Friday, October 09, 2015

The Call of the Canyon (1923), fragments

Lois Wilson (Carley Burch). Photo: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow
Kultainen nuoriso [!] (Famous Players-Lasky; dist: Paramount – US 1923) [fragments] D: Victor Fleming; P: Jesse L. Lasky; supv: Lucien Hubbard; SC: Doris Schroeder, Edfrid Bingham, based on the novel by Zane Grey (1924), translated into Finnish as Kanjonin kutsu by Väinö Nyman / Kirja (1926), several reprints until 1957; DP: James [Wong] Howe; ass D: Henry Hathaway; Soviet re-editor: Sergei Vasiliev; cast: Richard Dix (Glenn Kilbourne), Lois Wilson (Carley Burch), Noah Beery (Haze Ruff), Marjorie Daw (Flo Hutter), Ricardo Cortez (Larry Morrison), Fred Huntley (Tom Hutter), Leonard Clapham (Lee Stanton), Lillian Leighton (Mrs. Hutter), Helen Dunbar (Aunt Mary), Eddie Clayton (Tenney Jones), Dorothy Seastrom (Eleanor Harmon), Laura Anson (Beatrice Lovell), Charles Richards (Roger Newton), Ralph Yearsley (Charlie Oatmeal), Arthur Rankin (Virgil Rust), Mervyn LeRoy (Jack Rawlins); rel: 16.12.1923; orig. l: 6993 ft. (7 rl.; c.75'); 3 fragments (rl. 2), 35 mm, 109.3 m, 4'20" (22 fps); titles: RUS; print source: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Stephen Horne, 9 Oct 2015

Kevin Brownlow (GCM catalog and website): "“You cannot afford to miss it,” said Photoplay."

"Although written by Zane Grey, this wasn’t a cowboy story, but a contemporary drama contrasting the values of the West (good) against those of the Big City (trivial and selfish)."

"Since the film survives only as fragments, a synopsis is crucial. "

"According to the AFI Catalog of Feature Films 1921-1930: “War veteran Glenn Kilbourne goes to Arizona to regain his health and is there nursed to recovery by local girl Flo Hutter. Kilbourne’s fiancée, Carley Burch, follows him, but soon becomes disillusioned with the West and returns to New York. Flo Hutter is seriously injured in an accident and Kilbourne, to repay her for restoring his health, proposes marriage. Carley returns to Arizona on the wedding day, seeking Kilbourne. Flo, seeing that the two are still in love, gives up Kilbourne and marries another admirer.”"

"Locations included the town of Flagstaff, where a decade before Cecil B. DeMille had stepped off the train, expecting to shoot The Squaw Man. Most of the film was shot at the Thomas Ranch and at the spectacular Oak Tree Canyon, south of Flagstaff."

"Fleming was faced with severe casting problems. Bebe Daniels, cast as Flo Hutter, failed to appear. According to Arizona historian Joe McNeill’s research, rumour had it that she was peeved she hadn’t gotten the lead role, and she stayed in New York. The studio ordered her to Arizona; she made the trip, but refused to get off at Flagstaff. Estelle Taylor was rushed from Hollywood – then she fell ill and had to be replaced by Marjorie Daw. An exceptionally attractive actress, who had been trained as an opera singer, Daw had entered movies through the early films of Cecil B. DeMille and had played opposite Fairbanks in seven pictures."

"Lois Wilson said of Richard Dix: “He was very sincere. If he hadn’t done a scene well, he was very unhappy because he was a hard-working man. I don’t think he was the best actor I ever worked with, but I think he was a very good one.”"

"Motion Picture News said of this picture: “There are some of the most beautiful exteriors we’ve ever seen in a screenplay.” Once again, the cameraman was James [Wong] Howe, and an anecdote from Howe, quoted by Frank Thompson in In Between Action and Cut sums up the ingenuity of the silent era: “Vic said one day, ‘Jimmy, we’re going to take our box lunches and climb up that hill over there. I want a silhouette of Richard Dix under the tree.’ In those days we didn’t have portable lights – we lit with reflectors. Vic said, ‘Don’t bring any reflectors because I’m not going to do any close-ups and I don’t want to take those big reflectors if I don’t have to.’ So we went up and had lunch and made the long shot and then he said, ‘Jimmy, I’ve got to have a close-up.’ And I said ‘Dammit, Vic, you told me you weren’t going to, so we didn’t bring any reflectors up here.’ Then I looked down at my tin coffee cup and at Vic Fleming’s large hands, and I said, ‘Vic, how many of these tin cups do you think you can hold in your hand?’ ‘Oh, I think I can hold about six,” he said. So I said, ‘Good, put two of them together.’ Then we got the grips together and I took the tin cups and reflected the light off them on to Richard Dix. And they shook a little so it looked just like the shadows of leaves on the guy’s face.”"

"The canyon was struck by a furious storm which flooded the location. Howe filmed the storm and had the footage shown to the townspeople."

"A small role was played by 23-year-old Mervyn LeRoy, who would, in 1939, produce one of Fleming’s most popular films, The Wizard of Oz." – Kevin Brownlow

Peter Bagrov: "Only three fragments, all from Reel 2 of the Soviet release version, are all that remain of this film today. The scenes are: (1) the doctor recommends that Kilbourne go to Arizona; (2) Carley reads letters from Kilbourne, who is happy with his life in the West and is ready to set Carley free; (3) Carley arrives in Arizona, anxious to see Kilbourne but somewhat horrified by the wilderness."

"The Soviet Repertory Committee was eager to ban the film. “The picture is soaked through with ‘healthy’ bourgeois nationalism and calls to ‘reasonable’ household prosperity and arrangement of one’s own ‘happiness’ opposed to social debauches,” wrote one of the censors. Another censor praised the film but suggested that the ending be changed so that Kilbourne marries Flo. Luckily none of the above was implemented, and the film was released successfully under a mysterious title, Da ili net? (Yes or No?)." – Peter Bagrov

AA: Based on a popular novel by Zane Grey, we saw three remaining fragments of the Soviet release version of The Call of the Canyon. The doctor's orders to Glenn Kilbourne (Richard Dix): the only remedy is the dry weather of the mountains. Carley Burch (Lois Wilson) reads Glenn's letters in bed. Finally reaching the oaks of River Valley. The covered wagon bound to the West. Magnificent mountains and valleys. "I hate city life, all those parties. I'm not going back to the city". The spoilt Carley arrives in Arizona.

At the start of the novel Glenn Kilbourne is a WWI veteran who has returned home deeply disturbed and alienated. The novel is the story of his rehabilitation in the West.

In high contrast from the battered fragments of the Soviet version.
The Finnish edition of Zane Grey's novel The Call of the Canyon.

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