Saturday, October 10, 2015

Wolf Song

Wolf Song: a bath before the dance for the mountain man Sam (Gary Cooper).
Wolf Song: at the baile at Taos Sam (Gary Cooper) dances a long, slow number with Lola (Lupe Velez).
Gary Cooper, Lupe Vélez
Wolf Song: after the marriage the wolf call gets stronger for Sam (Gary Cooper), but he reconsiders.
La canzone dei lupi / Suden laulu / Vargens sång (Paramount Famous Lasky – US 1929) D, P: Victor Fleming; P: Adolph Zukor, Jesse L. Lasky; SC: John Farrow, Keene Thompson, based on the short story by Harvey Ferguson (1927); titles: Julian Johnson; DP: Allen Siegler; ED: Eda Warren; C: Gary Cooper (Sam Lash), Lupe Velez (Lola Salazar), Louis Wolheim (Gullion), Constantine Romanoff (Rube Thatcher), Michael Vavitch (Don Solomon Salazar), Ann Brody (Duenna), Russell [Russ] Columbo (Ambrosio Guttierez), George Rigas (Black Wolf); première: 23.2.1929, New York; rel: 30.3.1929; orig. l: 6769 ft. (8 rl.; 93'); 35 mm, 5889 ft, 65' (24 fps); titles: ENG; incomplete (mus. sequences missing); print source: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Donald Sosin, 10 Oct 2015

Kevin Brownlow (GCM catalog and website): "One of the last silent films, Wolf Song was released with an orchestral score, a few spoken words, and a couple of songs. The critics were not enthusiastic. However, it has not been seen on this side of the Atlantic since its original release, and quite often old films mature like wine. When David Chierichetti saw it in Los Angeles in 1978, he sent me this response: “Excellent. It exploits the highly charged sexual tension that existed between Gary Cooper and Lupe Velez in real life at the time. It is an intelligent story about trappers in the 1840s, beautifully photographed, with many original and expensive sets by Wiard Ihnen, and with clothes by Edith Head.”"

"The AFI Catalog of Feature Films 1921-1930 contains a succinct plot synopsis: “Lola Salazar, the daughter of a haughty Californian don, elopes with Sam Lash, an unkempt Kentucky trapper of no particular means. They live together in in a settlement in the mountains until Sam decides that he is sick of civilization and rejoins his former companions in the Canadian wilderness; Lola returns to her family. Sam soon finds the nights too long and lonely and heads home, only to be shot by a couple of braves. He drags himself to Lola’s hacienda, however, and they are reunited.”"

"Fleming had just made a picture for Sam Goldwyn called The Awakening (1928) with Vilma Banky and Ronald Colman, which no longer exists but which has acquired an almost mystical reputation. (It was also silent, with sound effects and an Irving Berlin song featured in the score.) Moving from the demure Vilma Banky to this tempestuous Mexican actress must have shaken Fleming to the core."

"Lupe Velez was, oddly enough, a discovery of Hal Roach, who cast her with Laurel and Hardy and then loaned her to Fairbanks for The Gaucho (1927). Newspaper reports about “Whoopie Lupe” tended to be headed “Hot tamale!” or “Senorita Cyclone”, for she behaved like a modern pop star. She became the lover of Fleming – “he’s on everybody’s love-list!,” she said – and the crooner Russ Columbo (whose film debut this was, but whose scenes are missing). Tension increased when she also fell for Gary Cooper. “The heat between them burned up the screen,” wrote her biographer, Michelle Vogel. Although she would stab him and try to shoot him (she missed), Gary Cooper remained the love of her life."

"Born on a ranch in Montana to English émigré parents – he was partly educated in England – Cooper played cowboy extras from 1925. He worked with Clara Bow, and was her lover for a while (blaming Fleming for the split), but he had his break when cast in Henry King’s western The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926). At first he was regarded as clumsy and difficult to direct – “He never knew what to do with his legs!” – but he soon got the hang of naturalistic acting and became one of the finest actors and best-loved stars in American films."

"Constantin Romanoff was the terrifying heavy in Harold Lloyd’s The Kid Brother (1927). Boris Karloff worked with him and said, “He was huge, but as gentle as a kitten.” The same could be said for Louis Wolheim, who played the good-hearted sergeant in All Quiet on the Western Front. He may have resembled Neanderthal man, but he had been a distinguished mathematics instructor with an engineering degree at Cornell."

"Russ Columbo, the singer, was beginning to make a name for himself in pictures around the time of Wolf Song, although he was already tremendously popular among women as a crooner. Romantically attached to Carole Lombard, he died in a freak shooting accident in 1934."

"The cameraman, Allen Siegler, had been a cowboy who demonstrated his skills with a lariat at the opening of Universal City in 1915. John Farrow would become a director and the father of Mia Farrow. The film’s editor, Eda Warren, also cut Hula and Abie’s Irish Rose.
" – Kevin Brownlow

AA: Wolf Song feels like a particularly personal film for Victor Fleming, even a kind of a fictional autobiography. The story of the wild man civilized by the love of the right woman.

The electricity between Gary Cooper and Lupe Vélez is so unmistakable that there is an almost documentary feel in their love scenes. Wolf Song belongs to the most sensual films of Victor Fleming. There is even a nude scene with Cooper but of course "nothing" is shown (see above). (To be compared with Frank Borzage's The River also made in 1929).

Sam Lash (Gary Cooper) has become a mountain man in the 1840s, and he feels a strong draw to return to the wilderness. He abuses women mercilessly during his visits to civilization. But Lola Salazar (Lupe Vélez) is different, the daughter of a distinguished family. Against her father's will Lola escapes with Sam to get married, only to have to return in a humiliating way because Sam has left her abruptly, with "fur country calling" - "the wolf song".

But "she had a brand on him and the burn still hurt". Sam's pain of separation grows intolerable. There is a memory montage that makes me think of L'Atalante.

On his way back to Lola Sam gets shot by the Indians, and, after a tortuous journey, badly wounded, he finally falls on Lola's feet. (A similar final image is also in To the Last Man).

Donald Sosin created a perfect live music world to this screening, excelling in the crucial dance scene with a fine slow tango, with a gentle sensual feeling.

The visual quality of the print is often good but variable.

No comments: