Saturday, July 01, 2017

Transatlantic (2015 restoration in 4K by MoMA)

Transatlantic. Edmund Lowe (Monty Greer), Lois Moran (Judy Kramer), Jean Hersholt (Rudolph Kramer).

Transatlanticin salaisuus / Transatlantic-mysteriet / Transatlantico.
    Director: William K. Howard. Year: 1931. Country: USA.
    Section: William K. Howard: Rediscovering a Master Stylist.
    T. alt.: Europa. Scen.: Guy Bolton. F.: James Wong Howe. M.: Jack Murray. Scgf.: Gordon Wiles. Mus.: Carli Elinor.
    Int.: Edmund Lowe (Monty Greer), Lois Moran (Judy Kramer), John Halliday (Henry D. Graham), Greta Nissen (Sigrid Carline), Myrna Loy (Kay Graham), Jean Hersholt (Rudolph ‘Jed’ Kramer), Billy Bevan (Hodgkins).
    Prod.: Fox Film Corp. DCP 4K. D.: 75’. Bn.
    Restored in 2015 by MoMA with funding provided by The Film Foundation, The George Lucas Family Foundation and The Celeste Bartos Preservation Fund.
    From: MoMA / Park Circus / 20th Century Fox.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    Screened with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly, 1 July 2017.

Dave Kehr (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "Drawing on the talents of cinematographer James Wong Howe and art director Gordon Wiles, Howard takes advantage of a closed shipboard setting to create an amazing array of deep focus effects, climaxing in a chase through the ship’s cavernous engine room."

"In Transatlantic, an ocean crossing becomes the premise for an early experiment in multiple story lines, anticipating MGM’s 1932 Grand Hotel. At the center is Edmund Lowe, as a professional thief who allows the greatest haul of his career to slip through his fingers because of an old, unspecified obligation he feels toward his intended victim’s wife (Myrna Loy)."

"If Transatlantic has not received the attention it merits, it is largely because of its shaky state of preservation: no complete copy of the American release version has survived. This new restoration from the Museum of Modern Art matches the complete English audio track to picture elements derived from the French, Italian and Spanish export versions, yielding a full sense of the film for the first time in 80 years.
" (Dave Kehr)

Mordaunt Hall: "A brilliantly produced melodrama wherein all the action occurs on board an ocean liner. William K. Howard, whose cinematic work has often attracted attention, even when the stories of his films were somewhat mediocre, is responsible for this new offering. His imaginative guidance of the fleeting glimpses is most impressive, especially when one ponders over the amount of thought that has to be given to just one minute of this production.
The sum total of the kaleidoscopic flashes awakens thoughts of Vicki Baum’s play, Grand Hotel, for the camera darts hither and tither in unfurling the drama in which a heterogeneous group finds its way before the lens. As a story it is not a little vague at times, but, nevertheless, it has its exciting junctures and possesses the further distinction of having a closing sequence in which no matrimonial prospects are held out for the principal characters. In most of the sequences the manipulation of the camera takes precedence over the dialogue and the doings of the various individuals involved in the chronicle." Mordaunt Hall, “The New York Times”, August 9, 1931 quoted by Dave Kehr (Il Cinema Ritrovato)

AA: A crime drama, a multi character study, a sea adventure.

As Dave Kehr states above, Transatlantic was a film inspired by Vicki Baum's Menschen im Hotel (novel 1929, theatre adaptation 1930 Theater am Nollendorfplatz) a year before the MGM film adaptation Grand Hotel. Vicki Baum was a writer deep in the Neue Sachlichkeit. She also knew the Querschnittfilm trend which had started with Die Abenteuer eines Zehnmarkscheines (1926) directed by Berthold Viertel, the screenwriting debut of Béla Balázs, based on Leo Tolstoy's The Forged Coupon. In the cinema the multi-character study had its predecessors (such as The Bridge of San Luis Rey and portmanteau films based on Chekhov's stories, and aren't many catastrophe films multi-character studies, including Titanic films of which there already were many). Nevertheless Transatlantic and Grand Hotel were models for followers.

The Transatlantic is sailing from the U.S. to Europe. The banker Henry Graham (John Halliday) is fleeing the country with his personal securities as his bank is about to collapse. He travels with his wife Kay (Myrna Loy) and lover Sigrid Carlene (Greta Nissen).

