A night on the tiles, a day in the dark

Yesterday was good —

I woke up and found Fiona asleep on the bathroom floor. She’d gotten up to read, and the only place to do so without disturbing me was the bathroom, so she’d made a kind of nest there and fallen asleep. Weirdly, her night on the tiles put her in a very good mood as neither of us sleeps too well when in a foreign bed, and the packed viewing schedule doesn’t allow enough time anyway…

We rocked up for a set of Segundo de Chomon shorts at 9.00 am, including the beautiful METEMPSYCHOSE, with its unhappy babies, and the interplanetary Japonisme of VOYAGE ORIGINALE. Segundo is, as his name implies, the Second King of Fantasy Cinema, after Meliés, but only just.

Then Marguerite Clark (THE MASTER MYSTERY) donned Pierette garb (a recurring motif this fest) in the surviving reel and a half of PRUNELLA, directed by Maurice Tourneur. The cardboard sets, painted in graphic style, combined with Tourneur’s typical lighting effects to make something of rare beauty, very much like his version of THE BLUE BIRD, made the same year. And it actually contains the line “Oh, Prunella!” as an intertitle. David Ehrenstein should have been there. We’d missed Tourneur’s THE WOMAN, apparently a better film and more or less complete, but surviving only in degraded 16mm form.

That didn’t give us time to make it to Mario Monicelli’s I COMPAGNI, alas, so we dived into one of the Fox series, NOW I’LL TELL, which I had previously viewed but it was vastly improved by the pristine projection and the crowd’s enthusiasm. Fiona was blown away by Spencer Tracy in his early bad boy mode — he has some extraordinary scenes. Also, lot’s of pre-code situations and dialogue. “I was born in the Virgin Islands,” says Tracy’s new mistress. “Oh really, you must have left at an early age,” he purrs, off-mic and with his back to us as they leave the room, making the censor;s job easier, but underselling the joke to make it funnier.

We were all set for RUE DE LA PAIX from director Henri Diamant-Berger, a Natan production, but were kind of warned off it, so slipped into Andre de Toth’s NONE SHALL ESCAPE! For the second time in a row we bagged the last two seats in the house. Movie deals with post-WWII war crimes but was released in 1944, making it a form of science fiction, its title a black irony now that we know all about Operation Paperclip. Excellent perfs from Alexander Knox as a Nazi swine and Marsha Hunt as his former fiancée. The heroic Rabbi is played, completely straight, by Torben “This is a talking picture” Meyer, of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and the Preston Sturges stock company by Richard Hale. De Toth gets some scope out of his small-town Polish setting by repurposing what obviously started life as a western town.

With mathematical speed we swapped DeToth’s hard-hitting melo for a new biopic doc on Sydney Chaplin by Serge Bromberg & Eric Lange. SYDNEY: THE OTHER CHAPLIN marshalls an astonishing range of source materials to paint a well-rounded portrait of this troubling, essential figure, previously glimpsed this fest as the Kaiser in SHOULDER ARMS.

Then came the 7TH HEAVEN postponement, which gave us an early night to catch up on our sleep — in bed, this time. This brings us up to now. It’s 8.14 and Marion Davies takes to the screen in a dual role, with Neil Brand at the piano, in 46 minutes, more or less. I must get cracking.

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4 Responses to “A night on the tiles, a day in the dark”

  1. Randy Cook Says:

    Do you mean Julius “This is a talking picture” Tannen? Neither seems to be listed in the Inaccurate Movie Database…

  2. “Charley’s Aunt” is a fun film, even though it begins and ends with a tired tacked-on romcom plot. Syd opens the film as a bland leading man. He saves his girl’s gambler father from ruin, but she thinks he’s a cad and rejects him. We finally get to campus and Syd in energetic drag, Then, as the play’s plot winds down, he reverts to the bland leading man to win his girl.

    The biopic “Chaplin” presented Syd as a monogamous good influence. That whole movie was full of such shorthand; Chaplin’s life was too darn crowded to for a single movie.

  3. Speaking of Marion Davies, very much enjoyed Five and Ten on TCM last night as part of their Leslie Howard salute. She was as always wonderful. Try and find a copy of Frank O’Hara’s play “The General Returns From One Place To Another” — a parody of General Douglas MacArthur (with a wink at his gay son Arthur MacArthur) written specifically for the great Taylor Mead. There’s a marvelous passage in it n which the general goes on and one about Marion Davies and how she could have had a more successful career through “proper handling.”

    I do hope you’ll deal with Taylor one day sound. While a comic of the sound era his roots are in the silent. He often suggests a leering, more than slightly stoned Harry Langdon. His best films are Ron Rice’s “The Flower Thief” and “The Queen of Sheba Meets The Atom Man,” Robert Downey Sr’s “Babo ’73” (in which Taylor becomes POTUS), Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys” and “Nude Restaurant” (in which he’s paired with Viva) and his last film —

  4. Randy, I’m totally wrong — Torben Meyer is in something else and I transposed his ID onto Richard Hale, who deserves all the credit for this one.

    Earlier in the week I confused Joan Marsh with Mary Carlisle. Tsk.

    I’d like to see both Charley’s Aunts. Man on the Box is the only Syd starrer I’ve seen, and he was very good in it. And yes, Attenborough’s Chaplin bits off more than it can chew, more than it can even support without breaking its jaw.

    Marion Davies was great fun, playing twins — one a staid lady to satisfy Hearst, the other a rambunctious Irish-American scrapper. She blew herself off the screen.

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