Saturday, December 12, 2009


Another interesting Douglas Fairbanks film from the silent era. In this one, he plays Daniel Boone Brown, a man who, without realizing it, is the subject of an experiment by Dr. Metz, a somewhat deranged psychiatrist: the doc is trying to manipulate Brown's life by instilling fears, superstitions, and bad behaviors in him, apparently hoping to drive him to suicide, just to see if he can. Brown's servant is in on it, and the film begins with the servant encouraging Fairbanks to eat heavy spicy foods (onions, lobster, Welsh rarebit) at midnight just before bed. The movie's tour de force sequence follows: first we see the food (portrayed by people in outfits reminiscent of the old Fruit of the Loom ads) tumbling about in his stomach, and then Brown dreams that the food is chasing him across a landscape; he runs into a house and, like Fred Astaire many years later in ROYAL WEDDING, walks up the walls and along the ceiling, with the food clustered below on the floor trying to grab him (pictured to the left). When he wakes up, he's two hours late for work; his stockbroker uncle has had enough and forces him to take a week off without pay. Brown meets Lucette (Kathleen Clifford), a girl from Oklahoma trying to make it in the big city; she's as superstitious as he and they bond over a Ouija board, eventually becoming engaged. But Brown winds up unwittingly involved in a scheme by his uncle and a hometown boyfriend of Lucette's to cheat her father out of some valuable land. The rest of the melodramatic plot is predictable (Brown and Lucette work out their problems together) with a couple of odd quirks thrown in--particularly the fate of Dr. Metz, which is right out of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, which came out a year later. There is another comically surreal moment, set inside Brown's head, in which personified figures of Reason and Sense of Humor battle Jealousy and Despair, and the wedding scene comes at the end of a climactic storm and flood sequence, which is quite well done for the time, despite some obvious use of miniatures. Basically, this is a romantic comedy with some satire of psychology used as a hook on which to hang some bizarre situations and comic scenes. Fairbanks, who was in his mid-30's here, is quite athletic (and gets to do some fun stunts) but looks at least 40, so it's a bit of a stretch to imagine him as a rudderless young man. Otherwise, this is great fun. [DVD--on the Flicker Alley "Modern Musketeer" boxed set]

No comments: