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The Woman Disputed, United Artists 1928.

Posted by keith1942 on September 19, 2017

The film stars Norma Talmadge as Mary Ann Wagner, the prostitute with the conventional ‘heart of gold’. She is wooed by two army officers Gilbert Roland as an Austrian Lieutenant, Paul Hartman and Arnold Kent as a Russian Captain Nika Turgenov. The scenario was adapted from a story by Guy de Maupassant, ‘Boule de Suif’. This was possibly De Maupassant’s most famous story it has had numerous adaptation on film. The French title, one version of which is ‘Dumpling’, is the name in the short story of the French prostitute. This film has changed the setting from the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 to World War I and the Austrian / Russian front. Predictably it has also changed the ending of the story.

The film was directed by Henry King and Sam Taylor [according to King] directed three scenes that were reshot, including a new ending [though I doubt they ever considered using De Maupassant’s]. . The cinematography was by Oliver Marsh. And the key member of the production was William Cameron Menzies, credited with Set Design. The film, a 35mm silent print, was screened as part of the programme of his film work at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2017.

Paul meets Mary in the street at night as he runs from the police. James Curtis describes the moment in the Festival Catalogue.

“Momentarily stunned, he grimaces in pain, then notices a pair of legs in a darkened doorway. The camera tilts up to reveal Mary Ann Wagner, her makeup exaggerated after the manner of a cabaret dancer, her battered hat and polka-dot blouse advertising the fact that she is open for business.”

Mary assists Paul and later contacts his friend Nika who will establish his innocence. However. Mary is questions by the police and consequently loses her rooms. So she is accommodated by Paul at his apartment. This however is chastely done. Both Paul and Nika are smitten by Mary and we see their wooing over several weeks; the most delightful scenes feature the preparation and consumption of meals. However, Mary is most attracted to Paul and their planned union is cemented by Paul presenting Mary with his mother’s wedding ring. Nika is outraged by the preference for Paul.

War erupts. The battles we see are waged over the town, Lemberg [Lvov]. When the Russian army occupy Lemberg we come to the part of the plot taken from the DE Maupassant story. In this case the Russians are searching for a spy and seize several men and Mary on the road out of town. Nika is in charge of the investigation and Mary [as in the story] is pressurised by the men, including a priest, to grant Nika’s desires. She finally succumbs.

However, retribution is swift. As the Austrians retake the town Nika is fatally wounded by a shell. Paul finds both Nika and Mary in a partially ruined church. And Nika, with his dying words, exposes Mary’s fall from grace. Paul is now devastated. However, the Austrian spy, one of the trio of hostages, is able to reveal the nature of her sacrifice. James Curtis describes this dramatic tableaux, somewhat different from that of De Maupassant.

“the final shot presenting Talmadge’s magdalen from a balcony as a grateful army kneels at her feet, an absurdist conceit made credible by the star’s soulful performance – possibly the finest of her career – and the artful culmination of a near-perfect mise-en-scene.”

Paul, of course, is among the troops and as he too kneels the promise of a fulfilled union ends the film.

As Curtis notes, this is a fine performance by Talmadge, moving from the insouciant through romance to the sacrificial. Roland is convincing as the romantic hero whilst Arnold develops from romance to malevolence with aplomb. There is a good supporting cast and the priest [one of the trio of hostages- Michael Vavitch] is especially unctuous as he sermonises Mary. The film has some excellent cinematography with occasional expressionist touches.

What does stand out is the design of the production. Curtis notes in the Catalogue;

“The extant drawings for this sequence [the encounter between Paul and |Mary] show that Menzies effectively directed it; the set-ups are virtually identical to his visualisations. The Woman Disputed is a full of complex imagery – breakfast on a balcony with the city bustling below, the attack on Lemberg, a travelling shot past the massive columns of a church interior, the battlefield crossing of an Austrian spy through the great jumble of gnarled trees and barbed wire.”

Curtis also attributes the expressionist touches to Menzies and notes that this was when Hollywood was absorbing the impact of the great German films , in particular F. W. Murnau and Karl Freund’s The Last Laugh (1924). The latter two were among those actually recruited by Hollywood from the German film industry. The film was released in both silent and sound versions, apparently both running at 24 fps. The sound version offered a musical score including a song specially written for the film, ‘Woman Disputed I Love You’. However, at Pordenone we enjoyed a piano accompaniment by Gabriel Thibaudeau, which I reckon was most likely superior. The print was just over 200 feet shorter than the original and offered English title cards.

This was the happy final 35mm feature screening before the evening event with a live orchestra, The Thief of Bagdad (DCP – 1924).

 

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Beginnings of the Western – Indian Pictures

Posted by keith1942 on August 17, 2017

 

Filmmaker James Young Deer onscreen.

One programme in the series of screenings of early westerns at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2016 was devoted to the representation of Native-Americans. The Festival Catalogue noted:

“The third programme is devoted to Indian pictures, which continued to attract audiences. Pathé’s short film is a good example of the titles produced by James Young Deer, while the Vitagraph film is an anomaly from its western unit. The three longer films come from Thomas Ince and Francis Ford’s BISON 101 company and a later offshoot or rival, Broncho and Universal’s 101 Bison Films, all shot on location in California.” (Richard Abel).

The programmer also demonstrated the changing face of the Indian character in the western; the sort of sympathetic portrayal found in films by James Young Deer are replaced by the more stereotypical ‘other’ in films by producers like Thomas Ince. And Universal’s acquisition of the Bison 101 company points to a factor in this, the development of the large film combines, controlling production  through to exhibition.  These new companies also developed new strategies:

“When the feature-length westerns began to appear in 1914, they initially tended not to follow the “tradition of earlier one-and-two-reelers, which sometimes offered roles to native Americans, but instead turned to adapting famous stage plays with white heroes, such as Jesse Lasky’s The Squaw Man, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and Selig’s The Spoilers.” (Richard Abel).

Rather like the heroines from Programme two, but in a far more savage depiction, the Native American was badly served by the mainstream western right up until collapse of the studio system.

 

‘The Arrow of Defiance’

The Arrow of Defiance Pathé 1912.

The director and star of this one reel film was James Young Deer. Born and bought up in Washington DC, Young’s parentage was of the Nanticoke people, based in the North East of the Americas and Canada, Young supposedly worked in the Wild West circus shows. He started as a actor in films in the East Coast productions. He was then hired to work as producer, writer, director and star at the Pathe’s Edendale studio in Los Angeles. With his wife Red Wing [of the Winnebago tribe] he worked on about 30 short films between 1909 and 1915, of which only a few survive. Later he worked for a period in Britain.

In this film Young plays Dark Buffalo, chief of a camp of Indians. Sergeant [or Captain] Stewart of the US army brings an order for the Indians to move their camp. After a pow-wow and pipe Dark Buffalo refuses to move: a response symbolised by the ‘arrow of defiance’. The Indians attack settlers, an army camp and a settler wagon. The latter escapes to the safety of the Fort and the Indian attack fails. The film ends with an unusual shot, an embrace between a young Indian boy and a young white girl. Abel notes that

“Missing footage may explain that he was adopted by the girl’s white family, and both have escaped their burning farm.

Another, rather unexpected, is the shot that aligns movie spectators with a few Indian women in the foreground, as they watch the warriors burning a settler farm on a distant hill – a shot that echoes the opening shot of Stewart in the foreground looking down on the small Indian encampment in a distant valley.”

These sort of shots are enabled because the film uses relatively deep space for the settings and the action. Another has the settler wagon in the foreground with the mounted warriors deep in the field of view.

Whilst the Indians suffer defeat the imperious nature of the army settlement and control is apparent. And the shared family of Indian and settlers is a relatively unusual and becomes even more so as the feature westerns become conventional.

When the West was Young, Vitagraph 1913.

This one-reel film [12 minutes at 18 fps] was incomplete, cutting off just before the final shots. It was directed by W. J,. Bauman, an actor and director with seemingly few credits. The scenario was by W. Hanson Durham, who had quite a few credits in the teens including A Bit of Blue Ribbon.  The common element is near death  as a character saves another. In this film this is Black Hawk who, faint from hunger, is fed by the daughter of a settler. He repays the favour by warning the father and daughter of a band of Sioux warriors. Even so the father is killed and Black Hawk leads the girl to the safety of an army fort. However, he is hit in the back by an arrow. We see the girl rescued by a Calvary unit but do not learn Black Hawk’s fate. it seems that

“(as the print breaks off [- the Calvary]) keeps the warriors from scalping Black Hawk and chase them off.” (Richard Abel).

The film’s plot is fairly conventional but the treatment is good. The detail in the cabin when we meet father and daughter with the latter preparing a rabbit at the stove is well done. And after feeding the Indian the father offers him his pipe, a nice inversion of a familiar trope.

 

The Lieutenant’s Last Fight, New York Motion Picture Co, BISON 101

This film was produced by Thomas Ince, one of the key pioneers in developing what became the Hollywood studio system. The director was Francis Ford, John Ford’s eldest brother. He had a long career in Hollywood as an actor but also had a large output as director and sometime writer in Hollywood’s silent era. This tale of another heroic Indian is somewhat conventional and in its ending seems symptomatic of the changes taking place in the genre.

Francis Ford plays Great Bear whose father, a Sioux chieftain (William Eagleshirt), allows him to be sent to Military school A brief scene shows Great Bear on the receiving end of prejudice and contempt from white cadets. However, he graduates as a Lieutenant and returns to his area for duty at Fort Reno.

When the admiring Chief visits his son at the Fort they are the object of ridicule by the white officers and their wives. The exception is Ethel (Ethel Grandin) daughter of the commander Colonel Garvin (Barney Sherry). Ethel’s admirer Captain Haines (William Clifford), antagonised,. insults Great Bear. In the ensuing fight Haines manages to pull out Great bear’s revolver. It is Great Bear who is accused and victimised. After a court martial he is dismissed and stripped of his epaulettes in front of the regiment. When Ethel comes to bid him farewell he sadly takes down and contemplates his officer sword.

The Sioux Chief is outraged by the treatment of his son. He threatens war and Garvin arranges for the women at the fort to be sent to safety on stagecoach. The Colonel’s letter is taken from a courier by braves and the Chief prepares a war party. Caught between his conflicting  loyalty and desire, Great Bear takes out  his uniform and army revolver from a trunk and sets off to save the white woman.

He arrives at a place overlooking the attack on the stagecoach. A trooper rides to the fort for help and to allow time for a rescue Great Bear blows the army bugle he possesses: another familiar trope. The braves withdraw as the Calvary arrive to rescue the women, but Great Bear is shot in the back and left

‘without honour, without a grave’.

 

The Struggle, Broncho 1913

This is not strictly an ‘Indian Picture’. Scott Simmon notes in the Festival Catalogue that the film

“moves closer to “classic” revenge plotting … The price paid for Ince’s move from tales of conflicts within tribes or against the Calvary is that the Indian “hostiles” now lack the slightest motivation or individuality'”

So Simmon points out to the developments in the genre that brings us to the Indian or Native American as ‘the other’. The plot of the film has Bob Worth (Elmer L. Morrow) vowing revenge when his father is shot and his mother dies of grief. Five years on Bob is an army scout. In a saloon he recognises his father’s murder by a scar. But the man flees, shooting a card player with Bob accused of the murder.

He flees. now we see his ‘gal’, daughter of an officer at the Fort. And the Indians, Apaches, appear on the scene. The Calvary ride up, but with the Sherriff who arrests Bob. The two are soon sieged in a cabin by the Indians, but also with the now-wounded murderer. He offers a death bed confession. The Calvary re-appear and drive off the Indians. bob is re-united with his love.

Not a lot for an Indian-friendly audience. In other ways the film is effective with some good staging and editing. It was directed by Thomas H. Ince. However, mis-staging or mising title cards do create a little confusion. Simmon notes

“The happy opening household appears to be a miner and his wife and their teenaged son, but the studio synopsis states that the woman is the miner’s “daughter, a girl of twenty.” The woman is never seen again so that the impression that she must be the hero’s mother in  reinforced by his later identification of the murderer:”

“he killed my father and my mother died of a broken heart.” “

Still, this would not be the first time that a studio synopsis was in error.

‘The Flaming Arrow’

The Flaming Arrow, 101 Bison Film/Universal

Happily for Native-Americans the final film was more positive. Scott Simmon writes,

The Flaming Arrow must be unique among surviving early Westerns for both beginning and ending with happy interracial love.”

The opening presents a prospector with an Indian wife and child. The prospector is killed aiding Black Eagle and his tribe against an attack by Apaches. His wife, Flying Bird, expires after chanting a death song at his grave. This leaves White Eagle as an orphan.

He is sent away to a school in the West and returns ten years later. He develops a friendship with the daughter of the commanding officer at the fort. However, a rival officer with a Mexican accomplice plot to steal a gold shipment. They sell firewater to the Indians resulting in a war party. During an attack on the fort White Eagle rescues the daughter. The y then are laid siege in a cabin [again] whilst the braves shout ‘burn the white girl.!

The Calvary arrive in ‘a nick of time’, the villainous Mexican is killed, leaving White Eagle with the girl he preferred over his own people.

Simmon comments on the overall film and generic examples,

“Moving Picture World couldn’t help but notice the racial revisionism with “the old perplexed question of blood not being raised” between the lovers. By early 1913 Indian subjects remained popular, but story innovations were evidently needed. The usual plot conventions were on display for instance, two months earlier in Ince’s The Burning Brand, a Calvary lieutenant, learning his mother was an Indian, must abandon the colonel’s daughter and die in an attempt to win her back through a tribal attack.”

Whereas in The Flaming Arrow

“In the film’s surprising closing shot, the now-heroic White Eagle and the daughter of the Calvary colonel walk arm in arm towards a tight close-up. It is implied that their marriage will follow.”

Closer to the previous film in other ways, the opening needs help to from the synopsis to be clear about relationships. But the film has definite pace and the editing between scenes as the drama increases is effective. This was another 35mm print, this time from the BFI.

And Gabriel Thibaudeau provided lyrical accompaniment on the piano.

 

 

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Blue Jeans, USA 1917

Posted by keith1942 on August 9, 2017

This was the fourth programme in the John H. Collins retrospective at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2016. Rather like Henry King’s Tol’able David (1921) this is a melodrama in which the protagonist overcomes both villainy and an image of self in ‘small town America’. Like that film this is also a fine piece of ‘Americana’. What distinguishes it is that the protagonist is a young woman. David Mayer in the Festival Catalogue notes how the film has transformed the source material, a play from 1890 by Joseph Arthur., one of his popular works.

“Quite possibly at the instigation of writers June Mathis and Charles Taylor, the play’s rube comic roles and broad comic dialogue were stripped away, the comical interludes largely expunged, and the narrative reshaped and smoothed out to create a taut drama of love, ambition, family woe, and female heroism in the rural south-east corner of bucolic Indiana bordering the Ohio River, “the Blue Jeans District”, which gives the drama its title. Crucially, in an act destabilising the former dominance of the male lead, reshaping the narrative to focus on the bravery, self-abnegation, and resourcefulness of the heroine June, providing a major role for Collins’s wife, the actress Viola Dana.”

The plot remains melodramatic. The heroine, June (Dana) is an orphan and in the course of the film she discovers the truth about her lost mother and is reunited with her grandparents. She also has to battle with the varied blows that fall on her romantic hero Perry Bascom (Robert Walker). He has returned to his family town of Rising Sun. Over the course of the film he has to battle politically and literally with the film villain, Ben Boone (Clifford Bruce). He also has to clear his name of a slander, that he abandoned a wife and committed bigamy. And, to regain control of the family mill, he has to overcome the town prejudices that stem from the time of an earlier owner, his uncle.

Viola Dana is fine as the heroine, and she expresses suitable range of emotions a she moves, from love, through adversity and to discoveries from the past. Walker plays Perry as a fairly conventional hero as he encounters one setback after another.

Stylistically the great pleasure of the film is the manner in which it captures the flavour of a small rural town and the surrounding countryside. The opening, as Perry bowls downhill on a bicycle back to Rising Sun, encountering June on his way, sets the scene beautifully. And the are many scenes in the surrounding countryside, in nearby woods and on a nearby river. Perry and June marry in a ‘little chapel; by the river’. The film also makes effective use of cross-cutting between actions and events and draws parallels between these through the use of superimpositions. And there are a number of flashback that fill in the ‘back stories’ of the characters: as for example as Perry unravels the slander about his earlier marriage and claims of bigamy.

The small town of Rising Sun typifies some of the contradictions in ‘small town America’. Perry is not the only one to encounter ‘small town’ prejudice. After her marriage and the birth a of a child June goes to the local church to seek baptism for the infant. But the minister and congregation set their faces against her because they hold ‘uncertainties’ about her conception. This leads to a round denunciation of the church prejudices by one of her only friends, Cindy Tutwiler (Margaret McWade). The point is emphasised by a shot of the church’s stained glass window bearing the  legend ‘suffer little children’. This question of legitimacy is dramatised by a photograph of Cindy’s daughter Lucy [later revealed as June’s mother) which Cindy’s husband Jacob (Russell Simpson) has turned towards the wall.

There is also a sequence set on the night before a local election with candidates’ hustings and large crowds. This makes good use of numerous extras and chiaroscuro effect. It is also the point at which a melodramatic revelation takes place as Perry’s ‘ex-wife’ Dora denounces him.

The film does retain quite a lot of the melodramatic plotting. The climax of the film takes place at the saw mill where Perry confronts Ben. It is Ben who proves the stronger and he ties Perry onto the machine saw whilst locking June in the mill offices. June breaks out of the office and rushes to the saw, rescuing Perry from his mortal threat. David Mayer points out the generic implication of this scene.

“Joseph Arthur’s famous third-act sawmill “sensation scene” (a melodramatic episode so stirringly iconic that it’s reprised in the final-reel of numerous 007 films …”.

This title confirmed the claims made for the retrospective and for Collins as both a fine filmmaker and an important pioneer in the development of Hollywood. Like The Girl Without a Soul this film was made for the Metro Picture Corp. It was also supplied by the George Eastman Museum but in a 35mm print. Donald Sosin supplied the accompaniment on the piano and including a song from the original play.

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Beginnings of the Western – Cowgirls.

Posted by keith1942 on August 8, 2017

This was the second programme offered a in Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2016 presenting the early years of the major Hollywood genre. Richard Abel’s introduction in the Festival Catalogue noted,

“something like a genre begins to emerge out of a wide variety of films – cowboy films, Indian pictures, and cowgirl films – during the two-year period of 1912 – 1913.”

What also seems to be the case is that women characters did better in this developing period than was often the case when an identifiable and conventionalised genre did emerge. In this programme we had six films where women were important characters and even were the dominant actor.

Broncho Billy’s Narrow Escape, USA 1912

This was an Essanay production directed by and starring G. M. Anderson. Happily John Oliver has just written a profile of ‘The First Cowboy Film Star’ in ‘Flickers’ June/July 2017. [Gilbert] Anderson worked in the early US films, including a small part in the 1903 The Great Train Robbery. He was a co-founder of Essanay in 1907 and in 1909 commenced a long series of popular westerns. He generally directed and starred in these films but,

“Despite regular appearances, Anderson would still introduce variations from film to film as to how the character was portrayed. In one film Broncho Billy could be bandit, in the next a cow puncher, and then a miner in the following film. He could even be a bit of a bumpkin. He could even die at the end of a film.”

The last was not typical of what the western became.

In this title Billy is a wandering cowboy hired by a Prospector Ben Martin (Arthur Mackles). Billy develops a mutual attraction with Martin’s daughter Lois (Vedah Bertram): there is a happy shot as they sing and duet on a guitar and banjo. However, Billy’s rival Baxter (Brinsley Shaw) manages to convince some cowboys that Billy is a horse thief. The response, that becomes a typical event in westerns, is a proposed lynching. But Lois rides to the rescue and as Abel notes:

“The film ends with an emblematic shot of the couple smiling and chatting, until Billy (in an atypical gesture) slides a ring onto her finger.”

Lois is shown as a skilled horse rider. Vedah Bertram made 22 westerns with Anderson but she died young [aged 20] in 1912. Apart from the riding sequence the film also uses shots in silhouette as characters move from interiors to exterior light.

A Girl of the West, USA 1912

A Vitagraph film probably directed by Rollin S. Sturgeon. This was one of the last westerns shot by Vitagraph on the East Coast,, in their New York studio and nearby locations. The locations are uninspired and a later Vitagraph in the programme demonstrates one important factor in moving west to California.

Scott Simon in the Festival catalogue notes that in the film we get the following title:

“HOORAY! FOR THE AMAZONS.” shout cowboys in the final inter-title of the slightly mist titled A Girl of the West, which features two gun-toting, rapid-riding women – the ranch girl (Polly) and the outlaw (Nell) – along with the heroine’s older sister (Dolly) who lectures her unsuccessfully about proper female behaviour in the west.”

Lillian Christy plays Dolly (Daisy in the print), Helen Case as Polly and Helen Galvin as Nell.

Simon’s reservation regarding the film’s title are justified, Polly acts out of love for a cowboy John (Tom Fortune) whilst Nell is the moll of the villain Scar-faced Bill (Robert Thornby). The plot lacks plausibility. John sells him horse and is to collect the $500 purchase price when he delivers it to the ranch. Scar-faced Bill and his henchman steal the horse and delivering it to the ranch collect the $500. Given the purchaser had agreed the bargain with John this seems unlikely or the men really are dumb. The best bit of the film is the conflict between |Polly and Nell, as they battle with Polly successfully riding to recover the money.

