Laughing Academy

Hollywood’s treatment of mental illness often falls short of the sensitive, but Gregory La Cava, no stranger to confusion, achieves something interesting with PRIVATE WORLDS. Here, the certifiable characters are indeed somewhat stereotyped and unlikely, but the sane ones get themselves in an even bigger mess, and worse, they know what they’re doing.

Screened recently at EIFF, the rarely-seen movie finds its way to The Forgotten, over at The Daily Notebook.

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17 Responses to “Laughing Academy”

  1. Seems to be a bit like Minnelli’s THE COBWEB(also starring Charles Boyer). There are quite a few fictional films about mental hospitals (until the latter-day gentrification of psychopaths as prophets rather than patients) in the old days. Scorsese manages to refer to all of them in Shutter Island – Shock Corridor, Freud, The Cobweb, Titticut Follies, Let There Be Light, Lilith and of course The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari counts. but when pressed he admitted that he hadn’t seen LaCava’s Private Worlds.

  2. You can see from the copy I was working from it doesn’t screen often. Fortunately the Film Festival’s print was in good shape.

    The Cobweb is definitely a descendant of Private Worlds, and the mission seems to be to erode the comfortable divisions between “them” and “us” — a worthy project.

  3. “It’s a very simple role, Oscar, just do what you would normally do…”

  4. Robert Keser Says:

    That’s cinematographer Leon Shamroy (in the dark suit) standing to the far right in the first photo.

    I’m not so sure those are zoom shots in the first clip, though, rather than very rapid “shock” dollying-in movements. It’s hard to tell since the telltale distortion that appears in the background of zoom shots doesn’t show up clearly here. There were only two or three zoom lenses in Hollywood in 1935, one of which was devised by Joseph Walker at Columbia, though Shamroy could have borrowed one of these, of course.

    It’s an interesting film in many ways, but has been so rarely revived in cinemas that having a decent print available to see on the big screen is an opportunity cinemagoers should not miss.

  5. Thanks! Paramount made regular use of the zoom lens in the early thirties, with Love Me Tonight being one example among many. I think the first fast move is a track, the others are zooms, particularly when they’re shooting up from a low angle. But I’d love to have a vote on it.

  6. Many (not all) of those shots look like zooms to me.

    For anyone’s who’s interested, Paramount had the first zoom in 1927 and used that zoom the same year in IT. I have a list of Paramount films of the era where the zoom can be seen. Walker’s zoom patent is from 1929, but allegedly he’d been working on it longer than that. It merely differed in detail from Paramount’s, as it was only the mechanism of controlling the zoom which was patentable. A commercially available cine zoom came out in 1932, the Cooke Varo, which was sold by Bell & Howell.

  7. In order to track straight in on somebody from a low angle without tilting they’d have had to be on a ramp, so I think the zoom is the only option. Plus the movement has that zoom-bar slide feeling about it.

  8. I also make a note whether I see any focus pulling which is a dead giveaway it’s not a zoom. Unfortunately in that clip, the resolution isn’t good enough for me to see any. I have seen a possible track/zoom done in one 1930 Paramount film, but again the print resolution didn’t allow me to confirm it. That would be an ambitious move with the cameras of the time.

  9. Christopher Says:

    “dying from insanity?” lol :o)

  10. Sam Hutchinson Says:

  11. I saw Private Worlds on 16mm a week ago, a pretty good print, and that’s when I formed the view that they were zooms, the first one being the only doubtful one.

  12. The first one felt like it was partially a zoom, but I wouldn’t bet money for or against until I see a good print.

  13. Robert Keser Says:

    Very interesting. I would love to see that list of early Paramount zoom shots. (Maybe it would justify my vague memory of a zoom in A Farewell to Arms).

  14. Mark, can we run that list as a Shadowplay post?

  15. I haven’t gotten to A FAREWELL TO ARMS yet! I’m making the list as I go along watching all sorts of Paramount films, generally from 1929-33, and not limited to big productions, either. It could just as easily show use in a Charlie Ruggles comedy as an expensive A production.

    Late silent use of the zoom is difficult to document as an appalling number of ’27-’28 Paramounts are lost. WINGS was one production said to have used it, but I don’t know if it’s in the finished film (e.g. I don’t remember any zooms and haven’t bought the WINGS Blu-Ray).

    Our host helped me a great deal in compiling what I have list-wise.

  16. Sure! It’s certainly an incomplete list and can be added to if anyone has seen another. I didn’t limit it to Paramount, but I can make one just of those, if you’d like.

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