Archive for Hedda Hopper

Naked Constance Bennett Destroys Editing

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2014 by dcairns

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THE COMMON LAW is an RKO-Pathe pre-code featuring a skinny, tousled, painfully young Joel McCrea (whose acting, however, is exactly as it would remain, which is to say, just great) as a painter in a Paris garret and a young, skinny, non-tousled Constance Bennett as his life model.

The story isn’t very interesting, though sometimes the dialogue is OK and the artists’ ball bit is a nice spectacle. There are two things of greater interest than either of those, though.

The first is the way Constance Bennett destroys the art of montage by disrobing. The movie is pre-code alright, but it’s not THAT pre-code, so that when McCrea is conversing with the nekkid lady, director Paul L. Stein (a minor German import) is compelled to cover the conversation from one side only, that of McCrea (today the temptation might be to go the opposite route). This has the effect of making the editor’s craft, elsewhere striving for invisibility, very much visible and indeed obtrusive. Bennett becomes a merely radiophonic presence, like a putatively unclothed poltergeist or something. The longer she remains invisibly naked, the more visible and the more naked Stein becomes.

Finally, Stein tracks away, way back, red-faced, to take in the whole scene and we might wonder what all the fuss was about, since CB is artfully draped…

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The other thing of note is Robert Williams, who would be elevated to leading man status in Frank Capra’s PLATINUM BLONDE, opposite Jean Harlow and Loretta Young. Close proximity to that pair might be more than many of us could handle, and Williams promptly dropped dead, before the film was even in cinemas.

It’s even more tragic than that cheap joke. Williams was a unique talent, with an odd voice, face and delivery, but so appealing and offbeat that he could conceivably have been a major star. Even if he’d simply sunk back into best pal parts (his role here), his quirky, almost Fieldsian delivery would surely have kept him busy in the Frank McHugh/Jack Carson type roles.

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Less interesting but noteworthy: Lew Cody, Hedda Hopper, and Yola D’Avril, who played an unending array of Fifis in early thirties Hollywood. OK, only three of her characters were actually called Fifi, but three is quite a lot. Al Pacino, one of our most versatile thesps, has NEVER played a character called Fifi, which gives you some idea.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Balcony scenes

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on February 6, 2011 by dcairns

Alan Crosland’s DON JUAN is a fabulous confection of clashing tones — a tragic prologue in which infidelity ruins the family of Don’s dad; a bedroom farce introduction to Don as a young man in Rome; a melodramatic second act as Lucrezia Borgia plots his downfall; an action movie climax where our hero becomes a virtual superman, slaying armies of opponents with a single swordthrust (OK, I exaggerate, but the movie started it).

Subjective camera duel scene!

Thrillingly, this is a soundie — so we get an excellent Vitaphonic synch score, and “realistic” clacking swords during the duels. Of course, the public wants to hear swords, and of course they have no interest in hearing the World’s Greatest Actor actually speak. In fairness, this decision allows the film to enjoy the fluidity of late silent Hollywood filmmaking, rather than suffer the longeurs of early talkiedom.

Barrymore is quite the dude in this, ably adapting to each of the story’s wildly veering mood swings. His comedy is ebullient, he suffers majestically, and you’ll never see a buckle swashed with such furious abandon. With Barrymore, the athleticism of Fairbanks and the masochism of Brando, are combined, with plenty of wit and the excitement of the perpetual danger that he’s going to go completely over the top and actually savage the furniture with his splendid teeth.

Mwahahahaha — Barrymore as Don’s dad.

Down the cast lurk Hedda Hopper (!), Mary Astor and, most alluring of all, Myrna Loy, here captured in the act of cradling a whippet.

All strikingly costumed by some uncredited genius… who is responsible?