Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Circus (1928)

Now I'm firmly a Keaton fangirl, and while I acknowledge Chaplin's genius - and the brilliant contributions he's made to film - I always come away feeling that Charlie's being too self-indulgent, self-aware.  So when a friend asked me to a showing of The Circus, I happily attended, but didn't expect too much.

I am so pleased I was wrong!

Maybe it was the energy of the crowd, maybe it was the novelty of seeing it on the big screen, but this was the funniest Chaplin movie I've ever seen.    Just the right balance of sweetness (the Tramp's relationship with Myrna Kennedy, who was surprisingly good) and silliness (how the Tramp winds up in the circus in the first place) - and the tightrope scene towards the end had me in tears. 

So Charlie, I'm giving you another go 'round.  Thanks for making my evening such a blast!

I give this one: 

A much more thorough (and eloquent) review can be found at Chris Edwards' terrific blog, Silent Volume.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Walking Back (1928)

Oh those crazy modern sheiks and shebas!

This movie was SO much fun!   Rife with slang and pop culture references, it tells the story of "Smoke" Thatcher (Richard Walling) and his jazz baby girlfriend, Patsy Schuyler (Sue Carol) as they live it up as teens in the Roaring Twenties.  Yes, there's a plot: Smoke steals a car and plays demolition derby with another boy to impress Patsy - entangling the two in gangster imbroglio when they stop by the shop to get it fixed. 

The main tone of the film, however, is teens vs. parents.  It's a 1920s John Hughes movie, complete with hopelessly old-fashioned parents (including Florence Turner as Patsy's mother) and fast-talking smart aleck kids. Richard Walling is good, but information on him is scarce; he only went on to make two other pictures. Sue Carol is a Clara Bow type, the cuddly flapper spitfire, and she plays her well.  She even resembles early Clara: Never mind.  Those pictures were both Sue Carol.  She resembles...herself.  *facepalm*

A light-hearted (and, towards the end, exciting) time capsule you can't help but enjoy.

I give this one: 

True Heart Harron

I sat down to write about you, Bobby,
and I thought
"was any boy so prolific?"
custom made for the early days
with your sweet face
with your sweet nature

your story was so brief
and I think
the best parts were left on the cutting room floor

Bobby Harron

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Eagle (1925)

Hello, my name is Vladimir Dubrovsky.
You have wronged my father; prepare to die!

Lieutenant Dubrovsky (Valentino) deserts his military post (both breaking and infuriating the Czarina's heart in the process) in order to exact revenge on the man who has ruined his family; he maneuvers his way into the enemy's household, only to fall for his daughter (Vilma Banky). Is love strong enough to override vengeance?

This was a mediocre, but pleasant little romantic drama, with nods to swashbuckling adventure and some wonderful tongue-in-cheek moments. Valentino is handsome - almost leonine; Banky is lovely and her acting is capable. Her beauty at times is almost startling (the nightgown scene in particular). Another bright spot is Louise Dresser as the Czarina - she plays the role with just the right amount of self-aware grandeur.

It's a shame that Valentino didn't get a chance to do more comedy - he is certainly adept at it! My favorite parts of the picture were these little flashes of humor: his facial expressions when the ring gets stuck...the soup scene...and the thorough job he does at massage. Too funny!

I give this one:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Marines Are Coming (1934)

"He spank me.  I liked it!"

Billy is up to his old tricks in this one, stealing the fiancee of the Captain (Conrad Nagel);  he seems a bit mature (I'm trying to be kind here) for the role of young upstart.  He is amazing to watch, though - I stand by my assessment that he's the Robin Williams of the 20s/30s.  Frenetic, hyper, and always intensely likeable.

I didn't want to like Armida as much as I did.  She plays a broad, stereotypical "Mexican spitfire" character, deeply in love with Wild Bill Traylor (Haines) and as ready to throw a punch as give a kiss.  Her charisma won me over; so tiny, yet so beautiful - and explosive!

Esther Ralston (as the fiancee) is beautiful as always, and does well against Billy's nonstop energy, though she loses some credibility by going from Nagel to Haines like she's changing socks.  Why do so many movies of this period portray women as being content to love whomever is directly in front of them?

The end of the picture gives us William Haines, action hero, as he must rescue the captain from guerillas who have kidnapped him.  He does some shooting, socks a few folks in the nose; it's kinda cute to watch.  You get the sense that they really wanted to hit you over the head with Billy's virility (he's strong, he's tough, and a stud with the ladies!).

Edgar Kennedy does his usual comedic turn, this time as Haines' manservant "Buck".  I will say nothing except this:  did we really need to see the cough test?

The picture was goofy, sloppy, and Haines' last gasp of youth is palpable (this was his last film).  Still enjoyable though.  I give this one:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Riddle: Madge

(I felt badly for giving Madge such a poor review, so this week is dedicated to her.)

