Among Those Present

Watching three Lloyd shorts from the same year, and this one opens with the best bit, wealthy-looking Harold exposed as a coat-check guy wearing a guest’s fancy clothes. A witness to the incident offers to get Harold some glad rags and take him partying with the swells, for obscure reasons, leading to riding and hunting antics and cute rich girl Mildred Davis. After this complicated setup, the second half is just Harold pantsless, running away from various animals. Mildred’s parents are very good – James Kelly had been in all of Chaplin’s Mutuals, and Aggie Herring was in the Jackie Coogan Oliver Twist and, uh, Suicide Squad.


Now or Never

Now Mildred is the maid of a neglected kid with rich parents, but it’s the day she’s supposed to meet the boy she knew years ago, and they are both having transportation issues. Harold has wrecked his car, rides underneath a train car, then Mildred gives him the kid and boards… a different train? Doesn’t matter, they end up together, most of the movie devoted to the stupid kid being naughty-cute.


I Do

Animated segments! Harold and Mildred are finally married in this one (and soon IRL), walking around with a baby carriage full of wine (aha, prohibition). Then the movie goes downhill, taking care of horrible kids that aren’t theirs again, and Harold’s fairly incompetent in this one.

Newmeyer and Roach made these, as would be expected.

On to the early Soviet Revolutionary chapter in the Vogel book, characterized in form by “an
aggressive rejection of conventional methods and systems and a profound concern with the theory and language of film.” He writes on Eisenstein’s Strike and montage theory, the aesthetic poetry of Dovzhenko’s Earth, the avant-documentary of Vertov’s Man With The Movie Camera, and this Pudovkin. VP is described as “more sensuous and less cerebral than Eisenstein or Vertov” – I’d seen his wonderful Mother and Chess Fever, but not this one.

Master Mongol fur hunter is sick, sending his son to the bazaar. Much is made of the lovely fur he’s gonna sell which will feed them for months, so you know something’s gonna happen, and pretty soon a monk praying for the old man’s healing attempts to grab it as payment until the son kicks his ass and takes it back. The music is all light flutes for 15 minutes until a low bass kicks in when the suit-wearing whites appear “who guard the interest of capitalism.”

There’s a panic in town when the son punches a capitalist for offering too little, everyone flees while the white guy comically falls down getting lost in his own coat. “AVENGE THE WHITE MAN’S BLOOD” say the titles after he knifes an enforcer in self defense, never a phrase you want to see, and son goes on the run.

Sinister Whites:

The white man’s blood:

It’s an exciting and plotty movie, incidentally with lots of sword dancing and some cat tossing. Our guy runs into pro-soviet partisans fighting in the mountains, rescues their chief by tossing an enemy machine gunner off a cliff, and joins the struggle until captured and executed by the whites. But as he rolls down a cliff, they discover the amulet he’d recovered from the ass-kicked monk back at dad’s house, and believe him to be a descendant of Genghis Khan, rushing to save his life in order to install him as a puppet ruler.

Son in the mountains:

In chains:

The whites dress him in their clothes, never noticing the simmering rage on his face. He’s reunited with his enemy and property, snatching his fox fur from the evil furrier’s girl, prompting her to get the vapors and the white trader to go on a racist tirade, while in a back room the other whites draw up papers to steal the country. After a prisoner is shot right in front of the son he finally speaks up, and as he rages, the picture and intertitles begin to strobe. Finally, he grabs a sword and rides away, a literal storm blowing away the whites who give chase.

Vogel:

Other strong images and episodes had … a powerful, radicalizing impact
on audiences: the Mongol about to be executed, heedlessly walking through a mud puddle which his “civilized” British executioner studiously avoids … a dignified Lama priest and a ridiculous British general’s wife cross cut while dressing for a formal occasion … Altogether, the film is an object lesson in visual political cinema, glowing with revolutionary fervor and hatred for oppression.

Valéry Inkijinoff the Son would continue acting, appearing in late Fritz Lang movies, a non-Lang Mabuse, and an Eddie Constantine action flick. The furrier was in Pudovkin’s previous film The End of St. Petersburg. Pudovkin himself acted in films by the other major filmmakers mentioned above.

