Archive for Robert Warwick

The Sunday Intertitle: Dot on the Line

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2023 by dcairns

Concluding Maurice Tourneur and Frances Marion’s A GIRL’S FOLLY.

It’s a notoriously shaky proposition, identifying “firsts,” but this movie’s portrayal of a movie studio commissary may well be the original of its kind, evoking a mildly surreal, giddy feeling from the spectacle of cops and cowboys dining together. On my first visit to the BBC’s offices in Glasgow I got treated to this kind of sight, less common today when so few TV programmes are made in-house, especially the kind that involve dressing up. The canteen scenes in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and BLAZING SADDLES are very fine examples of the type.

Flashback! Not as uncommon as you’d think in 1917. Doris Kenyon looks thoughtful, and Tourneur fades up a field of flowers, and we get the idea of a mild, wistful homesickness. It might not be a specific memory of a field, it could just be an imaginary vision of the general concept of fields and flowers, therefore not a flashback so much as an act of imagination, but curiously enough this ambiguity doesn’t result in muddle: whichever it is, the idea comes across.

The next significant intertitle deals with our butterfly’s rival. Since it would, apparently, outrage morality to have Robert Warwick’s movie star a married man cheating on his wife, and to have Doris Kenyon the kept woman of a married man, the intertitle affects ignorance of the nature of the relationship.

A low-key decadent party — Johnny Hines sups an admixture of everybody’s drinks from a lady’s shoe. then announces his intention to dress up as a “sky-pilot” and marry the whole throng. I haven’t heard this slang term for preacher used outside of MASH, where it’s flung at Robert Duvall when he prays, I think. It seemingly never occurred to Damien Chazelle that blasphemy would be a potent form of bad behaviour back in silent Hollywood. Surprising to find it in use here.

Doris’ mom crashes the party — the only reason she was set up earlier was so she could do this — and the film starts dissolving in a blaze of nitrate decomposition. This is the usual effect of your mom showing up at your party unannounced. An “A” composition captures Doris’ expressions as Warwick turns on the charm, so mom won’t suspect anything amiss.

Shades of LA CAGE AU FOLLES — the party must now pretend to be thoroughly respectable — and just at the wrong moment, Johnny Hines comes prancing back in, dragged up as a minister. Everyone pounces to subdue him.

Warwick’s gentility here is a quality he’d retain — the decorous way he treats a bereaved Veronica Lake in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS echoes his kindness here.

Another rather startling appearance by the SILENT MOVIE SWASTIKA — in those substantially pre-Hitlerian days, it was often used as a good luck symbol. Like the dog in DAMBUSTERS its a disconcerting reminder of different times, but is actually completely innocent in this context. Let’s not go copying it though.

Warwick, touched by Dot’s mom, suggests to his possible-mistress that they’re ABOUT TO make a grave mistake. Which reassures the censor that he hasn’t had it off with her yet. With hot sex with a muscular movie star off the cards, Dot yields to her mother’s complaint of loneliness (and the message from Johnny Applesauce or whatever his name is, her country beau) and gives up the fleshpots of Fort Lee for a quiet, virtuous, boring existence in the hills.

This is all delivered quite straight, as if it were sincere, despite the self-evident fact that the choice of peaceful rusticity over movieland misbehaviour is not one that anyone whatever involved in this film would dream of making. To take the curse off it, Johnny Hines, still with his collar on backwards but secreted behind a curtain like the Wizard of Oz, gets a last gag —

I’m not familiar with this use of “flivver” — I knew it meant a car, as the intertitle suggests, but it also seems to mean “bust” or “wash-out.”

Warwick returns to his previous wife/mistress — played with a bit of melancholy and a bit of tenderness — Dot returns to the boondocks, where her reunion with Johnny Applecart provokes an ironic commentary from two train station employees:

How do you pronounce “romantick”?

A GIRL’S FOLLY starred Mr. LeBrand; Mme Pompadour; Mrs Brand; Torchy; and Rita Pring.

The Sunday Intertitle: The Last Day in the Country

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2023 by dcairns

A very dislikable throwaway gesture in Maurice Tourneur’s A GIRL’S FOLLY: movie star Robert Warwick hits his fussing dresser with his hat. The dresser/PA is Black, you see. It reminds me of Warner Baxter hitting Clarence Muse near the start of BROADWAY BILL — a film I’ve always turned off at that point, because I’ve been turned off by it. The blows struck aren’t hard, wouldn’t be physically painful. But white servants in old movies are NOT struck. It’s done without thought or malice, because a Black person is not considered fully human, so you can let of steam by hitting them as you might kick an item of furniture.

Emigre filmmakers in America were often more sensitive to race relations because they viewed them innocently, as outsiders (having probably been blind to racism in their homelands). Maurice Tourneur evidently did not have that kind of sensitivity.

