The Sunday Intertitle: Moral Turpin-tude

The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees, 
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, 
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor, 
And the highwayman came riding– 
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door. 

Tom Mix as Dick Turpin? Some instinctive urge for variety must have goaded William Fox (the lifesblood of El Brendel not yet coursing through his arteries) — Mix was a great cowboy star, but could he not play other roles? As long as there was a supporting role for  Tony the Wonder Horse.

With its cartoon character names — Lord Churlston and Squire Crabtree are churlish and crabby as you might expect — this movie really shows how childish Hollywood was prepared to be. Perhaps only nostalgia makes it appealing, because I’d have no time for a modern movie as stupid as this. Turpin is rewritten as a Robin Hood figure (he even has Alan Hale, longterm Little John to various Robins, as sidekick), which outdoes the romanticism of his popular fiction appearances to date: the real guy was a murderer and thief with no redemptive charitable impulses: they hanged him in York.

As is so often the case with Fox productions, the sets are impressive (and the film impossible to see in a good condition print), and the crowd scenes reputedly feature Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard boosting the numbers, but good luck spotting either of them. At least Bull Montana is clearly visible as a prize fighter.

“That sounds like something out of Blackadder!” observed Fiona.

Director John G. Blystone finished his days directing Laurel & Hardy — probably regarded as a step down from this in industry terms, but I can think of worse fates. At least his immortality is assured. Outside of the highwayman genre, comedy was very much his bag, and he was Buster Keaton’s collaborator on OUR HOSPITALITY. The film of his I most want to see is THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1924), no relation to the Vincent Price version of I Am Legend — this is that rare bird, an apocalyptic hillbilly comedy.


10 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Moral Turpin-tude”

  1. I see some pretty good films on Blystone’s CV, also some like one I recently saw, Woman Chases Man, which I thought pretty bad. I figured him a journeyman who made good films when he got a good script. From the number of writers (some names make me think there was serious rescue work attempted), I’d say the Woman Chases Man script wasn’t good. Besides, Miriam Hopkins as a screwball comedienne seems a real stretch. Blystone’s sound films appear to be a mix – some Will Rogers films, some Jane WIthers, a Quirt/Flagg outing, a Farrell/Gaynor, a Chan, or in other words most of the Fox stars. Some drama but mostly comedy.

  2. Not a stretch at all. Haven’t you seen Design For Living and Trouble in Paradise ?

  3. Christopher Says:

    ah…there’ll never be another Bull Montana… :o) One of those names one only comes across from reading faded early essays on the Silent film era,Famous Monsters Of Filmland,The Beverly Hillbillies …and Shadowplay..

  4. Yeah, Miriam could certainly be funny, although maybe she needed a Lubitsch or Leisen to get there.

    Blystone doesn’t show any identifiable style, but he obviously had the ability with actors and crew to get a decent result when the material was good. Our Hospitality can safely be credited to Buster, though.

    Oh, I’m always excited to come upon Bull Montana, with or without the yak-hair body stocking.

  5. I always considered both Design and Trouble as precode. In the precode precursors to screwball, she was fine because she was allowed to be as sexy as possible. When she couldn’t be so sexy, she seemed a lot more tense and brittle. That part of her was always there, but with the sex gone, it came front and center (and it was used to good effect in The Richest Girl In The World). I think that hurt any career she might have had in screwball (along with the comedies she did in the screwball heyday not being better than average, of course).

  6. She does fine work as a vexatious mother-in-law in Leisen’s post-screwball The Mating Season, but she’s no required to be lovable or carry the film, just to play opposite number to Thelma Ritter.

  7. david wingrove Says:

    She´s also the only bright spot in the turgid dreariness of William Wyler´s THE CHILDREN´S HOUR, and upstages Bette Davis not once but twice in THE OLD MAID and OLD ACQUAINTANCE.

    I still long to see Miriam in the Russ Meyer film of FANNY HILL. Now there´s match made in camp movie heaven!

  8. There’s something strangely lifeless about The Children’s Hour, yes. As if he’d used up the story the first time. His shooting of the grim climax is very fine, though. James Garner never watched the end result, having some strange premonition that it’s be dreary.

    Wow, Russ Meyer AND Albert Zugsmith? That’s one crowded director’s chair. I sort of doubt the end result will be either man’s finest hour, but I wonder what led Miriam to get involved?

  9. david wingrove Says:

    Err…money, perhaps?

    I may be wrong about the Russ Meyer connection. All I know is that some disreputable Z-movie auteur was involved at some stage.

  10. No, you’re right, it seems to be credited to Meyer and Zugsmith — probably AZ fired Russ and finished the thing himself.

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