Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Man I Love (William A. Wellman, 1929)

Mies jota rakastan. US 1929. D: William A. Wellman. Story and dialogue: Herman J. Mankiewicz. SC: Percy Heath. DP: Henry W. Gerrard. ED: Alyson Shaffer. C: Richard Arlen (Dum-Dum Brooks), Mary Brian (Celia Fields), Baclanova (Sonia Barondoff), Harry Green (Curly Bloom), Jack Oakie (Lew Layton) P: David O. Selznick per Paramount Famous Lasky Corp. 35 mm. 74'. From: Universal Pictures
    Theme song: "Celia" (Richard A. Whiting, Leo Robin).
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), 29 June 2014 

Gina Telaroli (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "When the appropriately named Dum Dum Brooks (Richard Arlen, in his fourth of five collaborations with Wellman) is able to convince his girl, Celia, to marry him (on their first date) and go to New York where he hopes to make it big as a boxer, the two find themselves riding in the same boxcar as the horses, which Dum Dum thoughtfully arranged in order to cut costs. When they finally embrace, down in the hay while a record plays, Wellman pans away from them and up to a horse, who simply stares into the frame. A good minute passes by as the camera stays front and center on the white nag. Suddenly the music stops, the horse glances away, and Wellman returns to the record player and its silently spinning needle, which for obvious reasons has been neglected. It's classic Wellman, focusing not on the plot but on what is happening right around it, as well as never losing focus on what his characters are up against, which in this case is their small town origins and the total doofiness of Dum Dum. The supporting cast provides pitch perfect color to the somewhat basic story of a country boy gone bad in the city, with Jack Oakie poking around in the background and audiences hearing Baclanova's thick Russian accent for the first time. The Man I Love was Wellman's second foray into sound, after the split sound/silent Chinatown Nights, and instead of letting the need to record dialogue limit him, he effortlessly strips down the picture and its action with moments like the one described above. He moves his camera away from what is forced, the placement of the actors, or conversely focuses on nothing but what is happening, as when Celia sits with Dum Dum after his fight in the empty boxing arena. Their bodies glisten in the darkness as they discuss what would happen if Dum Dum were to make it big. They stare into each others eyes as Celia sets her course (and the movies) and lovingly says, "I'll still be sorry you're a fighter, but you're the man I love". Gina Telaroli (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA: An early entry in the film career of David O. Selznick and Herman J. Mankiewicz as well as in William A. Wellman's. A happy but lightweight contribution of theirs into early sound cinema. Witty and fluent, just slightly lethargic at times. Visually, there are dull passages, perhaps due to the clumsiness of early sound cinematography. The approach is humoristic:
    Richard Arlen as the timid boxer Dum-Dum.
    Mary Brian as the good-humoured record-store seller Celia.
    Leslie Fenton as "the new impressionistic poet" Carlo Vesper, Sonia's former lover.
    Olga Baclanova as the vamp Sonia Barondoff, "the hottest dish of the New York society" of whom Dum-Dum has never heard of. Sonia compares simultaneously the biceps of Dum-Dum and Carlo. At her party, she sings a Russian romance.
    The manager is obviously jealous when Celia enters Dum-Dum's life. In the couple, Celia is the brains, taking over Dum-Dum's deals and affairs. Enters Sonia and almost destroys everything.

As described above by Gina Tenaroli, the honeymoon in the horse car of the train to New York is a highlight of the picture.
    The Man I Love is a romantic comedy, but the boxing scenes are all business, well made, without any sound effects at all in this early sound film.

The print has perhaps been produced from challenging sources which are worn, duped, and soft at times, perhaps even blown up, but there are also enough passages of good visual quality to make it possible to appreciate Henry W. Gerrard's cinematography.

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