The 35mm print was 902 feet, running 13 minutes at 18fps. Likely there is a little missing, as so often the case with early film. Certain Dolly’s appearances and role seem a little truncated.

The Craven, USA 1912.

This is a Vitagraph film shot in the new Los Angeles Studio, in Santa Monica in California. Laura Horak, in the Festival Catalogue, comments on the film and its star,

“Schaefer had moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles with Vitagraph regulars Sturgeon, this film’s director, and actors Thornby, Bennett and Burns (all in this film ) in October 1911 to form the Western branch of the Vitagraph Company. The Western Vitagraph films were often praised for uniting spectacular locations with quality photography, complex plots and mature acting.”

The changes are notable in comparison to A Girl of the West. California offered better and more varied locations and a brighter climate with better light for the cinematography. And the working conditions seem to have better suited the production crew.

The film opens with the title,

“The wife of a coward.”

Anne (Anne Schaefer, Maud in the print) is the niece of a ranch owner. The new hand out from the east is Harvey (Robert Thornby). Harvey shoots a line that impresses the ranch hands and even more Anne. They marry. Her eyes are opened when a Mexican bandit ((William) Eagle Eye) threatens them for money; Harvey is prepared to hand over money but Anne chases off the bandit.

Harvey gets the credit and is elected sheriff. However nemesis arrives when he is required to apprehend a noted bandit Black Pete (probably Tom Beckett). But Anne has to undertake the task, tracking down Black Peter. In an well staged confrontation Black Pete hides in rushes, but when he jumps out Anne is quicker and shoots him dead.

Back at the cabin Anne sends Harvey to collect the body, thus preserving

“my father’s honour'”

throwing down the gun, possibly a motif that developed into the badge thrown down. Thus Harvey preserves his reputation and his

“unearned honour.”

The plot is seemingly not unusual, Laura Horak notes,

The Craven was one of many films from this period that dramatised white male cowardice (e.g. The Honour of His Family, 1910). It was also one of the many in which courageous white women took over from incapacitated brothers, husbands and sweethearts ….”

A Bit of Blue Ribbon, USA 1913.

This is another Vitagraph filmed in California. By now the company had moved to a new studio in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, located near hills and open country: likely a factor in the move.. The film has what seems an unusual plot and the print we viewed was only 741 feet, apparently with missing shots and title cards. So the opening of the film is unclear. It seems that Kitty (Marty Charleson), the daughter of a ranch  owner, has a favourite horse Seňor: she also has a human sweetheart, Steve (Robert Burns). The father Hartwell (Charles Bennett) orders Steve to shoot Seňor, though why is not clear. The mother in this film is played by Anne Schaefer but she has much less to do than in The Craven.

Steve honourably refuses to shoot Seňor so Hartwell decides to carry out the deed. Fortunately he is interrupted and shot by a Mexican horse thief (William Eagle Eye again). Unfortunately the Mexican is able to throw the blame on Steve. In an early example of what becomes one of Hollywood’s most common motifs Steve is discovered by other cowboys bending over the wounded Hartwell. This confirms his guilt and he is dragged away. In another conventional trope the cowboys vote and agree to lynch Steve. Kitty now rides to save Steve and confronts the Mexican. He mages to escape but drops the titular blue ribbon. Kitty recognises this as belonging to her father. She rides again to save Steve from hanging. Later the Mexican is apprehended and [it seems] sentenced to hanging [or possibly lynching].

Una of the Sierras, USA 1812.

This was another Vitagraph film, directed by Ralph Ince, younger brother of key producer Thomas Ince; though Rollin S. Sturgeon also had a role in the production. This is another classic plotline. The western gal goes east [or north] and encounters the world, the technology and the mores of  urban life. Una (Mary Charleson) is

“Brought up in the Mountains Wild. She is more that a match for a Crafty Financier. She’s a Hummer and Can Do Things.” (The Vitagraph promotion quoted in the Festival catalogue).

Ulna’s father is a prospector in California. At his death she comes into

“enough gold to pay the national debt!”

So she goes to live with her aunt in the city. There are amusing scenes as she explores her aunt’s property, encounters a motor car and jumps in the Pacific clothed. Romance arrives in the shape of two financiers, shady investor Sharpe and kindlier stockbroker Clifford. Sharpe tries to eliminate Clifford through a share scheme, but Una saves him and the day.

“In the unpublished synopsis, she asks Clifford “if they are engaged” and he answers with a kiss.”

Sallie’s Sure Shot, USA 1913.

This was a Selig western that I had seen before and which repaid a second viewing.

“A Tale of Devotion and Dynamite.”

Coyote Jim (Lester Cuneo) and his gang plan to take over the Ralston mining claim. Rob Ralston has gone to town to register the claim leaving his daughter Sallie (Myrtle Stedman) alone. Her sweetheart Fred warns off the gang. But they return, take Sallie to nearby claim and plan to trap Fred by dynamiting the cabin. Whilst there attention is elsewhere Sallie grabs a rifle and cuts the fuse wire with her ‘sure shot’. First time round Stedman’s body twirl and the accompanying cut occasioned applause from the audience.

Fred reasserts some masculine prowess when the gang relight the fuse by throwing it through the window at the gang. Following the explosion the gang are trussed up and handed over to the sheriff.

Laura Horak notes that

“In fact, Sallie was not the first Selig heroine to display such impressive shooting skills – in The Girl from Montana (1907), Pansy Perry’s character races on horseback to rescue her falsely accused sweetheart and shoots through the suspended rope just as he is hung.”

Whilst tropes and motifs from these early westerns became a regular part of plots in the western genre, the ‘can do’ woman were much less common. This selection was revealing and enjoyable. Several of the 35mm prints were from the EYE Filmmuseum with title cards in Dutch. We had an English translation provided. And there were a couple of instances where characters names had changed, as noted. Donald Sosin provided the accompaniment at the piano.

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The Girl Without a Soul, USA 1917

Posted by keith1942 on July 27, 2017

This was another film scripted and directed by John H. Collins presented at the 2016 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. His star and wife, Viola Dana, had a double role in the film playing two identical sisters.

“…this enjoyable film fully justifies the casting of versatile Viola Dana in double roles, in which she achieves two distinct characterisations with a simple alteration of contrasting hair styles and nuanced changes of expression and body language: a steely-eyed concentration and selfishness as Priscilla and a warmth and, joy and trust as dog-loving Unity.” (Helen Day-Mayer and David Mayer in the Festival Catalogue).

These are the two daughters of violin maker Dominic Beaumont, Priscilla is a gifted violinist whilst Unity, ‘without a soul’ or ‘talent’ is confined to domestic labour. Priscilla’s lover is also a musician Ivor, whilst Unity’s beau is the village blacksmith, Hiram.

The plots develops around Hiram’s money box where he keeps the savings for his wedding to Unity, but also savings by the congregation for a new organ for the village chapel. Opportunistic Ivor inveigles Priscilla in helping him to steal the money. Suspicion falls on Hiram, in part because he has bought an expensive dress for the wedding for Unity. And it is Unity, as in other films starring Viola Dana, who must save Hiram from an unjust trial and punishment. However, Hiram is allowed his own action, chasing after the fleeing Ivor and apprehending him for justice.

