden hair, ending up, of all places, in her bedroom on the night before her wedding. She has no problem falling for him, especially after taking a good gander at the King.

Only Thing (5)

The King also has twin offspring from an earlier marriage, girls around the age of seven. I don’t know who played these two little monsters, but I’m sure one of them was a boy disguised a really ugly little girl. He was the most fun to watch and was way more vicious in the sibling rivalry scenes.

The Twins

The Twins

There’s also another rival for Thyra. Gigberto (Arthur Edmund Carewe) who ends up heading the revolution that eventually kills the King and spares Thyra from a fate worse than death. She and the Duke end up chained together on a raft along with other prisoners, some being shirtless, well-built men but are rescued at the last minute by the Princess’s home navy, the worthy men of a Svendborgian battleship.

Vera Lewis

Vera Lewis

Great minimalistic sets. But I did have a hard time with Thyra’s wig which looked like long, pieces of thin straw to me.  It was interesting to see a youngish Ned Sparks without hearing him.

Only Thing (4)

Although being a silent film, I felt that if we could hear the Svendborgian accent, it would sound like the people speaking in the short film De Düva: The Dove (1968).

So Ends Our Night (9)

The next film, the excellent SO ENDS OUR NIGHT (1941), I decided was part of a trilogy, following All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and the just recently shown at Cinefest The Road Back (1937), (possibly even a Quadrilogy if you include Three Comrades [1938]). This last story was based on the book Flotsam, again by Erich Maria Remarque about Germany and the persecution of political activists and Jews just leading up to the second World War. The book’s original title means debris. Thinking about it further, it refers to “a floating population (as of emigrants or castaways)—human flotsam” which is pretty much what this story is about.

Ludwig and Josef listen for the Enemy

Ludwig and Josef listen for the Enemy

Directed by John Cromwell, and I believe shot in the actual locations mentioned in the film, it starred a very good cast including Fredric March, Margaret Sullavan, Frances Dee, Glenn Ford, Erich von Stroheim and the lovely Anna Sten. Josef Steiner (March) plays a political activist fighting against the Nazis while dodging arrest by travelling throughout Europe to escape being tortured, jailed or worse. He leaves behind his beloved wife Marie (Frances Dee) who at one point he begs to divorce him so that she can’t be used as a pawn to get him into the Nazis’ clutches. Ludwig Kern (Glenn Ford), is a nineteen-year-old Jew whose mother has died, and while looking for his father, is devastated to find he has committed suicide. Without a passport, he is kicked out of each country he tries to find work in.

So Ends Our Night (2)

Ruth Holland (Margaret Sullivan) is a Jewish nurse whose childhood friend and fiancé discards her because of her religion. These three meet up while travelling from country to country, all eventually finding work in a circus run by the sympathetic Leopold Potzloch (Joseph Cawthorn) where they meet the brave and beautiful Lilo (Anna Sten).

Lilo and Steiner

Lilo and Steiner

A romance grows and blossoms between the younger Ludwig and more mature Ruth who believe at the end of the film that they have escaped to a safe haven in Paris, although with hindsight we know that doesn’t come to pass.

So Ends Our Night (3)

Steiner agrees to give Brenner (Erich von Stroheim) the political information he is seeking if he is able to visit his dying wife who is hospitalized back in their hometown in Germany. Brenner doesn’t get what he wants when Steiner takes both of them to their deaths in the dramatic ending.

Steiner with Marie

Steiner with Marie

I have only seen Glenn Ford this young once before in the film The Lady in Question (1940) which is a poor remake of the wonderful French film Gribouille (1937). His boyish cuteness was replaced with handsomeness by the time he made Gilda in 1946.  Incidentally, Rita Hayworth was also Ford’s love interest in The Lady in Question and I remember thinking how she looked much older than him in that film, even though she was actually two years younger, while he seemed to have caught up and surpassed her physically by the time they made Gilda.



After the lunch break we came back to see two shorts and THE COLLEEN BAWN (1911), directed by Sidney Olcott, with Gene Gauntier, J.P. McGowan, Jack J. Clark and Olcott himself.

Jack J. Clark and Gene Gauntier

Jack J. Clark and Gene Gauntier

I found it impossible to stay awake for much of this film and only remember bits and pieces. It was extremely slow moving. I remember watching a scene where the still camera is framing four people standing together while very little movement is going on. I was thinking about this when I must have drifted off again. There was a scene where the murderer Danny Mann (Sidney Olcott) is lying in bed, reminding me of a fish out of water, mouth opening and closing in his despair, but I may have been slightly delirious. This is where he confesses to his evil deed and I think he was so distraught about what he’d done that he is bedridden, but don’t take my word for it.

Colleen Bawn (1)

Graham Petrie wrote in the notes: THE COLLEEN BAWN is based on a play by the prolific and popular Irish playwright Dion Beoucicault, in turn based on the true story of Eileen Scanlon. She was a 15-year-old servant girl who was married to one John Scanlon, who persuaded his servant Stephen Sullivan to murder her, when it became clear that his family would not accept her. Her body was discovered some weeks later, and both men were eventually tracked down and hanged. The play was filmed in the same year (1911) in Australia, and also in Britain, in 1924. The Toronto-born director, Sidney Olcott, worked first for Biograph and then for Kalem where, between 1907 and 1913, he turned out a one-reel film a week. Many of them, like this one, were filmed on location, often in Ireland. His production slowed slightly in the late teens and twenties, until he retired in 1927, but Sidney Olcott is still considered to be one of the first major film directors.

My only personal experience with an Olcott directed film is when I saw his and Mary Pickford’s 1915 Madame Butterfly. He made 188 films between 1907 and 1927. Quite a career!

Stark Love (4)

Well, if I had to miss one film due to fatigue, I’m certainly glad it wasn’t the next! STARK LOVE (1927), directed by Karl Brown, with Helen Mundy, Forrest James, Reb Grogan and Silas Miracle was something quite unusual and is now considered a masterpiece.

It’s the story of, in particular, two families of uneducated hillbillies living in the rural wild of America. The law of the land is that “man is the absolute ruler, while woman is the absolute slave.” But there is one forward thinking young man, Rob Warwick (Forrest James) who has learned how to read. He treats his neighbour Barbara Allen (Helen Mundy) with respect and chivalry even though she’s a rather tough little cookie. He explains to her that as a human, she should be able to do what she wants and decide for herself to do the right thing. The rules she thinks are carved in stone can actually be changed.

Stark Love (1)

It’s quite something to see the men sitting around, basically doing nothing, maybe napping, while the womenfolk are busy taking care of the younger children, which seem to be born to each family nearly every year, cooking the meals, keeping the one room they all seem to live in clean, and any other chore that appears to be needed to be done. Certainly this is Barbara’s job now that she’s just past being a child herself.

Stark Love (2)

When she lugs a bag of wheat to the mill, the miller has to be upbraided by her just for her to get him to get off his hind haunches to grind her some flour. While she’s waiting for him, she joins Rob who’s reading a book and this is where he explains to her about some of the things he has learned. His big dream is to go off to the big city and go to school. He likes Barbara and tells her he thinks women should be “protected, respected and experience pleasure” by and from their men. He tells Barbara that if it was monetarily possible, she should also be able to attend school.

Barbara and Quill Allen

Barbara and Quill Allen

When the minister comes to these mountainfolk on one of his visits, Rob takes his horse and heads off with him to the city so that he can sell his horse to pay for his schooling. While he’s gone, his mother, whom he was rather close with, drops dead from what can only be exhaustion. His father, Jason (Silas Miracle) has to bring in a spinster or widow to look after his brood as well as keep the home but surprisingly she’s rather inept at the job. When Helen heads over to their home for some reason I don’t remember, she takes control of the situation, putting the little ones to bed, cleaning up the mess and just making herself too useful. Jason gets a gleam in his eye, and it’s rather unsettling to see him look lustfully at this teenage girl who appears to be about 30 years or more his junior. And as soon as this idea of taking Barbara on as his wife has popped into his head, he’s striding over to her home to ask her father Quill (Reb Grogan) if he can just keep her; no need to even send her home. For a minute or two Quill seems distraught with the match, but after a short second thought, he declares it’s a done deal, which makes me wonder who’s going to do the work around his home once Barbara is gone. And even more interesting, in those neck of the woods, you can take a female to be your wife by proxy since the minister only comes around a couple of times a year to marry any folks who have already shacked up together, likely producing a babe in the meantime.

She likes to smoke a pipe in her down time

She likes to smoke a pipe in her down time

Barbara is quite appalled at this lecherous arrangement, and after having her body pinched by Jason’s free-roaming hands, she’s saved in the nick of time by the return of Rob. There’s quite a scene, with Rob and his father physically fighting over who’s going to possess Barbara, with Rob, much slighter than his heavily build father, being pitched into the swiftly running river, left even to die. Barbara makes sure this doesn’t happen. And at the very end we discover he’s actually done the noblest of things by using the money he was paid for his horse to sign Barbara up for school.

Most interesting was that the film was made using an almost exclusively non-professional cast, filmed on location in North Carolina. All four main actors never made another film and the rest of the cast were just the locals.

To read more about how this unusual film was made, read the contemporary New York Times review by Mordaunt Hall as well as the review by John White posted on IMDb which you’ll find at the bottom of the STARK LOVE page.

Kimiko (11)

After the 1937 Technicolor short, The Man Without a Country, the last film of the festival was screened. This was KIMIKO (1935), directed by Miko Naruse, with Sachiko Chiba, Toshiko Itô, Sadao Maruyama and Heihachior Ookawa.

Notice the buildings

Notice the buildings

My experience of Japanese film is mainly limited to the films of Akira Kurosawa. I also read a fascinating biography about the director, deciding that not only did he grow up in another part of the world whose culture is so different from mine, but that it was so totally foreign that it could have been from another world. I don’t remember the specifics of why I thought this, but this conclusive thought is still something I remember. Although I have seen a couple of other Japanese films, silent and otherwise, I was looking forward with anticipation to seeing KIMIKO and wasn’t disappointed.

