Archive for January 1, 2022

Hollywood and/or Bust

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2022 by dcairns

Lowell Sherman, something of a forgotten star (he died too young) is wonderful in Cukor’s WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD?. So is Constance Bennett, who is better remembered, if not necessarily for the right film/s. Neil Hamilton does everything right except having any kind of charm or charisma. He’s actually very capable, but we couldn’t like him, which is maybe the defining distinction between an actor and a star.

The story was by Adela Rogers St John, who knew the Hollywood scene inside out as journalist and scenarist. And then you can add Rowland Brown, who also directed a few great pictures, the first writer-director of the sound era, excepting Chaplin; and Gene Fowler, Hollywood animal, and five other people. It definitely definitely doesn’t take eight people to write a good movie. It might help if you’re making a terrible movie, but this isn’t a terrible movie. It is a little uneven, and declines in interest whenever Sherman isn’t about, but the behind-the-scenes view of Hollywood is fantastic. Even this little stair leading between screening room and projection booth feels completely real. It easily could be, of course, but I bet they built it, because after all, this is Hollywood.

Lots of good lines, but every now and then there’s something better than a good line, something truer, like when Sherman is advised to stop drinking: “And be bored all the time?” he asks.

Visually, it still feels a lot like a pre-boom movie, tied to the microphone, but it isn’t, not in 1932. And the angles are better, because it’s a single-camera job and so they’re able to shoot everything from the proper spot, instead of compromising. There are only a half-dozen or so camera moves. But it’s not staid: there’s some wild fast cutting when Bennett, leaving the church after getting married to Hamilton, is mobbed by fans; Slavko Vorkapich provides a stardom montage. A rendition of Parlze-Moi D’Amour by Bennett is fragmented by cutaways of the whole apparatus of the studio set-up. And the suicide scene features experimental sound, flash-cuts, and slow-motion, an avant-garde tour de force.

What seems very typical of Cukor, even at this early stage of his film career, is that he can use an actor like Sherman who is very technical and full of schtick, and USE that to create a living human being. I mean, Sherman was very talented (pretty good director himself) and could breathe life into characters elsewhere with the same techniques, but there’s something extra here. Everyone here is typecast, but they transcend their types. (A shame Louise Beavers’ part is so true to racial stereotype, though.)

The funny (clever) thing is that Sherman’s role plays as comic relief through most of the film, but is the real tragedy, upstaging Bennett’s romantic drama or career travails.

WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? stars Marion Kerby; Greville Sartoris; Commissioner Gordon; Max Fabian; The College Cad; Delilah Johnson; Little Joe Jackson; Dr. Henry Jekyll / Mr. Hyde; Bill Grimes; Detective Grimes; Mr. Hall; and Mr.Clink – Purser.