Let it be known, for future historians, that this was my final film watched in the year 2020, and L’Ange was the first to be viewed completely in 2021, though some slow-burn TV series and a certain miniseries-movie-object might span across the years.

Groucho runs a hotel in Florida, and the opening song tells us Florida is a paradise, so the movie is already suspect. The musical numbers are far between and absolutely unmemorable – this early-sound movie has enough trouble keeping up with its own dialog scenes. It puts a lot of effort into the central romantic drama, wasting 20 long minutes before Chico and Harpo finally show up, priorities all outta whack. Then most of the remaining minutes are wasted too, but the movie does give us Chico’s immortal lines: “Right now I’d do anything for money. I’d kill someone for it. I’d kill you for money. No, you’re my friend, I kill you for nothing.”

Shot on zero mm film through a camera obscura. Irving Berlin’s “Monkey Doodle Doo” is maybe no “White Christmas,” but it’s catchy. I guess Mary Eaton wants to marry hotel clerk Oscar Shaw, but her mom (the great Margaret Dumont) prefers mustache man Cyril Ring until she finds out he’s a jewel thief (working with Kay Francis, future jewel thief of Trouble in Paradise). IMDB says Zeppo played “Jamison,” I don’t think he was even in the movie.

L-R: Kay, Cyril, Oscar, Mary (not pictured: Zeppo)

Three women are into one guy – I’m not sure if he loves and leaves each one of them in series, or if he flits between each in his suicidally fast car. Pearl is a rich socialite, Athalia a rich artist, and Lucie an ordinary city girl, and he affects different personas around each: a strong tyrant type, a weaker type, and a caring type – until his reckless driving finally catches up with him.

Our dude, carefree:

I’d forgotten most of the plot by the next day, rewatching scenes now to remind myself, was just paying attention to style – Epstein bringing his great flair for composition and editing and overlapping images to the kind of melodrama he was making earlier in the decade. It feels like he wanted the climactic speed-and-death montage to go on forever.

Athalia worrying aloud to a friend:

Based on a novel by white supremacist Paul Morand, who also adapted Don Quixote for GW Pabst… Lucie appeared in Renoir’s The Sad Sack, and our main dude starred in a possibly-lost 30’s version of Judex.

The 2020 post-election ceremonial final SHOCKtober movie of this extended season. Convoluted murder-mystery involving a pianist getting a hand transplant then being set up by a con man to believe his new hands are committing murders.

The movie is mostly Conrad Veidt (halfway between Somnambulist and Laughing Man) or his wife (Alexandra Sorina, also of Veidt’s Rasputin movie) standing very still, paralyzed with wide-eyed terror.

Fat-faced Fritz Kortner (Berlin Express, Pandora’s Box) is the con man. Veidt’s doomed father is Fritz Strassny, villain of The Man Who Laughs – but the 1921 version, of which Veidt’s was a remake. I must now see the Peter Lorre remake Mad Love.

Kortner, trapped:

Some good German words in the intertitles… making rubber gloves with the dead man’s fingerprints involves Gummihandschuhe mit den Fingerabdrücken.

Opens in flashback with our laughing boy’s rebel father being executed by the king, with the weirdly powerful court jester Barkilphedro (literary-horror regular Brandon Hurst) in attendance. The kid’s face was carved by the “Comprachico” clan headed by Dr. Hardquanonne (George Siegmann of the 1921 Three Musketeers, dead of anemia before this movie’s release). As they’re sailing away, banned from England for various crimes and/or xenophobia, the boy runs off, rescues a blind infant from the arms of her frozen mother, and stumbles into door of Ursus The Philosopher (Cesare Gravina, would appear in The Wedding March the same year and retire a few months later).

Years later, he is Laughing Man Conrad Veidt (practically a silent horror superstar, having starred in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Hands of Orlac), on sideshow tours with the beautiful blind Dea (Phantom of the Opera star Mary Philbin) and their father-figure Ursus (this must’ve proven more lucrative than philosophy). But when they run into Hardquanonne, he uses the laughing man’s existence to blackmail a duchess who lives on the land that Conrad rightfully owns. I would’ve thought if you’re a rebel who is personally murdered by the king, your property is forfeited, but I guess not!