Collins and his cinematographer John Arnold achieve some effective split screen shots to show Priscilla and Unity together in the frame. The Mayer’s also point out that the pair,

“collaborating on shots and sequences that define the rural environment in which the narrative unfolds: the romantic idyll Unity and Hiram share on a slow-moving river overhung with vegetation alongside a packed country courthouse evoked, not by those in attendance, but by the rows of buggies and spring wagons and their patient horses and mules, noses in feedbags parked under the leafy, sun-dappled sycamores – a tranquil scene sensationally disrupted by shady Ivor’s flight from justice.” (Festivals Catalogue).

So the country environment is evoked as successfully as in the other rural based drama Blue Jeans. And, as in that film, there is the evocative river journey. Blue Jeans also features the finely achieved hustings for the election: in this film  an equivalent sequence is the arrival of the new organ for the village chapel, with all the villagers in a attendance and celebrating this new acquisition.

Collins develops the plot by the use of well-placed flashbacks, which both fill out the action but also, as in the court hearing, add to the drama as we revisit a key scene. The sense of ‘Americana’ that we find in Collins work is here in the film’s reference to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as Unity recites his poem ‘The Village Blacksmith’ at the local girl’s school Commencement Day. This poem also ties neatly into her relationship with Hiram. As well as fine technical work Collins film’s have carefully developed plotlines with little redundant action and carefully placed ‘plants’ and ‘pay-offs’.

This was the only title from Collins at Le Giornate screened from a DCP: transferred from a copy held by the George Eastman Archive. The accompanying music was provided by Phil Carli at the piano with Günter Buchwald on the violin, including ‘dubbing’ the playing of Priscilla.

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The Cossack Whip, USA 2016

Posted by keith1942 on July 16, 2017

This was John H. Collins final film for a combination of companies, Kleine – Edison – Selig – Essanay. He then moved on to Metro. Collins had married up and coming star Viola Dana in 1915 and she was the star of this film  and continued in that role for Collins until his demise in 1918.  Helen-Day Mayer and David Mayer in the Le Giornate del Cinema Muto Catalogue, characterise the plot of this film.

“Not high art, but a melodrama to be enjoyed – as melodrama. Although the collapse of the Russian Army, virtually helpless under German attack, was well known in America in 1916, writer James Oppenheim and scenarist Paul Sloane fell back on a misgoverned, cruel and autocratic representation of Russia that had been the subject of numerous late-Victorian stage melodrama.”

In the early reels we have the despotic Tsarist secret police, secret revolutionaries [though without defined political content] and the innocent villagers caught up in the conflict. In the film we first meet the revolutionary band [ The Brotherhood] including Sergius (Richard Tucker). An attack on a train to free imprisoned radicals leads to searches of villages on the orders of Cossack officer Ivan Turov. This leads to a raid on the village where Darya (Viola Dana) and her family live,

The raid is a bravura sequence. A lone horsemen is seen on a hilltop amongst a snow-covered but desolate landscape. He is joined by other horsemen, seen in silhouette. Intercut with this are scenes of a village celebration for the betrothal of Darya’s sister Katerina (Grace Williams) to Alexis (Robert Walker). Then the mounted Cossacks attack the village, shooting, cutting down with sabres and pillaging. Some villagers, including children, are left for dead; others are marched off to the secret Police HQ for interrogation. Darya had managed to hide in a water barrel and hs emerges to see the dead and the desolation.

At the Police HQ the interrogation is supervised by Turov. With Katerina Turov shows her the torture of Alexis through a stone trap door above the cell where he is being beaten with a whip. Turov offers her Alexis’s life in exchange for her favours. However, after he has satisfied his lust, Katerina discovers that Alexis is actually now dead. Katerina is also beaten, and in a terminal state, she returns to the village with the whip used in the torture. Finding her and hearing her story Darya swears revenge.

The plot moves on. Darya flees to Moscow and joins the ballet troupe of which Sergius is also a member. However, the secret police force her to flee again, to London. Darya’s ballet career is furthered there by Madame Pojeska ((Sally Crute). But even here she is the subject of surveillance by a Tsarist spy. She also meets Sergius again.

The pair return to Russia where Darya becomes a featured dancer in the prestigious Imperial Ballet. This brings her to the attention of Turov who visits her dressing room and flirts with her. Darya takes up his invitation and he shows her the secret police HQ. He shows her the actual cell where Alexis and Katerina were tortured and the stone trap-door above. Playfully and flirtatiously examining the wall manacles in the cell, Darya inveigles Turov into letting her lock him in them. She now produces the whilst and proceeds to beat the helpless Turov. Tension is increased when a cut show the audience a man In Tsarist uniform above the cell as well as Turov’s Chinese servant. The uniformed officer turns out to be a fellow revolutionary who ends Turov’s agony by shooting him. This sequence once again uses the effective and relatively fast editing seen earlier in the film. At the climactic moment the dead Katerina is superimposed on her living sister. And the underground cell is presented with a blue tint which emphasise its forbidding nature.

Her revenge completed Darya can flee Russia with Sergius. We last see the pair entering

‘the land of the free’

as the ship passes the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour.

The plot line was not always clear to me and the ‘long arm of co-incidence’ seemed to operate. The geography of the film seemed very convenient, especially the visit to the secret Police HQ in the final reel. And credits seem to suggest two Turov’s: if so I did not distinguish them. And synopsis referred to Paris rather than London. However, the 35mm print for the screening seemed complete. Whatever the possible confusions in the plot this was an exemplary use of film techniques and seemingly radical for the period.

Jay Weisberg and Paolo Cherchi Usai’s introduction in the Festival Catalogue comments;

“A fine example of this [the fruitful collaboration of Collins and Dana) is The Cossack Whip, which can still astonish the modern viewer for the unbridled modernity of its style. The film is edited with an elegance and rhythm that could have made Eisenstein envious, and there is reason to suspect that Collin’s grasp of the medium flourished quite independently from Griffith’s influence.”

We also enjoyed a suitably dramatic accompaniment from Neil Brand at the piano.

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Beginnings of the Western, Pordenone 2016.

Posted by keith1942 on July 11, 2017

‘The Escape of Jim Dolan’.

 

These programmes continued the exploration started at Il Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2016. This year the focus was on films produced in 1912 and 1913 as the genre began to take shape in the early Hollywood studios. The first of three programmes presented cowboy films shot in California by these young companies.

At the End of the Trail was a Vitagraph production from 1912. This was a stock trade but with some distinctive features. A Sherriff [George C. Stanley] learns from a group of cowboys that they have seen a wanted horse thief. He sets off, with a wanted notice,  in pursuit of the Mexican. The meet and fight in a desert, [shades of the later Greed]. At first successful the Sherriff is wounded and overpowered by the Mexican. We follow the latter to his cabin where his daughter Mercedes is of a religious turn. She has  small religious shrine on the wall of  the cabin. Mercedes is also literate unlike her father, She reads the wanted poster that he has pick up but which he does not understand. Pointing to the cabin crucifix she accuses him. Lacking in morals and paternal care he attacks his daughter and leaves. The wounded sheriff, finding the Mexican’s horse caught tin a bramble bush, arrives at the cabin. Mercedes tends his wounds. Then the Mexican returns. Mercedes is killed in the shootout. Now a posse of Cowboys arrive. Standing round Mercedes grave they all remove their hats, except the Mexican, obdurate to the last.