The retired lens grinder Rudolph Kramer (Jean Hersholt) who travels with his daughter Judy (Lois Moran) has toiled all his life in order to be able to make this voyage. He has deposited all his savings in the Graham Investment Corporation.

A gang of criminals led by Handsome (Earle Foxe) is devising ingenious plans to rob Graham. The freelancing gambler and "baggage smasher" Monty Greer (Edmund Lowe) has plans of his own.

Story-wise Transatlantic may be a case of "too many crooks".

I saw three ship films at Il Cinema Ritrovato this year: besides this, Epilog directed by Helmut Käutner, and Destination Unknown directed by Tay Garnett, all crime films about desperate journeys. In all the ship voyage is somehow a metaphor.

In Transatlantic (as in Menschen im Hotel / Grand Hotel) the metaphor is about the world shaken by the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Vicki Baum wrote her novel before the crash, but the play and film adaptations inevitably resonated with it.

In Transatlantic the crime theme is almost Brechtian (Die Dreigroschenoper had premiered in 1928): "What's breaking into a bank compared to founding one?" Henry Graham dies from a bullet shot by the gangster called Handsome. Crime does not pay in this story, but the question lingers about the likeliness of epic fraud in financial speculation going unpunished.

For a film about a sea voyage there is little sea sense, although a storm breaks out. The drama takes place inside the ship. All along William K. Howard displays an exciting sense of mise-en-scène, and the cinematography of James Wong Howe is an instance of "the unhinged camera". The transition from silent to sound film has been successfully completed, and the visual glory of Transatlantic can be compared with the golden years of the silent cinema. The visual sense culminates in the climactic chase when Monty, the chased chaser, is after Handsome. It is a brilliant sequence in cramped space in deep focus. Multiple layers of action are staged in the vertical dimension of the ship's staircase.

A remarkable project of restoration conducted with loving care from a variety of sources, including challenging ones, as explained in the opening restoration credits. Missing dialogue is covered via subtitles on the copy. The result does justice to the brilliant visual concept of Transatlantic.


As the luxury liner the S. S. Transatlantic is about to set sail, lens grinder Rudolph Kramer, a passenger aboard the ship, tells his daughter Judy how pleased he is to be able to take her on a trip for which he has been saving for all his life.

Also traveling on the Transatlantic is the suave Monty Greer, a "baggage smasher" who specializes in absconding with bags belonging to wealthy passengers.

Monty's rival, crime leader Handsome, is also on board, as are banker Henry Graham and his wife Kay, his intended victims. The Grahams soon become embroiled in a quarrel when Kay accuses Henry of keeping the young Sigrid Carlene as his mistress.

Later, when Monty enters Henry's cabin on the pretext of searching for his misplaced bags, he is discovered by Henry. Monty apologizes for the intrusion and then scouts Kay's room next door.

Soon after meeting Judy, Monty and she become fast friends, and Judy tells him that all of her father's assets lie in the Graham Investment Corporation of New York. Once at sea, the Transatlantic receives a wired message that the Graham Investment Corp. has failed for the lack of twenty million dollars.

Though Henry is saved from the bankruptcy because he is carrying personal securities, Rudolph is financially ruined by the failure. Rudolph becomes despondent, and when he pleads with Henry for financial help, Henry coldly refuses and has him removed from his room.

While Handsome prepares to make his move on Henry's securities, Judy tells Monty that she is concerned about the threats her father has made against Henry. Shorty thereafter, Monty hears a shot ring out in Henry's room. Upon entering the room, Monty sees Rudolph holding a gun. To protect Rudolph, Monty orders him and Judy out of the room and then wipes Rudolph's fingerprints from the gun.

During a shipboard investigation into the murder, the robbery plot is discovered and Rudolph and Monty are confined to the brig by the captain. There, Rudolph confesses his intention to shoot Henry, but insists that the shot that killed Henry came from another gun. Convinced that Handsome fired the gun, Monty goes after him, and the two face off in a boiler room shootout. After Handsome is shot, he confesses to shooting Henry and robbing his cabin. All ends happily when Kay agrees to give the Kramers financial assistance and Monty kisses Judy.

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