The Sunday Intertitle: An Extract of Aromas

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Colleen Moore’s reaction to a city slicker’s perfume — which he has just blasted himself with from a dispenser in the men’s room — is one of the highlights of WHY BE GOOD? (1929), the recently rediscovered and restored soundie star vehicle. Unfortunately, the snappy intertitles, along with Moore’s irrepressible style, have to carry the show, as what we have here is MGM Plot #1, which served Joan Crawford well for a number of pictures but doesn’t seem to work so well at Warner Bros and with Colleen as star.

MGM Plot #1 goes as follows: counter-hopper falls for boss’s son, is tempted to sleep with the rich millionaire but doesn’t, and thus eventually nabs her man. In the Joan Crawford vehicles this could be padded out with variants, by giving Joan a friend who DOES sleep with a rich man, and ends tragically, and so on. Maybe this worked better in the MGM flicks because Louis B. Mayer really believed what he was peddling, and maybe because with Joan Crawford there was always the distinct possibility that she might fall and, having fallen, tumble. The hope of that keeps you watching. Whereas we all know Colleen Moore’s a good girl. Lots of fun for a good girl, but still, inescapably virtuous.

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This one has really protracted scenes of Colleen with her mum and leading man Neil Hamilton (not the disgraced former MP) with his dad, scenes devoid of drama because flowing with sympathy. “Beware of sympathy, it is the death of drama,” noted Alexander Mackendrick, and he was right. Characters must fail to understand each other at the very least or you don’t have a scene. This isn’t a call for a world of nastiness of the kind David Mamet always writes — scene after scene of bullies bullying — it’s just an accurate observation that characters being sympathetic to one another tamps down the emotion of a scene and must be used as a very sparing ingredient. It’s perhaps a good idea to suggest there’s far more sympathy in the world of your film than you’re allowing the audience to see, but they definitely won’t thank you for ladling on too much of it.

Of course I’m still overjoyed that the movie has been rescued from oblivion, and it certainly showcases Moore’s effervescent appeal, but she can’t shine as brightly as she does in SYNTHETIC SIN because there isn’t the dark backing to bring her glow out. Fortunately there are other Moore’s out there — we hope to soon view IRENE and ELLA CINDERS. We won’t be likely to see FLAMING YOUTH as that one’s tragically still lost. This is the only surviving footage ~

Another extract of aromas.

My earliest memories of Colleen are from Brownlow & Gill’s TV show Hollywood where the star, still spry and elfin at eighty-odd, reminisced about her frabjous career on the screen. And THIS clip from ELLA CINDERS lodged in my mind ~

Special effects were used, you’ll be reassured to know. This looks enticing, though, since Colleen as a stage-struck youth is also the premise of SYNTHETIC SIN.

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6 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: An Extract of Aromas”

  1. Lovely! And speaking of “aromas” here’s some Music To Smell By

  2. Jeff Gee Says:

    Fond memories of waiting outside the Waverly Theater for “Polyester” in Manhattan as the previous show let out and traumatized patrons brandished their spent scratch n sniff cards warning, “Don’t scratch NUMBER TWO OR NUMBER SEVEN!!” I believe there may have been some votes for number nine as well.

  3. “Ella Cinders” is cute and benign, the eyes gag being the most outrageous thing in it. A nice twist: The usual drill is for a character to aspire to be a great dramatic actor, but is so laughable he/she becomes a great comic actor. Here, Moore is supposed to enact Fear. A genuine loose lion has chased her onto the set, so what the director and crew take to be Great Dramatic Acting is Moore freaking out because of the off-camera carnivore.

  4. Scent dispensers for men Were A Thing. In “The Pip From Pittsburgh” (1931) Charley Chase not only freshens up but takes a shot of the perfume in his mouth. (The plot has Charley making himself revolting for an unwanted blind date, then trying to reverse the process — including the raw onions consumed — when he discovers his date is Thelma Todd)

  5. The joke with Polyester is that the visual cues in the movie make it quite clear what you’re going to smell, don’t they? but like dutiful Pavov’s dogs, the public scratched and sniffed anyway. Actually, a dog would have appreciated the experience more.

    I think I have The Pip somewhere — I must run it! Fiona always enjoys perfumes in the movies.

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