The film was projected form a 35mm print with Dutch intertitles and translation. Filmed in the familiar fairly standard long and mid-shots. What stood out was the tinting in the desert sequences. This was a sort of yellow-brown, suggestive of the later yellow tinting in the Stroheim’s ‘Greed’. In terms of representation there was the familiar Mexican stereotype with the daughter a good and sacrificial character to offset this.

A Wife in the Hills (1912) was produced at the Essanay studio and was part of a famous series, “Broncho Billy”. ‘Billy’ was played by G. M Anderson, founder of the studio and the regular writer and director of these westerns. Not all the characters he plays are “Broncho Billy”. In this film he is an outlaw Bart McGrew. The plot of the film parallels in an odd way the preceding film, At the End of the Trail. Bart’s partner Don Trout (Brinsley Shaw) is having an affair with McGrew’s wife (Vedah Bertram). So seeing  a wanted notice that offers a pardon to any gang members who turns himself in he sells out Bart to the Sherriff. At his arrest Bart realises about the affair and the betrayal. Later he escapes from prison and is pursued by a posse. But reaching the cabin he has run out of ammunition. In a providential intervention a shot by the posse hits and kills Don,. As his unfaithful wife tends the body Bart smiles! This is an usually ironic ending for an early western.

The film was screened from another 35mm print from the EYE Museum. The chase sequence is fairly extended and as it nears the cabin the spatial relationships become slightly confused. And at one point the camera ‘crosses the line’, a technique not yet elevated into a taboo. Richard Abel in the Festival Catalogue noted:

“[this] makes the shooting of Trout all the more grimly ironic – and a sharp contrast to the ending of Essanay’s A Pal’s Oath (1911), shown last year in Pordenone, in which Broncho Billy decides not to exact vengeance when, through an open window, he finds his nemesis embracing his wife (Billy’s former lover) and child.”

The Greater Love USA 1912 was from the Vitagraph Company. The story is simple but the treatment is notable. The Kansas Kid (Robert Thorny) is the subject of a wanted notice. Meanwhile the Sheriff  (Fred Burns) has  a sweetheart (Edna Fisher). She tends a wounded stranger who turns out to be the Kansas Kid. She and the Kid also feel a mutual attraction. This leads to a dispute between the Kid and the Sheriff, who only later realise that the man is the wanted outlaw. Following  a pursuit the Sheriff is wounded and the kid takes him back to be tended by his sweetheart. The grateful Sheriff shakes his hand.

Richard Abel provided some informative notes in the Festival catalogue.

“This surviving film print [35mm] includes a range of tinting characteristic of the period, which differentiates one time of day from another as well as exteriors from interiors.”

He goes on to note the stylistic treatment in the film:

“It also uses a series of objects to effectively highlight key moments in the story: the wanted poster, a rain barrel, a flower, several written notes, and a photograph.”

The poster appears at least three times. And the photograph functions to inform or influence both the Sheriff and the outlaw. And in addition,

“this Vitagraph film deploys eye-line match editing, in not one but two scenes: the fist involving the sheriff and the young woman; the second (with one mismatch), the gunfight between the Sheriff and the Kid.”

I also thought, [but only on one viewing] that there was match when the Sheriff observes the glances between outlaw and the young woman. Also what struck me as uncommon was a high angle camera shot as the Sheriff and the outlaw face off for their confrontation.

Richard Abel’s commentary also left me uncertain. I noted that after the return of the wounded Sherriff and the handshake between him and the outlaw that the cowboy posse also shook the hand of the outlaw. I may have misread this shot as Abel writes:

“but the Sheriff’s men still arrest the Kid and lead him away.”

The Escape of Jim Dolan, USA 1913.

This was a two reel Selig western, the 35mm print including tinting in parts. The plot is full of incident and action. Jim Dolan is false accused by the Foreman of Brown Ranch because of they both admire the Rancher’s daughter Grace. However, there is also a dispute over water rights. The foreman buries a cattle hide on Dolan’s claim, resulting in Jim being convicted for cattle stealing and sentenced to ten years in jail. A title card announces

“The Escape of Jim Dolan.”

Grace smuggles in tools hidden in a basket of food. Jim breaks out at night and is soon pursued by Posse. Hindered by his horse going lame, Jim hides in a river, ingeniously breathing through the barrel of his gun [is that technically possible?]. But his troubles continue. He is captured by Apache and tortured. But the rope which ties him to the horse as it gallops breaks and Jim is assisted by a passing prospector. Back near the ranch a bar brawl leads to the confession of the Foreman. Reading of his innocence in newspaper Jim returns to his claim and to grace.

Jim is played by Tom Mix, a major star and noted for his horsemanship. So one impressive sequence has Jim fleeing on a relay of horses as he escapes from prison and the posse. Mix manages to dismount and then remount

“In scarcely more than a second’s space.” (New York Dramatic Mirror quoted in the Catalogue).

The Rattlesnake – A Psychical Species, USA 1913.

This was a delightfully bizarre western. The 35mm print was missing one section, so the details in the Catalogue relied on the Lubin Film Co. synopsis.

“For those weary of cowboys, cowgirls, and Indians, Romaine Fielding’s The Rattlesnake – a film that still brings gasps – gives us an unclichéd and ruggedly symbolic West. Lubin advertised it as a “strange and weird story” of “a man’s gratitude to a snake for saving his life.” The two-reeler is set in Mexico, and was filmed around Las Vegas, New Mexico, east of Santa Fe, where the landscape looks as unforgiving as the story’s obsessive central figure, played by the director.” (Scott Simmon in the Catalogue).

Tony’s life is saved when the rattlesnake bites an assailant who subsequently dies. Tony, full of gratitude, adopts the snake. However, his girlfriend Inez (Mary Ryan) demands that he choose between her and his reptilian friend. Seven years pass and Inez has married John Gordon ((Jesse Robinson). When Tony attempts to shoot Gordon he ends up being bitten by the snake. By the close the snake is dead and Tony has lost an arm.

This is the only full-length film of Romaine Fielding to survive. though he worked on over a 100 between 1912 and 1915. One wonders if there were imaginative but sadly lost melodramas about horses, cattle, donkeys, and of course dogs. I would be happier, though, if the film did not repeat the stereotypical representation of snakes as untrustworthy.

As Simmon notes the film’s use of landscape is excellent. The New York Dramatic Mirror praised the film but could not resist a rather obvious pun:

“The venom of jealousy has never furnished a better basis for a story than this film portrays. Nor have we in years seen this plot germ presented in a manner more original in conception and development. Romaine Fielding struck upon a singularly appropriate personification of this character  trait in the use of a rattlesnake … Hi shows the hand … of a master of technique in his development of atmosphere to the last essence.” (Quoted in the Catalogue).

