Friday, October 10, 2014

The Good Bad Man (2014 restoration) (La Cinémathèque française / San Francisco Silent Film Festival / The Film Preservation SocietyCinémathèque française, San Francisco Silent Film Festival)

THE GOOD BAD MAN (Passin’ Through) (I banditi del West) (Fine Arts Film Co. – US 1916; Tri-Stone Pictures reissue 1923) D: Allan Dwan; P: D. W. Griffith; SC: Douglas Fairbanks; DP: Victor Fleming; C: Douglas Fairbanks (“Passin’ Through”), Sam De Grasse (Bud Frazer, alias “The Wolf”), Pomeroy [Doc] Cannon (Bob Evans, U.S. Marshal), Joseph Singleton (Pap), Bessie Love (The Girl; Sarah May), Mary Alden (Nan Wilson), George Beranger (Thomas Wilson), Fred Burns (Sheriff); dist: Triangle Film Corp. (1916), Tri-Stone Pictures (1923); filmed: 2.1916; première: 21.4.1916 (Rialto Theatre, New York); rel: 7.5.1916 (orig. ver.), 19.10.1923 (reissue); orig. l: 5 rl.; 35 mm, 3592 ft, 53' (18 fps); titles: ENG; print source: Cinémathèque française, Paris, & San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
    With e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: masterclass participant David Gray, at Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), Pordenone, 10 Oct 2014

Kevin Brownlow (GCM Catalogue and website): "Sixty years after the making of this film, Bessie Love recalled in her autobiography how she wanted “to jump over the moon” when she heard she had been chosen as Douglas Fairbanks’s leading lady in his first proper western. She was rushing off to thank him when she was told “Thank Mrs. Fairbanks. She’s the one who chose you.”"

"Fairbanks was of beautiful build, she remembered, as lithe as a leopard but not tall. Bessie was just five feet, and next to her, Fairbanks looked six feet. He was extremely kind and always enthusiastic about the next project, pinning his all on it. “I said I’d be afraid to do that in case it failed. ‘No! No!’ he exclaimed (he always talked in exclamation marks). ‘In that case you pin your hopes on something else!’”"

"The film was shot in eight days, on location in Mojave, California. Fairbanks had a passion for the Old West, and loved the company of cowboys. After their marriage, Mary Pickford gave him an authentic western bar which was installed at Pickfair and lined with Remington paintings."

"“Fairbanks never had the patience to sit and type a scenario,” writes Tracey Goessel in her forthcoming biography of Fairbanks (from which her notes on this film were excerpted at Cinecon 49 in 2013). “He would sketch out themes that he wanted his scenarios to contain and a screenwriter would actually write the script. The Good Bad Man is the first documented case of this method being employed by the star.”"

"“[Doug] was very creative and on-the-ball all the time,” Allan Dwan told Peter Bogdanovich in the late 1960s. “He wasn’t doing you a favor in coming to work. It was a real privilege to work with him.”"

"Attached to Griffith’s Fine Arts studio in Hollywood, the Dwan company had a house and a large yard to rehearse in. Bessie was given a revolver and a few blanks to practise with, but being the daughter of a Texas cowboy, she fired it so exuberantly that it had to be confiscated. She remembered that the Fairbanks melodramas were usually sent up, but this one is played relatively straight. The story of Passin’ Through, an outlaw who robs the rich in order to give to kids born out of wedlock, had parallels in his own life. Fairbanks was five years old when his father, Charles Ulman, deserted the family, and he and his brother Robert were brought up by their mother, who took on the name of Fairbanks. “The theme of a search for a ‘lost’ father is thus specially pertinent and we see it again and again…” (John C. Tibbetts and James M. Welsh, Douglas Fairbanks and the American Century, University Press of Mississippi, 2014). “We shall never know if Doug knew that his mother’s marriage was invalid,” writes Tracey Goessel, “that he was, in the technical sense, as illegitimate as the film’s hero believes himself to be. But we do know that Fairbanks spent his adult life covering up these inconvenient facts.”"

"The Good Bad Man was the opening attraction at the new Rialto Theatre near Times Square. The New York Times praised the film for being “full to the brim with Fairbanks. His expressive face, radiant toothsome smile, immense activity, and apparent disposition to romp all over the map make him a treasure to the cinema. No deserter from the spoken drama is more engaging in the new work than Douglas Fairbanks. May his shadow never grow less.”"