Sachiko Chiba as Kimiko

Sachiko Chiba as Kimiko

It’s the story of a modern, savvy young woman, Kimiko Yamamoto (Sachiko Chiba), educated and employed, who lives with her mother Etsuko (Toshiko Itô). Kimiko’s father Shunsaku (Sadao Maruyama) is estranged from the small family which he abandoned fifteen years earlier to take up with geisha Oyuki (Yuriko Hanabusa). Kimiko is engaged to fiancé Seiji (Heihachirô Ôkawa) and the two, who have a refreshingly open and jovial relationship, discuss with frankness Kimiko’s family situation.

Kimiko (4)

Etsuko, who is always in a funk, pining away for the life she lost, is never able to find any happiness in her daughter, her work as a poetess, or in life itself. This frustrates and worries Kimiko daily. She sees her mother’s constant unhappiness as the fault of her father’s abandonment, supposed philandering and the eventual taking up with a woman of ill dispute. However, during all the years of separation, they have received a monthly stipend to keep them in house and home, as well as was used towards Kimiko’s education.

Heihachiro Ookawa as Saiji and Kimiko

Heihachiro Ookawa as Saiji and Kimiko

Due to their customs, the wedding of Kimiko and Seiji can’t go ahead without her father’s presence to arrange details with her fiancé’s parents. So Kimiko decides to search him out and bring him home. She has an awakening of the true reality of her father’s life, very different what she had gleaned from her mother. Her father, far from being a wealthy man, lives the dream of striking it rich by mining for gold. You realize pretty quickly this is a pipe dream. Yes, he’s mining; on the side of a road somewhere on his own; but when you catch on quickly to the man’s demeanor you realize he’s not who you were led to think he was.

Kimiko (6)

Soon after, Kimiko continues on her way to meet her father’s new family. (I am probably wrong, but the order of these two reels seemed liked they were switched. I felt Kimiko must have met the new family first before seeing her father at his “mine”. It would have also worked better as it would lead up to her [and our] view of the reality of who her father was.)

Kaoru Itoh as keichi

Kaoru Itoh as keichi

The first person she encounters in the village is a young boy heading home from school, asking him if he knows the family of Shunsaku. Not only does he know it, he’s his son Keichi (Kaoru Itoh), and leads the way. When she meets her, Kimiko’s ideas of Oyuki (Yuriko Hanabusa) and the reality of who she truly is are a total contrast. Her idea of the geisha who “seduced” her father away from her mother is really a sweet, loving woman who has been secretly sending the monthly stipend to Kimiko’s mother all these many years. And when Kimiko meets her half-sister Shizuko (Setsuko Horikoshi) she discovers that she is has been called “The Precious One” by the family, meaning she is the first born and highest ranking of the three children. Her education came first.

Sadao Maruyama as Shunsaku with Kimiko

Sadao Maruyama as Shunsaku with Kimiko

Still, her father is brought home to fulfil his duty as marriage arranger with Etsuko. Kimiko and her mother arrange evenings out to plays and restaurants, places Etsuko wants to attend and be seen at in the company of Shunsaku, even though we can see these events are of no interest to him at all. Does this make Etsuko a happier and more pleasant person? Unfortunately not. She’s critical of everything that her former husband says or does, and he, being a submissive person, tiredly but tirelessly tries to do what he thinks will make Etsuko happy. By the end, when the arrangements for the marriage are made, against Etsuko’s wish and with her brother Shingo’s (Kamatari Fujiwara) pestering for him to stay, Shunsaku heads back to his tranquil life.

Kimiko with Etsuko (Toshiko Ito)

Kimiko with Etsuko (Toshiko Ito)

Kimiko now understands that her parents are completely incompatible. Her mother’s nature is unhappy no matter her situation; that her father chose a companion that accepted him for who he is; but now she can continue her life with a much clearer understanding of those she loves—and herself.

Kimiko (12)

The actors in this film were wonderful. Comments, in particular, went around about the work of Toshiko Itô, who played Kimiko’s mother Etsuko. A difficult role played depressingly and superbly.

Kimiko (3)

The film, of course, was subtitled and I noted that the very last line of the film spoken by Kimiko to her mother was not translated. While you are thinking about it, it would leave you hanging. But after a wonderful two days of great vintage films, it is replaced by a collage of images and thoughts to ponder and process.

Thank you to Toronto Film Society’s Eastman House organizer Graham Petrie for the wonderful film selection. If you would like to join TFS next year’s festival of Raiding the Vaults at George Eastman House, check them out and add your name to their email list.


August 3, 2014
I attended Toronto Film Society’s two-day film festival, Raiding the Vaults at Eastman House Weekend on August 3rd and 4th which featured ten films and two shorts.

Trespasser (7)

This year TFS member Dr. Tricia Welsch, author of Gloria Swanson: Ready for Her Close-Up was invited as our guest speaker.  She was introduced by Graham Petrie and remarked on Swanson’s first talking film, THE TRESPASSER (1929), directed by Edmund Goulding with Robert Ames, Purnell Pratt, Henry B. Walthall, William Holden (not that one) and Blanche Friderici.

William Holden, Gloria Swanson and Robert Ames

William Holden, Gloria Swanson and Robert Ames

It’s the story of capable secretary, Marion Donnell (Swanson) who is about to elope with Jack Merrick (Robert Ames) the son of Chicago millionaire John Merrick Sr. (William Holden).

