Archive for Priscilla Dean

The Sunday Intertitle: The Flamingo Kid

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2017 by dcairns

 

SLIPPING WIVES is supposed to be a star vehicle for Priscilla Dean, who used to be big — she was in OUTSIDE THE LAW and WHITE TIGER for Tod Browning. But gagman-director Fred Guiol can’t find much business for her, which means the slack gets taken up by Stan Laurel as the traveling salesman and Oliver Hardy as the butler. The two get quite a lot of scenes together, most of them roughhouse stuff, but the idea of them as a team hasn’t quite taken hold yet. It’s only 1927.

An artist’s wife wants to make her neglectful husband jealous, and Stan is enlisted as faux-respondent. The intertitle greeting his entrance seems like a paraphrase of whatever Buster Keaton was spoofing in HIS first intertitle as a solo comedian, in THE ‘HIGH SIGN’. Was this “came from nowhere” line a famous title card for William S. Hart or someone like that? Lost to time?

There are several good laughs in this but it’s not quite there yet — Stan and Ollie’s hairstyles would be enough to confirm that. But the story came in handy — THE FIXER UPPERS reuses a good part of it. Hard-bitten vamp Mae Busch recruits greetings card salesman Babe Hardy as faux beau in this one, and Charles “Ming the Merciless” Middleton is hilariously cast as the husband. And the stakes are raised tremendously: Middleton, a crack shot, challenges Ollie the interloper to duel to the death with pistols at midnight.

In the local artist’s bar, Stan blows the foam from his beer into Ollie’s lap, causing him to complain that not only has he got to die, but that Stan is making his last moments miserable. Which is indeed Stan’s purpose in life, though he’s unaware of it. The boys resolve not to keep the fatal rendezvous, but just then they meet an old acquaintance from reel one, comedy dipsomaniac Arthur Housman.

Cut to the boys, now completely drunk, being delivered by cops to Middleton’s house. The cops found the card Chas. presented in Ollie’s pocket and think this is his address. With the perfect logic of a nightmare, Ollie will awaken at exactly the hour he’s to be shot at, in just the place it’s scheduled to occur.

As always with matters concerning Ollie’s fate, it gets worse. Busch convinces her  grim-visaged, overly declamatory husband that she was only fooling to make him jealous — instants before Stan’s snoring gives away the boys’ presence in the marital bed itself. You see the brilliance of it: the explanation has been given once, and believed, which means it won’t be accepted a second time, even if true. This obeys a screenwriting principle that if any good luck should befall your protagonist, it must happen at the most inopportune, or indeed disastrous, moment.

The climax of the film isn’t quite up to the middle act, but it’s all very enjoyable. Hard to believe this was made right alongside the disappointing BONNIE SCOTLAND. That moment of strongest suspense — the boys in a room with a deadly enemy, but as yet undiscovered — is done even better in the earlier SCRAM!, where it’s kind of extended for the better part of the film. Haven’t seen that one since I was a kid, when it caused my mother, a vulnerable target for comic suspense (she screams at Harold Lloyd human fly stuff) to have near fits.

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The Monday Intertitle: Aces Wild and Wicked

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2013 by dcairns

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THE ACE OF HEARTS (1921) is directed by Wallace HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME Worsley and deals with a secret society of anarchists or communists or something (the film never specifies) who are plotting the assassination of a vicious capitalist, known only as The Man Who Had Lived Too Long. For ages the conspirators are the only characters we meet, and since they include hero John Bowers and heroine Leatrice Joy as well as uncertainly-positioned character player Lon Chaney we’re in the odd position of rooting for the Enemies of Society, or so it would seem. They draw cards to see who will do the honours and, lacking the advice of a South American death squad or Lemmy from Motorhead, they use the titular ace of hearts to signify the winning ticket. Bowers is delighted to get the role, Chaney is cast down at being passed over, and Leatrice is so thrilled for Bowers she marries him.

This is all played out very, very slowly, but compels just by the surreal inversion of conventional morality. Sadly, this is dissipated when the narrative, from a book by Gouverneur Morris (whose great-grandfather was the Founding Father of the same name) unveils its cunning ploy — after a night of marital bliss (while the lovelorn Chaney sits out on the stoop in the thrashing rain) the newlyweds suddenly lose their passion for homicide, and find themselves targeted by their former co-conspirators. Now the killers are the bad guys and Bowers and Joy are just wimpy love interest. Only Chaney retains interest, with his slouch hat and appalling Max Wall hairstyle.

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The print is thinly scratched in a million places, creating a sort of rain effect even when we’re not sitting with Lon in a downpour. By contrast, the earlier THE WICKED DARLING (1919) is spotted with blobs of nitrate decomposition specking the frame in a manner suggestive of a very rapid snowstorm. Neither rain nor wind nor hail nor snow / Only nitrate decomposition can stop the show.

This early Tod Browning stars Priscilla Dean, feisty thief from OUTSIDE THE LAW, as a pickpocket who works with Chaney (as Stoop Connors — one always hopes Chaney’s criminous characters will have great nicknames) but falls for a washed-up former swell (the magnificently named Wellington Playter). There are fights (complete with nose-gouging, see below), noble gestures, and some great grotesque underworld character touches. I was very taken with the hulking Kalla Pasha, apparently a popular Mack Sennett player, here making his debut. Another great name in a film of great names.

It’s minor Browning, without the truly perverse elements of the macabre maestro’s finest hours, but pretty entertaining, and Dean’s combination of fakey play-acting and occasional bursts of raw emotion makes for an amusing central perf.

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