Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Drums of Love

Kahden veljen rakkaus. US 1928. PC: United Artists. P+D: D.W. Griffith. SC: Gerrit J. Lloyd.DP: G.W. Bitzer, Harry Jackson, Karl Struss. AD: William Cameron Menzies, cast: Mary Philbin (Emanuella), Lionel Barrymore (Duke Cathos de Alvia), Don Alvarado (Count Leonardo de Alvia), Tully Marshall (Bopi), William Austin (Raymond of Boston), Eugenie Besserer (Duchess de Alvia), Charles Hill Mailes (Duke de Granada); 16mm, 3318 ft /20 fps/ 111 min [including alternate ending 178 ft /20 fps/ 6 min]; print: LoC, original in English with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Gabriel Thibaudeau. Viewed at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, Ridotto dal Verdi, 7 October 2008. - A bad 16mm print, I watched just a sample. - Scott Simmon: "From the time of his first Biograph films, D.W. Griffith was always seducible by solemn “art”. Presented with art director William Cameron Menzies (...) and cinematographer Karl Struss (...), Griffith came up with a story inspired by doomed lovers Paolo and Francesca for a film that is beautifully crafted but off-balance in structure and slow in pace. Variety’s positive review (“a sweet comeback for Griffith”) nevertheless recognized that it would be a hard sell to the mass audience: “Drums of Love is a loge section film. The art centers will love it. That’s sure. Its basic appeal is to the playgoer who thoroughly enjoys the Theatre Guild.” The most telling initial notice was from the New York Telegram: “Reviewing a Griffith picture is like nothing else in the experience of an American picture fan. For, after all, D.W. has been our first and foremost, our best beloved, our pet genius whom we could always count on when the great lords from overseas – the Murnaus, the Lubitsches and the Stillers – arrived with their great bag of tricks to show us how it is done. And that’s why it’s so tarnation sad when the Grand Old Man turns out a Drums of Love.”
Were it not such an extraordinarily dark tale, it would be easier to see this strangely titled film (“drums” of love are nowhere to be found in it) as Griffith’s first “Hollywood” movie. When he had last directed in Los Angeles in 1919, he had still been his own producer. Now he was back with an excellent employee’s contract for what turned out to be the first of four features produced by Joseph Schenck (initially at his appealingly named Art Cinema Corporation) for release through United Artists, of which Schenck was also president. These films would essentially put an end to Griffith’s career.
The structure and style of The Drums of Love are unconventional, and not without interest. After a static scene of the Alvia brothers swearing eternal love for each other at their father’s deathbed, shot with Karl Struss’ recognizably misty diffusion, the perspective switches to a sequence more characteristic of Griffith. The brothers lead troops to victory in a large-scale battle against the Duke of Granada’s forces. It’s the sort of scene, however, that would usually climax a Griffith film, and here it’s tossed off perfunctorily. Most of the rest of the film will rely for spectacle on unconvincing glass-shot effects. Unusual for Griffith too is the fluid mobility of the camera in early scenes, especially of carefree Emanuella at her father’s home. The tone of the rest of the film seems also to weigh down the camera.
The performances are so varied in expressiveness as to lead to a disastrous imbalance in the film as a whole. Top-billed was Mary Philbin, a pleasant-enough actress who was developing an odd career repeatedly playing the lovely consort of deeply deformed but good-hearted men (...) Dolled up in a Goldilocks wig and “recently home from the convent”, she is here paired with Don Alvarado, one of the low-rent Latin Lover replacements after Valentino’s death. His acting range appears so extremely limited that, by the climax of The Drums of Love, his character’s passion and guilt register as a Kuleshov test – an identical expression distinguished only by whether it is edited next to Emanuella or a portrait of his brother: “Sometimes there is a lethargy about his actions,” in the New York Times’s understatement. The human interest in the film arises from the convincing and even endearing performance of Lionel Barrymore as Duke Cathos; it was “this actor’s outstanding camera achievement to date,” in Variety’s verdict. When Emanuella first sees Cathos, he’s shadowed in Expressionist darkness that emphasizes his heavy brow, broad mustache, and hairy hands, but he’s also immediately rather winning in mocking his own hump and letting her know that she’s quite free to withdraw from the marriage “and none will be the worse”. (It’s her father who again forces the union.) Barrymore provides the rare flashes of wit in a film too weighed down by intertitles penned by Griffith with his former publicist Gerrit J. Lloyd; “it would … have been far more satisfactory to include in the captions phrases that were less hard and contained an element of charm,” noted the New York Times. As the un-comic jester, Tully Marshall skulks around melodramatically, as if testing out the character he will use to drool on Gloria Swanson later that year in Erich von Stroheim’s Queen Kelly (1928). It becomes evident that Griffith’s rooting interest in all this court intrigue is entirely with Barrymore’s sad, lonely, deformed duke, and we too become increasingly impatient with pampered Emanuella for preferring the dim, handsome brother. The Drums of Love comes close to being a fascinating film – if we weren’t forced to spend so much time with the two lovers.
The difficulty that Griffith and Schenck had in marketing the film is evident in the survival of two different last reels. The plot description above recounts the film’s original story as seen at the Los Angeles and New York premieres. After Cathos is informed by the jester of the liaison between his brother and his wife, they enact a long, heavy finale of guilt, honor, sacrifice, and murder. Emanuella declares “I must die”. Cathos kisses and stabs her, then even more regretfully must stab his brother: “Death before a stain on our honor.” Anticipating another Lionel Barrymore film, Duel in the Sun (...), the two dying lovers crawl toward each other, even while they beg Cathos’ forgiveness, and Struss’ photography gets even mistier. In a strikingly composed and dark coda, Cathos kisses the hands of the two bodies on a bier and walks slowly off, tormented and more hunched than ever. “The closing incident” might be a problem, the New York Times hinted. Variety elaborated that “doubts have been expressed as to whether the beauty values here can overcome the tragic double killing at the finish,” but noted that “Greta [Garbo] passes on in both Flesh and the Devil and Love …”. However, MGM had come around to revising the end of Love (Edmund Goulding, 1927) – an adaptation of Anna Karenina – so that Anna and Vronsky live happily ever after, a version released widely earlier in January 1928. Griffith and Schenck apparently decided to try the same thing. In the revised final reel of The Drums of Love put into general release by late February 1928, the brothers again fight and Emanuella again recognizes “I must die”. However, this time Cathos stabs the ever-intrusive jester, and is mortally wounded in return. There is no record that the revised ending improved the film’s box-office appeal.
" – Scott Simmon [DWG Project # 618]. - With a film interesting mostly because of its beauty values, it was a pity that only such a bad 16mm print was available. I did not stay and am looking forward to a good print!

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