Some exciting news from the world of lost silents: Courtesy Rhett Bartlett on Twitter and David Hudson’s Daily, news that EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam has discovered more silent films that were either thought lost or existed only in poor and incomplete prints. The L.A. Times article is here, and the entire list of films is here.
Keen-eyed observers will note the Mack Sennett short “The Village Chestnut” (1918) is among the films. This has long been considered lost, though with the bog standard “it’s probably in an archive somewhere” rumors, which for once turned out to be right. Marie Prevost may be one of the Bathing Beauty extras, along with Phyllis Haver and Harriet Hammond, and it’ll be a real treat to finally have a chance to see this short.
Above: Promotional still from “The Village Chestnut” (1918). The brown-haired girl in the far back may be Marie Prevost; compare to this famous portrait of Marie from about that time:
And even more good news! TCM is hosting a day-long, eight-film Marie Prevost marathon on April 16th! Why April 16th? Why only one silent film and no Mack Sennett shorts? And why does this have to happen after I’ve had to give up cable because I can no longer afford it? No man can say. But let’s not look a gift marathon in the mouth; we should just enjoy what we’ve got, because what we’ve got is good.
Here’s the low-down on all the Marie films being shown. All times Eastern. Check listings because sometimes TCM goes renegade and changes runtimes or the films being shown.
7:00 AM The Racket (1928): Though Marie was best known for her silents, this is the only silent film on today’s lineup. That said, it’s one of Marie’s finest performances; in fact, it’s one of the best films of the late silent era, period. It’s this gritty little ganster-slash-proto-noir, surprising in its adherence to tropes that were brand spanking new in 1928, a full 13 years before the noir cycle began. If you don’t already have The Racket recorded off TCM, you need to get a copy today; the DVD versions are the nasty, soft, scratched public domain versions, while TCM shows the print that was restored in the mid 2000s.
8:30 AM Paid (1930): A fun Joan Crawford vehicle about an innocent young woman sent up the river. While a lot of sources claim Joan and Marie met and became friends on the set of Paid, it’s likely they knew each other years earlier. Paid proves Marie could have had a terrific career as a second banana, and though the film is a touch creaky, it definitely presages Joan’s mid-30s programmers, but with less of the glitz and glamour (i.e. shorter eyelashes and narrower collars). Polly Moran is also in a small role.
10:00 AM War Nurse (1930): Now this is what the pre-Code era was all about. Anita Page is fulsome and naughty as a debutante turned WWI nurse serving with lonely soldiers in France, while Robert Montgomery is the handsome soldier who catches the eye of co-star June Walker. I’m at a bit of a disadvantage on this one, as I haven’t seen it for a decade, years before I even began the Marie Prevost Project, but my recollection is she (along with Zasu Pitts and Hedda Hopper) has a limited role as a fellow nurse.
11:30 AM Gentleman’s Fate (1931): Another terrific early gangster flick, again with Louis Wolheim, who co-starred in The Racket as well. Wolheim was suffering from stomach cancer during filming, and passed away before Gentleman’s Fate could be released. Starring John Gilbert, this is one of the films meant to rehabilitate his reputation after the disaster of his talkie premiere two years earlier. It may not have fully restored him to his former stardom, but the press was pleased. As our good friend Cliff Aliperti writes in his excellent article on Gentleman’s Fate, Photoplay was particularly impressed: “My, but we are happy again. This picture proves, to the nth degree, that Jack Gilbert needs only the right story and direction to have all his old appeal.” It’s 1931, so Marie is in full-blown comedic relief mode, a character who is a little irritating, but no more so than any other comic relief of the day.
1:15 PM The Sin Of Madelon Claudet (1931): The Racket may have been nominated for an Academy Award, but The Sin of Madelon Claudet actually won. With a plot later re-purposed for Stella Dallas, Madame X and others, Madelon Claudet concerns the titular character (Helen Hayes) as a woman who sacrifices everything so her son can be brought up with money and class. A great cast includes not just Marie as a fellow lady of the evening, but supporting roles by Cliff Edwards, Jean Hersholt, Alan Hale and more.
2:45 PM Sporting Blood (1931): One of my least favorite Marie films, a nasty little thing of a movie with enormous problems of pacing, terrible actors and awful treatment of both animals and humans; I wrote up a brief review a few years ago if you’re interested. It’s at this point in her career that Marie began getting roles that specifically referenced her so-called lost looks, as well as her weight and alcoholism. She gives a good, though uneven, performance as a spoiled rich girl.
4:15 PM Carnival Boat (1932): I’m really at a disadvantage here, because I haven’t seen Carnival Boat yet! This early Ginger Rogers vehicle looks pretty amazing, so check it out. Stars William Boyd (the Hopalong Cassidy actor, not William “Stage” “Whoops I’m Drunk Again” Boyd of The Locked Door infamy) as well as Hobart Bosworth in a supporting role.
5:30 PM Hell Divers (1932): The final film in the Marie marathon stars the most repulsive Wallace Beery you will ever see on screen. It’s a deliberate choice, as far as I can tell; much of the dialogue he spouts off has been dubbed over with new dialogue or sound effects, probably after Will Hays had a big ol’ fit, so it’s obvious his character is not a nice man. Concerning Beery and Clark Gable as Air Force pilots (back in the days when the Air Force was part of the U.S. Navy), Marie has a small role as a tramp, a good time widow who goes along with Beery in a particularly sleazy prank against Gable. I personally didn’t care for the film; as Maltin says in the little blurb on the TCM schedule, this film is “overlong,” and he ain’t kiddin’, folks.
This is not only the most publicity Marie has gotten since 1937, but it’s also very likely the only day-long Marie Prevost marathon in the history of humanity… well, with the exception of the accidental Marie marathons that happen during the understandable Mack Sennett comedy benders. This is pretty huge, and it’s impossible for me to overstate how amazing and rare an event this is. Fire up your recorders and make plans to only leave the couch for popcorn and pee breaks on the 16th!
The content of this post is copyright 2014 Stacia Kissick Jones. All rights reserved. I do not hold the copyright on the promotional photos used in this post, and am using them under Fair Use guidelines. For more info on Fair Use, please read here.