Archive for City Girl

Subtraction by microphone

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on April 22, 2022 by dcairns

Charles Farrell certainly lost out when sound came in. Not that he had a terrible voice, but he had a voice that took away from rather than added to his persona. His sensitivity as an actor was unaffected, but his strapping manliness was diminished by the lightness of his speech. He might have made a good Clark Kent but the characters he was given neglected the Superman side. Contrast AFTER TOMORROW with CITY GIRL, where he’s a bit of a father-dominated weakling but his boyish charm and muscular physique carry him through. Mother-dominated in the ’32 Borzage, he just seems sappy.

Borzage certainly had an uneven pre-code era. Some of his films from this period are terrific. AFTER TOMORROW has a lot in common with BAD GIRL, made the same year, but that one’s really good, for all its oddity. The artificial studio New York — the Empire State Building, and a detailed brownstone — are the main merits of AT. Jokes about suicide and domestic violence, tossed off casually, hint at the kind of pre-code this could have been, but it never gets there, despite Minna Gombell. What we want for the full Warner effect is hardboiled tragedy played at farce speed — this one’s at least 30% too slow. The main advantage of it being a sound film is you can hear the jokes plummet to earth.

The Sunday Intertitle: Usher??!!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2022 by dcairns

Although NOT FOR SALE, the film which thrust Ian Hunter upon an unready world, has a great intertitle in which two lady residents of a boarding house complain that the food is terrible, but it’s ALL-ENGLISH MEAT, my favourite intertitle so far at the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival was shown by Professor Lawrence Napper in his lecture on Nurse Edith Cavell and her cinematic legacy. In the 1915 NURSE AND MARTYR, as the patriotic if foolhardy nurse stands before the German military judge, he has a flashback to an act of kindness she had done him — pulling a thorn from his paw showing sympathy at the death of his son — but then his face hardens and he bangs his fist and says, via title card, “BAH — SHE IS ENGLISH, SHE MUST DIE.”

Nothing of that kind in the day’s highlights, which for me were CITY GIRL and THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER. Murnau’s film was accompanied by Neil Brand and the Dodge Brothers, who gave it energy and brought out the emotion with a largely improvised score that was at times almost pop — and worked. I’ve never enjoyed the film so much or been so moved by Mary Duncan and Charles Farrell’s romance, which, in its early scenes in the city, has something of LONESOME about it.

My programme notes for Epstein’s Poe adaptation are here. Stephen Horne and Elizabeth-Jane Baldry accompanied this one on piano, harp, vocals, and just about everything else. “Not as much banging on the piano as I’d expected,” someone said, but the versatile Horne made up for that with some genuinely startling screams. The harp made everything beautiful as well as disturbing, which was exactly what the film called for.

I had made the error of donning a pair of trousers upon which I had previously spilt superglue, and at one point the tension became so great I shattered my trouser leg.

The various bus and train journeys also enabled me to finish one Martin Beck and start a Rex Stout.

Today — a Laurel & Hardy triple bill, THE NECKLACE (a Chinese rarity, adapted from Maupassant), THE UNKNOWN, and L’HOMME DU LARGE.

Thus Spake Zorro

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2022 by dcairns

A fun-packed day in Bo’ness for the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival yesterday — and more today and tomorrow. My programme notes are online this year, you can access those for THE MARK OF ZORRO here. And the whole history of programme notes is up here.

Fred Niblo’s swashbuckler of old California — his finest film, I think — looked stunning on the Hippodrome’s big screen, in its Photoplay restoration and with Neil Brand and Frank Bockius accompanying it on piano and percussion (amazing feats of synchronization, quite apart from the romance and excitement). A treat.

Earlier in the day I saw Lawrence Napper lecture on the filmic history of Nurse Edith Cavell, as prelude to Herbert Wilcox’s 1928 DAWN, starring Sybil Thorndyke as the patriotic nuse. Discussing the case, we all agreed to disapprove of Nurse E.C., since she was smuggling British soldiers home under the cover of the Red Cross — undermining that organisation’s whole existence. We reckoned if she’d been a German doing the same thing, the British would have shot her too.

Anyway, the film, accompanied by Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius, was suspenseful and made with some skill, though heavy on the intertitles. Maybe it was partly because the Belgian print screened (the film exists in two cuts) was titled bilingually, but doubtless British silent cinema’s tendency to prolixity was also a factor: whenever you got one title card, it spilled onto a second, the writers just having too much good stuff they wanted to say.

Today I hope to see NOT FOR SALE, CITY GIRL and THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER — a Murnau, an Epstein, and the first-named will be my first experience of W.P. Kellino, and Ian Hunter’s first film. Expect some reviews or reactions shortly.