"When I first saw this film, at the Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna in 1998, I wrote: “Absolute cracker. Moves like the wind with glorious photography. Trouble is, it’s so badly graded [timed] we get Ufa lighting even in the great open spaces.” The Cinémathèque française generously sent over their negative to see if I could do better, and I couldn’t. It looked as though a marvellous film would be condemned to neglect through incompetent lab work, so it is a tribute to this restoration by Rob Byrne and his team that it is so outstanding, technically as well as aesthetically." – Kevin Brownlow


Robert Byrne (GCM Catalogue and website): "On 12 January 1923, Variety reported that Harry Aitken, onetime president of Triangle Film Corporation, had taken possession of “2,000 subjects made by Mutual and Triangle” through the liquidation of his former company. Six months later, Aitken’s newly formed Tri-Stone Pictures announced plans to release 24 revised editions of Triangle’s biggest successes, including the Douglas Fairbanks picture The Good Bad Man, which was subsequently released on 19 October 1923, with revised editing and new intertitles by John Emerson and Anita Loos."

"The Good Bad Man was produced by the Fine Arts Corporation and released 7 May 1916, and received universally positive reviews in the trade press. Unfortunately, no film or script materials from the original 1916 version are known to survive. Contemporary newspaper reviews and trade press synopses confirm that the plot, story line, characters, and relationships remained consistent between the 1916 and 1923 versions, but there are obviously differences between the two. Tri-Stone promoted the fact that the film had been updated, and the revised titling may have gone further than renaming the characters (Mary Alden’s character changed from Jane Stuart to Nan Wilson, George Beranger’s from Thomas Stuart to Thomas Wilson, Bessie Love’s character Amy became “The Girl” or “Sarah May,” and Joseph Singleton’s “Pap,” uncredited in 1923, was originally named “The Weazel”), though it is impossible to ascertain to what extent. This restoration is the result of a collaborative partnership between the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the Cinémathèque française, and the Film Preservation Society, Los Angeles, and is based on a 35 mm copy of the 1923 Tri-Stone release preserved in the collection of the Cinémathèque française. Image restoration was carried out at 2K resolution, and new titles were produced based on 16 mm materials at the Cinémathèque française that included the original 1923 English flash-titles."

"Because no film prints, continuity script, or production records for the original 1916 version have survived, it should be understood that this restoration does not attempt to re-create or re-imagine how that initial release may have looked. Instead, our attempt has been to faithfully restore, to the extent possible, the version released by Harry Aitken’s Tri-Stone Pictures in the late autumn of 1923." – Robert Byrne

AA: A wonderful Douglas Fairbanks film. A delightful appendix to Le Giornate del Cinema Muto's D. W. Griffith retrospective (Griffith was the producer). And a strong entry in the oeuvre of Allan Dwan who was celebrated in Bologna.

The wit of the exposition and the development of the narrative is breathtaking. This film is swift and brisk and full of action. The density is remarkable. The rhyming intertitles by Anita Loos and John Emerson are brilliant.

Allan Dwan has an eye for the telling detail as well as for the epic long shot.

Passin' Through is a strange outlaw, his specialty: "helpin' kids born in shame". He meets Sarah May (Bessie Love), "like a white flower among poisonous weeds". Sarah May is strikingly serious. But Passin' Through can bring her to smile.

Passin' Through seems endlessly optimistic but he also projects a profound sorrow. "Never had a father". "If I ever meet Frazier I'll kill him even if he's my father". We are at the origins of a special trend in the western, that with disturbing psychological depths, including the wish of parricide. There is a continuity from The Good Bad Man to Pursued. Douglas Fairbanks brings a special sensitivity to this aspect which is in striking contrast to his eternally smiling public figure. I become aware of the personal affinity between Fairbanks, Chaplin, and Pickford: three universal entertainers, each deprived of a normal happiness of childhood.

There is a huge battle finale. The posse overcomes the wolf pack. Passin' Through: "You'll find me at the edge of the horizon". Sarah May follows him over the border. "I'll go with you always".

The visual quality: ok to good.

Photos: Cinémathèque française, San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Click to enlarge.

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