In the Vaults #7: Lady of the Pavements (1929)

Status: Held by the Mary Pickford Institute. Most of the sound discs are missing and presumed lost. The film was shown at the 2009 San Francisco Silent Film Festival, to name just one event, but has not been received a legitimate release to the general public.

This movie truly was the end of an era: It was D.W. Griffith’s last silent film (or his only part-talkie if you want to be technical). By this time, the old master was looking rather shopworn. A series of misses (and a few not-quite-big-enough hits) had forced him to trade his independence for income at United Artists, which he had helped co-found in 1919.

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The film had talking sequences as well as a song written by Irving Berlin and sung by Lupe Velez. Since the film was sound-on-disc, the sound sequences were separated from the film and all a few of the discs are lost. The cast included Jetta Goudal, William Boyd and, of course, up-and-comer Velez, who stole the show.

(The film had the working title of The Love Song and is referred to by that name in some vintage clippings.)

Motion Picture Magazine was lavish in its praise for the picture:

lady of the pavements (7)Lupe Velez emerges from a composite of several personalities to just Lupe Valez a star and trouper in her own right, as a result of “Lady of the Pavements.” The well-known “odious comparisons,” heretofore made with Lupe and Dolores Del Rio, Racquel Torres, Norma Talmadge and others, can’t be used any more. She is Lupe Valez — actress. And a fine one.

However, that isn’t the only equation D.W. Griffith has to boast about with his “Lady of the Pavements,” most recently made by him for United Artists. In addition he has the best box-office production he has turned out in many years, and not only that, but the best one United Artists have had to offer without any “sooper-sooper” star in an equally long time.

At the United Artists’ Theatre, Los Angeles, where it was reviewed, and where people used to go to avoid crowds, it is packing ’em in. For the first time in months, there’s a line formed at the box-office.

“Lady of the Pavements” has many flaws technically. The sound equipment at the house didn’t help it any too much. And the picture itself, with costumes supposedly of a Napoleonic period permitting William Boyd to wear a nifty 1930 model yachting outfit, can be criticized. The fact still remains, that in point of flawless story and dramatic direction, D. W. may not be the old “Mawster,” but he’s mastered S.R.O. (editor’s note: Standing Room Only). What else matters?

Jetta Goudal, George Fawcett and Albert Conti are the other principals. Goudal gives a splendid performance and is thoroughly beautiful in an unsympathetic character. Fawcett and Conti uphold the standard set by the others, and its a tough standard of acting to live up to.

“Lady of the Pavements,” is a girl brought into court from a Parisian dive by a Countess, to humiliate a former lover who has washed up his affair with her. He has told her, with sufficient provocation, that he would rather marry a woman of the streets than her. The Countess sets about making him live up to the statement. The girl is given a convent background, taught to act like a lady and framed to make the man fall in love. In so doing, she falls in love with him.

There’s no need of going into plot detail. “Lady of the Pavements” happens to be one picture which is excellently told and beautifully acted. And Lupe Valez cuts loose with comedy as well as dramatic emotion which makes audiences sit up.

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Photoplay dismissed Griffith but had nothing but praise for Lupe Velez:

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HONORS for Lupe Velez! This startling personality with the emotional mechanism of a great actress IS the picture. In this slight story, concerning the French Court, revenge and diplomacy, D.W. Griffith misses many chances for that fine poignancy which characterized his earlier work. Jetta Goudal is as strangely fascinating as ever, William Boyd is pale, but Lupe gives a magnificent performance.

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Harry Carr wrote in Smart Set Magazine about Lupe Velez vs. Jetta Goudal… and  how Lupe even made a monkey out of Griffith! This is good stuff:

Lupe out-gamed Griffith. This is a little secret. Griffith’s method is to acquire complete domination over every actress. If he can’t accomplish this complete surrender of will in any other way, he wears them down physically.

He started in with Lupe early one morning. From breakfast time on, he put her through hard, difficult close-up scenes. When noon came, Griffith was tired; the camera man was plumb tuckered out, but Lupe was frolicking around. They went through the whole afternoon, and ended staggering on their feet– all except Lupe. Late that night– after midnight– Griffith fairly collapsed in his chair. His face was white and drawn; his voice was sagging with utter weariness. For a moment he stopped, and in the pause, Lupe leaped up and said to the exhausted orchestra: “Play some jazz; I want dance.”

Griffith, who by all accounts enjoyed setting his actresses (and actors and cameramen…) against each other, finally met his match with a petite jazz baby who was born the same year he made his directorial debut.

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Griffith inherited Lady of the Pavements, a tale of European sophisticates and comedic intrigue. It called out for touch of Lubitsch or the comedic skills of Gregory La Cava, just to name two possibilities.

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Griffith did his best work with small towns, big battles and utter sincerity. The film also suffered from sound issues, the technology was still so new. In the end, though, what mattered was that any success the film had was credited to Lupe Velez’s popularity and not D.W. Griffith’s name.

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