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, July 7, 2016

Min and Bill (George W. Hill, 1930)

Remembered today chiefly because it was the film that won Marie Dressler the best actress Oscar (for what was by no means her best screen performance), Min and Bill is a good example of the struggle Hollywood movie-makers went through in adapting to sound. Dressler and co-star Wallace Beery had both been stars in silent films, and screenwriter Frances Marion was one of the most successful writers of that era. Unfortunately, Marion and co-screenwriter Marion Jackson don't seem to have mastered writing the dialogue a sound film needs for exposition and continuity, so it often sounds as if  Dressler and Beery are ad-libbing just to keep the soundtrack alive. And director George W. Hill, a former cinematographer who had turned director before sound came in, doesn't quite know how to keep the pace from sagging. The result is a rather choppy movie with a few good scenes, most notably a knock-down, drag-out brawl between Dressler's Min and Beery's Bill.  At the beginning of the film, Min seems to be destined to be one of Dressler's slapstick comic creations: There's an extended chase sequence in which Min and Nancy are at the controls of a runaway speedboat that culminates with Min being thrown overboard and hauled out of the water with repeated dunkings. But the main plot is sentimental drivel: Min runs a waterfront speakeasy/barbershop and has raised a girl, Nancy (Dorothy Jordan), left her as an infant by the now-aging prostitute Bella (Marjorie Rambeau). Now that Nancy is of marriageable age and is being wooed by the wealthy Dick Cameron (Don Dillaway), Bella has shown up again to try to claim the maternal privileges that she fears Min is going to assert. The trouble with this twist to the plot is that we never see Min being particularly loving and maternal toward Nancy, so that the denouement, in which Min tries to keep the girl out of Bella's clutches, doesn't make a lot of emotional sense. Still, the public loved it, and Dressler was for a time MGM's biggest star.

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