Archive for October 26, 2014

The Sunday Intertitle: Mystic Patsies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 26, 2014 by dcairns

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A surprisingly familiar character name appears in THE MYSTIC (1925) — at first I assumed it to be a coincidence, but since the director and co-writer is Tod Browning, future director of FREAKS and former circus somnambulist, it’s by no means unlikely that he was familiar with the case of John Merrick (in reality, Joseph), AKA The Elephant Man.

THE MYSTIC itself is relatively mild stuff, but it does deal with the circus, a fake medium, and con artistry, all things that Browning returned to obsessively throughout his career. The fake seances are put over with some panache, and it’s fun to see the trickery behind them, including a mild electrical current fed through the audience when they link hands, so that a signal can be given when the circuit is broken. A police inspector in the crowd circumvents this by getting his neighbours to link hands around him…

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Star Aileen Pringle was one of those on the yacht when Thomas Ince got shot, or did not get shot. Hearst doesn’t seem to have done her career iany particular favours. Edinburgh man David Torrence, brother of the more famous Ernest, brings his massive face to bear on the role of one of the supposed good guys, but respectable people in this movie can be as crooked as the gypsy confidence gang. Browning’s true sympathies are with the outsider-upstarts, which makes him an odd fit for MGM. His larcenous, grubby and nasty worldview might have been a better fit at Warners, and seems inimical to the oft-stated (family) values of Mayer’s empire, but it must be admitted that he succeeded anyway, bending the studio product all out of shape and taking the company to dark places it otherwise would have shunned. A bit like Tony Blair at Labour.

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