The Trail of Cards, USA 1913

This title from the American Film Company was preserved on a 35mm at the Library of Congress. [The same title occurs in the same year on a Selig sea-faring film]. It was noted re the Western,

“In 1913 ”Moving Picture World’ published a list of narrative “bromides” that scriptwriters would do well to avoid if they desired to steer clear of clichéd storytelling. … But The Trail of Cards was singled out for redeeming [a] …hackneyed situation by giving it a “brand new twist”. (Festival Catalogue).

The ‘hackneyed’ story involved two suitors for the one young woman, Bess (or Rose – Lillian Christy). The two suitors, Bob (Edward Coxen) and Pedro (no credit), test their mettle in a fight which Bob wins. Thus he wins Bess. However Pedro has his men kidnap Bess and carry her off – in a hammock slung between two horses. We actually see Bess’s mother vainly shooting after the kidnappers. The ‘twist’ is that Bess leaves a trail of playing cards which Bob and Bess’s father follow to rescue her.

This short film is stylistically innovatory, as Charlie Keil [in the Catalogue] points out:

“Tracking shots recur throughout the film, [most frequently as Bess plants the ‘trail of cards’], and a notable variant serves wrap up the plot: the reunited couple ride towards her ranch as the camera dollies backward, …”

In some ways this film could have slotted into the later ‘cowgirl’ programme.

Philip Carli provided the accompaniment for the films. The films were projected at 18 fps except A Wife in the Hills projected at 16 fps. Most often frame rates are a judgement by archivists. These all looked fine and offered steady movement. The rate of filming and projection in this early period is an intriguing issue.

 

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Behind the Door, USA 1919

Posted by keith1942 on June 20, 2017

Robert Byrne’s notes in the Festival Catalogue for this film open:

“Behind the Door’s reputation as a shocking film, for any period, is fully justified. “Brutal”, “overwhelming,” and “diabolical” were some of the adjectives used to describe it upon release, and few viewers today will gainsay those reactions. Yet the film was also nearly universally praised as a thrilling, exceptionally well-made story that could boast top-notch technical achievements alongside superb performances.”

The general consensus at Il Giornate del Cinema Muto was that these comments were correct, both about the shock and about the quality offered by the film. It was screened in the ‘Rediscoveries and Restorations’ section. The producer was Thomas H. Ince, a key film player in the teens; and directed by Irvin V Willat, a director whose other work I have not seen. The story in the film played into the prejudice against German-American citizens in the USA during, and for a time after, World War I. Luther Reed adapted a short story that appeared in McClure’s Magazine in 1918, playing against the common prejudices with a story of a German -American who fights in the US navy. The adaptation seems to have been skilled piece of work. The film also benefitted from location shooting, and the use of an actual submarine  in some sequences. The film has been restored using prints in the Library of Congress and another print from Gosfilmond [which had been changed in line with common practices in the Soviet Union]. The current 35 print is still short of some 700 feet which have been covered by the use of stills and additional title cards.

The main character is Oscar Krug (Hobart Bosworth) a German-American who owns a taxidermist shop in a small coastal town in Maine. At the start of the film as news arrives that Congress has voted to join in the European war, Oscar becomes ht object of small town prejudice. This is stirred up by two members of the local bourgeoisie, bankers, Mathew Morse (J. P. Lockney) and his partner Mark Arnold (Otto Hoffman). Oscar refuses to be intimidated and is involved in fight with one local, Jim MacTavish (James Gordon). This is impressive knock-about fight which ends with MacTavish who opines that Oscar’s fight prowess makes him

‘one regular American’.

We also meet Morse’s daughter Alice (Jane Novak) who is in love with Oscar. As the fight gets underway, in her fear, Alice drops her handkerchief. Despite her father’s opposition she and Oscar marry. Oscar then enlists in the navy accompanied by MacTavish. Unable to bear parting Alice hides herself on the ship, the Perth, that Oscar captains; he has seafaring experience. This leads to the central tragedy of the film. The Perth is sunk by a German U-Boat. After 48 hours in a life boat Alice is ‘rescued’ by the U-Boat, whilst Oscar is cast adrift in the boat. Later in the war, captaining a armed cruiser, Oscar’s ship sinks a U-Boat and the sole survivor is Lieutenant Brandt, (Wallace Beery) and it transpires that he commanded the submarine that kidnapped Alice. The film now follows Oscar’s brutal revenge.

Oscar interrogates Brandt, but he uses his German and a pretended sympathy for the German cause to entrap Brandt into telling him of his exploits. These include the rape of a female survivor [clearly Alice], and having satisfied his lust she is tossed to the crudities of the crew. Brandt’s unintended confession is accompanied by flashbacks. These are not explicit in the manner of modern film but still shocking for the period. We see Alice cowering before Brandt who manhandles her. Then she is pushed through a door where a back projection shows her carted off by the crew. her death takes place off-screen. But wee then see a bundle dumped in the sea using the submarine’s torpedo tube.

Having established Brandt’s guilt Oscar proceeds to his revenge. Chaining Brandt up in a cubicle and producing a scalpel. The ensuing torture was too brutal even for this film. And after an ellipsis MacTavish and a fellow officer find Oscar with the corpse, as the widower explains,

“I told him … that if I ever caught him I’d skin him alive; but he died before I’d finished … Damn him.!”

These lines actually concluded the original play. But the film achieves a more melancholy feel by the addtion of an opening sequined which recruiters at the closure. So at the start we find an unidentified figure on a bleak Maine cliff-top at an isolated cemetery. He stops by a grave, one James MacTavish. He continues into a deserted town and a ramshackled shop, the old taxidermists. Hr picks up a scrap of cloth, a handkerchief  as it is blown across the floor proceed by the wind. A lonely dog is shown to howl.  When we return at then end we are again in the taxidermist shop. The ghostly figures of Alice and Oscar appear and embrace.

This is a fine drama and the restoration looks good. The original editing is excellent, especially during the fisticuffs between MacTavish and Oscar. The cinematography is well done, and the locations help make the melodrama convincing. There is one sequence where Bosworth clings to the conning tower of the diving submarine; using an actual vessel the actor nearly suffered a serious mishap. The inserted stills and title cards fill in the gap in the plot. And there is fine tinting which has been carefully reproduced. Phil Carli provided a fine accompaniment, emphasising at times the romance, at other the tension and finally the sense of melancholy.

And it seems we have the San Francisco Silent Film Festival to thank for this worthy addition to the archives.

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Tempest, USA 1928

Posted by keith1942 on April 28, 2017

This film was part of the programme dedicated to William Cameron Menzies at the 2016 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. Apart from Menzies the film had a fairly mixed group of filmmakers contributing. James Curtis, in the Festival Catalogue, records this:

When first announced, the John Barrymore vehicle Tempest was an original story by Mme. Fred de Gresac. Directing the script would be Frank Lloyd, late of Paramount. The title stuck, but little else did. Lloyd fell away sometime over the spring of 1927, as did Mme. de Gresac’s material, and Russian émigré Viktor Tourjansky, under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer replaced him. The news story, set in the time of the Russian revolution was supplied by Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, Tourjansky’s mentor at the Moscow Art Theatre.  … As veteran scenarist C. Gardner Sullivan got down to work on the screenplay, Menzies began the process of illustrating key sequences with Tourjansky.”

Slow production led to Tourjansky being ‘assisted’ by Lewis Milestone. There were changes to the cast and then Sam Taylor was bought in as director.

