Archive for Edmund Lowe

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.

William K. Howard

Posted in FILM, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2017 by dcairns

One of the treats at Bologna was Dave Kehr’s retrospective of a sampling of the works of William K. Howard, a seriously neglected figure. On this evidence, perhaps a minor figure, but one who deserves to be remembered.

Howard made a good many silents, but the earliest title screened was ~

DON’T BET ON WOMEN

I liked this more than some people — it’s a creaky early talkie filmed play, starring Howard regular smoothie Edmund Lowe, tight-lipped mutterer Roland Young, smiley twinkly Jeanette MacDonald and croaking cracker Una Merkel. Some of the jokes are good, and it manages to triumph over its initial disagreeable sexism to end up with something like an empowering message. (The first people we meet are Lothario Lowe, who despises women, and bourgeoise Young, who patronises them — but when the women show up, things improve.)

Though the camera does move, it’s only to follow people about, and the most striking visual is the rogue appearance of a boom mic. U

It’s incredible that the same year, Lowe and Howard teamed up to make ~

TRANSATLANTIC

This one has a camera that swoops and sweeps around its vast ocean liner sets, craning around the engine rooms, transforming a sort of “GRAND HOTEL at sea meets The Saint” into something genuinely, excessively cinematic. We get to enjoy a young Myrna Loy, a heavily disguised Jean Hersholt, and a couple of obscure beauties — Lois Moran in the boring nice girl role and Greta Nissen as the much more exciting bad girl, dancing frenetically in a top hat. The film seems like a B-movie (perhaps a Saint one) made on a super-A budget, and the new restoration is gorgeous, all art deco white and sweep and dash.

THE TRIAL OF VIVIENNE WARE

Another B-type mystery plot, but with an even more interesting aesthetic. Firstly, Howard has thrown off all traces of the stodgy pacing of early sound and whips this thing along at a terrific pace. It anticipates Howard’s later Sturges-scripted THE POWER AND THE GLORY by using a series of flashbacks to tell its story, and anticipates nearly everything in its use of a dramatic score, a year before KING KONG. It’s based on a radio play, and so I guess you could argue that these innovations are really just radio techniques transposed, unthinkingly — but I don’t think so, and they would still count as historically important even if that were so.

Sturges liked to trumpet the “narratage” of TP&TG as his own invention, but this movie makes it feel as if Howard may have suggested it to him. Many of the flashbacks are literally “flashed” to by zip-pans, but in his zeal Howard also uses these to cross geographical space from scene to scene, or just to get from one side of the room to another. It’s a movie which could give you whiplash.

The music is maybe less effective and more annoying, but it’s a major step forward from the unscored early talkies — Howard uses it mainly to fill in during flashbacks, and you feel it may have been used that way in the radio version to distinguish different time zones. It behaves like a silent film score in these sequences — it’s just there all the time, until we zip back to present tense.

Fun perfs from Skeets Gallagher and Zasu Pitts as radio hosts commentating on the courtroom drama add to the overall sense of fast-paced entertainment delivered by one of those tennis-ball-launching machines.

SHERLOCK HOLMES

A complete farrago — as one friend said, if you introduce Holmes preparing for his upcoming nuptials while putting the finishing touches to a ray gun, while a “Canadian” boy assistant comments admiringly in an atrocious Cockney accent, you know what you’re in for. The film sports a fine Watson in Reginald Owen, who anticipates Nigel Bruce’s interp (“By Jove, Holmes, it’s a positive ambuscade!”) and a transcendent Moriarty in Ernest Torrence (also visible at Bolognia in STEAMBOAT BILL, JR.) The stagey talking scenes are one thing, but Howard shows his creativity BETWEEN scenes, as with a dazzling montage introducing a funfair straight out of Lynchland.

Also: Clive Brook in drag.

THE POWER AND THE GLORY

Maybe Howard’s best-known movie, but one spoken of in terms of Preston Sturges’ script and its structural anticipation of CITIZEN KANE rather than the skilled direction. Ralph Morgan, a Howard regular, narrates flashbacks exploring the life of railroad baron Spencer Tracy, who has just committed suicide. The Rosebud here is the motive, and the theme is the dog-eared “What shall it profit a man etc?” Morgan’s reminiscences anticipate the KANE flashbacks by including numerous scenes he didn’t witness, and follow two separate timelines, one dedicated to the hero’s business success (Sturges appears to find him admirable, even when his strike-breaking causes hundreds of deaths), the other to his disastrous personal life.

Stand-out performance is from Colleen Moore, whose last scene is absolutely devastating. Elsewhere in the fest we got to see one of her earliest roles, or part of it, in the incomplete Rupert Julian race-melo, THE SAVAGE, so watching her play a character who ages thirty or so years here, in one of her last roles, seemed apt.

Only appearance from a member of the future Sturges stock company? Robert Warwick, at the time a popular supporting player at Universal.

According to Kehr, there are quite a few more Howards of interest, and the man’s biography also seems fascinating. He was producer on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town until a week before it opened, at which point an argument with the author led to him taking his name off the show — a self-destructive move of unique proportions, but one which seems to find its echo elsewhere in his career, which may be partly why he hasn’t been better known.

Sheep Shape

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 19, 2016 by dcairns

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BLACK SHEEP is an obscure Fox picture from Allan Dwan which is suprirsingly solid, amusing, charming, and touching.

Trivia: one of the stars is Adrienne Ames (pictured, left). She married actor Bruce Cabot. According to the IMDb ~

“In 1938 the pair appeared before a US Tax Appeals Board to explain why she wrote off more than $9000 in wardrobe and jewelry on her 1934 tax form, which she claimed was necessary for “professional reasons” (as was her maid). She claimed that her “daily expenses” included flowers, massages, taxis and beauty work.”

This is somehow perfect — the way she plays her role in BLACK SHEEP is entirely consistent with her real-life behaviour! “Stay away from that vampire,” advises Edmund Lowe.

I made this cute little picture the subject of this fortnight’s Forgotten.

At the Notebook.