Archive for Beggar on Horseback

The Sunday Intertitle: Who Hears a Horton?

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on December 6, 2009 by dcairns

Approaching King Vidor’s LA BOHEME, I was of course fired up to see what Vidor would make of Henri Murger’s Scènes de la vie bohème, aided by Lillian Gish and John Gilbert. But then I discovered that Edward Everett Horton was in it as well, and I got all excited about that.

Now, it would be grotesque to for one moment to suggest that anything involving Mr Horton, the original forked radish, could ever be a disappointment, but I have to say that in the end, Horton’s contribution to this movie was but minor. Although he did have some success in silents, starring in BEGGAR ON HORSEBACK for James Cruze, Horton was an actor who really needed to talk, and when he got his chance, he did so prodigiously, and in an amusingly flustered fashion. Deprived of speech, and surrounded by other actors of varying shapes, one of whom is fat and has a scene-stealing monkey, Horton rather fades into the background. His day will come.

Lovable moptop Horton, left. Monkey, second from right.

Meanwhile there’s the dynamic Gilbert, a very showy physical player whose career took the opposite route to Horton’s: sound killed him. A top star at MGM, he plummeted into alcoholism and unemployment when audiences laughed at his voice, or rather the studio-trained enunciation he had been compelled to adopt. Gilbert is in my favourite film, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, but he was never my favourite thing in it: he’s a sort of spindly enthusiast, rendered lightweight by the sheer dramatic force of Lon Chaney. By the time of LA BOHEME Gilbert’s filled out a bit, so his enthusiastic leaping about has a more manly, Doug Fairbanks zest to it. And in the tragic moments he has a real sensitivity.

Of course, la Gish is pre-eminent. Artfully draped with hanging rags, she plays the waif to end all waifs. Her tiny, childlike frame and skeletal hands, with that big china-doll head and impossibly delicate features… and her physical acting is just incredible, evoking the most agonizing journey as our heroine, summoned by telepathic impulse, drags her dying body across Paris to be reunited once more with the man she loves. She makes you feel her tortured breathing even in extreme long-shot, as in this frame, where Vidor pits her against one of his most spectacular architectural compositions.

Maybe it’s ’cause I’m fighting a cold, but this movie had me in shreds at the end. As Ray Bradbury said of THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, “The damn thing still works.”

(Am too feverish to provide better stills or fix weird colour fluctuations in text — think of this as a visual representation of my state of health.)

Ain’t seen this one…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 1, 2008 by dcairns

The 1912 version, extracted. I like the simplicity, probably a necessity since the whole film is only 11 minutes long. Also, Jekyll is old, which is rarely the case in subsequent versions. The changeover is a straightforward jump-cut, a la Melies. Something to build on in future versions. Hyde seems to be somehow more working class, and also afflicted with partial paralysis and missing his front teeth. But I’m not knocking him.

Jekyll’s played by James Cruze, later a director of seriously deranged mainstream Hollywood flicks like THE GREAT GABBO and the Edward Everett Horton star vehicle (!) BEGGAR ON HORSEBACK. Cruze seems to have had a volatile mixture of talent and anti-talent: his bad choices are often more interesting than his good ones.

Although Cruze is credited for both roles, apparently in some scenes Hyde is actually played by Harry Benham — I have no idea why. The idea of separate actors makes complete sense to me, and if we stopped treating the part as a tour de force for a single actor and just cast different guys, the thing would work much more naturally. But separate actors for just SOME SCENES — that’s wonderfully mad. They should have called it THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF MR. HYDE.

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