A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Red Mill (Roscoe Arbuckle, 1927)

The Red Mill is a surprisingly well-preserved silent film, with crisp images -- the cinematography is by Hendrik Sartov, a Danish director of photography who also shot La Bohème (King Vidor, 1926) and The Scarlet Letter (Victor Sjöstrom, 1926). It's also a fairly forgettable romantic farce, about Tina (Marion Davies), a Dutch scullery maid, who falls in love with Dennis (Owen Moore), an Irishman visiting Holland, and gets involved with a plot to save Gretchen (Louise Fazenda) from having to marry someone other than her boyfriend Jacop (Karl Dane). The whole thing is very loosely based on a creaky old Victor Herbert operetta. The chief distinction of the film is that it was directed by Roscoe ("Fatty") Arbuckle, who had to take the pseudonym William Goodrich because he had been blacklisted after the scandal over the death of Virginia Rappe -- even though Arbuckle was acquitted. Given that the film is a fitfully amusing comedy, whose chief virtue is that is shows off the great comic gifts of Davies, it might be surprising to find it in such pristine condition when so many other (and better) silent films are available only in patched-together restorations or have been lost altogether. The reason is probably that it was produced by William Randolph Hearst's company, Cosmopolitan Productions, which existed largely to showcase Davies, Hearst's mistress. So MGM, which released the film, took special care not to offend Hearst in its handling of The Red Mill. Davies is, as so frequently, a delight, playing physical comedy without sacrificing her beauty and femininity. She does a wonderful slapstick bit in which she tries to solve the problem of assembling a folding ironing board -- a twist on the familiar struggles of comedians with folding beach chairs. But Arbuckle, who directed dozens of short films, doesn't give this movie the pace needed to sustain itself at feature length. Frances Marion did the screenplay and the cornball captions -- sample: "A summer on Holland's canals leaves an impression, but a fall on its ice leaves a scar" -- are by Joseph Farnham.