Archive for Bessie Love

The Easter Sunday Intertitle: Stupidly Rich

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , on March 27, 2016 by dcairns

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From SOUL-FIRE, directed by John S. Robertson, perhaps the only silent film-maker to have a song written about him by the Byrds.

It’s now my ambition to become “stupidly rich.” I used to want to be “lousy with money” like the Weenie King in THE PALM BEACH STORY, but stupid has supplanted lousy in my innermost yearnings.

A little like the goofy HOUSE OF DARKNESS, this movie has a musical inspiration. Hero John Barthelmess has written a symphony inspired by his adventures around the world. As it is played for the first time, the scenes which inspired it are presented to us in flashback, movement by movement. Yes, the film is utter tosh. But it is eventful tosh. Alcoholism! Leprosy! Sarongs! It also has a graininess — I suspect the surviving print is 16mm — which is not unpleasing — much of the Hollywood gloss is soaked up, and a charcoal patina replaces it.

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Bessie Love pauses in her Island Love Dance.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Sympathy for Baby Vengeance

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , on October 19, 2014 by dcairns

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The baby in question is jazz baby/personality kid Bessie Love, nineteen years old and cute as a great big button, though she is not in fact a large person. Still, if you wore a button the size of Bessie Love you would probably fall over, unless you were Douglas Fairbanks, who fortunately is her leading man in 1917’s REGGIE MIXES IN. Also fortunately, Bessie does not actually play the role of a button.

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The movie is one of Doug’s various meditations on the subject of class in American life, although “meditations” is a funny word to use. Doug doesn’t meditate, he vaults over furniture and punches wrongdoers. Still, this is a serious consideration of the role of class in American life, conducted through the medium of furniture-vaulting and wrongdoer-punching. Doug plays a millionaire playboy who moves into a rough neighbourhood incognito because he’s smitten with capital L for Love. Doug even gets a job as bouncer at the rough Irish dive Love dances at, just to be near her.

The movie features some nice jumping around and some surprisingly brutal fighting. It’s indifferently directed by Christy Cabanne, for the most part, and its attempts to be egalitarian are sometimes decidedly odd — so he can marry Bessie, who is socially beneath him, Doug secretly creates a phony will in the name of her long-lost uncle bequeathing her a hundred K. Now she can marry Doug without seeming like a fortune-hunter! Fraud is so useful to ease social mobility. I’m almost certain Nick Clegg would approve.

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The movie’s trump card is Bessie, who gives a touching performance way beyond what the silly story requires, and Cabanne is at least smart enough to feature her lovely pear-shaped face in plenty of close-ups. Grapevine’s release fo this title is typically fizzy-facky, but just about watchable, and with an unusually fun selection of jazz-age fuzzy warblers on its needle-drop soundtrack — I particularly liked the kazoo and ukulele version of Tannhauser for Doug and Bessie’s first meeting.

Wrath of Kwan

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2014 by dcairns

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THE WILD AFFAIR is based on a novel by William Sansom — he wrote some good spook stories collected in some of the paperback anthologies I own — and is a pre-Swinging London sex comedy starring Nancy Kwan. Interestingly, Miss Kwan’s parents are played by a couple of white folks, including the Personality Kid herself, Bessie Love (by 1963 a British resident, accounting for her rather psychotronic credits) with no explanation for her racial difference, which is kind of nice. Of course, Kwan was a bit of a catch at that time. The only thing that would have been even nicer would be if they had found a couple of Anglo-Chinese actors — I’m certain they did exist.

Coming right before director John Krish made the micro-budget misogynist sci-fi UNEARTHLY STRANGER, this movie has gratifyingly more complex and less icky sexual politics, though we’re not quite out of the danger zone. Kwan, as Marjory,  is leaving her secretarial job at a perfume company to marry, but her alter-ego in the mirror, Sandra, thinks she should lose her virginity first, and the office Christmas party seems an ideal opportunity.

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The scenario seems to pose questions about whether monogamy and chastity are important for the modern young woman, but the movie slants things towards a conservative answer by making Marjory engaged, so that she’d be cheating, and by surrounding her with male clowns, so that the mere idea of sex is kind of icky. Jimmy Logan, the comedy Scotsman, is about the most seductive fellow on offer (he does downplay his trademark gurning but he’s hardly Sean Connery), Victor Spinetti is just impossible, and Terry-Thomas as Kwan’s lecherous boss is quite unappealing when he’s trying to worm his fingertips under her Mary Quant collar. The whole British sex comedy genre was based around desperate, craven, sex-starved men not getting any, an amusing conceit which started to disintegrate with the permissive age, when the possibility of actual screen intercourse rose into view.

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The film has several interesting women characters (including Kwan’s Miss Hyde in the mirror), but they do exist to drive home the lesson — the lonely spinster, the jealous, bitter mistress. And by making sex a practical impossibility, the movie unwisely creates for itself the problem George Axelrod diagnosed in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH: “The play was about a married man who cheats and feels guilty about it, whereas the film was about a married man who doesn’t cheat and feels guilty about it, so the film became rather trivial.” At the end of THE WILD AFFAIR — which is pretty entertaining  while it’s on — the main character has contemplated pre-marital sex and then decided against it — the wrong message for its era, and a heart-breaking waste of its adorable, sexy, smart and stylish star.