Friday, October 12, 2018

Memory Lane (2018 restoration by Library of Congress)

Memory Lane starring Eleanor Boardman.

La fidanzata rapita / Morsiamen ryöstö
US 1926
regia/dir: John M. Stahl.
scen: Benjamin Glazer.
sogg/story: John M. Stahl, Benjamin Glazer.
photog: Percy Hilburn, asst. Eddy Fitzgerald.
mont/ed: Margaret Booth.
scg/des: Cedric Gibbons, Arnold Gillespie.
asst dir: Sidney Algier.
unit mgr: Charles R. Condon.
cast: Eleanor Boardman (Mary), Conrad Nagel (Jimmy Holt), William Haines (Joe Field), John Steppling (il padre di Mary/Mary’s father), Eugenie Forde (la madre di Mary/Mary’s mother), Frankie Darro (scugnizzo/urchin), Dot Farley, Joan Standing (domestiche/maids), Kate Price (donna in cabina telefonica/woman in telephone booth), Florence Midgley, Dale Fuller, Billie Bennett, [Ruby Lafayette, Myrtle Rishell, Earl Metcalf, Marguerite Steppling, Thelma Salter].
prod: John M. Stahl Productions; pres. Louis B. Mayer.
dist: First National Pictures.
uscita/rel: 17.1.1926.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 6741 ft (orig. 6825 ft), 81′ (22 fps); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM).
    Grand piano and song: Donald Sosin.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in Italian, 12 Oct 2018

Lea Jacobs (GCM): "Memory Lane is in many ways the undiscovered gem of the Stahl silents. An affectionate but gently satirical evocation of American small-town life, a sentimental but restrained form of melodrama, and a brilliant experiment with aperture framings, it can take its place among Stahl’s best films. On the evening of her wedding to Jim (Conrad Nagel), Mary (Eleanor Boardman) is confronted by Joe (William Haines), a former beau who has been out of town for a year. "

"Mistakenly dragooned to drive the car for the newly married couple, Joe quarrels with the groom and speeds off with the bride. They spend the night miserably in the car after running out of gas and the next morning Mary returns to the groom. Some years later, Joe visits the couple and their baby. Mary is repulsed by his coarse, vulgar demeanor and decides she made the right choice, but her husband realizes that Joe has put on an act to ensure the happiness of the woman he still loves."

"The film was criticized by Variety for the slightness of the plot, but it was praised for the same qualities by others. The New York Times described it as “an amusing, smoothly running small town comedy,” in which the plot unfolded, “with a gentle appreciation for subtlety.” Film Daily noted: “‘Memory Lane’ is as subtle and pleasing a bit of entertainment as anyone would want. It has a simple little story that probably wouldn’t get very far without the unusually fine treatment given it by director Stahl.” The simplicity of the plot for which Stahl is both blamed and praised in the case of Memory Lane stands in sharp contrast to the complex plots and histrionics of the early melodramas, such as Sowing the Wind and The Child Thou Gavest Me."

"The film is one of three that Stahl made with screenwriter Benjamin Glazer, and the only one to survive. Fine Clothes, released in August 1925, was adapted from Ferenc Molnár’s farce Fashions for Men (Úri divat), which Glazer had translated and directed on Broadway. The Gay Deceiver, released through M-G-M in October 1926, was based on the comedy Patachon by Maurice Hennequin and Félix Duquesnel, as adapted by Achmed Abdullah under the title Toto for the New York stage. Memory Lane, the final Stahl/Mayer production released through First National in January 1926, was from an original script credited to Glazer and Stahl. Glazer may also have influenced the casting of Memory Lane. He had provided the story for Hobart Henley’s flapper comedy Sinners in Silk (M-G-M, September 1924), which had Eleanor Boardman and Conrad Nagel in major roles, and thus presumably would have known their work. The subtlety of the film commented upon in the trade press shows the influence of the two previous farces made with Glazer, and more generally of the genre of sophisticated comedy on Stahl’s work. Indeed, in an article on Stahl written in 1924, Whitney Williams of the Los Angeles Times asserted a similarity between Stahl and Lubitsch, classifying them both as exemplars of a “Viennese school” of direction: “Whenever it is possible a light situation is utilized, albeit the lightness may be far more subtle than a heavy dramatic situation.”