“”I don’t know anything about Russia,” the former gag man for Harold Lloyd to Considine.”

But producer John W. Considine of Feature Productions. Inc. kept him in charge. Taylor junked nearly all the material already filmed and working closely with Menzies and Sullivan directed the film that we now have. [a 35mm print 9203 feet long, it ran for 102 minutes at 24 fps, [we are entering the sound era].

The film was designed for John Barrymore and he dominates the story and the screen. There is even an exterior scene by a river where he is able to bare his manly chest. The 1920s was Barrymore’s heyday in film. The other casting changed several times but the romantic interest was finally played by Camilla Horn. Horn, a German actress, came to fame in F. W. Murnau’s Faust (1926), which led to a Hollwyood contract. Alongside Barrymore in the film is Louis Wolheim, who worked with the star on both stage and screen. The film’s villain was actually a Russian actor working in Hollywood, Boris de Fast. And there are other familiar faces among the supporting cast including g George Fawcett, a silent regular as authority or patriarchal figure.

The plot is simple and conventional. Sergeant Ivan Markov (Barrymore), is of peasant origin, but excellent at his work. He aims to become an officer, and despite the class hierarchy in the Tsarist army, he succeeds. This is partly due to the General (Fawcett) who has a high opinion of Ivan. Sergeant Bulba (Wolheim) is Ivan’s friend and confidant. However, now promoted Lieutenant, Ivan is treated with disdain by his fellow Officers. More wounding is the disdain shown by the General’s daughter, Princess Tamara (Horn). Falling in love with Tamara, despite her arrogance, Ivan gets drunk and is found ‘in flagrante delicto’. He is court-martialled and sentenced to five years in prison. Whilst incarcerated World War I breaks out and Ivan watches his troops march off through his prison bars.

All this time Ivan has been pursued and cajoled by a peddler, in reality a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. Now Ivan is suffering the treatment the Peddler predicted. Moreover, now the prophecy of the ‘Red day dawning’ comes to past. Freed Ivan becomes a leader among the revolutionaries. He now takes revenge on his former arrogant officers, presiding over the court [in black jacket astrakhan hat] where they are sentenced to death as members of the hated aristocracy. But then, first the General and then Tamara are bought for trial. Ivan’s heart overrules his head. He outsmarts the Peddler turned Commissar. Whilst he is too late to save the General, He, Tamara and Bulba flee the new revolutionary state.

Tempest (1928)
Directed by Sam Taylor
Shown from left: Boris de Fast, John Barrymore

Given the presence of at least two ‘white Russian’ émigrés the finale of the film is not surprising. And I do not know whether Nemirovich-Danchenko was asked or paid for his story. Indeed, how faithful the film was to its source. Curtis notes that Taylor

“began anew, working more closely with Menzies’ illustrations than with the script Sullivan had fashioned.”

In fact, it is a very conventional Hollywood narrative, with the new Revolutionary and free Soviet Union as an ‘evil empire’. An opening title offers,

” a red tempest of terror’.

Ivan is never a card-carrying revolutionary. He is misused and abused by the military hierarchy. When the opportunity arises he takes revenge, but then his love for a ‘good’ [and suitably chastened] woman saves him. Needless to say the likeable General dies but the likable Bulba leaves with the romantic couple.

The style of the film is fairly conventional but it enjoys some excellent cinematography by Charles Rosher: he, among other accolades, was the favourite cameraman of Mary Pickford. There is some excellent use of chiaroscuro, especially in the prison sequences. And there are some very effective use of insert shots for flashbacks experienced by Ivan.

What stands out about the film is the design of Menzies. Curtis notes:

“For Tempest, Menzies rendered a less-stylised version of Russia that he had for The Eagle (1925, set in the time of Catherine the Great], but on more comprehensive. He would later speak of the importance of setting and lighting in securing a desired emotional effect, and how, in many cases., authenticity was sacrificed and architectural principles violated for the sake of the emotional response being sought.”

So the film offered not an authentic Russia, not an accurate history, certainly not a detached view of the revolution. One anomaly is a picture of Joseph Stalin on the wall where Ivan and the Commissar confer: presumably in 1917.  Menzies work was praised by critics, [presumably mainly anti-Bolshevik] and the film apparently did good business in the cinemas.

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Kindred of the Dust, USA 1922

Posted by keith1942 on April 9, 2017

This film was directed by Raoul Walsh and produced by the short lived R.A.Walsh Company. This was one of the businesses in which Walsh attempted independent productions before returning to Fox in the mid-twenties: he had left in 1920. The film was part of the programme at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2016 celebrating the Production Design of William Cameron Menzies. Walsh had recruited him from Famous Players. They were to work together again on The Thief of Bagdad (1924) with a far more lavish production budget.

The film was screened from a 35mm print from the George Eastman Museum. The print was 7,205 feet; 200 feet shorter than the original release. It was projected at 20 fps.

The scenario was an adaptation of a popular novel by Peter B. Kyne,. Kyne was a successful novelist with a number of film adaptations. The most famous was ‘Three Godfathers’ (1913) of which there to have been ten film adaptations. The famous version is that directed in 1948 by John Ford and starring John Wayne. But the most memorable version is Hells’ Heroes (1930, William Wyler) screened at the 1994 Pordenone. That occasion was memorable for the addition of a [surprise] rendition of ‘Silent Night’ for the final tear jerking moments.

Kindred of the Dust is set on the Pacific Northwest coast in logging terrain. It stars Walsh’s wife Miriam Cooper as Nan [of the Sawdust Pile]. She and Donald Mckaye (Ralph Graves) are childhood friends and remain so as adults. Donald’s father Laird of Tyee (Lionel Belmore) owns the logging company. Thus Nan and Donald’s budding relationship is inhibited by the class divide. The differences are symbolised in the film by the Mckaye mansion and Nan’s family home outside of which sits the metaphoric ‘sawdust pile’.

Donald goes east to college and Nan leaves town and works as a singer. When she returns she has an illegitimate child: sparking off the town gossips. When Donald returns these factors inhibit a new relationship. Donald’s conflict with his father leads to him working at a rival logging company. He suffers an accident and is nursed by Nan. They marry but the Laird continues his opposition: it is only when a second child, a grandchild arrives, that he, Donald and Nan are reconciled and become the ‘kindred of the dust’.

The film is full of stock melodramatic situations and actions. The romance between Nan and Donald suffers one problem after another. One notable scene concerns Donald’s return. He is embroiled in a fight with a rough neighbour of Nan’s, a black man. An unusual situation for this period.

The Catalogue review by James Curtis includes the following:

Kindred of the Dust was a real old-fashioned melodramatic story, ” wrote Miriam Cooper, “full of tough, straightforward heroines, mean, vicious villains and long-suffering heroines. My costumes in the picture tell the story, all grubby homespun and calico. After reels and reels of hardship and fighting you are convinced that nobody can ever be happy. Then, gee whiz, the heroine – me, of course – has a baby and everything turns out all right.”

It is only towards the end of the film that the narrative make use of timber industry and landscape. After his accident Donald returns as a foreman. There is an engine failure at the log slide. Donald rescues the Laird from the river, including some spectacular underwater shots. And this leads to the final reconciliation .

The film was accompanied by Gabriel Thibaudeau on the piano.

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