A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Our Dancing Daughters (Harry Beaumont, 1928)

Diana (Joan Crawford) is a Good Girl who people think is a Bad Girl because she likes to dance the Charleston on tabletops. Ann (Anita Page) is a Bad Girl posing as a Good Girl to try to land a rich husband. Beatrice (Dorothy Sebastian) is a Good Girl trying to hide the fact that she used to be a Bad Girl from Norman (Nils Asther), the man she has fallen in love with. And so it goes, as Ann steals Ben (Johnny Mack Brown) away from Diana, and Beatrice confesses her past sins to Norman, who marries her but doesn't really trust her. This romantic melodrama was a big hit that established Crawford as a star. She's lively and funny and dances a mean Charleston -- a far cry from the long-suffering shoulder-padded Crawford of Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945) and the melodramas of her middle age, though we can see a hint of the Crawford to come when she squares off against Page, using her big eyes and lipsticked mouth as formidable weapons. The movie is semi-silent: It has a synchronized music track with some forgettable songs and occasional sound effects like the ring of a telephone and the knock on a door, and once there's a spoken line from a bandleader: "Come on, Miss Diane, strut your stuff." But most of the dialogue is confined to intertitles that tell us Diana has asked a boy to dance ("Wouldst fling a hoof with me?") or that Freddie (Edward J. Nugent) has asked Ann if she wants a drink ("Lí'l hot baby want a cool li'l sip?"). The Jazz Age was probably never like this, even at its height, which was several years earlier, but there is fun to be had here. The story, such as it is, was by Josephine Lovett, and those title cards were the work of Marian Ainslee and Ruth Cummings, who give it a mildly feminist spin: Despite the slut-shaming, the film is solidly on the side of the rights of women to have a good time. Lovett's story and George Barnes's cinematography were considered for Oscars -- there were no official nominations this year -- but lost out. 

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