The Trespasser (1929)

She lets her boss Hector Ferguson (Purnell Pratt) know about her elopement the evening of (nice of her to let him know—now a-days she’d be sued without the two weeks’ notice), he wishes her the best of luck, and off they go.  Her plans for her husband is to make a “mensch” out of him by having him become gainfully employed and show the world they don’t need to live off his father’s money.  But his father has other plans for him, including annulling the marriage and uniting Jack with socialite Catherine (Kay Hammond)—Flip to her friends.  When Jack rejects this, his father comes up with an alternate scheme, and in the end gets the outcome that he wants.

Trespasser (3)

Time elapses and we discover Marion has a baby boy.  She works, but her salary isn’t enough to cover all the living expenses including Jack Jr.’s (the so cute Wally Albright) nanny (Blanche Friderici).

Trespasser (2)

She eventually seeks help from former boss Ferguson who has fallen in love with her and although married keeps her in the style she would have been accustomed to if she had just lived off her husband’s father’s money in the first place.  I wondered why it was okay to live off her boss’s money, who she didn’t love in that way versus living off her husband’s family money.  Was it only for the sake of her son and is that a good enough excuse?

Purnell Pratt and Gloria Swanson

Gloria Swanson and Purnell Pratt

Events happen.  Jack and Flip have a horrible car accident while honeymooning in Europe.  Jack survives intact but Flip is wheelchair-bound.  Ferguson, a likable person, dies bequeathing money to Marion which sends the tabloids spinning their stories.  In the end, Jack and Marion reunite and the family of three live happily ever after.

Happy Family

Happy Family

Gloria Swanson went smoothly from silent films to talkies.  She also had a trained singing voice and sang in the film what was to become a very popular song in its time.

La Vie de Boheme (1)Next we saw LA VIE DE BOHÈME (1916) directed by Albert Capellani (who also directed the short La Bohème in 1912) with Alice Brady and the director’s brother Paul Capellani (also as Rudolph in the 1912 short).  It’s the film adaptation of Henry Murger’s novel, published in 1851, and its more famous film version would be the 1926 La Boheme directed by King Vidor with Lillian Gish and John Gilbert.  Renowned screenwriter Frances Marion adapted the work for this 1916 film.

The Working Set

The Working Set

It’s the story of the orphan Mimi (Alice Brady) who falls in with a group of bohemian artists, poets and musicians.  She falls in love with the artist Rudolph and they live happily together until separated by Rudolph’s uncle.  Mimi is now homeless and lives a very hard life.  She returns to Rudolph only to die in his arms.

La Vie de Boheme (3)Although this film version was made 65 years after the novelette was first published, the sets and costumes had an authentic look.  The sets were artsy and the dress appeared to be fashioned in what poor people of the day would have worn.

Styles Worn by the Wealthy in 1851

Styles Worn by the Wealthy in 1851

Introduced by Tricia Welsch, after lunch we watched the first of two Swanson silents, HER HUSBAND’S TRADEMARK (1922), directed by Sam Wood, with Gloria, Richard Wayne, Stuart Holmes and Lucien Littlefield.

Her Husband's Trademark (2)

It’s the story of a woman, Lois Miller (Gloria Swanson), who doesn’t realize that the only value she has to her husband, James Berkeley (Stuart Holmes), is that she can attract other men to invest their money with him.

Stuart Holmes and Gloria

Stuart Holmes and Gloria

They live beyond their means although Lois doesn’t suspect this is the case.

Stuart Holmes and Gloria Swanson

Stuart Holmes and Gloria Swanson

When Berkeley is introduced to Allan Franklyn (Richard Wayne), an American engineer working in Mexico with a concession for acres of oil land, he arranges for Lois to invite him as a dinner guest to their home.

Richard Wayne and Gloria

Richard Wayne and Gloria

A trip to Mexico is arranged on the pretext of finalizing the necessary papers to close the deal, although the true aim is to get Franklyn out of the way of other interests trying to broker any deal with him.

Gloria in Me'ico. See the Cactus?

Gloria in Me’ico. See the Cactus?

In Mexico Lois and Allan begin to fall in love and Lois, panic stricken, urges her husband to complete the business so they can leave.  This doesn’t suit his ends, and it dawns on her that her husband never loved her, only used her.

Her Husband's Trademark (1)

She is about to leave him when a Mexican General bandit arrives, sees her, and decides he wants her for himself.  In the fight that follows, the husband is killed and Lois and Allan escape across the Rio Grande with the US Troops coming to their aid.  There is lots of rock climbing and river swimming in the exciting last scene of the film.

Her Husband's Trademark (5)

Her Husband's Trademark (3)

Lucien Littlefield, who was in hundreds of films (and television) since 1914 until his death in 1960, played Holmes slimy secretary, Slithy Winters.  I have recognized Littlefield’s name in the credits for many, many years, but don’t always recognize him in a film.  It’s not because he’s so chameleon-like, although sometimes he has hair, sometimes he doesn’t, sometimes he’s bespectacled, sometimes he’s not; it’s just because he seems to have the ability to be able to blend into the scene as the character especially when he isn’t playing a major role.  I compare this to Guy Kibbee or J. Farrell MacDonald whom I gladly always notice when they’re in a film.  I’m making a conscious effort to learning to recognize Littlefield.

