Monday, January 30, 2006


This silent film has been part of the Turner Classic library but because it didn't have a music track, it had never been aired. Now thanks to TCM's Young Composers contest, the film has a great musical score by Marcus Sjowall and it's also had some footage restored (though it could still stand some digital clean-up) and it's a delightful discovery. The film begins with a young newlywed (Eleanor Boardman) who runs away from her new husband (Lew Cody) on their wedding night--the only explanation given is that she suddenly feels "revolted" by him, though we quickly learn that he's a slimy con man who marries women for their money than kills them. She spends the night in the desert and wakes up the next morning to a romantic figure of a man on a camel, on a windswept sand dune. She asks, "Are you real or a mirage?" and he replies, "Neither--I'm a movie actor." From here on, the movie becomes mostly a Hollywood behind-the-scenes comedy. The director of the film being shot (Richard Dix) takes pity on Boardman and gives her a job as an extra, which leads to a screen test, a romance with Dix, and starlet status for Boardman. The tone of much of the film (self-referential and satirical) is fairly modern, and much fun is had with Hollywood cliches such as the casting couch and other lifestyle scandals. Boardman's father is a preacher who thinks of Hollywood as an evil place, though we're told that actors frequently party "until the heathenish hour of 11:30" and movie sets are made to seem very tough indeed--one actress has a huge light fall on her, breaking her legs and giving Boardman the chance she needs to move into a starring role.

Another cliche is attacked in a title card during the shooting of Boardman's first film which notes that "the usual sheik crosses the usual desert with the usual captive." There are some fun cameos by real celebs, including Erich von Stroheim (directing a scene from GREED), Charlie Chaplin, and Zasu Pitts. By the end, however, the melodramatic trappings of the beginning return: just as Dix proposes marriage to Boardman, her husband returns to the scene, threatening to expose her to scandal and ruin her career. The climax, set during the shooting of a storm scene which is hampered by a real storm rolling in and setting a circus set on fire, is a doozy. For the most part, the acting is toned down from the usual overwrought silent style of the time, except for Cody as the lady-killer husband. William Haines, in his first billed role, has a couple of scenes as an assistant director. Boardman's character's name is Remember Steddon. Quite fun and exciting, and I think appealing viewing even for folks who aren't really fans of silent films. [TCM]

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