Archive for William S Hart

The Sunday Intertitle: Bronchial Mixture

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2021 by dcairns

I wanted to see a typical “Broncho” Billy film to admire his gunplay, but the first one I came up with, HIS REGENERATION, isn’t typical at all. Firstly, Chaplin is in it. Secondly, at some point Essanay decided to capitalize on his walk-on appearance by making him the top-billed star and erasing poor Broncho. Thirdly, it’s not a western. I remain unsure how much of Gilbert M. Anderson’s post-GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY were the western’s he’s most associated with. He seems to have made quite a few comedies.

But, with his strange, unhandsome countenance, Anderson does seem to have played a lot of “good bad man” roles, like William S. Hart a bit later, and the modern crime story HIS REGENERATION (not a rip-off of Raoul Walsh’s feature-length gangland epic THE REGENERATION, it came out months prior) exemplifies this.

Since I was a newcomer to Broncho, I at first struggled to tell him apart from the man he fights at the start of this movie. It’s a good fight, though, and the cutaways to enthralled/horrified extras, really enhances the drama. Broncho seems like a good director.

What he should never have allowed is the appearance by Chaplin, which throws the whole thing off. Chaplin’s whole style of acting, or indeed being, is antithetical to the slightly underplayed melodrama going on with Anderson. Of course it turned out well for the star, whose company produced the short and profited by cashing in on CC’s cameo, but it wrecks the movie, which is disjointed anyway. The whole barroom opening is disconnected from what follows, and the film’s entire plot takes place during the subsequent burglary sequence.

Still, Anderson’s performance is very good — he uses his eyes well, although the darkened eyelids is a strange piece of make-up. But the delicate little raising of those kohl-smeared lids set in that big, harsh face on that big, burly body makes for an electrifying contrast. In the burglary, he and his partner black up completely for nightwork, so the whites of their eyes pop out of the gloom like characters in a cartoon blackout. But with added luminous shirt collars.

Incidentals: the guy Broncho fights is future director Lloyd Bacon; Ben Turpin’s wife Carrie is somewhere in there (I want to picture her with matching crossed eyes but of course no); future Preston Sturges players Snub Pollard and Vic Potel are in the mix.

HIS REGENERATION stars Alkali Ike; Frozen Body of Jasper Adams; Adenoid Hynkel; Princess of Dawsbergen; Director of Comedies (uncredited); A. Panther; Madame Zola (uncredited); Faulty Shooter (uncredited); and Mr. McKeewie.

Unhinged

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2015 by dcairns

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The Hippodrome Festival of Silent Film is well and truly up and running again — my first visit to Bo’ness’ century-old cinema this year resulted in a viewing of HELL’S HINGES (1916), starring William S. Hart in one of his archetypal “good bad man” roles, as a gunslinger called Blaze Tracy  who gets religion after falling in love with a preacher’s sister. Most intriguingly, Hart’s ascent is played parallel with the preacher’s fall from grace, since the man who has been “following the wrong trail” makes a great contrast with the “bad good man” who lacks the inner grit for the role he’s chosen in life.

Music was by Neil Brand and the Dodge Brothers, who did such a great job with BEGGAR’S OF LIFE last year — their skiffle/Americana approach suits the early western perfectly. I chatted with Neil afterwards and he was quietly pleased with the way the music, which is quite epic and powerful, soft-pedals the film’s hokier elements — it’s never religiose, saccharine, or melodramatic, despite the presence of a villain in a black fuzzy felt moustache. The semi-improvised score nods to Leone (whistling) and Ford (Shall We Gather at the River) and even evokes True Detective, without falling into pastiche — everything is taken seriously, and that’s enough to make you feel present at the birth of a genre, seeing all this stuff for the first time.

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Lead guitar/vocalist Mike Hammond mentioned THE SEARCHERS and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER as favourite westerns in his intro, and the “town called Hell” aspect of the latter is actually fairly prominent in Hart’s film, which ends with what a contemporary reviewer called a “Gehenna-like” conflagration. Guess it was necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.

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Very florid, poetic, slightly racist intertitles (apparently producer Thomas Ince was a great one for the faintly purple prose), which worked well. I may well find myself quoting those some more on Sunday’s post… Also, the dialogue titles had a really strong western idiom to them, more so than the dialogue in most talking oaters.

Best place to read about Hart that I know of is Ann Harding’s Treasures. It’s in French, but we have computers for that now.

Grauman’s Chinese Theater of Cruelty

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2014 by dcairns

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Sid Grauman immortalizes the already-immortal Gene Tierney.

Like Gary Oldman, I’ve been reading Neal Gabler’s excellent An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, though possibly I have been drawing different conclusions from it. Attentive readers may recall me picking the tome up in one of Toronto’s many excellent bookstores. Being shallow, I am partly in it for the history but also for the funny stories. This one also contains a whiff of the horrific, so beware ~

Gabler’s study of Louis B Mayer also features quick portraits of the major exhibitors, including a vivid, even (necessarily) lurid description of Sid Grauman (he of the Chinese Theater) ~

“Like Roxy, Grauman loved size; his theaters were always capacious. But he was less a culture monger than a showman; where Roxy wore conservative suits to maintain an image of dignity, Grauman wore large hats rakishly tilted and parted his long curly hair down the middle, sweeping it back at the sides so that he looked as if he had stuck his finger in an electric socket. Throughout Hollywood he was famous for his elaborate pranks: convincing Paramount cowboy star William S. Hart to “ambush” a train Adolph Zukor was riding; inducing Jesse Lasky to give a speech to a group of exhibitors who turned out to be wax dummies; arriving at the cornerstone-laying ceremony of a rival theater in a hearse; dressing as a female escort to visiting star David Warfield and then crying, “Rape!” When he heard that director Ernst Lubitsch, who hated to fly, was forced to take a plane from Los Angeles to a preview in San Francisco, he hired two stuntmen to dress as pilots, run down the aisle, and then parachute during the flight. Lubitsch was so shaken that he suffered a minor heart attack.”

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Here is a picture of Lubitsch, much later, receiving a lifetime achievement Oscar. You’ll notice he doesn’t look that happy about it — the smile is sickly. That’s because he’s having an attack of angina at the same time. The two experiences don’t mix well. Lubitsch’s too-early death was no doubt greatly exacerbated by his cigar habit, and it was a post-coital attack that finally did him in, but I cannot think that Sid Grauman’s sense of humour helped. At least Lubitsch enjoyed his other causes of death.

Thanks a lot, Sid.

I’ve just written two essays on Lubitsch films, which can be pre-ordered as part of THIS —

MADAME DUBARRY [Masters of Cinema] (1919) [Blu-ray]