Archive for Marshall Neilan

The Monday Intertitle: Stroike a Light

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-04-12-16h18m02s142Thanks to Christine of Ann Harding’s Treasures for recommending STELLA MARIS, a Mary Pickford vehicle from her favourite director, Marshall Neilan. This time, Pickford doubles the winsomeness in a dual role, which might cause the more ringlet-averse Shadowplayers out there to fear diabetic complications, but needlessly —

In the titular role, Pickford plays a rich, paralysed girl who dreams of a fairy-tale world beyond the bedroom to which she is confined. Her aunt and uncle, Lord and Lady Blount (ever wonder what the B. in Cecil B. DeMille stands for? No, no one ever does, but it’s Blount) have protected her from the world’s wickedness. Bruno Bettelheim may speak of the Uses of Enchantment, but the fairy tales Stella has been weaned on are devoid of poor people, suffering, jeopardy, and any hint of want. As a result, Stella is a fantastic drag to have around for her first few minutes of screen time, playing like Pickford to the power of infinity, a one-woman apocalypse of goodness and innocence annihilating all in her path.


BUT — balancing this sickly tsunami of sweetness is little Unity, a cockney “orfant” raising by chubby nuns but handed over to a vicious alcoholic to act as skivvy and whipping girl. Her life is as great a  torment as the limpid Stella’s is bliss (being paralysed doesn’t dampen our Stella’s spirits, not one jot) and Pickford rises to the challenge of transforming herself out of all recognition: it’s as if playing the uber-Pickford in one half of the film absolved her of the burden of prettiness elsewhere. Unity is lipless, shapeless, with one shoulder higher than the other, and her every movement is painstakingly constructed from minute pieces of cringing and cowering. If she had a forelock to tug, she’d tug it till her head came off.Stella will learn something of life and Unity will attain some happiness, but brilliantly the film doesn’t exactly do this. First, Stella gets an operation to restore the use of her legs, which threatens to remove the one interesting cloud in her otherwise tediously sunny existence.

“That’s Gustav Von Seyffertitz,” I say, recognizing the chief surgeon.

“Is she in safe hands?” asks Fiona.

“She’s in Seyffertitz’s hands.”


The prospect of America’s Canada’s Sweetheart running about on fully functional legs, dispensing sunshine in all directions has me nervous.

Meanwhile, Unity is beaten unconscious by her adoptive mother, then rescued by the woman’s husband who takes her to live with the Blounts. But (1) Stella and Unity barely meet, saving on splitscreen and relieving us of a predictable plot turn and (2) Unity’s life gets WORSE — ignored by the Blounts, pushed around by the servants, and in love with her adoptive father.

I would defy even a modern audience to predict exactly where this one goes.

Meanwhile there’s a gripping subplot involving Teddy the Wonder Dog, who appears courtesy of Mack Sennett. Teddy plays Teddy, Stella’s faithful hound, forever discomfited by the arrival of fresh pets — bunnies, kittens, what have you — at his mistress’s bedside. The final straw is the delivery of a tiny, frou-frou pooch, who Teddy clearly views as a diabolical usurper. One morning, spying the intruder at Stella’s garden table, he leads the canine co-respondent out of the garden and turns it loose in the street. Then he calmly resumes his place at Stella’s ankle.

Later: Stella is sunk in gloom because now that she can walk, she’s discovered that the world isn’t such a pretty place. She’s read a newspaper, met a poor person, and discovered that her beau has a drunken wife. But Teddy doesn’t know this. He presumes her distress is caused by the missing doggie, and Neilan brilliantly lets us know this with an effects shot literally illustrating what’s on Teddy’s mind. As he always does in the Mack Sennett shorts he’s famed for, Teddy the Wonder Dog must Save the Day.


Fiona is very impressed by this. “That’s exactly what a dog WOULD think. ‘This is something I’ve done.'” Dogs may not recognize themselves in mirrors, as chimpanzees do, or play video games with skill and focus, as pigs do, but they do feel shame and guilt. We taught them that. We’re brilliant.

“That’s the best thing I’ve ever seen,” Fiona concluded. She then suggested I write this review entirely in cockney, but I haven’t, swelp me guv’nor.

The Sunday Intertitle: Busywork

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2013 by dcairns


Start as you mean to go on, Zasu!

But the purpose of this post isn’t to discuss Marshall Neilan’s 1917 film of A LITTLE PRINCESS. It’s a scattershot round-up of a few recent doings that don’t quite suit a post of their own.


I don’t engage in modern culture that much — I watch one TV show (Breaking Bad) and read one comic (Batman Inc, which has just finished its run under Grant Morrison) and follow one stand-up comedian, Stewart Lee. And at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival I was too tardy even to get a ticket for him. But there were still tickets for Baconface, a Canadian cult comic who performs in a wrestling mask adorned with strips of glistening bacon. This is ironic, since (a) the tickets for Baconface are cheaper than the tickets for Stewart Lee and (2) Bacon Face IS Stewart Lee. So we have now usefully established that Stewart Lee with bacon on his face is worth less than Stewart Lee without bacon on his face.

Lee’s first appearance with a new character (which might either clear up or further confuse the problem of distinguishing Lee the man from the character he portrays in his stand-up, an exaggerated version of himself) was an unexpected revelation. Much of the material was stuff Lee could have done as himself, but much of it was demented backwoodsman parody, and the rest was a parody of that parody, vanishing down a plughole of deconstruction. And there was a movie reference, which allows me to tie it in to the function of this blog: Bacon Face was probably the only artiste at the Fringe to mention Volker Schloendorff’s film of THE HANDMAID’S TALE, part of an extended routine about dragging up as Margaret Atwood for Canada Day.



THE WORLD’S END is the least impressive film of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s informal “Cornetto Trilogy” but it’s still very enjoyable. I have only three criticisms are (1) It feels a bit like a first draft — I would have liked to see little clues to the alien invasion dropped in during the first half hour, a la Philip Kaufman’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS or THE BIRDS — instead, the movie attempts an abrupt genre switch like FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, OK in principle but leaving the first act to get by purely as situation comedy, with a rather irksome lead character (deliberately so, but an escape valve of sci-fi suspense would have helped) (2) Wright overuses the device of having a foreground object wipe frame and invisible lead into the next shot. Shame to hide a good cut, I say, and if you play this card too often it comes to look like you’re short of ideas, which we know is not the case with Wright, having seen the dazzling kinetics of SCOTT PILGRIM (3) the ending is really terrible, protracted and unfunny and inexplicable in character terms. That’s a real shame, but the middle is incredibly enjoyable. Not that new, after SHAWN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ, but hysterical entertainment all the same.


MONDO TEENO or TEENAGE REBELLION is a 1967 mondo shock doc — as dreadful as you’d expect, but with interesting credits, as the IMDb and Wikipedia list Eriprando Visconti (Luchino Visconti) and Richard Lester as co-directors. Lester is uncredited on the film, and it seemed unlikely he’d get involved in something like this, especially at the height of his career.

There IS some London street footage which looks a bit like the hidden-camera stuff in THE KNACK, so that might be how the rumour started.

I asked him about it and he said “As to Teenage Rebellion, this has been attributed to me before, usually on Wikipedia.  I don’t have the skills required to remove it, perhaps you can do it.” So I am saying this here so I can cite the director himself when I try to edit Wikipedia. Sort of like Woody Allen pulling Marshall McLuhan in to win his argument for him in ANNIE HALL.

The Sunday Intertitle: No Logo for Old Men

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on June 5, 2011 by dcairns

Gee Willikers, if Marshall Neilan had lived a bit longer he’d probably have had to seriously rethink his company logo.

It should be stressed that the year was 1925, the Nazi party didn’t exist, and the symbol in the centre had mystical associations but no political ones the Nazi party was still small, and the symbol’s mystic overtones still superseded its political ones. I’m betting this was the last time a swastika appeared as a logo on an MGM movie, though.

The film is THE SPORTING VENUS, an MGM melo with a bit of humour (but not enough) starring Blanche Sweet as “Lady Gwendolyne”, a high-class Scottish lady, and Ronald Colman as the lowly Scotsman who woos her.

Almost everybody’s Scottish in this film, except suave and villainous Count Marno (Lew Cody). And the titles boast of their location shooting — unlike many older “location” pics, this one does seem to have possibly sent its stars out of the country (to Cortachy Castle in Angus) rather than just gathering some second unit landscape plates to back-project behind them.

Too bad the movie’s so uninspired — heavy with MGM “quality”. Colman is handsome, Sweet is unusual, the Scottish settings were interesting to me, and I guess to be fair one would need to see a decent print before passing judgment on it. Hank Mann, the drunken millionaire from CITY LIGHTS, provides comedy relief. Here’s a review from the legendary F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre. I’d like to think my dodgy DVD was maybe filmed off his Steenbeck.

I haven’t had much luck with Marshall Neilan so far but I do intend to sample one of his more reputable hits.