The Sunday Intertitle: That’s the ticket!

Bwahahaha! Is that a title card or is that a title card?

The anonymous image derives from Raoul Walsh’s THE YELLOW TICKET, a Tsarist Russian romantic epic which derives a chunk of its plot and a smaller chunk of its actual footage from THE RED DANCE, an earlier Fox super-production also helmed by Walsh. While that movie had something of a plague-on-both-your-houses approach to both Tsarist and Red tendencies, the 1931 re-imagining takes place in the run-up to WWI and so avoids offering any opinion on Bolshevism — except in so far as it portrays the Tsar’s state as unutterably corrupt.

Elissa Landi plays a Jewish schoolteacher forced to apply for a prostitute’s license just so she can travel to visit her father, sick in prison. Arriving too late, she finds that the titular ticket becomes an inescapable brand of shame — at least until dashing newspaperman Laurence Olivier arrives on the scene.

A quasi-sadeian melodrama of unfortunate innocence  ensues, with Landi torn between Olivier and the oleaginous advances of Lionel Barrymore, a police official who intends to use every trick in his moustache-twirling book of forcible seduction to have her (and at times it does seem, doesn’t it, as if these villains are all following the same set of instructions…) Barrymore’s most endearing trait is his cabinet full of weapons, souvenirs from the many unsuccessful assassination attempts he’s survived. But he should never have shown Landi the cabinet…

Pre-code content — full-on tit-and-bum nudity in the woman’s prison, albeit in extreme longshot (recalling FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE, I wonder if there was an unofficial ruling on how close a camera could get to the undraped female form). Incessant lechery (Sternberg scribe Jules Furthman had a hand in the script). Implied virginity imperilled (a medical report demonstrates that Landi “has never practiced her profession”).

Landi, best known for SIGN OF THE CROSS, is excellent, and seems to exert a calming effect on the two mighty hams sandwiching her on each side — Larry is wonderfully relaxed and charming, with a certain vulpine edge kept just beneath the surface, while Lionel cloaks his villainy in a weirdly dithering manner, like an evil Frank Morgan: “You don’t smoke, you don’t drink, and you don’t — ah — eh — uh…”


9 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: That’s the ticket!”

  1. I watched this earlier in the year, and I think I remember letting out something of a minor gasp when that title first pops onto the screen. James Wong Howe’s photography is amazing here. There is some really stunning depth of field stuff going on, and those chiaroscuro compositions in the prison are gorgeous.

  2. The shooting scene is a stunner too, with the shot man falling out of closeup to reveal the shooter standing behind him, beautifully lit…

  3. I’ve never really cared all that much for Olivier, but he’s quite teriffic as directed by Walsh in this one.

  4. Was just having a conversation at work about Olivier’s finest hours. Rebecca works because it plays into what Mamet calls his “grudging” quality. And his most low-key perf of all, in Bunny Lake is Missing, is miraculous in its wry wit. The big perfs are what they are, and are admirable as showmanship — Richard III and The Entertainer. I love him in Wyler’s Carrie.

    But with Walsh (and how did THEY get on?) he’s wonderfully relaxed, but with a fetching uncertainty.

  5. His very last role was Derek Jarman’s setting of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. We hear him read the poems and see Tilda pushing him about in a wheelchair.

  6. It was a nice combination: Jarman had a real sense of history… I think he told a story about his mum doing a good Richard III impersonation, or something like that (wish I could remember).

  7. david wingrove Says:

    Olivier was fine with any director who could stop him overacting. Alas, very few had the nerve to try!

  8. It’s not film, and Olivier’s accent is somewhat wayward, but the 70s TV version of Long Day’s Journey Into Night could also count as one of Olivier’s finer performances.

  9. Sounds good. I’m about to watch him in Love Among the Ruins, sometimes soon.

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