Monday, June 26, 2017

The Trial of Vivienne Ware (2015 MoMA restoration in 4K DCP)

The Trial of Vivianne Ware. Vivienne Ware (Joan Bennett) is accused of murder. John Sutherland (Donald Cook) is her defense attorney.

Director: William K. Howard. Year: 1932. Country: USA. Section: William K. Howard: Rediscovering a Master Stylist.
    Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Kenneth M. Ellis. Scen.: Philip Klein, Barry Connors. F.: Ernest Palmer. M.: Ralph Dietrich. Scgf.: Gordon Wiles.
    Int.: Joan Bennett (Vivienne Ware), Donald Cook (John Sutherland), Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher (Graham McNally), ZaSu Pitts (Miss Gladys Fairweather), Lilian Bond (Dolores Divine), Jameson Thomas (Damon Fenwick), Herbert Mundin (William Boggs), Howard Phillips (Minetti).
    Prod.: Fox Film Corp. D.: 55’. Bn.
    [Not released in Finland.]
    Restored in 2015 by MoMA.
    From: The Museum of Modern Art, per concessione de Park Circus / 20th Century Fox.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    4K DCP with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti viewed at Cinema Jolly, 26 June 2017.

Dave Kehr (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "Seemingly determined to create the fastest movie ever made, Howard combines rapid-fire dialogue, an innovative use of whip pans, and a surging rhythm created by a repeated motif of crowds rushing up and down stairways to fashion a film that seems to unfold in a single, mad, headlong rush."

"“Few films have had so much talk crammed into five reels”, wrote the film historian William K. Everson in 1982, “and yet few films have dazzled with so much visual virtuosity”. A young, blonde Joan Bennett plays the title role – a socialite accused of killing her faithless fiancé (Jameson Thomas) when she discovers him in the arms of a nightclub singer (Lilian Bond). Luckily, Vivienne’s love-struck former suitor (Donald Cook) is a leading attorney, who takes on her defense in a sensational trial."

"With radio reporters Skeets Gallagher and ZaSu Pitts broadcasting live commentary (and comedy relief) to a breathless nation, Vivienne’s side of the story is revealed through a complex series of flashbacks (anticipating the structure of The Power and the Glory, filmed a year later), interrupted by no less than two murder attempts in the courtroom."

William K. Everson: "Howard here shows himself to be a complete master of the talkie melodrama. Of course, something has to give, and that something is logic and sanity. No courtroom procedure has ever seemed more frenzied or absurd, or more likely to get everyone disbarred – to say nothing of the security (?) that allows witnesses to be shot down on the witness stand. But forget logic: just enjoy the zaniness and excitement of it all." William K. Everson, The New School Film Program Notes, July 14, 1982 quoted by Dave Kehr (Il Cinema Ritrovato)

AA: William K. Howard is a new discovery for me. I have never seen his films before. In this first film of his I see in the Bologna retrospective Howard is at his best: sharp, witty, and brilliant.

The young Joan Bennett appears here in her original natural blonde habitus. Here she is in the early stages of her contract at Fox, but she was already a veteran of the stage and screen. What an amazing and versatile career she had. To me the first association of Bennett is with the four films she made as Fritz Lang's favourite film noir leading lady (from Man Hunt to Secret Beyond the Door). Most recently I have seen her in films where she had transformed into worldly matriarch mode: Vincente Minnelli's Father of the Bride and Douglas Sirk's There's Always Tomorrow. In this film Bennett plays a woman first betrayed by her architect fiancé and then accused of murdering him.

The complicated murder plot (see the AFI synopsis beyond the jump break) has been pruned into a breathtaking 55 minute film via an ingenious flashback structure and seasoned with comedy provided by the hilariously cavalier live radio commentators covering the trial.

The dialogue is a battle of wits, but even more is conveyed via telling looks of the characters. And in this loquacious talkie the camera is as unchained as in late silents.

A brilliant print with full blacks and pure whites.


On October 4, attorney John Sutherland returns to New York from London to learn that the woman he wants to marry, Vivienne Ware, has become engaged to Damon Fenwick, a well-known architect.

That night, Fenwick takes Vivienne to the Silver Bowl cafe, where singer Dolores Divine, with whom he once had been involved, insults Vivienne. Fenwick brings Vivienne home and promises that he will never see Dolores again, but he immediately returns to the club to pick up Dolores. The next day, Vivienne, greatly upset, sends a letter to Fenwick. At two the following morning, as Vivienne packs, detectives arrest her for the murder of Fenwick.

The trial attracts much publicity. The crowded courtroom proceedings are covered by radio commentators Graham McNally and Miss Gladys Fairweather, who describes Vivienne's attire to intrigued female listeners. The district attorney establishes that Vivienne called at Fenwick's house on October 5, and after she saw Dolores in revealing pajamas eating breakfast with Fenwick, who wore a robe, she walked out, extremely upset. The district attorney then introduces into evidence Vivienne's letter to Fenwick, which he regards as a threat. Fenwick's next-door neighbor then testifies that on the night of October 5, she saw Vivienne enter Fenwick's house.

John, acting as Vivienne's attorney, asks her to change her plea to self-defense and accuses her of not telling him the truth when she denies that she went to Fenwick's house the night of the murder. As Dolores is about to testify, a man throws a knife at her and escapes from the courtroom. When someone shouts that Angelo Paroni, the owner of the Silver Bowl cafe, threw the knife, Paroni, still in the courtroom, denies it.

After the prosecutor finishes, John puts Vivienne on the stand. She testifies that she was only breaking the engagement with the letter, not threatening Fenwick. She states that on the night of October 5, she went to a hockey match, then left feeling ill and drove home. She also states that she must have dropped her handkerchief, which had been found beside Fenwick's body, when she saw him and Dolores at breakfast. When the district attorney badgers Vivienne, she breaks down and in a fit says that even John thinks she went to Fenwick's house the night of the murder.

The prosecutor then puts John on the stand. John changes Vivienne's plea to not guilty on grounds of self-defense and relates that when she left the hockey match, which she attended with him, he followed her to Fenwick's house before he returned home. At the conclusion of John's testimony, his assistant Johnson rushes in with new evidence, and John asks for a recess.

That night, the police arrest Paroni's cousin, Joe Garson, for throwing the knife in court. The next day, Mercedes Joy, a dancer at the cafe, testifies that on the night of October 5, Dolores received flowers from Fenwick, which greatly upset Paroni, and that Dolores missed the twelve o'clock show. John questions Paroni, who says that his revolver, which is the same calibre as the one that killed Fenwick, was missing from his desk drawer the night of the murder.

Next, a chauffeur testifies that he picked up Dolores and drove her to Fenwick's house the night of the murder. John calls Dolores to the stand, and she explains she went to warn Fenwick, but that he was dead when she got there and that she saw either Paroni or his cousin leave. Garson is brought to the stand, and as he is about to testify, Paroni shoots and kills him. A riot breaks out as Paroni tries to escape. Paroni is shot by police, and Garson, as he dies, confesses that Paroni, jealous of Fenwick, made him kill Fenwick. Vivienne, declared not guilty, embraces John as the flashbulbs flare and the crowd goes mad.

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