Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Spanish Dancer

La gitana (Famous Players-Lasky Corp., dist: Paramount Pictures, US 1923). D, P: Herbert Brenon; pres: Adolph Zukor; SC, adaptation: June Mathis, Beulah Marie Dix, based on the play “Don César de Bazan” (1844) by Adolphe d’Ennery & Philippe François Pinel Dumanoir, in turn suggested by characters from the play “Ruy Blas” (1838) by Victor Hugo; DP: James Howe [James Wong Howe]; ED: Helene Warne; AD: George Hopkins (?); cost: Howard Greer; C: Pola Negri (Maritana), Antonio Moreno (Don Caesar de Bazan), Wallace Beery (King Philip IV), Kathlyn Williams (Queen Isabel), Adolphe Menjou (Don Salluste), Gareth Hughes (Lazarillo), Edward Kipling (Marquis de Rotundo), Dawn O’Day [Anne Shirley] (Don Balthazar Carlos), Charles A. Stevenson (Cardinal’s Ambassador), Robert Agnew (Juan, a thief), Buck Black, Frank Coghlan Jr., George J. Lewis, Virginia Moon [n.c.] (grandmother); orig. l: 2571 m; 35 mm, 2185 m, 105' (18 fps); print source: EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Amsterdam. English intertitles. Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone (Rediscoveries), with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Stephen Horne, guitar: [Michele Pucci?], viola: Günter Buchwald, [] [] [] [] seven? players, a different orchestra than announced in the printed programme, 9 Oct 2012.

Restored 2011: EYE Film Institute Netherlands, in association with Haghefilm Foundation; supervision and digital restoration: Rob Byrne, Annike Kross; curated by: Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi; senior curator: Mark-Paul Meyer; digital intermediate grading: Petro van Leeuwen. - 2K scan.

Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, Rob Byrne, Annike Kross: "In 1922, Famous Players-Lasky enthusiastically announced in the trade papers their biggest forthcoming production: The Spanish Cavalier, based on the play Don César de Bazan by Adolphe d’Ennery and Philippe Dumanoir and starring Rudolph Valentino. With its lavish sets and costumes and impressive supporting cast, this new Valentino vehicle was intended to eclipse everything made that year in Hollywood. Nita Naldi was cast in the female lead, and in turn Fred Niblo and Allan Dwan were announced as directors."

"Days before he was due to start work on 4 September 1922, Valentino walked out on the project and the studio, charging Paramount with breach of contract in terms of advertising and publicity. At the same time Mary Pickford announced that she would make her own version of Don César de Bazan, to be directed by Ernst Lubitsch and titled Rosita. Undeterred, Famous Players had the script rewritten as The Spanish Dancer, shifting the focus from Don Caesar (as the character was renamed) to the female lead, Maritana the gypsy dancer, and assigning the role to the exotic Pola Negri, Lubitsch’s signature actress. In November 1922 the company brought over the French actor Charles de Rochefort, whom they renamed Charles de Roche, for the role of Don Caesar; but by February 1923, the Spanish-born Antonio Moreno was confirmed in the role. Finally, in May 1923 the director was named as Herbert Brenon, who had been in Hollywood only two years and had so far directed ten fairly routine films."

"The Spanish Dancer premiered in October 1923 and proved a great success with audiences. Rosita, released a few weeks earlier, was so eclipsed that Pickford would eventually disown the film altogether. In contrast, Pola Negri’s American career was triumphantly established, and she went on to make several successful films for Famous Players and to become one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the time."

"For decades after its first triumph, however, the film was known only in incomplete, abridged, re-edited, or otherwise mutilated versions, mostly on sub-standard formats and providing little evidence of the wit, charm, adventure, and romance that had so enchanted contemporary audiences and reviewers. In 1957 a nitrate print of The Spanish Dancer arrived at the Nederlands Filmmuseum (now EYE Film Institute Netherlands) from a private collector in Utrecht. This print (1630 metres, tinted, silent aperture, and with Dutch title cards) was copied to internegative and then in 1992 to colour stock “as found”."

"The longest version then known to exist, it was screened at the 1996 Giornate del Cinema Muto, but it was all too clear that scenes essential to the plot were missing. Often the motivation of the characters was hard to discern and it was unclear if the film was meant to be a serious reconstruction of historical events at the Spanish Court, or as the title suggested the story of the gypsy dancer – though she was given curiously little screen time in this version."

"In 2008, however, Kevin Brownlow’s revelation that his 16 mm Kodascope print contained some of the missing scenes ignited plans to revisit the film. Initial research revealed that ten archives held prints, though the majority of these were 16 mm reissue versions, often specified as being “condensed” or “shorter”, each running less than an hour (one such was deposited with the Filmmuseum in 1999). In fact the only surviving full-frame 35 mm nitrate prints were the Amsterdam copy and a second in Brussels which had originated from Gosfilmofond in Moscow and was lacking reels 2 and 4 of the original 9. The Amsterdam print had original tints and Dutch intertitles; the Brussels print was in monochrome, with Russian intertitles."

"A major breakthrough was the discovery in 2009 of the original continuity script at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The closely-typed 53-page script, from the Paramount Collections, records all the intertitles, as well as the length and tint of every scene. The film was now revealed as a beautifully plotted romantic comedy in a historical setting, developed around a court intrigue. Thanks to the script it was possible to compare each print to establish what was missing, and also what had been deliberately edited out, shortened, or put in an alternative order. While the Paramount script listed 253 titles, the Dutch release version and the Russian version each contained only 172 titles (a remarkable coincidence, since the surviving titles in each were different)."