Rebecca (6)

What can I say about the next film, Hitchcock’s REBECCA (1940), which we got to see in a beautiful nitrate, 35mm print?  If you haven’t read the book or seen the film, then I recommend you add it to your list.  I’m not even going to bother with a synopsis of any kind.  Just see it for yourself.

Wonderful opening to the film with Florence Bates as the obnoxious Mrs. Van Hopper

Wonderful opening sequence to the film with Florence Bates as the obnoxious Mrs. Van Hopper

It’s Hitchock’s first Hollywood film and it’s a brilliant debut.  A wonderful story with a spectacular cast—Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter, Joan Fontaine as his naïve second wife whose name we never learn, Judith Anderson as the competent, rigid Mrs. Danvers and George Sanders as the usually cast ne’er-do-well Jack Favell.

Yes, he loves her

Yes, he loves her

Yes, she's creepy

Yes, she’s creepy

Whoa, Big Mistake!

Whoa, Big Mistake!

Judith Anderson, George Sanders, Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier and C. Aubrey Smith

Judith Anderson, George Sanders, Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier and C. Aubrey Smith

Joan Fontaine was perfect as the heroine of REBECCA.  She was wonderfully sweet and had, in particular, one special trait that I don’t believe any other actress had to the extent of her ability and that was the quirky half-smile which she used to great advantage in roles where she portrayed not being sure of herself.

After the dinner break we watched two Raoul Walsh directed films, the first being SAILOR’S LUCK (1933) with James Dunn, Sally Eilers, Victor Jory, Sammy Cohen and Frank Moran.  Afterwards, I didn’t talk to anyone who liked this film.  I did–but not for the typical reasons like storyline—for all the pre-Code and other weirdly items that this film got away with.

James Dunn and Sally Eilers

James Dunn and Sally Eilers

The story is about three sailors, one relatively attractive—Jimmy Harrigan (James Dunn)–and his two side-kicks, Bilge Moran (Frank Moran) and Barnacle Benny Cohen (Sammy Cohen) who are on shore leave and wanting to meet—surprise—girls.  They, meaning Harrigan, meets cutie Sally Brent (Sally Eilers) and the rest of story is boy loses girl, finds girl, loses girl again, and once again finds girl.  By then, we the audience want her to realize she’s been warned and to go into hiding.  She’s ending up with someone who has major anger management problems and we can only imagine that they don’t live happily ever after.

Sailor's Luck (4)

In the opening scene, the sailors go on a rampage when leaving their ship and openly steal all the bananas off of a fruit vender, Angelo (Armand ‘Curly’ Wright), who’s carrying them towards the docks.  He gets reimbursed later on in the film, which was something that pleased me, especially because there was continuity regarding this earlier scene, but also because you were aware that it was a large chunk of his livelihood.  What was kind of appalling was when our three sailors were eating the bananas, you could see it squishing in their mouths when they were talking.  Perhaps realistic, but totally unaesthetic!  I had to shut my eyes or look somewhere else.

Sammy Cohen, Armand 'Curly' Wright and Frank Moran

Sammy Cohen, Armand ‘Curly’ Wright and Frank Moran

The next big scene is when they go to a public swimming pool where Sally works.  I suppose the joke was that because she was a “looker” it didn’t matter that she couldn’t swim, which made teaching lessons kind of difficult for her.  The bath house attendant (Frank Atkinson) was the gayest man ever; no mistaking his predilections.  And BB Cohen showed off just one too-many times his humorous diving skills.

Sailor's Luck (7)

Jimmy tries to make the moves on good girl Sally but as he pulls down the blinds in her room at the boarding house, she pulls them back up.  When he can’t even get to first base, he acts disappointed in the hopes she’ll give in.  She doesn’t but what follows in the next scene makes you shake your head and laugh.  He visits Sally, I believe the next morning, and she’s seems more than comfortable completely naked only wrapped in her bed sheets throughout his stay.  Kind of mixed messages.  However, this doesn’t entice him to rip them off of her and her virtue stays intact.

Sailor's Luck (2)

I don’t recall what the first incident is that makes Jimmy jealous of Sally but whatever it mistakenly was, he is rude and disrespectful to her.  In the meantime, he and his friends meet “psychic” Minnie Broadhurst (Esther Muir) and on a night out on the town they hook up with wealthy dipsomaniac J. Felix Hemingway (Will Stanton) who never lets up for one moment his drunkenness.  We find out Minnie, disappointed Jimmy isn’t interested in her, has comically married Felix near the end of the film.

Will Stanton, Sammy Cohen, Esther Muir and Frank Moran

Will Stanton, Sammy Cohen, Esther Muir and Frank Moran

In the meantime, when Jimmy and Sally reconcile for the first time, they begin planning their life together.  Sally, who rightfully lost her job at the pool, takes on a job for co-boarding house roomer Elmer Brown (Lucien Littlefield again) as daycare sitter for his young, motherless son, Jr. (Buster Phelps) while dad goes to work.  Jimmy is unaware of this and when he sees older, dowdy, bathrobe-clad Elmer leaving Sally’s room, he explodes into another jealous rage, calling her all kinds of names and stalks out.  This is where Sally should have known she was better off looking for a new soul-mate.

