Archive for Paths to Paradise

Get Off The Earth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 16, 2012 by dcairns

From arch-Shadowplayer Mark Medin, this poster for a Raymond Griffith comedy that never got made — I think the coming of sound stymied it, since Griffith famously had damaged vocal cords and couldn’t speak above a whisper. In any case, it looks like a gigantic project ~

The sensational comedy novelty of

1926, from “The Ship That Sailed

to Mars” by W.M. Timlin.

THE high-hat comedian absolutely tops every-

thing he has ever done in his life before in this

startling surprise offering! Hurrying down Fifth

Avenue, New York, to his wedding, Raymond sud-

denly spins right off the earth up into a dizzy but

delightful paradise of beautiful damsels, mon-

strous-sized animals and more fun than twenty

normal worlds like ours! Of course Raymond

comes back to earth and marries the girl but — ?

Clarence Badger directed PATHS TO PARADISE which, though sadly incomplete, is perhaps the best surviving R.G. comedy. I recommend it. And if you should find yourself in a parallel universe where GET OFF THE EARTH was made (perhaps with FX by Willis O’Brien, but more likely using the animatronic dinosaur approach put together by William Cameron Menzies and his team for Howard Hawks’ FIG LEAVES), please check it out and report back to me.

Poster was originally uploaded by Bruce Calvert, to whom thanks are due.

The Sunday Intertitle: Reaction Time

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on May 29, 2011 by dcairns

THE NIGHT CLUB (1925) isn’t very well plotted, the gags aren’t brilliantly clever, the title is utterly irrelevant and the direction is decent but mostly uninspired, but it is nevertheless a film at which to laugh off one’s ass.

The reason is Raymond Griffith, near-forgotten silent comedy star, whose ability to react entertainingly to whatever’s going on around him means that the actual action of the film needn’t be particularly funny. This is established early on, when RG is jilted at the altar, a particularly good situation for this unusual comic: he has no interest in our sympathy, so he can simply exploit the sutuation, moment for moment, to get the maximum comedy out of it. As I’ve said before, his reaction upon learning that he stands to inherit a million dollars allows him to make a rapid recovery from heartbreak and demonstrate an amazing mastery of detail and nuance and lightning-change emotional quicksilvering.

Resolving to escape women, and particularly the one he’s now expected to marry in order to inherit (yes, this is one of those “unbelievable farce-type plots” Buster Keaton inveighed against), Ray takes off on holiday and runs smack into the girl. They fall in love at once, and then the plot has to keep inventing obstacles to what promises to be the most premature happy ending on record, occurring as it does somewhere near the end of act I. Complications include a murderous Mexican bandit played by Wallace Beery, a man who imbibed gusto with his mother’s milk. Louise Fazenda plays Carmen, the hot-blooded spitfire/stereotype.

Directors Paul Iribe and Frank Urson, who made the splendid DeMille production of CHICAGO, keep the thing moving as fast as possible to hide the threadbare narrative, and do deliver on an exciting chase, which has some of the accelerated-motion POV thrills that make the climax of Griffith’s PATHS TO PARADISE so breathtaking. Fight scenes are notable for the use of floppy dummies to substitute for RG during the dangerous bits, which always cracks me up. It’s cheating, of course, and the kind of thing which Keaton would never settle for, but it’s still very funny. Griffith is pretty brave when it comes to falling off tables and such, but he clearly had no intention of getting himself killed. His acrobatics lack Chaplin’s balletic elegance or Keaton’s simpler flap-shoe grace — unlike his contemporaries, Griffith was at his very best in scenes of talk, emotion, embarrassment and general medium-shot facial expressiveness. I’m not for a moment suggesting that Chaplin, Keaton, or Lloyd or Langdon or Stan and Ollie couldn’t do those things, just that it’s an area of special emphasis with Ray G.

Sublime fatuity.

Raymond Griffith: A Physiognomic Appreciation

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on March 9, 2011 by dcairns

You’ll be hearing a lot about this young fellow!

I first took note of him after stumbling across THE SURF GIRL, a better-than-average Keystone knockabout. Griffith intrigues in it by his lack of exaggeration and ability to suggest more than one thought or emotion flickering across his countenance at a time: an unheard of thing at the Sennett studio.

Now I’ve seen a few more of his features (cinematic, not facial) and will be writing about all of them as Griffith strikes me as a major and, yes, Forgotten talent.

But first, his face.

Although svelte of form, Griffith has heavy, slightly jowelly lower features. Rather like Doug Fairbanks in that sense, perennially super-fit and nimble as he appeared: zero per cent body fat, sixty per cent chin fat. The bell-bottomed face is really the only unattractive thing about Raymond, in principle, but he exults in using his face to create delightfully unpleasing effects: but not by any contortion or grimacing. He just smiles in a subtly but distinctly horrible way (the curl of the lip), or otherwise makes himself uglier than he naturally is.

It’s a sort of inverse William Powell effect. Powell had a face like a raccoon, but made himself suave and dashing through elegant styling and an air of almost genetic debonairness. He could act handsome and make you believe it. Raymond Griffith was a decent-looking fellow who enjoyed making himself seem positively indecent.

While other comics of the period celebrated the moustache in all its more baroque and rococo variations, Griffith adorned his philtrum area with a simple, Dabney Coleman-type brush, such as you might see hanging around any street corner. Even today, when the facial fuzz is less favoured, you might still pass a half-dozen moustaches of the Griffith style in a day’s perambulation and think little of it. It’s an upper-lip decoration that refuses to draw attention to itself.

So with Griffith, although he makes sure he gets your attention.

Here he is in two sequences from HANDS UP!

Broad stuff — the Warners cartoon style avant la lettre. But Griffith keeps his own contribution simple. Other scenes in the movie play in a slower and more subtle register altogether. There are two entire features on YouTube, HANDS UP! and PATHS TO PARADISE. Well, I say entire — all prints of PTP are missing the final reel, but it’s still a very satisfying film.

It’s taken me forty years of film viewing to stumble on Griffith, with a little help from Walter Kerr’s The Silent Clowns. Based on this, I’d be inclined to call him the most shamefully neglected performer in Hollywood history.

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