Archive for Dorothy Dalton

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.

Glorious Troglodytes

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 25, 2021 by dcairns

Crosses are important in this film — see how many of them YOU can spot!

Roy William Neill is vaguely famous for his forties Sherlock Holmes films, horrors and noirs, while his thirties work is fairly obscure and most of his silents a lost continent. His directing career actually began in 1917 and he made several WWI pics. VIVE LA FRANCE! (1918) is such a one.

Neill has a wealth of actuality footage to work with, so much so that the slender plot is often overwhelmed. The leads, Dorothy Dalton and especially Edmund Lowe disappear for lengthy stretches while we look at troops, planes, big guns. A lot of the apparently documentary war stuff is impressive in itself. And there seems to have been a decent budget for staging action too — the close-quarters trench fighting footage CAN’T be real. It’s genuinely hard to be sure where fact and fiction leave off.

... the men, glorious troglodytes…

Strangely, the two main characters seem to be movie stars. But they’re of French origins so they get into the war quick.

DD becomes a nurse, falls into the hands of the filthy hun who killed her parents, is branded on the bosom with the cross of shame. EL is injured, loses his memory, is saved by DD, gets his memory back. So when the film isn’t wowing us with artillery, it’s trying to horrify us with sadism. Fred Starr is the villain — no Stroheim, he. The man I DON’T love to hate. I don’t even like disliking him.

Also in the cast, Bert Sprotte. I like Bert Sprotte because his name is Bert Sprotte.

The intertitles of the print I saw are in French, and I have my doubts if they were translated faithfully. I can certainly guarantee you that my retranslation of them back to English, using my O-Grade French brain, was less than accurate. But the title cards give out for long stretches, leaving us to our own devices anyway. The film and I could generally come to an agreement about what was going on.

Neill seems not very keen on the hun-baiting stuff, but there’s some intense melodrama elsewhere, and the ruined castle set (complete with thunderstorm! or maybe it’s the flash of battle?) allows for some foreshadowing of his later gothic entertainments.

Dalton, whose work I was previously unfamiliar with, is one of those silent actors who rather lives up to the stereotype. The rhetorical style is not necessarily inappropriate to this sort of tosh, but Lillian Gish would have made it credible as well as barnstormy. The unfortunate climax has Edmund Lowe’s memory restored to him by the sight of the brand of shame seared into his sweetheart’s body by the beastly boche. Since this requires DD to flash her DDs at him in a melodramatic fashion, and Lowe to react in kind, it’s a bit of an effort not to laugh, even though one mustn’t.

Lowe, a velvet-smooth lead in thirties films, isn’t as massive a hambone as Dalton, but he still widens his eyes and mouth, steps back in amazement, leans against the defunct fountain behind him, and raises one knee decorously, like the pre-code Columbia lady.