Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Director: William Wellman
Cast: Louise Brooks, Richard Arlen, Wallace Beery
Background: Director William Wellman was the flavor of Hollywood after directing the smash hit Wings, the most successful film in the silent era. He's reunited here with Wings star Richard Arlen, provocative leading lady Louise Brooks, and character actor Wallace Beery.
Story: A young woman (Brooks) murders her abusive stepfather and is forced to run from the law. Dressed as a boy, she meets up with a man (Arlen) who helps her
Thoughts: What a disappointment. There is an interesting premise in here, and the first half maintains a nice simplicity as the two leads hop from place to place and grow closer to one another. The chemistry between them is really strong (despite the fact that Brooks detested Arlen during filming) and the character development is very nice. However, the film falls apart once they get involved with a group of hoboes, the main one named Oklahoma Red (Wallace Beery), who takes an unhealthy liking to the girl. The problem is that the film itself takes an unhealthy liking to Oklahoma Red and hands over almost the entire 3rd act to him, with a ridiculous redemption arc that isn't believable for a second and a series of action scenes that belong in a much different film. As our leads disappear, so does the film's heart. I'm certainly not happy with the William Wellman ouevre so far.
Postscript: Wellman continued a successful career through the 50's with several notable films to come. Arlen was mostly a bit player from here on out, but managed to keep acting through the 70's. Brooks was in the midst of her career high point, with Pandora's Box just around the corner, to be followed by Diary of a Lost Girl. She would quit acting at the end of the next decade.
Posted by Larry McGillicuddy at 7:59 PM
Monday, August 3, 2009
Director: D.W. Griffith
Cast: Jean Hersholt, Phyllis Haver, Belle Bennet, Sally O' Neil, Don Alvarado, William Bakewell
Background: DW Griffith was already a Hollywood legend at this point, making a name for himself with period melodramas like Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, and Way Down East. Battle of the Sexes would be a major departure from his usual style.
Story: A couple of con artists aim to bring down a wealthy middle-aged man (Hersholt) by enticing him to forget about his wife and family.
Thoughts: It is interesting to see Griffith attempt a departure from his usual fare, but he didn't really have the nerve to see it all the way through and it ends up not being as much of a departure as it should have been. Griffith doesn't have the light touch that someone like Lubitsch could bring to the table. Instead, he just gives us a remarkably unlikable main character, makng it very hard for the audience to root for this marriage to succeed. Hersholt is a splendid actor and gave a truly memorable performance the previous year's Student Prince in Old Heidelberg. That might be part of the problem. He plays this sad man's descent into mid-life crisis so well that it feels all too real to fit in with the ridiculous set of circumstances that Griffith throws us in the 3rd act.
Postscript: This did not end up as one of Griffith's memorable films. He would only go on to make three more, including an Abe Lincoln biopic.
Posted by Larry McGillicuddy at 9:18 AM