Archive for William Fox

The Sunday Intertitle: Pig Alley Revisited

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , on July 22, 2012 by dcairns

Raoul Walsh’s (or R.A. Walsh’s, to go by credits) REGENERATION was brought to my attention by Paul Merton’s show on the origins of cinema last year — it was the least familiar thing excerpted, and looked pretty exciting.

Allowances must be made — it’s 1915, and Walsh is essentially trying to be Griffith, though it’s already clear that his interests lie elsewhere. What gets him excited is the lowlife life, the enthusiastic Donnybrooks, the plug-uglies and the backstreet epic of clotheslines and tenements and violent rivalries.

Unfortunately, much of what transpires in the plot follows the inspirational title, and is sententious and sentimental. Rockliffe Fellowes is distinctly Brandoesque as long as he’s playing a street tough, with his distended lopsided labial sneer, but as soon as he gets religion he falls to barnstorming, and there are no barns to storm. Anna Q. Nilsson is more consistent, but her character’s no more exciting.

The Griffith resemblances go past the civics lesson plot and innocence imperiled climax — Walsh films rooms like a cutaway dollhouse, editing so we can assemble the whole edifice in her minds, from a single camera angle. Griffith did this so consistently, that THIS amazing thing became possible, ninety-nine years later.

REGENERATION may need restoration — Decasian fauna roam its flickering nitrate alleys.

The Sunday Intertitle: Moral Turpin-tude

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2011 by dcairns

The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees, 
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, 
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor, 
And the highwayman came riding– 
Riding–riding– 
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door. 

Tom Mix as Dick Turpin? Some instinctive urge for variety must have goaded William Fox (the lifesblood of El Brendel not yet coursing through his arteries) — Mix was a great cowboy star, but could he not play other roles? As long as there was a supporting role for  Tony the Wonder Horse.

With its cartoon character names — Lord Churlston and Squire Crabtree are churlish and crabby as you might expect — this movie really shows how childish Hollywood was prepared to be. Perhaps only nostalgia makes it appealing, because I’d have no time for a modern movie as stupid as this. Turpin is rewritten as a Robin Hood figure (he even has Alan Hale, longterm Little John to various Robins, as sidekick), which outdoes the romanticism of his popular fiction appearances to date: the real guy was a murderer and thief with no redemptive charitable impulses: they hanged him in York.

As is so often the case with Fox productions, the sets are impressive (and the film impossible to see in a good condition print), and the crowd scenes reputedly feature Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard boosting the numbers, but good luck spotting either of them. At least Bull Montana is clearly visible as a prize fighter.

“That sounds like something out of Blackadder!” observed Fiona.

Director John G. Blystone finished his days directing Laurel & Hardy — probably regarded as a step down from this in industry terms, but I can think of worse fates. At least his immortality is assured. Outside of the highwayman genre, comedy was very much his bag, and he was Buster Keaton’s collaborator on OUR HOSPITALITY. The film of his I most want to see is THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1924), no relation to the Vincent Price version of I Am Legend — this is that rare bird, an apocalyptic hillbilly comedy.

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