Instead she takes up the offer of boarding-house owner, sleazy Baron Portola aka Darrow (Victor Jory) to enter a dance marathon where he promises to showcase her and guide her to the winnings, which are way less than she is told, probably nil.  Jimmy discovers her there, saves her from the “villain” and the film ends up with her pulling down the blinds in her room after Jimmy has just pulled them up.  Nice poetic ending.

One point with regard to Sally Eilers in this film.  At times, she had this tremulous quality to her voice that reminded me of Sylvia Sidney.

Bowery (1)

The evening ended with the second Walsh film THE BOWERY (1933) with Wallace Beery, George Raft, Fay Wray and Jackie Cooper.

Bowery (7)

Based on true events and people, this story is about two men, Chuck Connors (Wallace Beery) and Steve Brodie (George Raft) who compete to claim the title as the King of the Fire Brigade, or so I imagine.  The film starts out in the Bowery’s saloon, Nigger Joe’s, and from thereon in there is no loss of racist remarks.  And there is no end to the competition between these two men.  Connors lives and more or less takes care of orphan street tramp Swipes McGurk (Jackie Cooper) and when he befriends homeless Lucy Calhoun (Fay Wray) he invites her to spend the night with them.  She immediately makes herself useful by cleaning up the place and cooking them breakfast, but Swipes resents her and locks her in a closet.  When Connors discovers what he’s done, he spanks Swipes in her presence and, humiliated, he leaves and moves in with Brodie on his invitation.  Brodie, finding out about Lucy and thinking she’s Connor’s sweetheart, attempts to seduce her.  Failing that, he begins to court her and they eventually fall in love.

George Raft and Fay Wray

George Raft and Fay Wray

Meanwhile, the competition between the two men goes on and Connors bets his saloon against Brodie’s declaration that he is going to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.  Connors loses, but Swipes returns to reconcile with the big old bear of a man and tells him that Brodie cheated by throwing over a dummy rather than making the jump himself.  With the dummy as proof, Brodie and Connors have a bitter fight on a barge on the East River.  Nearly killing him, Connors sends Brodie to the hospital where they become friends at Swipes’ urging.  Meanwhile war is declared against Spain and Connors and Brodie, fresh out of hospital, enlist.  Lucy kisses them both goodbye and Swipes, to their delight, is found hiding in an artillery box on a supply wagon, with the plans to join them.

Bowery (6)

One of the most racist episodes in the film was when Connors reprimands Swipes for throwing rocks at windows which apparently he did on a daily basis.  Swipes whines “if only I can throw one small one”, and Connors gives in, telling him as long as “it’s only one”.  We shortly understand that this “little rock” causes a horrible fire in Chinatown.

Bowery (9)

Brodie and Connor have wagered $100 as to who will be the first to throw water on the fire.  Although Brodie is the first to arrive, Swipes has placed a barrel over the fire hydrant, hiding it from his view.

Bowery (2)

When Connors arrives, he gives it up to him, allowing him to win the bet.  However, there are Chinese people trapped in the building screaming for help at an upstairs window.  So when the building is reduced to a smouldering ruin, you have to assume that the people inside didn’t make it out alive.  However, these people are referred to as Chinks throughout the film and you feel that they aren’t considered quite human, so you are creepily left to presume it really wasn’t a big deal.

Bowery (4)

Very enjoyable dancehall scenes with the lively Pert Kelton as Trixie Odbray!

Bowery (3)

Bowery (8)

Stay tuned for Day 2 of Toronto Film Society’s visit to the Dryden Theatre.

August 4, 2014
Day 2 began with THE MOONSTONE (1915), directed by Frank Hall Crane, with Eugene O’Brien and Elaine Hammerstein.

Over the years I have seen two other cinematic versions of the classic book by Wilkie Collins and was quite looking forward to seeing this early, restored, tinted film.  It’s been a while since I last read it, and I think it followed the basic story line.  But when I say basic, I think that’s all we can say about this elaborate book turned into a simple story that was hard to follow if you didn’t already know the plot.

Moonstone - Eugene O`Brien

This is one of these books that is worthwhile reading so if you haven’t, I don’t want to give away any of the mystery.  The Moonstone of the story is a priceless diamond that decorates the god in the Temple of the Moon in India.  Englishman John Herncastle (Edmund Mortimer) steals the gem and returns home with it but he is followed by three Indian priests who have been stripped of their caste until they can bring the diamond back to the Temple.  When Herncastle meets his fate, his niece Rachel Verinder (Elaine Hammerstein) inherits the stone while his friend Franklin Blake (Eugene O’Brien), who is in love with Rachel, has been appointed executor.  And the diamond disappears again.  Who is the culprit and will Franklin and Rachel find true love?

Elaine Hammerstein

Elaine Hammerstein

In the film, the characters are much more simplistic than in the novel and one of those, in particular, was the maid Rosanna Spearman (Ruth Findlay).  I vaguely remember feeling that she was less than sympathetic here and we really aren’t meant to care when she dies; in fact, it may have been somewhat of a relief just to protect other characters along the way.

