Friday, July 01, 2011

Trent's Last Case (1929)

[Not released in Finland]. US © 1929 Fox Film Corporation. D: Howard Hawks. T. it.: L’affare Manderson; Based on the novel (1913) by Edmund Clerihew Bentley [not translated into Finnish]; SC: Scott Darling, Beulah Marie Dix; DP: Harold Rosson;
    Cast: Raymond Griffith (Philip Trent), Marceline Day (Evelyn Manderson), Donald Crisp (Sigsbee Manderson), Raymond Hatton (Joshua Cupples), Lawrence Gray (Jack Marlowe), Edgar Kennedy (ispettore Murch), Nicolas Soussanin (Martin), Anita Garvin (Ottilie Dunois);
    P: William Fox; Pri. pro.: 31 marzo 1929. 35 mm. [Catalogue: 1770 m / 66’.] [Incomplete. Actual duration: 45 min.] B&w. English intertitles.
    From: Library of Congress per concessione di Twentieth Century Fox. Preserved by the Library of Congress.
    Electronic subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti.
    Grand piano: Maud Nelissen.
    Viewed at Cinema Arlecchino (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), 1 July 2011.

Catalogue: "[It] was one of the great detective stories of all time. The only trouble was we had Raymond Griffith as the star and he talked like this [in a hoarse whisper due to damaged vocal chords]. We had it all written for dialogue because I thought it would be cute to have him say, “Now I want you to do this...”"

"The day we started shooting, they said, “It’s got to be a silent picture. We can’t have him talking like this.” The picture never showed anywhere. We turned it into a gag comedy. (Howard Hawks, from Joseph McBride, Hawks on Hawks, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1992)."

"It’s a detective film that revolves around an investigation of the detective Philip Trent. The film was shot as a silent picture because they did not get the rights for making a sound version and it was never distributed by Fox: the American market in 1929 demanded sound movies, and the film was not distributed as normal except for in England. (Jean A. Gili, Howard Hawks, Cinéma d’aujourd’hui – Seghers, Paris, 1971)."

AA: A spoof detective story with great comedians such as Raymond Griffith, Anita Garvin, and Edgar Kennedy. Howard Hawks makes fun of the whole whodunit phenomenon. Old man Manderson commits suicide, frames it as a murder, frames his worst enemy as the culprit and invites the great detective Trent on the scene already before the fact. But things get complicated because there are too many clues. After the truth has been exposed Trent states that they have almost hanged four innocent people and gives up his career as a detective. "This is Trent's last case!".

This was the silent version projected in natural speed, with a duration of only 45 minutes, incomplete, but with the beginning and the ending intact. A print in low contrast and with scratches but watchable.

The Howard Hawks approach is unrecognizable. I had never seen Trent's Last Case before, and now I have seen all surviving films directed by Hawks at least once.

Hawks never took private detectives seriously as we can observe with Philip Trent, Philip Marlowe, and Ernie Malone (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes).

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