Archive for Mildred Harris

Stage Door Connie

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2021 by dcairns

Talentless poet and war veteran Arthur Phelps (Conrad Nagel), blinded by an exploding cigar given him by New Mexico bar girl Poll Patchouli (Dorothy Dalton), is obsessed with French ballerina Rosa Duchene (Mildred Harris) — but Poll tricks him into marrying her by putting on an ‘Allo, ‘Allo accent — I suppose, being blind, he’s more easily fooled by her Franglais intertitles — Poll also leads him to believe that a slender volume of recipes is his poetry, accepted by a publisher at last — but when a miracle eye doctor comes to El Paso, Poll realises she must shatter Senor Phelps’ illusions by giving him his sight back — bitterly disappointed by what his restored sight shows him, Phelps divorces Poll, who sets fire to his shack in revenge, but it’s OK, in a way — he’s just struck oil and is now rich, enabling him to zoom off to Siam where Rosa is enchanting a young Prince (John Davidson) — Phelps rescues a lamb that was going to be thrown into an alligator pit as a sacrifice to buddha (bloodiest of the eastern gods) — Rosa challenges her two suitors to rescue her opera glove from the “sacred reptiles” — the Prince has a go but requires rescuing by Phelps — both Phelps and the Prince realise that Rosa is No Good and Phelps returns to the arms of Rosa, who at that moment gets stabbed by her gaucho paramour John Rodriguez (Theodore Kosloff) but the wound is non-fatal and the recuperating Poll kisses Phelps while their dog, Chum, tries to get in on the final clinch. Fade-out. Painting of a jester for no obvious reason.

That’s a condensed version of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1921 crazed romance FOOL’S PARADISE, shown at/streamed from Pordenone Festival of Silent Film. It’s what I call an epic.

I have made nothing up, distorted nothing. I’m reminded of a line in Gilliam’s BARON MUNCHAUSEN: “This is exactly the sort of thing no-one ever believes.”

“Cecil has a habit of biting off more than he can chew,” said brother William, “and then chewing it.”

This farrago of implausibilities is visually sumptuous, with costumes by Mitchell Leisen, Clare West AND Natasha Rambova — my guess is, Rambova did the ornate ballet, Leisen may have done the exotic stuff, but he could do realism too, so that may have been West. Cinematographers Alvin Wyckoff and Karl Struss, both super-talents, shot it.

Pordenone likes to shine a light on lesser-known talents, and fest director Jay Weissberg made special mention of screenwriters Sada Cowan & Beulah Marie Dix. DeMille had this whole staple of female screenwriters who helped him target his films, very successfully, at the female cinemagoer’s heart. It is hard, at this historical distance, to imagine anyone taking this cascade of nonsense seriously, except Cecil himself. But you can imagine them enjoying it. We enjoyed it. I hadn’t seen a lot of Conrad Nagel. I feel I have now.

The Sunday Intertitle: Backstreet Osteopath

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 5, 2021 by dcairns

I thought it was worth peeking in on Harold Lloyd to see what he was up to just as Chaplin was gearing up to make THE KID. Well, he’d discovered the skyscraper: NEVER WEAKEN begins with Harold and Mildred Davis getting engaged by fishing rod, each leaning from the window of a separate high-rise office. It makes for a formally inventive start: wide shots of city, close-up of ring dangling and hand reaching, then the two-shot that explains how this all relates.

When Harold’s boss catches him in his remote flirtation, there’s a rare effects shot — well, actually, just a painted backdrop showing the girders of the building under construction next door. Lloyd would duly become known for avoiding any apparent fakery, and we’ll shortly see some more convincing scenery captured in the by-now well-known technique of building a set on the roof of a building, to provide an authentic up-high backdrop.

Harold discovering his boss’s presence when his foot, swaying in the air as he lies on his stomach, is almost exactly like Jackie Coogan discovering the kop behind him when he draws his hand back to throw a rock.

The Universal Language of Schtick.

Were French windows really a thing in office blocks? These characters are already showing a daringness regarding vertiginous heights that I would falter at.

Mildred’s boss is a Chaplin actor, Scotland’s own William Gillespie!

Harold has very much discovered his young-man-on-the-go mode. Here, it’s surprisingly crooked: going out with a tumbler to stage fake accidents to drum up trade for Mildred’s osteopath boss. It’s essentially a snake-oil sales pitch. and, when you think about it, Harold’s Young American archetype is somewhere in line with the P.T. Barnum/Thomas Edison arch-capitalist.

The trick is amusing, but when it does wrong it’s even funnier, in a grotesque sort of way: a mistaken-identity gag causes Harold to try his phony bone doctor act on a genuinely unconscious man. Unable to rouse the concussed pedestrian, he does the next best thing, faking up a recovery by puppeteering the comatose yet oddly rigid victim.

Can’t establish who that jug-eared unconcho actor is, but he’s awfully good.

Separated from his tumbler-accomplice (we should all have one), Harold resorts to actually injuring randos himself, or causing them to be injured, drumming up business by leaving the osteo’s card in the benumbed fingers of each fallen mark. Now we see the violence inherent in the system. Is this much different from Charlie’s window-breaking/repair business in THE KID? You might say that Lloyd’s scheme is motivated by romantic yearning and therefore more sympathetic, but Chaplin’s is motivated by the simple need to survive. Also, Charlie’s vandalism and fraud are enacted in a more plodding, solemn, less exuberant way: survival is a fairly grim business, and Chaplin doesn’t strike me as being so damn keen on it. Though the kops menacing him are dramatic foes, his victims are notably sympathetic, poor people like himself. So Charlie is stuck in the capitalist system, which is miserable, and he maintains his optimism by operating outside the law and using his creativity, whereas Harold seems like an embodiment of that system.

Like a lot of comedy shorts of the time (most of the Arbuckle-Keatons, certainly), NEVER WEAKEN falls into two halves, kickstarting a fresh plot midway, cueing the skyscraper business via an artfully contrived heartbreak-suicide plot.

I love how Mildred’s portrait gets a halo from an upturned hat.

Harold obsessing over the correct spelling of his suicide note is also very good.

When he’s contemplating falling on his letter-spike, Harold’s rubber glove which replaces his missing fingers is more noticeable than I’ve seen before, though when he pricks his index finger it’s naturally his real one.

Ruthless as ever, Harold rigs up a Heath Robinson/Rube Goldberg infernal contraption which will implicate an innocent visitor in his death — a string looped round the office doorknob is to trigger the pistol aimed at his heart. Of course farce-plotting intervenes to save our hero, but also to place him in serious peril.

Seen in the light of Harold’s later human fly stuff, this sequence always seemed just TOO SHORT to me. With the same director, Fred Newmeyer, Lloyd would soon explore just how prolonged he could make this kind of situation, finding to his great profit (but eventual stereotyping) that the longer you could extend the suspense, the more you could get out of it.

Incidentally, the building Harold uses here is the same one Keaton must have shot on for THE THREE AGES.

The Sunday Intertitle: Kid Kaiser

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 25, 2021 by dcairns

THE BOND is sometimes not even counted as a proper Chaplin film and I’d only ever seen a few seconds of it. I didn’t realise it was such a substantial piece. True, it’s basically an advertisement — selling war bonds. Chaplin was somewhat obligated to make it as he was receiving a lot of criticism for not being in uniform and dying in a ditch, which is apparently what we want from our geniuses.

Some evidence suggests that the film was not his top priority — he made it in just a week, shutting down production on A DOG’S LIFE SHOULDER ARMS when he was reminded he was supposed to be doing this. The sets are, uniquely for Chaplin, simple white line drawings on a black background. If he was providing this thing free for the war effort, he’d be damned if he’d spend a lot of money on it.

But THE BOND is really good! The sets — presumably by Charles D. Hall, drawing (literally) on his Karno stage experience, are striking and delightful. It would have been interesting to see CC experiment more in this mode, maybe for one of his numerous dream sequences. Some critics have admitted the cheapness of Chaplin’s sets and argued that this was a shrewd choice, as Chaplin didn’t want to the backgrounds to upstage him. I, on the other hand, deny that the sets are cheap, except in the very early films — but these graphic jobs could be used to justify the argument.

The film has a simple, effective structure: we’re taken through a variety of bonds: the bond of friendship, the bond of love, the bond of marriage, leading up to the liberty bond. What’s striking is the film’s cynical attitude to the first three types of bond. Albert Austin as the friend bores Charlie with a supposedly funny story, then hits him up for a loan. Like a lot of rich people, and especially those who have been poor, Charlie was known to be somewhat tightfisted, and probably he’d been plagued by hand-out seekers once his success was known. As the embodiment of love, Edna flirts outrageously, showing an ankle the saucy minx, so that what we’re seeing is clearly pure, or impure, lust. Marriage is shown as another grift, a means of parting the poor groom from his money. This is all fascinating since Chaplin, on the rebound from Edna, was to marry Mildred Harris in October 1918. David Robinson pretty much implies that teenage actress Mildred was on the make, hoping to advance her acting career and profit financially from a union with the insanely famous comic.

The film does not satirically undercut the bonds it’s supposed to be selling… that would be going too far. But the scathing depiction of other bonds does rather make one wonder.

As he would again in SHOULDER ARMS, Syd Chaplin plays the Kaiser, advancing lecherously upon Lady Liberty (Edna again), as he would upon Molly Wright necessitating his flight from the UK some years later. It’s a little uncomfortable to see him being so much himself. This of course is Liberty’s second appearance in a Chaplin film, after the notably astringent depiction in THE IMMIGRANT.

Walloping Syd/Kaiser Bill with a very large mallet, the only bit I’d seen before, is good, cartoonish fun, and the fact that he takes so long to fall down, legs getting more rubbery, manner more crosseyed and dazed with each Whack-a-mole smack, is extremely amusing to me. Syd was a talented performer, curse him.

The creepy lunar Cupid is played by four-year-old Joan Marsh, later a platinum bombshell in pre-codes. Albert Austin doubles up as Brummie Uncle Sam.