Meanwhile, after a flirtation with Warwick, starstruck country girl Doris Kenyon decides to run off and join the galloping tintypes. Having examined her face in the light, the studio manager decides to give her the big build-up:

If this seems a slightly implausible version of the movies rags-to-riches motif, we must remember that it’s 1917 and the path was a little easier: also, our heroine is sponsored by an Important Leading Man who presumably hopes to bed her.

Tourneur and writer Frances Marion have helpfully inserted a full tour of the facilities into their narrative, so we get to see the dailies being dried out on great wheels, spun by hand. This stuff very likely meant nothing to most audiences at the time, but it’s a gift to anyone curious about filmmaking back in the day. (Nobody involved in BABYLON seems to have been quite curious enough.)

We pass through a room filled with women winding film on smaller reels — editing it, possibly, but we can’t see quite what they’re doing. The nearest one seems to have both two reels mounted before her, and a smaller spindle before her, so I suspect they’re editing by eye, without the benefit of anything resembling a Moviola or Steenbeck. Not even a jeweller’s eyepiece to enlarge the vital frames?

Then into a tiny cramped projection room, informally seated with a cluster of loose metal chairs. The lights dim and a soft round glow appears from the projector lens — not the brilliant flare we’d see if this were real. Since lens flare was verboten before Pasolini and Laszlo Kovacs, some dim bulb has been inserted to suggest the real thing without dazzling us.

Tourneur then gives us a montage of closeups — Doris, beaming at her (unseen) image in the screen test, the director, co-lead and studio manager frowning. I don’t know whether the concept of a screen within a screen seemed too troublesome for M. Tourneur — I kind of doubt it, such things had been seen since Griffith’s THOSE AWFUL HATS and before — or if he simply thought this would be the most interesting storytelling approach, a pre-Lubitschian indirection which would allow us to add up the sum ourselves. Perhaps Tourneur simply found previous movies-within-movies unconvincing, and this idea occurred to him as a preferable approach.

Meanwhile, Warwick’s character, who is married, is having trouble with his jealous wife, so he’s not present.

Doris walks out of the studio through a landscape of empty boxes, discarded like herself. Everything about the studio seems a touch temporary — they throw their trash outside because they don’t expect to be here long. The screening room chairs aren’t fixed to the floor. And indeed, within a few years everybody would have left Fort Lee for Hollywood.

An almost unique intertitle idea: the same caption but with an illustration that changes by jump-cut!


The Sunday Intertitle: On Location

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on February 26, 2023 by dcairns

A really lovely title card from A GIRL’S FOLLY. Having set up some romantic entanglements — Robert Warwick, it seems, just ain’t a one-woman guy — the movie decamps to the mountains, where we can expect heroine Doris Kenyon to collide with the movie-making troupe.

I remain unconvinced that the featured cameraman character is being played by Josef Von Sternberg. His role seems slightly too large (Sternberg was never more than an extra in front of the camera, so far as I know) and the actor too small. JVS was five foot four or five, no colossus, but this guy looks to be five foot nothing or under.

Hard to be sure without knowing the heights of his co-stars, but the leading lady of the film within the film TOWERS over him. He could go work for Polanski, who apparently likes short operators because they see the world the same way he does.

Doris at home — she swats a fly. Tourneur cheerfully undercuts the romance of country living just as he’s undercut the romance of movie-making.

Fantastic insert shot of an owl. A studio job — it still can’t convince me that the bright day-for-night sunlight of the location shots is moonglow, and I don’t know that even a blue filter would do the job, but one has to suspend one’s disbelief some of the time. I have a weakness regarding silent movie day for night — especially in NOSFERATU, where nightfall and dawn are such important plot points.

Doris is joined again by her spectral troubadour boyfriend — it’s been so long since she was introduced, a reminder of his (non-) existence is necessary. The transparent actor strums his mandible mandolin using only one thumb, dragging it across the fingerboard in a series of repetitive movements surely more pleasant to look at than to listen to. His other hand does random fingering of the frets. Nothing about this looks authentic to me, so it’s a good job he’s transparent, which works as an alibi for any kind of inauthenticity, I find.

Doris’s flesh-and-blood beau then shows up and rests his chin on her shoulder the way the Red Queen does to Alice. Then there’s an invasion of print damage, a column of bubbling effulgence down the centre of the frame, and a shot of Doris’ slumbering dad with a daddy long legs on his face, being operated by an occasionally visible wire. These things are the very staples of entertainment as far as I’m concerned. If the film keeps up this rate of stimulus I’ll never finish writing about it. (We’re nearly halfway, actually).

A classic bit of business, trotted out here for maybe the first time — Doris interrupts the shooting of a scene when she doesn’t realise that Warwick’s fall from horseback is a stunt. See every innocent abroad’s encounter with an apache dance.

Original or not, this business serves as a meet cute, and soon Doris is planning to run away and join the movie business — TO BE CONTINUED.