UCLA Film and Television Archive presents QUEENS OF COMEDY Thursday, July 10 - Saturday, July 26
Silent film comedy has long been associated with three kingsChaplin, Keaton and Lloyd. Spectacular as they were, their female contemporaries have been given short shrift. The films starring comic luminaries Mabel Normand and Constance Talmadge are unknown to all but the most dedicated silent film fan. Marion Davies is remembered for her scandalous association with William Randolph Hearst even though, as her films in this series show, she was a fine comedienne who could more than hold her own.
In essence, the style of the silent comedienne runs the gamut from knock-down, pie-in-the-face slapstick (although Mack Sennett felt that beautiful women shouldnt be subjected to this, simply because they wouldn t get a laugh) to more sophisticated comedy where humor is communicated by the subtlest inflections of gesture and facial expression. Indeed, many of the finest silent comediennes had trained for the stage before launching their movie careers (unlike the male clowns, who typically came out of vaudeville and the circus); they were comic actresses, with extraordinary expressive range and impeccable performance technique.
These comediennes reflected the manners and mores of a culture undergoing profound changes during the first quarter of the 20th century. Their films reflect the rise of womens liberation, with heroines primed for social, sexual and economic advancement. Working girls abound, although domestic life is still a dominant concern. Windows onto a vanished society filtered through a distinctly feminine ironic intelligence, the films of the silent comediennes are historically invaluable, aesthetically accomplished and very, very funny.
*All films are silent with live musical accompaniment. Double bills will be preceded by shorts featuring Louise Fazenda, Gertrude Astor and others.
Films to be screened (click the date for additional film information):
Thursday, July 10
Saturday, July 12th
The Grand Duchess and the Waiter
Her Sister From Paris
Friday, July 18th
Orchids and Ermine
Thursday, July 24th
The Social Secretary
Saturday, July 26th
Further info: 310.206.FILM / www.cinema.ucla.edu.
Venue: the James Bridges Theater in Melnitz Hall, located on the northeast corner of the UCLA Westwood campus, near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Hilgard Avenue.
Admission: Tickets are available at the theater one hour before showtime. Tickets are $7 general admission; $5 students, seniors and UCLA Alumni Association members with ID.
Parking: available adjacent to the James Bridges Theater in Lot 3 for $7.
SHOW PEOPLE (1928) Directed by King Vidor In her second film with King Vidor, Marion Davies plays Peggy Pepper, a gauche Georgia girl with aspirations of becoming a serious dramatic actress. Its clear that shes more tenacious than talented, and in a hilarious casting office session Peggy pathetically pantomimes anger, sorrow and passion. She soon wins the sympathy of a cute extra named Billy who helps her break into the bizalbeit as the butt of jokes in two-reelers. Ironically, Davies began making comedies in an effort to break out of Hearsts stuffy costume dramas, while her character Peggy (said to be based on Gloria Swanson) wants out of slapstick. SHOW PEOPLE paints an enchanting picture of Hollywood in the 1920s and showcases Davies many comic talents; her expressive face and knack for physical comedy are a delight to watch. MGM. Scenario: Agnes Christine Johnston, Laurence Stallings. Intertitles: Ralph Spence. Cinematography: John Arnold. Editor: Hugh Wynn. With: Marion Davies, William Haines, Dell Henderson, Paul Ralli. 35mm, 90 min. (24 fps)
THE PATSY (1928) Directed by King Vidor Overshadowed and stifled by both her mother and her older sister, young Patsy (Marion Davies) decides to announce her independence by making a play for one of her sisters boyfriends. Energetic, irrepressible, bubbling over with good humor yet capable of quiet sensitivity, Marion Davies proves here (as with SHOW PEOPLE) that she was a genuine star. In her most celebrated scene, she demonstrates her talent for mimicry by offering devastatingly accurate impressions of Mae Murray, Lillian Gish and Pola Negri. Along with Marions performance, THE PATSY offers the services of a distinguished supporting cast, most notably Marie Dressler as Marions domineering mother. Dressler was fighting her way back from a long period of undeserved obscurity, and her role in THE PATSY was an important step in her comeback. MGM. Scenario: Agnes Christine Johnson. Adapted from the play by Barry Connors. Intertitles: Ralph Spence. Cinematography: John Seitz. Editor: Hugh Wynn. With: Marion Davies, Orville Caldwell, Marie Dressler, Jane Winton. 35mm, silent, 81 min. (24 fps)
