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

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Cossacks (George W. Hill, 1928)

John Gilbert and Renée Adorée in The Cossacks
Lukashka: John Gilbert
Maryana: Renée Adorée
Ivan: Ernest Torrance
Prince Olenin Stieshneff: Nils Asther
Sitchi: Paul Hurst
Ulitka: Dale Fuller

Director: George W. Hill
Screenplay: Frances Marion
Title cards: John Colton
Based on a novel by Leo Tolstoy
Cinematography: Percy Hilburn
Art direction: Cedric Gibbons
Film editing: Blanche Sewell

Nobody comes off well in The Cossacks. Not even John Gilbert, for whom MGM made the movie, hoping the reteaming with Renée Adorée, his co-star in The Big Parade (King Vidor, 1925), would strike fire at the box office. Gilbert spends much of the movie in a shaggy Astrakhan hat that makes his nose look big. Nor was the film much fun for screenwriter Frances Marion and director George W. Hill, who spent much of the production time fighting with studio interference and handling complaints from Gilbert and Adorée. Hill eventually quit and was replaced by an uncredited Clarence Brown. Nor does the film do much justice to the novel by Leo Tolstoy on which it's based. It completely inverts the story, in which Prince Olenin is the protagonist, an idealistic Russian who hates Moscow society and finds himself in the simpler, more primitive way of life in the Caucasus. In the film, Olenin has been sent by the tsar to mingle with the Cossacks and find a bride in some vaguely diplomatic attempt to cement relations between the urban Russians and the rural populace. Nils Asther is a very pretty Olenin, who of course lights on the equally very pretty Maryana, played by the very pretty Adorée, but she's in love with Lukashka, even though he's a "woman man" who doesn't like killing Turks, which is all that the male Cossacks seem to do. (The women, meanwhile, do all the work.) The film winds up as an absurd paean to the Cossack way of life, after Lukashka decides he really does like killing after all. True, The Cossacks is often fun to watch, and there's some spectacular stunt riding by a troupe of actual Cossacks brought to the United States for the film. But there's too much nonsense and too many clichés.

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