Monday, March 31, 2008


I watch silent movies on occasion and have come to have an appreciation for many of them (GREED, INTOLERANCE, THE WIND, THE FRESHMAN, for example) but they remain more novelties to me than anything else. I was interested in seeing this one because it's one of Beatrice Lillie's few film roles. I enjoyed her small role as the white-slaver Mrs. Meers in THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, but other than that, it's difficult now to see her perform, as her main fame came as a stage performer. She is good in this romantic comedy set in the world of the theatre, but she doesn't shine, partly due to the pedestrian material. Lillie is a bit player with a traveling theatrical troupe, though mostly she is called upon to do cleaning and sewing and other odd jobs. Their current play is a routine melodrama called "Flaming Women," and Lillie dreams of someday playing the "vampire," or vamp, part; Doris Lloyd, the company's star, has a habit of drinking a little too much and showing up very late, but she still makes it onstage and Lillie's dreams remain unfulfilled. At one town, Lillie befriends a down-and-out young man (Jack Pickford) who has just left his job at a bank and is being framed for embezzlement. She falls for him and gets him a job as a juvenile with the company, not realizing that he still has a sweetheart back home. When they play his town, she takes his part so he won't be recognized. She also manages to save the day when she overhears the real embezzlers plotting, and she uses a strategy from the onstage melodrama (stalling for time) to expose their plans and clear Pickford's name. However, his happy ending sends him back to his gal, leaving Lillie in a kind of sad Chaplinesque situation at the end. A big problem with the movie is the casting of Pickford, brother of silent superstar Mary; he lived hard (drinking, drugs, gambling) and it showed on his face, so he's not exactly convincing as a sweet-faced kid--he's 30 and looks every year of it--and he also has zero charisma and zero chemistry with Lillie, putting quite a burden on Lillie to carry the show. The only other cast member to make much of an impression is Franklin Pangborn in one of his first comical "sissy" roles, playing a rather femme leading man named Cecil Lovelace. He doesn't have a big role, but he makes each moment count. Lillie certainly showed promise here and it's a shame the movie was a flop and she quit pursuing a movie career. She's one of those talents who will have to live on largely in the mists of legend rather than in the eyes and ears of current-day audiences. [TCM]

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