THE GRAND DUCHESS AND THE WAITER (1926) Directed by Malcolm St. Clair Adolphe Menjou plays an immensely rich playboy who falls head over heels for the exiled Russian Grand Duchess Zenia (Florence Vidor), who lives in a Parisian hotel, maintaining an imperial lifestyle for herself and her dreadful hangers-on by selling the last of the royal jewels. To be near his beloved, the playboy poses as a (very inept) waiter. At once outraged and fascinated, the Grand Duchess hires him for her personal staff, so that she can devise various ruses to humiliate him. The teaming of Menjou and Vidor (begun by Lubitsch with THE MARRIAGE CIRCLE) gives rise to an enthralling contest to see who can achieve the maximum effect with the slightest means. The result is perhaps the most subtle, elegant comedy of the whole silent cinema. Paramount. Scenario: Pierre Collings. Based on the play La Grande-Duchesse et le garcon détage by Alfred Savoir, adapted by John Lynch. Cinematography: Lee Garmes. With: Adolphe Menjou, Florence Vidor, Lawrence Grant, George Andre Beranger. 35mm, 69 min. (24 fps)
HER SISTER FROM PARIS (1925) Directed by Sidney Franklin Constance Talmadge was just in her teens when she began making Vitagraph films; she became a star with her role as the raucous mountain girl in D.W. Griffiths INTOLERANCE. While her older sister Norma was generally known for her dramatic roles, plucky Constance became one of the queens of light comedy in the 1920s. Given her status, it was a surprise to her fans and critics alike when she retired after her last silent film, VENUS (1929). In HER SISTER FROM PARIS, Constance plays the neglected wife of a successful author portrayed by Ronald Colman. In order to win her husband back, Talmadge switches identities with her vampish twin sister. Joseph M. Schenck Productions. Scenario: Hans Kraly. Cinematography: Arthur Edeson. With: Constance Talmadge, Ronald Colman, George K. Arthur, Margaret Mann. 35mm, approx. 80 min. (22 fps)
EXIT SMILING (1926) Directed by Sam Taylor For her film debut, star stage comedienne Beatrice Lillie plays an aspiring actress working as the maid to a touring theatrical companys inebriated leading lady. Absence of sound proves no handicap at all to Lillie, who communicates effortlessly through droll and voluble gestures and looks. Like all great clowns of silent cinema, she is constantly flummoxed by everyday objects; clothes and accessories repeatedly fall off her lanky framefeather boas especially. Lillies Violet remains indomitable, steering a path through the trail of accidents with dotty elegance and the same dogged faith that keeps her character blind to the real feelings of Jack Pickford, the troubled bank clerk she sets her heart on. MGM. Scenario: S. Taylor, Tim Whelan. Intertitles: Joe Farnham. Cinematography: Andre Barlatier. Editor: Daniel J. Gray. With: Beatrice Lillie, Jack Pickford, Doris Lloyd, Franklin Pangborn. 35mm, approx. 80 min. (22 fps)
ORCHIDS AND ERMINE (1927) Directed by Alfred Santell ORCHIDS AND ERMINE exemplifies the cheerful materialism of the 1920s flapper whose single-minded aim was to entrap a rich husband. Colleen Moore plays Pink, the telephone receptionist in a grand hotel, who shares confidences about marital ambitions with Ermintrude, the brassy flower-girl (Gwen Lee). Pink gives up her ambitions of orchids and ermine when she falls in love with a young man whom she takes to be the humble valet of a millionaire. The films attractions include not only the vivacious performances but also its charming evocation of 1920s New Yorkmost notably a scene where the lovers have an encounter on the open top of a city bus in a downpour of rain. First National Pictures. Scenario: Carey Wilson. Interitles: Ralph Spence. Cinematography: George Folsey. With: Colleen Moore, Jack Mulhall, Sam Hardy, Gwen Lee, Hedda Hopper. 35mm, approx. 75 min. (24 fps)
THE SOCIAL SECRETARY (1916) Directed by John Emerson THE SOCIAL SECRETARY is one of Norma Talmadges earliest features, less opulent than her more serious star vehicles of the 1920s. The fast and witty John Emerson-Anita Loos script tells the story of beautiful Mayme, who tires of fighting off the advances of male bosses and so disguises herself as a frump to work as a social secretary to a socialite. Her employers dissolute son discovers her secret, and a love affair ensues. Talmadge is enchanting both as frump and beauty, and there is the added bonus of Erich von Stroheim in the role of a bespectacled and disreputable paparazzo. Von Stroheim is also thought to have acted as assistant director on the film. Fine Arts Film Co./Triangle Film Corp. Scenario: J. Emerson, Anita Loos. With: Norma Talmadge, Kate Lester, Helen Weer, Gladden James. 35mm, 54 min. (18 fps.)
