Archive for Goldwyn

The Sunday Intertitle: Hello, Mabel

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 24, 2014 by dcairns


No wonder the Goldwyn lion looks grumpy: he’s only a painting. In those days, lions were only paintings. I guess it was Mayer who fleshed him out.

Two more Mabels. Mabel Normand left Keystone for the same reason nearly everyone else left — Sennett paid badly — and for another reason, that she was tired of being on the bottom of the bill with short films while everyone else was making features and getting all the respect.


At Goldwyn, she made WHAT HAPPENED TO ROSA which is pretty funny in places but only really gets going when Mabel drags up. The romantic comedy angle suffers from a lack of any real problem to solve, and the movie fizzles out. But the “plot,” in which gullible counter-hopper Mabel is convinced she has an exotic Spanish other self, at least allows her to be exotically glam. But it’s funnier seeing her as a boy with a coal-smudged face, throwing herself all over the furniture.


Much more interesting, we thought, was THE NICKEL-HOPPER, produced by Hal Roach. Roach had the right slapstick sensibility, and Mabel excels as a taxi-dancer whose work-shy father ruins all her chances at romance, until…


There’s a great back garden chase climax on this one. It’s a weird length, 37 minutes, but it’s jam-packed with shenanigans. And the cast! In one scene we get Oliver Hardy as an exuberant jazz drummer — and it’s impressive to see one of the most distinctive movie outlines inhabited by a whole different personality, sans moustache and equally shorn of his trademark fiddliness — and Boris Karloff, playing the same kind of Not Safe In Taxis sex louse he would essay so memorably in FIVE STAR FINAL (under the name T. Vernon Isopod, which I never get tired of saying).


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 11, 2010 by dcairns

I used to think it was pretty neat that HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, my favourite movie, and the first MGM release, actually features a prominently placed lion in its action. Leo plays a crucial role in the plot, so it seemed just super that he also turns up in the MGM logo, proclaiming Ars Gratia Artis in lionese.

But now I’ve finally seen a Samuel Goldwyn production (SOULS FOR SALE) from before he got into bed, however briefly, with Mr. Mayer and Mr. Metro (what a funny name to have!), and I see that Leo is already very much part of the picture. Although he hasn’t yet perfected his roar, he just blinks very slowly and sadly at us, and attempts a sort of Cliff Richard sneer.

Actually, I’m not absolutely positive it’s the same lion.

Some dissertation could probably be written on Leo’s various incarnations. In the Technicolor days he lets rip with a massive snarl right off the bat, whereas in the silents, apart from being inaudible, he tends to sit there like a lemon for a quite a bit before giving vent. A sign of the faster pace of later movies, or a consequence of the demands of sound? Michel Chion should get to work on this.

Intertitle of the Week: Slumdog Millinery

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 17, 2009 by dcairns

Blizzard, underworld emperor of the Barbary Coast (Lon Chaney), attempts to conquer San Francisco — with headgear:


Such is the demented plot of THE PENALTY, directed by underrated Hollywood hack Wallace Worseley (THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME). This is the one where Chaney, as Blizzard, is famously truncated at the knees, stumping about in leather stump-boots, an impressive bit of costume and performance trickery. Gasp! as Chaney climbs a wall without benefit of legs! Wince! as he jumps off a table!


Too many good intertitles in this to number. I could take an intertitle a week from this film for a year, without running out of fresh delights, but I might run out of things to say. A few choice ones ~

“Hats and men — what’s the devil up to?”

“That monster ought to be chloroformed and put out of the way.”

“Listen, my baffled hero — if you wish the lady to go free –”

“–you must hand over to me your superb legs.”

“Don’t grieve, dear — death interests me.”

The movie’s chief strategy is to hurl surprise in the audience’s face with the hysterical frenzy of a Japanese schoolgirl in a water balloon fight. And the censor seems to have gotten into the spirit of the thing too, with bizarre decisions which flip conventional morality on its head. When Blizzard is eventually cured of his evil by an experimental brain operation (it wasn’t the loss of his legs that embittered him, it was the “contusion at the base of the skull” which drove him to psychopathy) and allowed to lead an evil life, the moral guardians of the day objected, even though the film clearly states that the character was not legally or morally responsible for his early crimes. So the studio shot an ending where a former criminal associate assassinates Blizzard and flees into the night. Justice is satisfied — in an ending where a good man is murdered and the guy who did it escapes scot-free to continue his criminal empire.


Even after the end title, we get the thrill of seeing the Goldwyn lion (MGM as yet but a twinkle), who does not bestir himself to roar, but merely sits, flyblown and depressed, wondering when is lunch. Based on this experience, I’m starting to think director Wallace Worseley may be a competitor for Tod Browning’s crown, as king of silent insanity. A fresh viewing of HUNCHBACK seems like a possibility.


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