Archive for Lupe Velez

The Monday Intertitle: Um

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , on April 7, 2014 by dcairns

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Just finished writing about THE SQUAW MAN, America’s first feature film and the first movie adaptation of a Broadway play (or is it? No it isn’t: see Comments section). The article will appear elsewhere, it is hoped, and I will tell you about it later.

Which means I have nothing to say here except to laugh and point at the funny intertitle.

Oh, OK. Let’s compare DeMille’s original (available only in its 1918 re-release form, I believe) with his talkie (VERY talkie) remake.

The first film manages to get its hero, an English toff, Out West in about fifteen minutes, despite pausing for a blaze at sea and some tricky business in New York. The remake takes half an hour to accomplish the same task, and doesn’t even manage the oceanic inferno or the Big Apple stopover.

The first film stars Red Wing, a full-blooded Winnebago (a tribe with what you might call cinematic implications), whereas the talking picture stars Lupe Velez. Lupe Velez was famous for not being an Indian.

The second film gets by with intertitles, although admittedly they have that Edisonian quality of sometimes telling you what you’re about to see — a film with its own spoilers — but the remake has as much verbiage as it has prairie, going on for miles in all directions. Everyone has been instructed to talk slow for the nice microphone, so that Warner Baxter (as an English nobleman, pwahahaha) sounds as much like an Indian as Lupe.

In spite of all this, I do find the remake, ponderous though it is (crude by 1931 standards) slightly more fun, if only because it contains this image —

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In fact, Eleanor Boardman, in her penultimate film,  seems to inhabit better compositions than the entire rest of the cast. I must see more of her, starting with Borzage’s THE CIRCLE, recently supplied by a thoughtful Shadowplayer

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The Monday Intertitle: Baby Ways

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 30, 2013 by dcairns

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FACT: the Hal Roach studios’ intertitles were always made out of fabric in order to use up all the waste material from the trousers-ripping sequence in PUTTING PANTS ON PHILIP YOU’RE DARN TOOTIN’.

SAILORS, BEWARE! (not quite clear if sailors should beware or if we should beware sailors) is one of the movies that included both Laurel and Hardy without formally teaming them. It may have given somebody a clue that these two were good together though, because they do share quite a few scenes. Stan has all his familiar schtick including the screwed-up-face bawling, but can also be tough and assertive and articulate in a way that’s distinct from his later team-up character. Ollie is Ollie in terms of mannerisms, but he’s playing a guy who thinks he’s a ladies’ man — there’s no hint of Oliver Norville Hardy’s sexual timidity, which always lay in wait behind his mask of southern chivalry.

It can be quite weird seeing the boys in earlier roles, applying their repertoire of acting techniques to different situations. In NO MAN’S LAW, Ollie plays a villain who espies the heroine enjoying a nude dip (in water perhaps a tad clearer than anyone expected). He has to express rapacious lust — which he does by pulling his pants up an extra inch or two and briskly rotating them from side to side at the waistband, a gesture familiar from countless later two-reelers and usually prefiguring some act of slapstick vengeance on James Finlayson. It sits oddly here.

Returning to SAILORS, BEWARE! Roach larded this one with goodness — we have the voluptuous Anita Garvin as a con artist, with midget Harry Earles (FREAKS) as her sidekick, in baby girl drag — and yes, he does smoke a cigar a la Baby Herman. We also get Lupe Velez as Baroness Behr, which at least is anti-type-casting. There’s some funny stuff, and it gives you just a sense of the explosion of comic energy that was going to come when the two stars really paired up.

vlcsnap-2013-12-29-18h14m43s230Abjection!

Am curious to see more proto-L&H films — anybody got any recommendations?

The Monday Intertitle: Low Amperage Rampage

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 30, 2013 by dcairns

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WHERE EAST IS EAST — well, isn’t that everywhere? Despite its mystifying title, this is less perplexing than many Tod Browning-Lon Chaney collaborations, being a fairly conventional melodrama in which Chaney, as scar-faced big-game hunter “Tiger” Haynes, tries to protect his beloved daughter Toyo (Lupe Velez) from her debauched mother Estelle Taylor.

At the climax, a gorilla runs amok, as it so often does in Browning pictures (see also THE UNHOLY THREE) — this one being set in Malaysia, the presence of the great ape is particularly unmotivated, though it should be noted that the excuse used in the earlier film is that Chaney is running a pet shop. And pet shops always have a gorilla or two on hand, don’t they? Yes they do. They keep them round the back so they don’t scare the budgies.

The movie is a soundie, so we get a few gimmicky bits of crowd noise, but this is a weak sister to WEST OF ZANZIBAR, which is grittier, darker and dirtier in every way. It feels like the censor has intervened to prevent the gorilla action getting too intense, which means the whole climax is offscreen, a rather unsatisfactory state of affairs. This only really feels like a Browning picture in the queasy intimations of incest and perversity, which are kept low-key.

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Also — rare use of early zoom lens — untranslated intertitles (anyone here read Malay? Or Chinese, possibly? Or maybe it’s just made-up squiggles from the MGM titles department?) — and the classic Browning device (featured in half his oeuvre, it seems) of an exotic animal appearing somewhere it clearly doesn’t belong. I love the opossum and armadillos of DRACULA, and here we have an extremely rare Malayan gorilla.

This vengeful female ape, Rangha, is played by one Richard Neill, in drag I guess you could call it, and is the most nearly spherical fake ape I’ve ever seen, Neill seems to have been playing leading roles circa 1910 (Hefty in THE ROMANCE OF HEFTY BURKE) and only declined to simian roles in the twenties, but was able to maintain some kind of fringe relationship to showbiz up until 1959, mainly playing humans. He died in 1971. “And leave showbiz?”

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