Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Yellow Ticket (1931)

Il passaporto giallo. US © 1931 Fox Film Corporation. D: Raoul Walsh. Based on a play by Michael Morton. SC: Guy Bolton, Jules Furthman. DP: James Wong Howe. ED: Jack Murray. AD: William S. Darling. M: Carli Elinor. S: Donald Flick. C: Elissa Landi (Marya Kalish), Lionel Barrymore (barone Igor Andreeff), Laurence Olivier (Julian Rolfe), Walter Byron (conte Nikolai), Arnold Korff (nonno di Marya), Mischa Auer (Melchior), Edwin Maxwell (agente Boligoff), Boris Karloff (attendente), Rita La Roy (Fania Rubinstein), Henry Kolker (funzionario passaporti). Premiere: 30 ottobre 1931. 35 mm. 88’. B&w. From: Twentieth Century Fox. Saturday, 30 July 2012, Cinema Arlecchino (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato). E-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti.

Dave Kehr: “Energized after the stylistic breakthrough of The Big Trail, Walsh continued his radical reconsideration of screen space with this very different piece of material, an often filmed 1914 stage drama about a Jewish woman (Elissa Landi) forced to accept a passport identifying her as a prostitute in order to travel within Imperial Russia. Working with the great cinematographer James Wong Howe, Walsh assembles shots of astounding spatial complexity, prevented only by the relatively slow lenses of the time from achieving the extreme depth of field effects that Gregg Toland would perfect in the 40s. The marriage of camera movement to point of view in such sequences as Landi’s attack on the Czarist official (Lionel Barrymore) is highly inventive (and thrilling to watch), although Walsh would later eschew such techniques as too showy. Of all of Walsh’s Fox films, The Yellow Ticket most strongly reflects the influence of Murnau, but if the lighting is Germanic, the tempo is pure Walsh, with Landi assuming the heedless, headlong rush of the mature Walsh hero once she decides that the old regime must be brought down. A young Laurence Olivier here makes his American film debut, as a last minute replacement for the forgotten Edward Crandall, though Olivier would later prefer to date his Hollywood career from his breakthrough performance in Wuthering Heights (1939).” Dave Kehr

AA: The movie starts with a résumé about tyranny in Czarist Russia. The story begins in the Pale of Settlement, where Marya's father is arrested and sentenced to prison for a trifle. (Elissa Landi is fine as the brave and bright young Jewess). During the movie, the Czarist prison system, the deportations to Siberia and the sentences to hard labour in quick silver mines are seen as a form of an indirect death penalty, a slow torture until death. When Marya finds her father Abraham we hear her offscreen scream. "Why did you kill him?" "You murderers!". The footage from the prison (partly like duped stock footage from an earlier movie [The Red Dance - PS 12 July 2012]) brings to mind the circles of hell as depicted by Solzhenitsyn.

Fanya Rubinstein who is free to travel to "anywhere where there's men" gives Marya the idea to acquire the yellow ticket, but little does Marya realize how absolutely the ticket will stigmatize her, although she remains a virgin all through the picture. "You don't drink, you don't smoke, you don't ..." states the head of the secret police having examined Marya's medical report. (Lionel Barrymore gives a believably tyrannical performance as Baron Andreyev). Because of the yellow ticket Marya is obliged to regular examinations by a woman's doctor. The world of prostitutes is portrayed in a caleidoscopic montage at the house of Sofia Petrova from whom Maya receives the yellow passport. There is another quick look at their conditions in the scene where streetwalkers are bathing.

Laurence Olivier is not bad as the naive British newspaperman Julian Rolfe. Julian defends Marya on the train. Marya opens his eyes and becomes his source of information about oppression and corruption in Russia. Julian's revealing newspaper articles put both of their lives in danger. During the conclusion, the First World War breaks out, and there is a last minute rescue for Marya and Julian.

The Yellow Passport is visually exciting with a fine use of the moving camera and visually interesting solutions such as Marya noticing the gestures of Baron Andreyev and his police officer via a mirror.

The print is fine.

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