STAGE STRUCK (1925) Directed by Allan Dwan The glamorous Gloria Swanson plays a decidedly unglamorous waitress in a cheap diner, harboring romantic dreams of the short-order cook in the same establishment and longing to act only because the cook has a weakness for actresses. Such a role would not allow Gloria to hide behind lavish gowns or settings; she was forced to rely on her comic talents. Fortunately, her comic talents were considerable. Perhaps as a concession to Glorias fans, Dwan added a Technicolor prologue depicting the waitress fantasy life as a distinguished actress, portraying a variety of dramatic, exotic roles. The film also boasts a Technicolor epilogue, depicting the far more down-to-earth happy ending. Were privileged to see both of these color sequences, thanks to the gorgeous print preserved by George Eastman House. Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount. Scenario: Forrest Halsey. Based on a story by Frank R. Adams, adapted by Sylvia La Varre. Cinematography: George Webber. With: Gloria Swanson, Lawrence Gray, Gertrude Astor, Marguerite Evans. 35mm, 78 min. (22 fps)
MOLLY O (1921) Directed by F. Richard Jones Of Mabel Normands many lost or missing features, the most sought-after has been MOLLY O. The silent comics comeback film was also one of her most acclaimed. It reunited her with producer Mack Sennett after her three years of lackluster vehicles for Samuel Goldwyn. Normand stars as Molly ODair, daughter of a ditch-digger and a washerwoman, who falls in love with a rich bachelor (Jack Mulhall). The film remains an entertaining comedy, on a par with surviving Sennett-Normand features like MICKEY (see below) and THE EXTRA GIRL (1923). Producer/Based on a story by Mack Sennett. Scenario: Mary Hunt, Fred Stowers. Intertitles: John Grey. Cinematography: Fred Jackman. Editor: Allen McNeil. With: Mabel Normand, Jack Mulhall, Lowell Sherman, Eddie Gribbon. 35mm, approx. 80 min. (18 fps)
*Preserved by UCLA Film and Television Archive
MICKEY (1918) Directed by Richard Jones and James Young Mabel Normand was a veteran of motion pictures (having earned international acclaim for her work with Mack Sennett) by the time she made her first feature film, MICKEY. Unfortunately, Normand was caught up in the turbulent Hollywood lifestyle of the 1920s. Her association with Fatty Arbuckle and her involvement in the William Desmond Taylor murder case hastened her decline, and she died at the young age of 35. Normands exquisite timing, comic spirit and emotional warmth are evident in this, her most popular film. She plays Mickey, a country girl sent to live in high society with her unscrupulous aunt who mistakenly believes Mickey owns a gold mine. When she realizes her error, the aunt puts her to work as a maid. Through a series of comic adventures, Mickey prevails, winning her man, and her money to boot. Producer: Mack Sennett. Cinematography: Hugh C. McClung, Frank D. Williams, Fred Jackman. With: Mabel Normand, George Nichols, Wheeler Oakman, Minta Durfee. 16mm, approx. 90 min. (18 fps)
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