The plot gets silly here – Conrad gets an invitation from hot young party girl Duchess Josiana (Olga Baclanova, wicked star of Freaks), hopes she’ll be in love with him, because that would prove he’s worthy to marry his true love Dea, but as Josiana gets him alone, she receives a note from the queen saying she must marry the Laughing Man in order to keep her land and title, and Josiana reacts by laughing hysterically then hugging her monkey. Conrad is arrested, then instated in the House of Lords the next day – meanwhile his circus family is banished. I can’t tell if the royals are toying with Conrad or if they’re just dense, because everyone throws a fit that he won’t stop smiling, so he flees the castle and makes it to the boat to join Dea and Ursus.

Based on a Victor Hugo novel, remade by Sergio Corbucci in the 1960’s, and again this decade with Depardieu as Ursus. Leni was apparently a talent, followed this with The Last Warning then died of an infected tooth. Conrad, who spoke no english at the time of filming, is terrific. Watched in the dying days of SHOCKtober in honor of this year’s Golden Lion winner at Venice.

Barmaid Marie (Gina Manès, Josephine in Abel Gance’s Napoleon) is in love with waterfront man Jean (Léon Mathot, who became a director in the sound era) with good hair, but her parents have promised her to slimeball Small Paul (Edmond Van Daële, also of Napoleon, and The Mystery of the Yellow Room), a drunk who will destroy the lives of everyone he meets. The would-be couple’s only mode is wistful, staring blankly into the distance – seemingly content in their brief moments together before her foster parents marry her off to Small Paul, who gives her a sick baby and a life of impoverished misery until Jean, back from a year or two in prison for injuring a cop, starts hanging around again. He takes no action as usual, and they enjoy sitting silently near each other again, until Paul finds out, comes home and gets himself shot by bitter crippled neighbor Marie Epstein (the director’s sister and cowriter).

Only Epstein’s third feature – he gets away with some crazy (for 1923) techniques because the bulk of the movie is such straight melodrama. I’d been meaning to catch up with more Epstein after House of Usher a few years ago, and luckily, the Alloy Orchestra was touring with this one. It’s some of their finest work, if not Epstein’s (it’s good enough, but come on, Finis Terrae).

“Is he invisible,” Richard asked as Jean kept creeping unnoticed into small rooms:

A few of the most beautiful shadow-moments and one of the greatest monsters in all silent cinema hung around a flabby retelling of Dracula – it’s maybe my fifth-favorite Murnau film, but I was happy to watch it on the big screen with an excellent, tightly synchronized live band, Invincible Czars.

Alloy Orchestra returned, with a double-feature this time! First up was this highly ridiculous adventure story, full of corny nonsense, but also featuring some fabulous stop-motion dinosaurs and a cool monkey.

A beardy madman (Wallace Beery of wrestling picture fame) insists to a roomful of people, Lost City of Z-style, that his previous expedition had discovered a plateau where dinosaurs still live, but everyone on his team is now missing so he needs a new team. Sportsman Lewis Stone (Stars In My Crown, Queen Christina) would like to come find new creatures to shoot, and his buddy, romantic doof reporter Lloyd Hughes (title star of Rip Roaring Riley), gets himself invited to impress a disinterested rich girl. Professor Arthur Hoyt (the director’s older brother, mayor of The Great McGinty) comes too, and so does Beery’s dead ex-teammate’s daughter Bessie Love (her final film was The Hunger). Everyone proves to be pretty capable (especially the monkey) at getting into trouble and getting back out of it, and the doof falls for Bessie. More impressive than the “oh shit we’re dead, might as well die together” romance is that the dinosaurs, which would seem to have limited area to live and breed, are constantly killing each other and falling into tar pits. The humans manage to bring a live brontosaurus home to London, where it escapes and nearly goes full King Kong, finally destroying a bridge and either swimming away or drowning, it was hard to tell which.

The evening highlight was A Page of Madness, which had a more experimental score and blew everybody’s minds.