Archive for Marion Davies

The Sunday Intertitle: The Idiot Stick

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2022 by dcairns

Afternoon, everybody.

Before Charlie meets the blind flower girl in CITY LIGHTS he was at one point going to spend five solid minutes struggling with a stick stuck in a grating outside a department store.

An entire sequence without a single intertitle, pure pantomime, and with no discernible connection otherwise to the film’s plot. Since the statue unveiling sequence is also non-plot-related, this would, I think, have delayed the start of the film’s real story by a dangerous amount, so cutting it was the right decision.

Still, I think it’s a great sequence — depending on the company you watch it with, it’s either progressively more hilarious or more frustrating. If you’re into it, the frustration is part of the hilarity.

Great supporting performances. I remember being astonished at who was playing the idiot messenger boy, then forgetting, then finding out again and being astonished all over again. It’s Charles Lederer, future screenwriter for Howard Hawks among others — he was Marion Davies’ favourite nephew, and Chaplin may have met him at San Simeon, where he was a regular guest, or through Marion, with whom he seems to have been intimate, or maybe through socialite-AD Harry Crocker.

Crocker himself plays the window dresser who gets so infuriated with Charlie, and he’s excellent. Though short, and ultimately deleted, it’s a much more challenging role than Rex, the King of the Air in THE CIRCUS. Long takes, lots of business and expressive pantomime. The actors have to sustain it and communicate it without the aid of title cards or cutaways.

The scene depends for its effect on a hierarchy of stupidity. The mouth-breathing Lederer, barely conscious or alive, is at the lowest end of the idiot spectrum, regarded with horror by Charlie. In an earlier film, at Keystone or Essanay, Charlie might have bullied the dolt, but here the only cruelty is in the simple observation. It’s still a bit cruel. We can call him an idiot, maybe, because he’s just a comic type, not a specific syndrome, though David Robinson goes further and calls him “a haunting figure whose malevolent, wooden-faced idiocy gives him the look of a distant and mentally-retarded cousin of Buster Keaton,” a beautiful turn of phrase except for the slur (if you look up the origins of the phrase “mental retardation” you discover it’s actually racist).

Charlie himself is in the middle phase of the idiot scale — his obsession with pushing the stick through the grating, even though he’s just passing the time, is one symptom, his inability to understand that pushing one side or the other results in an identical effect, and only pushing the centre can be expected to work, is the other plank upon which his dumbness rests.

But Crocker’s shop man is the third kind of idiot. Like Oliver Hardy, he’s just intelligent enough to think he’s smart, but not smart enough to realise he’s an idiot. He gets obsessed with Charlie’s stick problem, and excited and infuriated about it. Charlie at least is smart enough to know it doesn’t matter one way or another. He’s never agitated about his dumb stick. Although he does get possessive of it when the message boy shows an interest.

Charlie’s incomprehension of Crocker is a subtle joke in its own right: the gag being that Charlie is completely unable to understand a clear and explicit pantomime.

The fourth form of idiocy, I guess, is that of the street gawkers who stop to watch Charlie. They don’t even have any ideas to suggest. Their passivity may tell us something about Chaplin’s attitude to his audience, or that may be a reach. But once again, as in THE CIRCUS, Charlie finds himself an unintentional entertainer.

Chaplin was very pleased with this sequence — “a whole story in itself” — but it had to go, precisely BECAUSE it was so self-contained, so it was left to Kevin Brownlow to issue it as part of Unknown Chaplin, thirty years after it was shot, by which time Chaplin, Lederer, Crocker and probably everyone else in the crowd and behind the camera, were gone.

Page Seventeen III: The End of Innocence

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2022 by dcairns

“Slaver, pound to a penny!” yells our young Nelson. “Bosun, clear away the gun. Tomkins, open the arms chest! Sir Harry, I’d be obliged if your fellows would take station two either side, ready to fire if need be. Tally-ho!” And he seized the wheel while his engineer thundered his motor and our little sloop fairly flew over the water. Ballantyne’s dozen tars were diving below deck and emerging with pieces and cutlasses, and I directed my sergeant to place his fellows at the rail as requested, and shocked his military soul by countermanding his order to them to put on their hats and coats. You shoot straighter in shirt sleeves when there’s an African sun blazing down on you.

Sir Harry leaned his head close to Faulks’ ear and whispered: “Keep looking at it for as long as you can, old man. Try not to let it get away.” Then in his normal, conversational tone, which was a kind of cheerful roar, he spoke to Archer: “Seems you have a bit of a sticky problem here, what?”

‘Adzooks!’ exclaimed the bailiff–‘sure Harry Wakefield, the nattiest lad at Whitson Tryste, Wooler Fair, Carlisle Sands, or Stagshaw Bank, is not going to show white feather? Ah, this comes of living so long with kilts and bonnets–men forget the use of their daddles.’

The child disdained to reply; she had heard it too often. She waited patiently until she had been tucked, clean and sweet-smelling, into a white-painted crib. Then she favored her mother with a smile that inevitably made her mother think of the sun bursting into a rosy pre-dawn. She remembered Hank’s reaction to the color pictures of his beautiful daughter, and with the thought, realized how late it was.

Well, the idea of Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore looking for Judge Goldfobber sounds somewhat alarming to me, and I figure maybe the job Judge Goldfobber gives them turns out bad and they wish to take Judge Goldfobber apart, but the next minute Harry says to me like this:

The day ended when the light became yellow. The cast was given the call for next day and dismissed. Griffith would go this office to meet with Frank Woods, Albert Banzhaf (his lawyer), someone named Harry Aitken, who had something to do with money, and another named J.A. Barry, who seemed to be a manager of sorts. These were not secret, closed-door meetings; they were merely private business meetings. Nobody snooped or listened at doorways. Privacy was privacy, not to be invaded. What they discussed and what they planned was their business. In fact, I learned very one never to listen to secrets of any kind. Then, if the matter ever became public, it could never be traced to me. So I added one extra beatitude to the Biblical list: blessed are the ignorant, for they shall never be called to account.

Ruth Bryan Owen, who was the Ambassador to Sweden or Norway or something, and Mr. And Mrs. Harry Winston were there too. Jim was very fond of Mrs. Winston. As for the rest of the people, although it was a very small group, I didn’t even know their names. I wasn’t interested in them one bit. But I knew that they were supposed to be the social elite of Miami.

Seven passages with seven men called Harry from seven books stacked in a teetering pile with many others by my armchair.

Flashman on the March by George MacDonald Fraser; ⤝✤⤞ by Gahan Wilson, from Again, Dangerous Visions Book 2 edited by Harlan Ellison; The Two Drovers by Sir Walter Scott, from Selected English Short Stories (Nineteenth Century); That Only a Mother by Judith Merrill from Science Fiction Hall of Fame II edited by Robert Silverberg; Breach of Promise from Runyon on Broadway by Damon Runyon; Adventures with D.W. Griffith by Karl Brown; The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Heart by Marion Davies.

The Sunday Intertitle: Ready for Teddy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on July 15, 2018 by dcairns

Ugh. It turns out I have a DVD of Monta Bell’s LIGHTS OF OLD BROADWAY starring two Marion Davieses, but it is of unwatchably poor quality. Good thing we saw a beautiful print of it in Bologna.

The juvenile Teddy Roosevelt who makes a cameo is replaced by a faceless radioactive golem, which is a lot less funny. He just makes the whole thing creepy. Throughout this blurry nightmare, anyone who’s not in tight close-up loses all their facial features except for eyebrows, if dark, and mustaches, if present. So, obviously Marion is the big loser here.

Balanced atop a tower of tables, our star is transformed from a feisty Irish colleen to a terrifying, flour-encrusted zombie out of a Lucio Fulci movie. Don’t bootleg, kids! Home taping is killing music — and it’s illegal. Although, if you want to experience an analog of extreme autism, watching a silent movie populated by faceless cyphers might, I suppose, be illuminating.