Archive for Clare West

Stage Door Connie

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2021 by dcairns

Talentless poet and war veteran Arthur Phelps (Conrad Nagel), blinded by an exploding cigar given him by New Mexico bar girl Poll Patchouli (Dorothy Dalton), is obsessed with French ballerina Rosa Duchene (Mildred Harris) — but Poll tricks him into marrying her by putting on an ‘Allo, ‘Allo accent — I suppose, being blind, he’s more easily fooled by her Franglais intertitles — Poll also leads him to believe that a slender volume of recipes is his poetry, accepted by a publisher at last — but when a miracle eye doctor comes to El Paso, Poll realises she must shatter Senor Phelps’ illusions by giving him his sight back — bitterly disappointed by what his restored sight shows him, Phelps divorces Poll, who sets fire to his shack in revenge, but it’s OK, in a way — he’s just struck oil and is now rich, enabling him to zoom off to Siam where Rosa is enchanting a young Prince (John Davidson) — Phelps rescues a lamb that was going to be thrown into an alligator pit as a sacrifice to buddha (bloodiest of the eastern gods) — Rosa challenges her two suitors to rescue her opera glove from the “sacred reptiles” — the Prince has a go but requires rescuing by Phelps — both Phelps and the Prince realise that Rosa is No Good and Phelps returns to the arms of Rosa, who at that moment gets stabbed by her gaucho paramour John Rodriguez (Theodore Kosloff) but the wound is non-fatal and the recuperating Poll kisses Phelps while their dog, Chum, tries to get in on the final clinch. Fade-out. Painting of a jester for no obvious reason.

That’s a condensed version of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1921 crazed romance FOOL’S PARADISE, shown at/streamed from Pordenone Festival of Silent Film. It’s what I call an epic.

I have made nothing up, distorted nothing. I’m reminded of a line in Gilliam’s BARON MUNCHAUSEN: “This is exactly the sort of thing no-one ever believes.”

“Cecil has a habit of biting off more than he can chew,” said brother William, “and then chewing it.”

This farrago of implausibilities is visually sumptuous, with costumes by Mitchell Leisen, Clare West AND Natasha Rambova — my guess is, Rambova did the ornate ballet, Leisen may have done the exotic stuff, but he could do realism too, so that may have been West. Cinematographers Alvin Wyckoff and Karl Struss, both super-talents, shot it.

Pordenone likes to shine a light on lesser-known talents, and fest director Jay Weissberg made special mention of screenwriters Sada Cowan & Beulah Marie Dix. DeMille had this whole staple of female screenwriters who helped him target his films, very successfully, at the female cinemagoer’s heart. It is hard, at this historical distance, to imagine anyone taking this cascade of nonsense seriously, except Cecil himself. But you can imagine them enjoying it. We enjoyed it. I hadn’t seen a lot of Conrad Nagel. I feel I have now.

The Vernal Equinox Intertitle: The Most Beautiful

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 20, 2011 by dcairns

Spring begins! And here, to celebrate, are some of the most beautiful intertitles I’ve ever seen, from Cecil B DeMille’s FORBIDDEN FRUIT (1921). The film itself is a Cinderella story with added criminal subplot, some minor social commentary wrapped up in a delirious wallow in poshlust-porn. Any time somebody picks up a cigar or perfume bottle, an obliging close-up will leer up at you to let you know just how outside your wage bracket it is.

The plot isn’t too special, and leading lady Agnes Ayres doesn’t display much range… her opposite number, Forrest Stanley, is better, and Theodore Kosloff brings a certain saturnine appeal to the evil butler character (not present in the original fairy tale). The real appeal is in the design, not just of the title cards [two-colour titles in a b&w movie! There’s luxury for you. Nobody wants to see Agnes’ pasty face blossom into pink radiance, but we’re clamouring for some tinted lettering, thank you very much] but the sets [a small thing, but I was impressed that the rich folks had not just a telephone in their hall, but a whole telephone booth] and especially the costumes, by Mitchell Leisen and Clare West and Natacha Rambova. The fairytale looks like Rambova alright — DeMille cuts away to actual reenactments of bits of the Perrault fable, for no pressing narrative reason, and the resulting indulgences are a feast for the eyes. A starvation diet for the mind, but your eyes will go home fat.

As a plus, there are some fun cartoony visual ideas. In one scene, the lovestruck hero can’t concentrate on his oil well holdings, because Agnes’ face is haunting him —

And here’s DeMille’s evocation of “greed” ~

More DeMille on DVD: The Cecil B. DeMille Collection (Cleopatra/ The Crusades/ Four Frightened People/ Sign of the Cross/ Union Pacific)