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, June 16, 2016

The Divine Lady (Frank Lloyd, 1929)

Frank Lloyd is a director nobody remembers today except for the fact that he won two best director Oscars. Unfortunately, they were for movies that almost no one except film scholars and Oscar completists watch today: this one and Cavalcade (1933). His other distinction is that his Oscar for The Divine Lady is the only one that has ever been awarded for a film that was not nominated for best picture.* (As if to make up for this anomaly, Mutiny on the Bounty, which Lloyd also directed, won the best picture Oscar for 1935, but he lost the directing Oscar to John Ford for The Informer.) It's a moderately entertaining film about the affair of Emma Hamilton (Corinne Griffith) and Lord Horatio Nelson (Victor Varconi) -- a story better told in That Hamilton Woman (Alexander Korda, 1941) with Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier as the lovers. Griffith is one of those silent stars whose career didn't make it into the sound era, reportedly because her voice was too nasal. She was, however, considered* for the best actress Oscar, which went to Mary Pickford for Coquette. She doesn't have to speak in The Divine Lady: Although it has a synchronized music track, including Griffith supposedly singing (but probably dubbed) "Loch Lomond", and sound effects, including cannon fire during Nelson's naval battles, there is no spoken dialogue. The only truly standout performance is a small one by Marie Dressler as Emma's mother: She has a funny slapstick bit at the beginning of the movie, but disappears from the movie far too soon. The cinematography by John F. Seitz (miscredited as "John B. Sietz" in the opening titles) was also considered* for an Oscar, but it went to Clyde De Vinna for White Shadows in the South Seas (W.S. Van Dyke and Robert J. Flaherty, 1928).

*If you want to get technical about it, there were no official nominations in any of the Oscar categories for the 1928-29 awards. What are usually regarded as nominees are the artists and films that Academy records show were under consideration for awards. In Lloyd's case, he was also under consideration for directing the films Drag and Weary River during the same time period, but when his win was announced, only The Divine Lady -- which was not considered for a best picture Oscar -- was specified.

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