"Mary sneaks out of her family house and meets Joe on the night before her wedding to Jim. The tone is nostalgic and sad rather than comic. As they pass the old schoolhouse they reminisce about their first meeting and about growing up together. Their conversation is interspersed with cut-aways to a group of boys singing on the village green. Fragments of the song lyrics are quoted in the intertitles. The first is “When You Were Sweet Sixteen,” James Thornton’s 1898 hit and a barbershop quartet standard. The second is the ballad “Memory Lane,” by Buddy De Sylva (lyrics) and Larry Spier and Con Conrad (music):"

I am with you, wandering through, memory lane.
Living the years, laughter and tears, over again.
I am dreaming yet, of the night we met, when life was a lovely refrain.
You were so shy, saying goodbye, there in the dark.
Only a glance, full of romance, and you were gone.
Though my dreams are in vain, my love will remain.
Strolling again, memory lane with you.

"Mary tells Joe she would have waited forever for him, but he did not ask, and now it is too late: she feels obliged to carry through with her promise to marry Jim. She embraces him and they part.
The film shifts into a light comic register, with the device of having Jim mistake Joe for the driver. After a quarrel develops between the men, Joe impulsively drives off with Mary, leaving Jim to walk back to town. The elliptical and amusing evocation of an innocent but potentially scandalous night is typical of the “lightness” associated with Lubitsch and what the Los Angeles Times reviewer saw as the “Viennese school” of direction. Joe, outside the stopped car, tries to signal to Mary within that they are out of gas. They gesticulate and try to speak to each other without words. He re-enters the car and confirms that they are out of gas and miles from anywhere. A side view of the car shows Joe in the front seat and Mary in back, framed through separate windows. She puts her head down and begins to cry. Cut to the interior of the Bradley living room, where Jim sits waiting with Mary’s parents. Her father, distraught, refuses a cup of tea proffered by Mary’s mother. She also puts her head down and begins to cry. Cut to the car, a view through the rear window showing that the couple are now both in the back seat. Mary continues to cry and leans her head on Joe’s shoulder. Cut to a town gossip on the phone, and then to a shot of exterior telephone wires alight with multiple calls. Cut to the car, where we see Mary and Joe asleep in the back seat. Fade to black."

"Percy Hilburn’s cinematography is elegant throughout, but is most notable in the film’s middle sections. The sequence of the wedding makes use of aperture framings as Joe, in tears, watches the wedding through the front window of the house, while Mary also cries within. Later, there are varied framings through the windshield, windows, and door of the car that contains Joe, Jim, and Mary. Stahl also organizes terrific compositions in depth in the relatively confined space of the car. It is a mark of Stahl’s skill as a director that the ending returns, in an ironic mode, to the nostalgia of the opening (and to the title song). The film’s final act clearly points to the director’s continued investment in melodrama and sentiment as well as his interest in sophisticated comedy."
Lea Jacobs (GCM)

AA: Like Husbands and Lovers, John M. Stahl's Memory Lane is a triangle story where the other man is the best friend of both husband and wife. This film is different, but both are intriguingly serious beyond the light and entertaining surface.

Love is a play with fire.

Husbands and Lovers is an example of the cinema's obsession with the cancelled wedding. In Memory Lane only the wedding night is cancelled. Due to a series of accidents, the husband Jimmy (Conrad Nagel) is expelled from the bridal car which runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere. It is pouring with rain, and so it happens that the wife Mary (Eleanor Boardman) spends the night in the arms of her best friend Joe (William Haines).

It is a scandal from the viewpoint of outsiders, and we see an amusing trick shot of hot telephone wires burning like fire.

The three friends, Mary, Jimmy and Joe, handle it with tact and good judgement. This is not a tale of jealousy. Joe would do nothing improper with Mary. Jimmy knows they wouldn't.

Meanwhile, Joe has always loved Mary and always will, and Mary knows this. But the choice has been made, and Jimmy's love has an even more profound character, and they all realize this. The fact that Jimmy can put the humiliation of the wedding night behind him is a proof of that character.

The final twist is Joe's boorish behavior as a crude upstart when he reappears in his home town three years later. Mary and Jimmy are startled, but Jimmy guesses that Joe is putting on an act to finally estrange Mary from him.

We have learned to know John M. Stahl as a talented director of women and children. Here he proves also an excellent director of babies in the funny sequence of the first birthday party of the little one.
The male performances of many of Stahl's best films of the thirties are strikingly wooden, but in his silent films they are complex and interesting.

An amusing coincidence: two wives of King Vidor's starring in Husbands and Lovers (Florence Vidor) and Memory Lane (Eleanor Boardman).

Donald Sosin provided an inspired musical interpretation, making good use of the title song "Memory Lane".

Luminous cinematography by Benjamin Glazer and a brilliant restoration from Library of Congress.

No comments: