The Father’s Day Intertitle
An intertitle from TWINKLETOES, a Colleen Moore vehicle directed, improbably enough, by master of savagery Charles BEAST OF THE CITY Brabin.
But I’m not here to talk about TWINKLETOES, no sir! Since I’m a Raymond Griffith fan and my superb Dad is a cycling fan, Paul Bern’s movie OPEN ALL NIGHT seems the perfect combination of our interests. A would-be romantic comedy set during the Paris six-day cycle race, it also acquires some inadvertent interest by being a virtual paean to the merits of domestic violence…
Adolphe Menjou plays a happily married middle-class chap who shuns the more violent ways of his sex — we learn this as he observes, through binoculars, a neighbour thrashing his spouse with a flail, and shakes his head smilingly. However, his wife Viola Dana, who reads racy novels (ie s&m porn) in the bath, has a yen for a bruising, and taunts her husband as an ineffectual fop.
Enter a busybody friend, who arranges for Viola to be introduced to an authentic brute, France’s bicycling champion, with the idea that she’ll soon tire of such treatment and come rushing back to dear hubby. So we decamp to the velodrome, but by chance Adolphe meets the cyclist’s gal pal, and she’s feeling like a change herself and thinks un vrai gentleman might be just the thing…
For a silent rom-com, the movie features a lot of cycling — here’s the introduction to the sporting arena.
Note the offensive stereotyping of the African cyclist. They might have at least had the American chewing gum and the Brit smoking a pipe to partially compensate…
The six-day race was an odd event. Teams of two cyclists representing each competing nation would take it in relays, three hours cycling, three hours rest, for six days and five nights. This peculiar arrangement, seemingly designed by sadists, was intended to allow professional cyclists to earn a living all year round, and not just in the good weather. But the race was transacted in a smoke-filled velodrome, poisoned by the tobacco fumes of the society audience, who boozed and slept and cheered and booed and generally created a bizarre carnival atmosphere, well-evoked in the movie.
The whole thing ends with Adolphe reunited with his wife, manhandling her mildly, generating a small bruise, and winning her devotion. The muscular Frenchman, whose spectacular mustache suggests a forest fire raging in his nostrils, cheats and is defeated, and his squeeze rushes to his side. Mild brutality carries the day. The whole thing is deeply sinister in its sexual politics.
But! What of Raymond Griffith? Well, this was one of his early movies, after his Keystone period but before he’d garnered leading roles in features, so he’s along for the ride as a drunken Russian waiter from New York who’s planning to become “the next Hollywood sheik.” This allows for some good inebriated schtick, and this memorable final moment for him —
“No emotion!” was Griffith’s motto, which is surprising when you consider how expressive he is. And here he comes very close to being heartbreaking, but it’s all a set-up for making you laugh at him, and then he lets you off the hook by delivering a happy ending so you don’t feel guilty for laughing at that pitiable moment. Clever man.