"Fortuitously the two prints complemented each other wonderfully, though some short but important scenes were missing. This meant reverting to 16 mm prints. Luckily, the print from Kevin Brownlow’s Photoplay Productions and another 16 mm print, with French titles, from Lobster Films proved to contain all the missing scenes – even though the abbreviated 16 mm versions invariably lacked subsidiary plots and characters. For example, none of these versions contained the scenes involving the painter Velasquez, whom Herbert Brenon was to recall as a major source of inspiration for his film. Presumably it was to justify the introduction of the painter that the action was backdated from the reign of Charles II, as in the original play, to Philip IV."

"As we compiled a detailed inventory of all shots in the four print sources, problems emerged: some shots and sequences had been rearranged; finding a home for stray shots – particularly close-ups or reactions – was often challenging; and the two 35 mm prints had been made from different negatives – the Dutch from the American; the Russian from the foreign export negative, often with different takes of the same shot."

"The Dutch print proved the foundation for the restoration, ultimately providing 628 from its 783 non-title shots – 42% of the final restored print. The Russian print could often supply shots and sequences damaged or missing in the Dutch print, and of its 763 non-title shots 437 were included in the completed restoration, an overall contribution of 29%. The Photoplay 16mm print provided several key sequences missing from both 35 mm prints and also served as the sole source of the English-language titles – which were identical with the script. This print also provided stylistic reference for the 69 titles which had to be recreated from the script. The Photoplay print provided 88 image shots and all its 184 titles (respectively 6% and 12% of the restoration). The Lobster 16mm print provided a brief but crucial 17- shot sequence absent from all other sources. The final reconstruction includes 1,170 image shots out of the 1,228 documented in the script, and all 253 titles."

"Finally, then, after almost 90 years, we have The Spanish Dancer almost as its first audiences saw it, and can finally understand why it was the wonder film of 1923. The spectacle of the sets is staggering by any standards. We can now appreciate a screenplay that is faultlessly structured, with every character and incident perfectly dovetailed. Negri was never to be more appealing or brilliant; Moreno (who, lip-readers will perceive, speaks entirely in Spanish) has an elegant and dashing comedy style; and the casting of Menjou, Beery, and the superb Kathlyn Williams is inspired. Kathlyn Williams also figures largely in this year’s Giornate’s Selig programme: the role of queen no doubt suited her easily at the time of The Spanish Dancer, since she was married to Paramount’s General Manager, Charles Eyton. For modern audiences the most problematic performance is the Welsh actor Gareth Hughes (1894-1965) as the wilting, bullied apprentice, but even he finally rises to the opportunities of the plot."

"Viewing the finished restoration, Kevin Brownlow declared, “The cutdown version was enjoyable and spectacular, but now the restoration reveals an exceptional film, beautifully photographed and mounted, acted by the top professionals of their day and titled by a first-class writer. EYE Film Institute Netherlands has given us yet another classic from what many regard as the richest era in the cinema’s history.”" ELIF RONGEN-KAYNAKÇI, ROB BYRNE, ANNIKE KROSS

AA: Fascinating to compare with Rosita (Ernst Lubitsch, Mary Pickford) made simultaneously and based on the same story. The contest is a bit like Anna Magnani making Vulcano with William Dieterle when Roberto Rossellini cast Ingrid Bergman in Stromboli. I have never seen a good print of Rosita (all of them stem from a low contrast Russian edition), but in this magnificent restoration of The Spanish Dancer one can often enjoy a great visual quality. Pola Negri is very good in the title role but not as good as in her movies directed by Lubitsch. It was a pleasure to see Kathlyn Williams as a convincing Queen of Spain, ten years after her breakthrough roles at Selig Polyscope seen during this week: she was also the star of the first American action serial, which does not seem to have survived.

Things to remember: Maritana (Pola Negri) leading the gypsies in the mountains (cf. Carmen by Lubitsch); Diego Velasquez at work in the court of Spain; Adolphe Menjou and others courtiers chronically plotting against France; Queen Isabel the Frenchwoman hoping to unite Spain and France; the "friends" partying at Don Cesar's castle vanishing quickly upon learning that Don Cesar is deeply in debt; Maritana superior in a knife fight; torture at the Spanish creditor's prison: Don Cesar's closest man is about to get 50 lashes of the whip (the cat o' nine tails); Maritana trying to walk through a doorway sporting a wide pannier; Don Cesar's wedding with the masked Maritana on the night of his execution, to be shot by 12 musketeers who are their wedding guests; "to you, Countess, I devote the rest of my existence"; Maritana has loaded the muskets with bread; multiple surprise encounters at the King's hunting lodge reminiscent of La Garçonnière de Rigadin seen in the "Ah! The Mother-in-Law" programme; the slick schemer Adolphe Menjou finally exposed.

The Spanish Dancer belongs to the best movies directed by Herbert Brenon, a good director of female stars. Thanks to the quality of the restoration it is now possible to enjoy an early sample of the work of the master cinematographer James Wong Howe. The live music by the guitar-flavoured orchestra was warmly passionate, a perfect fit for this movie.

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