Moonstone - Ruth Findlay

What does make this worthwhile is that we were fortunate to see the elaborate sets, costumes and special effects of a feature film that was made one hundred years ago.

Zaza (1)

This was followed by the third Gloria Swanson film of the weekend, ZAZA (1923), directed by Allan Dwan.  Dr. Welsch introduced it by telling us that Gloria left Hollywood for New York where she met Dwan, and hit it off.  He wanted her for his new film and she wanted the part and to stay in New York.  This also began the first of their eight-film collaboration over the next several years.

Zaza (2)

The story is about a French music hall performer who becomes the mistress of a wealthy man, Bernard Dufresne (H.B. Warner).  She leaves the stage for her lover, learns he is married, then gives him up for the sake of his child.  Zaza returns to performing and the couple reunite years later after the wife’s death.

Zaza (3)

There were a couple of things that stood out for me.  The Zaza character had the most fabulous hair style, a mop of thick, curly black hair that framed Swanson’s face and made her look fabulous.

Zaza (5)

Zaza was unpleasant.  She had a terrible temper and when she didn’t get her way, she would stomp and scream and carry on in the most unattractive way.  Yet, how everyone loved her, her audience and especially the men.  What a brat!

Zaza (4)

There is this highly entertaining catfight between Zaza and Florianne (Mary Thurman) that had to be done in one take.  Although Gloria was smaller in stature than Mary, she went after her like a whirlwind.  Florianne came in completely attired and left with only her lingerie scarcely intact.  Even her wig, which was a surprise, was torn off her head.

After the lunch break, there was a 45 minute Q&A with Tricia.  During the weekend, for those who didn’t already have one, her book, Gloria Swanson: Ready for Her Close-Up, was available for purchase.  If you’re interested in learning about Swanson’s life, I highly recommend it.  It can be purchased in the regular places both in Canada and the US.

Ready for her Close-Up

Two shorts were shown, A PHILISTINE IN BOHEMIA (1920) and THE MIRROR (1911).

Next, we saw Mary Pickford in THROUGH THE BACK DOOR (1921), co-directed by Alfred E. Green and Jack Pickford (Mary’s brother), with Gertrude Astor and Adolohe Menjou.

Through the Back Door (3)

It starts off with Mary playing a child which she was so good at even though she was 29 at this point.  Nor would this be her last time.  (In her next film she plays Little Lord Fauntleroy—as well as his mother!)  What seems so wonderful to me about Mary Pickford that she is able to make her body appear so child-like.  She skips and reacts the way children really do.  What a great physical mimic she is.  However, they also made her face up in the style of the times and in medium close-ups she didn’t always look like a child.

Through the Back Door (4)

The story is about Jeanne (Mary Pickford), a Belgian girl whose mother, Louise Reeves (Gertrude Astor) has remarried and the new husband, Elton (Wilfred Lucas), is jealous of the child.  So her mother has her brought up by a peasant woman, Marie (Helen Raymond) instead.  Years pass, but when Louise comes to collect the girl, Marie, who loves Jeanne, lies and says she has died.  As the mother drives off with her husband, weeping, her car sweeps right past Jeanne who is sitting by the roadside, enveloping her in a cloud of dust.  Both ironic and sad at the same time.

Jeanne Carpenter and Mary Pickford both play Jeanne

Jeanne Carpenter and Mary Pickford both play Jeanne

When Belgium is invaded in 1914, Marie fears for Jeanne’s safety and sends her, now a teenager, to America along with a letter to Louise confessing her deception.  On the trip, Jeanne picks up two young Belgian orphans and takes them with her.  Jeanne finds her mother living on a large estate, and is repeatedly denied the chance to explain who she is.  She ends up taking a job as a maid in her mother’s mansion, and claims the orphans as her own.  After much trial and tribulation, they eventually reunite.

Through the Back Door (1)

I have the beautiful book Mary Pickford Rediscovered by Kevin Brownlow and he gives some interesting background information.  While the film was in production, they had not yet chosen a title.  The Pickford staff panicked when the advertising department publicly advertised it throughout the country as THROUGH THE BACK DOOR.  However, the plot suggested no reason for calling it that and it fell to the already overworked title writer, Gerald Duffy, to connect the main title to the plot.  Very cleverly, in the scene where Jeanne immigrates to America, he came up with the title, “Ellis Island—the back door to America.”  The result was so smooth that it seemed as though the title had been written before the picture was named.

Through the Back Door (7)

The other interesting item refers to Mary’s brother Jack who co-directed the film, and I quote.  “Jack was completely different from his sister,” wrote Adolphe Menjou, who played the suave blackmailer in the film.  “He had a great antipathy for hard work and had no idea whatever of the value of money.  While he was making $2,500 a week, he was spending $3,500.  He threw elaborate parties, gave expensive presents to people he liked, bought a new automobile every few months, and was continually falling in love.”  Olive Thomas, Jack’s wife, had died in Paris the previous year (a whole other sinister story in itself) and Mary probably suggested this job to help him through a difficult time.

Notice the mourning band on Jack Pickford's arm

Notice the mourning band on Jack Pickford’s arm

A friend of mine who also attended the film weekend commented that the film was missing a rather lovely segment.  He commented:  “Looking through the notes last night, I saw that wonderful lobby card showing her (Pickford) on scrub brushes, using them as skates. Too wonderful an idea to end up in lobby cards only, thought I. Her fans wouldn’t like that. Besides, there seemed to be a jump cut, with a plot continuity loss in the Eastman House version. So I checked Milestone’s copy last night. Sure enough, it contains about 10 minutes of extra footage, which is interspersed with the plot line of her birth mother’s return. Charming stuff that brings big laughs to a packed house.”  I have just ordered the film myself and look forward to seeing this footage!

Through the Back Door (2)

The scene that must have proceeded this one was memorable for me.

Through the Back Door (1)

It had Jeanne and her dog tracking muddy footprints throughout the house and all I could think of, really loud in my head, was “Argghh!!!”

Barretts of Wimpole Street (7)

The final film for the weekend was THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET (1934), directed by Sidney Franklin with Norma Shearer, Frederic March, Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Sullivan and Una O’Connor and was chosen just prior to its being released by Warner Archives on DVD.

Barretts of Wimpole Street (2)

Although I certainly knew who poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning were, I didn’t know anything about their personal lives or what a difficult life Elizabeth had growing up. Besides being an invalid she came from what appeared to be a majorly dysfunctional family.

Fredric March made a handsome Robert Browning

Fredric March made a handsome Robert Browning

Her mother, after bearing twelve children, died by the time Elizabeth was 22.  Her father was portrayed as a tyrant. Seeing what went on in the family, it’s possible to interpret that Elizabeth’s infirmity was psychological.

Barretts of Wimpole Street (3)

Her father, wonderfully played by Charles Laughton, was devastating in his creepiness. It appears he expected all his children, or certainly his daughters, never to get married or experience sexual love. He was a religious fanatic who forced his children to do things against their will by having them swear to it on the Bible. It was also strongly hinted that he had sexual desires for his eldest child, Elizabeth.

Barretts of Wimpole Street (6)

Una O’Connor was a great character actor and definite scene stealer.  In just about every film I see her in, she stands out as memorable.  Here she plays Wilson, a servant who takes care of the family.  She has the oddest way of moving across the room; more like a glide.

Barretts of Wimpole Street (4)

This film was remade in 1957 by the same director, Sidney Franklin, with the quirky and talented Jennifer Jones in the title role and John Gielgud as the father. I am quite intrigued to see this rarer film version now.  Although it’s shot word-for-word and nearly shot-for-shot, the cinematic difference is that the 1957 film is in Cinemascope and Metrocolor. Not being made in the pre-Code era, I wonder if the script had to be a more subtle with regards to the portrayal of the father.

Elizabeth and Robert

Elizabeth and Robert

That ends this year’s visit to the George Eastman House.  If you would like to be informed of the line-up for August 2015, check out the Toronto Film Society website and join their mailing list for future updates.

10 thoughts on “Toronto Film Society at GEM in Rochester, NY

  1. Thanks for doing these write-ups, Caren. It’s funny (not really) how many details had already slipped my mind. The exception being The Sailor’s Luck/The Bowery double feature which left me deeply scarred. There was something about seeing the sailors eat bananas and shelled peanuts in bed that was repulsive. Don’t even get me started on Wallace Beery’s smile. Nightmares! Still and all, I had a great time and look forward to your day two recap.

  2. I know what you mean Adam. I was a bit worried that I was getting to this so late. Sometimes I have to read a synopsis before I can remember what the story was about but then thankfully for some reason the details of what I was thinking at the time start to remerge. (or at least I think they all do!) Thanks for your comment.

  3. Pingback: Raiding the Vaults at George Eastman House 2014 - Toronto Film Society - Toronto Film Society

  4. Very interesting about the omissions from Through the Back Door. The skating scene is very famous. I had no idea it was from this movie.

    The Barretts of Wimpole Street was my favorite film shown. Each appearance from Charles Laughton felt like a guillotine descending; it really became stressful to watch. Una O’Connor (whose presence is forever etched in my mind from The Bride of Frankenstein) delivered an incredibly dynamic performance. As you say, her “glide” was so delightful to watch at the beginning. But throughout the film she evolves from simple dotty servant to heroically sympathetic. As for Flush, the dog: deserving of an edible Oscar, for sure.

    Thanks again, Caren, for your valuable notes!

  5. I will have to refresh my memory of course, but there was more Una O’Connor shown at Capitolfest where she also did something outstanding. My most memorable film with her is THE INVISIBLE MAN but BRIDE is a close second. Thanks for your comments, Adam!

    • Thanks Beth Ann! Maybe next year, if the TFS weekend is the weekend before Capitolfest, you can make it to both!? Regardless, I look forward to seeing you in the not too distant future at some wonderful classic film event.

      • You’re welcome! That would be something to make both. I did not know it was an open event to people not associated with TFS. That’s good to know! Yes, it will be nice to cross paths at another film festival. Happy viewings!

  6. Pingback: Raiding the Vaults at George Eastman House 2015 - Toronto Film Society - Toronto Film Society

  7. Pingback: The Love Light (1921) and Only Yesterday (1933) | CarensClassicCinema

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