Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Patsy and The Unknown

The other treat from 2008 (SF)^2 Festival was The Patsy. The film was a showcase for Marion Davies comedic talents. King Vidor directed and Marie Dressler, Dell Henderson, and Lawrence Gray turned in strong supporting performances. Jane Winton was also striking as the older sister and seach of IMDB show she only made a few talkies. I wonder what happened to her. Perhaps she couldn't make the transition to sound.

If anyone has seen the film, the highlight is Davies' impersonations of Mae Murray, Lillian Gish and Pola Negri. I don't believe I've seen film with any of those actresses much less know their affections to appreciate an impersonation of them. However, I laughed out loud at Davies antics. Equally amusing was a sequence where Davies spouts nonsensical platitudes in an attempt to create personality.

The plot involved a middle-class family of a couple (Dressler and Henderson) with two attractive daughters. Grace (Winton), the older daughter, is dating Orville Caldwell. Pat (Davies), the younger daughter, pines for Orville but Orville doesn't even notice her. Pat spends the films trying to attract Orville's attention without much luck until she ends up at a playboy's (Gray) house.

I believe this is the first Davies film I have seen. I expected her to look like Kirstin Dunst but she was prettier and projected an innocence that cannot be achieved in today's society. Of course, while she projected virginal naiveté in this film, she was 10 years into a relationship with William Randolph Hearst, a millionaire 35 years her senior and whom she liked to drive insane with jealousy if the rumors regarding the Thomas Ince affair are correct. Nonetheless, that doesn't affect my opinion of her performance. In my opinion, her performance in this film was the best of festival and lifted this film to my favorite.

Another very interesting film was The Unknown directed by Tod Browning with Lon Chaney & Joan Crawford. The 20something Joan Crawford was quite attractive and is unrecognizable from the bitchy, arched eyebrow, shoulder pad wearing, "No wire hangers!" gay icon.

The plot is simply unbelievable. Chaney is an armless trick shot artist and knife thrower in a circus. Crawford is the circus owner's daughter and Chaney's assistant and object of his secret desire. That's not the only secret his is keeping. On screen it looks obvious that Chaney has his arms at his side under his shirt. The reason it appears that way is not due to bad costuming or special effect but because his character has arms. He keeps his arms under a girdle with the help of his midget assistant. At night, he loosens the girdle so that he can commit crimes. This is an ingenious ruse because the crime obviously were committed by an man with arms and Chaney is the one person in the circus without arms. Not only does Chaney have 2 arms but he has 2 thumbs on his left hand. The circus owner catches him one night without his girdle. Chaney strangles the man to keep his secret but Crawford glimpes the crime from her window. Luckily for Chaney, she only sees a man with two thumbs strangling her father; she doesn't see his face. Oh yeah, for some unstated reason, Joan can't stand the touch of man and continually rebuffs the advances of the circus strongman.

With the father dead, Crawford sells the circus and Chaney stays to console her. He thinks he making progress but Cojo the midget reminds him that if they are married, she will see his arms on their wedding night, not to mention his thumbs thumbs. Chaney has a response to that - he gets a shady doctor to amputate his arms. While Chaney recuperates, the circus strongman comes back to woo Joan. When Chaney sans arms returns to Joan to propose marriage, he is dumbfounded to learn that she is engaged to Mr. Muscles. You can imagine Chaney's disappointment. He literally gave his left arm for her. Not one to be spurned, he plots to murder the having horses rip his arms from his body!

Of course, the premise is silly but it was treat to see The Man of a Thousand Faces. Chaney's dexterity with his feet was amazing and I was disappointed to read he had foot double - a man without arms that had learned to smoke a cigarette, drink from glasses, etc. with his feet. Also, this films was a Director's choice. Guy Maddin, director of My Winnipeg, read the French intertitles. The film was introduced by Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, the founder and host of Midnight for Maniacs introduced the film and Maddin.

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