Mary Pickford stars as Radha, a cute kid from… India? Yep. She falls for a British officer, of course, and gets into all sorts of adorable antics, kind of helps an uprising and then come the roast beef jokes. Shoot me.
A real curio from the First World War, this movie is a ripoff of a D.W. Griffith film (the heroine spins and twirls and is a squirrel aficionado) with a heavy dose of Erich von Stroheim (as actor and uncredited assistant director) and his patented sleaze thrown in, making this a very strange film indeed. And, yes, this is the one where he tosses a baby out of a second floor window. Much like real war, moments of horror punctuate extreme boredom. Historically important but no picnic to get through.
Mae Murray is a brassy American gal who catches the eye of pretty much every eligible bachelor in a sleazy little Mittel-European city state. Erich von Stroheim’s most accessible film, it contains excellent performances from both Murray and leading man John Gilbert. In the minus column, von Stroheim’s tedious “sophistication” that, at a glance, is indistinguishable from that of a fourteen-year-old boy with his dad’s lad mags.
[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for a spoiler)” ]Gilbert gets shot but not badly. He and Murray marry and she gets to be queen. I wonder if this is what gave Wallis Simpson notions.[/toggler]
If it were a dessert it would be:
A Gold Leaf Sundae. Gaudy and gilded but at it’s core, it’s just chocolate ice cream. Still, chocolate ice cream, yum!
Availability: Warner Archive released a very nice print on DVD with a Lehar-infused score. The whole ball of wax.
Oh, Erich. The silent era would have been so much more boring without him. I don’t pretend to be an enormous fan of his directing (a bit heavy on the “nudge nudge, wink wink” stuff for my taste) but no one could play a better slime. In this case, he is playing a paparazzo stalking Norma Talmadge in The Social Secretary. This was before he hit the big time by rebranding himself as a baby-tossing Hun.
I love the look on Norma’s face because it is exactly how 90% of us react to von Stroheim’s antics. “Um, did I just see what I thought I saw?” Also, she looks cute in glasses.
Availability: The Social Secretary was released on DVD by Grapevine as a double feature with the ridiculous Chinese Talmadge drama, The Forbidden City. It is also available as a solo release from Alpha. I have not viewed the Alpha edition but it is probably their usual fare: Cobbled-together score, so-so print but can be had for about $5.
This is the story of five brothers and the woman they… Oh, who am I kidding? There is only one reason people watch this movie and it can be summed up in this little list: Erich von Stroheim + tall window + baby. You do the math. This propaganda rip-off was a smash hit when first released and may or may not have been what launched von Stroheim’s career as a director.
Mae Murray is not my favorite actress but I have to get on the bandwagon with everyone else and agree that she is excellent in The Merry Widow. For example, this is her reaction to getting ogled by a grinning John Gilbert. You show ’em, Mae!
Director Erich von Stroheim battled Murray to a bloody standoff and managed to drag a human performance out of his notoriously affected leading lady. Murray, on the other hand, got her way with a lot of the casting and put the kibosh on some of von Stroheim’s raunchier ideas. The result was a film that pleased the crowds and the critics alike. I know they hated one another and never worked together again but they were actually an excellent combination. (Although I think poor Louis B. Mayer probably named two ulcers after them.)
(You can read my full-length review here.)
Erich von Stroheim turned his singular talents to a classic operetta and the resulting film was the biggest hit of his career. It’s all about central European royalty (natch), an empty treasury and an extremely wealthy widow. I can’t imagine what will come of this.
Continue reading “The Merry Widow (1925) A Silent Film Review”
Except I don’t have some guy in harem pants there to catch me.
On an unrelated note, art may be timeless but “artistic” dancing? That dates very quickly and very badly. If you don’t believe me, check out Leni Riefenstahl’s bizarre lurching in The Holy Mountain. Or, better yet, don’t. Instead, here is Mae Murray in The Merry Widow, the infamously contentious Erich von Stroheim production. For the record, Miss Murray was a dancer first and an actress second. She really moves beautifully and this is displayed to perfection during the waltz scene. But on stage? Well, the choreography is a bit… odd.
Here it is! My view of what Despicable Me may have looked like if it had been made in 1922.
Norma Talmadge: single girl in the big city. Her bosses think that her duties include… well, let’s just say she has to slap a few of them. An idea! She disguises herself as a frump for her next job.
Mayme (Norma Talmadge) can’t keep a job. She’s far too pretty, you see, and the bosses won’t leave her alone. Meanwhile, the de Puyster family can’t keep a secretary. They’re far too pretty and get married. You can see where this one is going. Erich von Stroheim supports as a paparazzo. Light-hearted fun but questionable gender politics.
Continue reading “The Social Secretary (1916) A Silent Film Review”