Margaret Philpott, dancing queen,
ran away at seventeen,
debuted on stage to great acclaim
and shortly after changed her name.
Madge Bellamy had Broadway's best,
yet ditched it all for a screen test.
Lorna Doone, The Iron Horse,
Her career was straight on course --
but storms destroy the brightest days;
the tempest here?  Her haughty ways.
Uncompromising, aggravating,
never content with just waiting,
injuring herself with choices
warned against by friendly voices.
Refusing almost everything...
until her phone just ceased to ring.
A later comeback slumped and stopped;
her star had permanently dropped.
Take heed and be one who prevails --
get some dirt beneath your nails!

Madge Bellamy

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gigolettes of Paris (1933)

Madge Bellamy plays Suzanne, a woman whose trust is destroyed when her Count fiance (Theodore von Eltz) breaks their engagement, only to give her ring to another woman (Natalie Moorhead).    Shattered, she becomes a "gigolette" and with the help of her friends (Gilbert Roland and Molly O'Day) is determined to get back her ring - and get revenge on the Count.

This is an Equitable Production and it shows; the sets are below-par, the costumes awful (Madge Bellamy's dresses didn't even fit), and the background music used in the club scenes is insufferably repetitive.

The film itself is marred by Madge Bellamy's poor performance.  I hate to say it but - at least in this picture - she was a really bad actress.  Gilbert Roland and Natalie Moorhead were good, but the former looked incredibly old and tired.  How can this be the same man who made Call Her Savage just a year before?  (They wanted us to believe he was 26!)

Every film has its bright spot, and for me it was Molly O'Day.  Salty and sweet, she reminded me of Marie Prevost in Three Wise Girls.  And what an interesting face!  She injected some much-needed comedy and for her I am grateful.

I give this one: 

The Greeks Had a Word for Them (1932)

Thanks to a trip to Big Lots, where all the cool kids get their toilet paper and sandwich bags, I found an old AMC box set for $5 - sweet!  So without further ado, let's get reviewin'.

My copy was the reissue print, since it was named:

Maybe I'm a little wonky, but I found this film confusing.   The plot is slim - working girls "working men", as the early title says - but there's so many ins and outs and interrelationships that it comes off disjointed and silly.  The real reason to watch this is to revel in the beauty of the three leads, especially Joan Blondell, and the occasional smart wisecrack.  The best part was the comic mass confusion at the end, involving the Three Musketeers (as they are referred to) and a wedding.  It sparkles with humor, which is sadly missing in the rest of the picture.   

Pretty to look at, but lacking enough substance to arouse interest for long.

I give this one: 

Swell, the bees' knees, the berries, etc. Hooray!

Thanks for helping Silent Stanzas reach 50 followers! 

Friday, July 2, 2010

Our First Year Here, Too!

Our First Year...

The Extra Girl

Diminutive, with eyes crepuscular --
Mere space itself would bow and acquiesce,
Comedienne, director, writer, star,
The total package, destined for success.

Mere space itself would bow and acquiesce
So that our Icarus could reach her sun.
The total package, destined for success?
It seemed that Sennett's Keystone was the one.

So that our Icarus could reach her sun
Mack offered up himself with open arms;
It seemed that Sennett's Keystone was the one,
the laughter tinged with encroaching alarms.

Mack offered up himself with open arms...
The King of Comedy could not protect her;
The laughter tinged with encroaching alarms,
Her wings destroyed by scandal's evil spectre.

The King of Comedy could not protect her --
Diminutive, with eyes crepuscular;
Her wings destroyed by scandal's evil spectre...
Comedienne, director, writer, star...

Mabel Normand

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Picture Snatcher (1933)

Any film that starts with Cagney in a lavender bath is gonna be good.

Fun, speedy little picture, starring our bathing beauty as Danny, a ne'er-do-well gangster ready to "make good", and Ralph Bellamy as McLean, the editor who gives him that chance - little knowing what was in store.  You can take the man out of the business, but you can't take the business out of the man:  Cagney states that his camera "works just like a gun, trigger and all".  (Uh oh.)  Alice White is the love interest here, and I remember reading she was being marketed as the new Clara Bow (who was breaking down by this time); she's cute, and appropriately vivacious, but she's no Clara.   Patricia Ellis plays the "good girl", the one for which Cagney wants to better himself, and she does so with aplomb. 

Quick-thinking, fast-talking (this was early 30s Warner Bros after all), tense and exciting and smarmy as hell.   A moment of sweetness amongst the grit:  watch Cagney towards the end, when he's alone in the apartment.  He fills this brief wordless scene with such beauty of movement it's almost like dance.

For those confused by the movie's last line, it's "vass you dere, Charlie?", a catchphrase from a popular radio show of the time.  James Lileks goes into detail about it in his review, which is much better (and funnier) than mine.

Highly recommended. 

I give this one: