Archive for Norma Talmadge

Secrets and Les

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on October 3, 2018 by dcairns

SECRETS (1933), is Mary Pickford’s final film, and a remake by writer Frances Marion and director Frank Borzage of their 1924 drama of the same year, which I only realised after twenty minutes as I felt the deja vu lapping around my ankles.

Leslie Howard is male lead this time, replacing Eugene O’Brien, which helps Act 1 play as a romantic comedy (Norma Talmadge was the star of the original, which I caught in Bologna). Act 2 is a western, Act 3 is a kind of political/society drama, and then there’s a romantic comedy coda with the stars in old age make-up.

I don’t know what drove FB & FM to remake this film, since it never hung together the first time. With rapid course corrections as to tone and genre and location, and the characters aging from young (Pickford plays a teenager at forty-one without straining one’s credulity) to old (the make-up is kept shadowy but holds up well, as do the perfs), the only thing to stop this disintegrating into a bag of bits would be a thematic link, as suggested by the title. But the various story units don’t keep the idea of secrecy in play — it gets produced from nowhere right at the end to con us into thinking we’ve been watching something with connective tissue, cohesion, a reason to be one long film rather than three or four short ones.

That said, the chapters all have merit, and our protags make a sweet couple. Borzage ha become a lot more experimental since the early twenties, though he was always likely to reach for an unconventional touch from time to time, from the early days up until at least MOONRISE. Pickford talks well, and acquires, as Fiona observed, a bit of Howard’s technique — if it IS a technique — of stumbling over words and repeating them, adding naturalism to the theatrical situations. But her best moments are visual, and a tragic sequence where her baby is killed in the midst of a wild west gunfight leads to a masterclass in wordless performance, played out as bullets smash the window panes behind her, unnoticed by the grieving mother,

 

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The Sunday Intertitle: I’m Your Secretary

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on August 31, 2014 by dcairns

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THE SOCIAL SECRETARY, from the husband-and-wife team of John Emerson and Anita Loos. Emerson is remembered almost solely for being Mr. Loos, which isn’t quite fair but is nearly fair. As director, he does a drunke scene wobblycam shot here that’s pretty damn inventive for 1916. But it’s his sole flourish.

You can’t quite make a feminist hero out of Anita. Because I say so. While the fact that she had a glittering career and was such a sharp observer of the Hollywood scene makes her a poster girl for the cause, what she wrote is informed by all sorts of prejudices of the day — she’s not trying to strike a blow for the girls, just trying to amuse herself and her audience.

In THE SOCIAL SECRETARY, Norma Talmadge can’t keep a job because her bosses are always flirting with her. Cue shots of dowdy secretaries at the secretarial rooming house she stays at, complaining that they’ve never had any problems. Meanwhile, a rich society dame is complaining her secretaries always leave to get married. Her ne’er-do-well son suggests advertising for one with the proviso “Must be extremely unattractive to men.” Norma sees this ad and sees in it the answer to her problem. Donning glasses and putting her hair in a bun and assuming a sniffy expression, she snaps up the position in a jiffy, even though none of this disguise conceals the fact that her figure is… well, “unattractive” wouldn’t be the first word I’d think of.

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This being 1916, on her days off, Norma throws off her frumpy dress to reveal, beneath it, another frumpy dress.

Should have been a nice romcom but is more straight drama. Most welcome surprise is a sleazy journalist, played by —

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Erich Von Stroheim. Trading monocle for pince-nez. Playing it for laughs, which consists of a sour expression to match Norma’s when she’s in frumpface.

Intertitles keep harping on about what a scavenger, what a vulture he is, kind of unnecessary when Loos has named him Mr. Buzzard. Intertitles generally a bit lacking in wit. “Was Anita on strike?” asked Fiona after one which read, simply, “Midnight.” “It’s no MATRIMANIAC,” I agreed. “Nothing is.”

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes -and- But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady

The Sunday Intertitle: Puff Daddy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 4, 2012 by dcairns

Do you recognize this glowering visage — haunted, hangdog and criminous?

The film is GOING STRAIGHT, a 1916 Norma Talmadge vehicle in which the serious one of the Talmadge sisters is rather sidelined, screen hubby Ralph Lewis getting most of the (melo)drama as a former housebreaker who’s built up a respectable business, only to have a wretched former cohort turn up to blackmail him into undertaking one last “job” —

The fiend in human form, who works, Fagin-like, with the assistance of a saintly street urchin, is played by your friend and mine Eugene Pallette.

My friend Lawrie once told me during a screening of SHANGHAI EXPRESS, rather to my astonishment, that the bloated wine-sack with the bullfrog basso-profundo was once a handsome leading man. It’s not really true. The earliest Pallette sighting I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy was INTOLERANCE, in which he plays a huguenot with the emphasis on huge. Though not the full cannonball of later years, he’s still sufficiently chunky to make the sight of him in tights… memorable.

But in GOING STRAIGHT, made the same year, Huge Euge seems pretty willowy. Maybe it’s just the more forgiving nature of men’s fashions in the twentieth century, or maybe he put on a bunch of weight during the months between productions. However, a strange effect occurs watching the film, in which E.P. initially appears unrecognizable, a wispy figure, robbed of his orotund orations and dirigible circumference, but as the footage unspools before you, it’s like he’s slowly donning an ectoplasmic fat suit, spreading and darkening like a volcanic cloud, and his low-key playing assumes the familiar gestures and expressions we know from the boisterous pre-code fat man, until his eventual defenestration threatens to tear the film from its sprockets.

The movie itself is a Griffithesque morality play from that era when the American crime movie had more in common with Dickens than with the later gangster cycle. Everything’s slanted to favour the upwardly-mobile protagonists, who may have started as housebreakers but who are now allowed to lie, conceal, rob and kill in order to protect their respectability!

Some kind of underworld slang? No, children’s midnight pantry raid. I always get those two things mixed up.

The movie is available from Grapevine Video, which means you get a print that looks like it’s been blasted with buckshot and fed through a lawnmower, but this is one of their better-looking releases: contrast and brightness are strong, and I think they even chose a nicer door to project it on.