Monkey with a Movie Camera

I’m not used to days that have CLIMAXES — Buster Keaton’s THE CAMERAMAN in the Piazza Maggiore with a full orchestral accompaniment was certainly one.

Mind you, the day began with OVER THE HILL, a simply brilliant Henry King drama from 1931 which showcases Fox’s mobile camera style and James Dunn’s performing. It’s a bit like MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW only with the worst son receiving a punitive ass-kicking at the end.

Dunn turned up again in HELLO, SISTER! a weird Fox romance, begun by Von Stroheim (Zasu Pitts co-stars) but finished by Edwin Burke and maybe Alan Crosland, Raoul Walsh and Alfred “I’ll finish it” Werker. The tonal shifts, which could induce whiplash in a less hardy reviewer, may be the result of surviving Stroheim footage. Romcom, slapstick, rape and an exploding tenement — half the plot and cast seem to be recycled from Borzage’s BAD GIRL. Enjoyed the mess thoroughly.

SURRENDER! was more coherent but duller. William K. Howard’s long tracking shots are among the best Fox ever had, but this was a boring story with a snoozy cast. Warner Baxter, Leila Hyams. Ralph Bellamy is somewhat amusing as a disfigured war veteran, half his face concealed beneath a black mask.

I’d been missing the Eduardo de Filippo season so was glad to catch FILUMENA MARTURANO, the 1951 original of MARRIAGE – ITALIAN STYLE. Slightly less funny than the celebrated remake, but even more emotional, thanks to Filippo and his co-star Titina de Filippo. Talented family. Excuse me, I think I have something in my eye.

4 Responses to “Monkey with a Movie Camera”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    I still hope we’ll someday see the missing gag(s) from Buster’s first day of shooting News. As it stands now, he joins a bunch of other cameramen awaiting an admiral and we cut to a high-dive in reverse, part of the footage being reviewed in the newsreel screening room.

    At least one gag was re-created for Red Skelton’s semi-remake “Watch the Birdie”: Trying to get a dramatic angle for a ship launching, the hero sets up on a wooden brace that slides into the water with the ship.

  2. Ah, I wondered about the three minutes of missing footage. As it is, the film is a little thin on actual camera gags, and that would have bolstered it just the right amount.

    The film looks gorgeous — I didn’t realise three reels are from 16mm but blown up on the Piazza Maggiore’s big, big screen, it held up remarkably well. Most startling new detail probably the anatomically revealing swimsuits.

  3. chris schneider Says:

    Among the names to mention in connection with HELLO, SISTER! are Dawn Powell, whose play — unproduced, it seems — provided source material for the film, and Maurine Watkins of CHICAGO. Watkins, IMDb tells us, was one of the uncredited script writers.

  4. There are quite a few good snappy lines in it which could be Watkins’ work. Her stuff always has a certain edge.

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