Hollywood in the Teens and the Twenties:  Personal Reflections

The Bargain  —  Reginald Barker  —  1914

screenplay by William H. Clifford and Thomas Ince
with William S. Hart, J. Frank Burke and Clara Williams

This is a sophisticated production with good photography of interiors as well as exteriors.  There is a stunning Hitchcock-like pan within the Border Rest Cafe and Saloon.  Time is taken to develop all characters in this 75-minute western.  All performers are good, everyone having an acting edge on Hart himself despite all his experience (which, admittedly, was stage experience).

The Bargain is a visual story visually told.  An outstanding example:  As those who will arrest Two-Gun Jim are at the door to his room, others make known to him that they are at the window.  He hears that they are there.  In this silent world we, of course, do not.  But one of the two men we see through the window moves his hand ; and we know that he has made a sound that Jim hears.

The conclusion to the tale consists in a bargain between the sheriff and our outlaw Two-Gun hero who is trying to go straight.  For 1914 it makes for a shockingly cynical ending but a happy one for the romance.

The Grand Duchess and the Waiter  —  Malcolm St. Claire  —  1926

The Grand Duchess and the Waiter is a perfect example of those films I once heard Jean Renoir describe as the most beautiful films ever made.  He said this of the films made in Hollywood during the twenties.  This picture, chosen by the New York Times as one of the ten best of its year, is captivating, lovingly photographed, subtly acted, and meaningless.  It could not be more accomplished, but it amounts to nothing at all.

Adolph Menjou again proves himself the most subtle of silent actors, if never deviating from his screen persona.  Florence Vidor is every inch a duchess, and all the well-cast supporting players do dandy jobs.

Menjou ten years later in the famous STAGE DOOR

Almost all the fun is visual.  The script, however, lacks invention as it seeks to show how an inexperienced waiter can fail.  The happy conclusion is trite and based on the dime-store psychology that permeated American films of the era.  Love makes the world go round, even if it’s between two people who have only just met and know so little about each other that they cannot even know if they have anything in common.

Enchanting froth.

SECOND THOUGHTS;  Can I insist that the film mean something?  If this were a French film, would I see it as a charming comedy of manners and praise froth?

screenplay by Pierre Collings
adaptation by John Lynch, based on the play La Grande duchesse et le gar⊆on by Alfred Savoir
photography by Lee Garmes

NEXT “Friday” POST Wednesday June 20
Until then,
See you at the movies,


Rick’s Journal  —  MY FILM CAREER

MEANWHILE     –     back at UCLA

Hugh Gray brought Jean Renoir to us as well.  I sat in the third row of a small projection room.  I was that close to one of the world’s greatest living men.  And the great man was down-to-earth, close to self-deprecatory, but aware, I don’t doubt, of the timeless quality of his body of work.  Time proves him right about that.

THE SOUTHERNER, one of Renoir’s American films

He was generous in the question and answer session after he spoke.  We of course asked him about Grand Illusion  and Rules of the Game; but I easily recall the most surprising thing he said  —  that, for him, the most beautiful films ever created were the silent films of Hollywood in the twenties.  I am sorry now that I did not ask him if he meant to refer to Hollywood’s silent era in general of if by noting the twenties, he meant to exclude the films from the previous decade.

It must have been Arthur Ripley, our directing prof, who brought George Seaton to us as guest speaker.  (He twice won the Academy Award for adapted screenplay:  The Miracle on 34th Street and The Country Girl.)  Seaton was debonair, tailored and in manner sophisticatedly reserved.  I remember only one point that Seaton made, and I will be grateful if any of my readers can comment on it.  He spoke about music as background in film, something he considered crucial to successful film making.

writer/director George Seaton

He then said that almost any dramatic music  —  I do think he said almost  —  that almost any dramatic music will work with any dramatic scene; that if you play the music against a playing scene, the music and the scene will rise in tension together and dramatically merge and climax.

He really said that.


NEXT Friday POST August 18

Until then,
See you OUT and AT the movies,


Gilles Bourdos

As we were leaving the theater my collaborator BKG chose the word luminous for Christa Theret who portrays Catherine Hessling in the currently playing Renoir.  There are right now too many film award groups and far too many awards; but Theret, the model who calls herself Andree* while at the Renoirs’, has me wondering if it is time for an award for casting.  She is absolutely right for her role, for the camera, for the world of Auguste Renoir (played by Michel Bouquet).  Her hair, her figure, her flesh, her grace   —  AND her acting ability as she catches or projects the emotional tones and colors of each scene or serves as the discordant note in a household increasingly volatile once she joins it.

She lives for us in a world of light and color that dares to reflect Renoir’s brush.  The film is breathtaking but never self-consciously beautiful.  It is not asking us to admire or praise it.  Its camera simply looks at the world as would, as did, Renoir.

But this picture is more than light and camera.  There are people besides this remarkable model, and there is action.  When Andree joins the household there are already four women living there with the widower/painter, apparently former models, now housekeepers/cooks/caretakers.  They bathe his body, massage his arthritic painter’s hands and gracefully carry him about the house and grounds, even on picnics, in his wheelchair.

Complications, including romantic ones, follow on the arrival of his son Jean from the World War 1 front.  This is the Jean Renoir who will eventually make those films so many of us love but will now rival his father for the attentions of his newest model.  Vincent Rottiers is superbly tense and understated as Jean.  Thomas Doret is excellent as kid brother Claude who is fourteen and wrestling with his own hormones.
*My apologies to my readers for the current lack of accents on my keyboard. Please imagine an accent aigu in Andrees’s name and other diacritical marks on the  names of others.

Gilles Bourdos
writing: Gilles Bourdos, Jacques Renoir,
Michel Spinosa, Jerome Tonnerre
production design: Benoit Barouh
photography: Ping Bin Lee
music: Alexandre Desplat
casting: Elsa Pharaon

PREVIEWS OF COMING ATTRACTIONS: Speaking of French actors, look on my next post for an addition to my list in progress of the 25 greatest performances by male actors.

NEXT POST Friday, July 12

See you then,