The Sunday Intertitle: A Chance on the Hash

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When the Chicago waitresses in Murnau’s CITY GIRL spot Charles Farrell praying before his meal, the sassy friend character remarks ~

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The top image sort-of illustrates part of what’s so great about the diner scenes in CITY GIRL — the intense feeling of heat and claustrophobia.

The former is established by intertitular references and sweat, and also behaviour — the waitresses cramming themselves into the line of fire of the few, inadequate fans, and later, Mary Duncan shooting one fan’s blast right at a relieved Farrell, as a favour.

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The dialogue, which would qualify as snappy pre-code stuff if it didn’t have to linger onscreen long enough to be read, is presumably from Elliott Lester’s play, with adaptation by H.H. Caldwell and Katherine Hilliker (SUNRISE, SEVENTH HEAVEN), credited with titles. But I was excited to see Bertholdt Viertel credited with co-adaptation & scenario (with Marion Orth). His later films as director include two, THE PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK and LITTLE FRIEND, of which I am exceptionally fond.

To return to the scene’s effectiveness, Murnau also crams as many actors into shot as possible, and crowds the frames with moving parts, like those fans. Filming along the diner counter he creates serried rows of humanity, all stuffing their faces with the doubtful hash, and by setting the joint below street level, the view outside actually contributes to our feeling of suffocation, with a high window displaying only legs, legs, all of them going somewhere.

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In theory there’s nothing wrong with a high window, but it does call to mind the arrangements in a dungeon.

I have a Murnau project on the go — expect more on this master!

 

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