Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Film concert Oblomok imperii / Fragment of an Empire (2018 restoration) Vladimir Deshevov score, premiere of the new arrangement

Oblomok imperii (Fragment of an Empire, SU 1929) by Fridrikh Ermler. Fiodor Nikitin as Filimonov. Photo: San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Обломок империи / Imperiumin sirpale.
SU 1929.
regia/dir: Fridrikh Ermler.
scen: Katerina Vinogradskaya, Fridrikh Ermler, da un’idea di/based on an idea by Katerina Vinogradskaya.
photog: Yevgenii Shneider; asst. Yakov Svetitskii;
esterni/exteriors: Yevgenii Mikhailov;
cam. op. (2nd unit): Gleb Bushtuev.
scg/des: Yevgenii Yenei.
asst dir: Robert Maiman, Viktor Portnov.
mus: Vladimir Deshevov.
prod. mgr: Adolf Minkin.
cast: Fiodor Nikitin (sottufficiale Filimonov/Filimonov, non-commissioned officer), Liudmila Semionova (sua moglie/his wife), Valerii Solovtsov (suo marito, un operatore culturale/her husband, a cultural worker), Yakov Gudkin (soldato dell’Armata Rossa ferito/wounded Red Army soldier), Viacheslav Viskovskii (ex proprietario della fabbrica/former owner of the factory), Lidia Ulman (sua moglie/his wife), Sergei Gerasimov (ufficiale zarista/White officer), Ursula Krug (superiore di Filimonov alla stazione/Filimonov’s employer at the station), Vladimir Stukachenko (l’operaio che dà istruzioni a Filimonov/worker instructing Filimonov), Viktor Portnov (ubriacone/drunkard), Sergei Ponachevnyi (comandante dell’Armata Rossa/Red commander), Boris Feodosiev (ufficiale/officer), Emil Gal (passeggero sul treno/passenger on train), Varvara Miasnikova (controllore/tram conductor), Bella Chernova (signora sul tram/lady in a tram), Yuri Muzykant (uomo sul tram/man in a tram), Piotr Savin (un tizio in fabbrica/guy at the factory), Aleksandr Melnikov (giovane operaio/young factory worker), Vera Bakun (ragazza al bar/girl in the canteen), Rasma Mashkevich.
prod: Sovkino (Leningrad).
uscita/rel: 28.10.1929.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 2239 m [2218 m + 21 m restoration credits] (orig. 2203 m), 109′ (18 fps); did./titles: RUS.
fonte/source: San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Restauro/Restored 2018: EYE Filmmuseum, Gosfilmofond of Russia, San Francisco Silent Film Festival; collab: Cinémathèque suisse; restauro/restoration: Peter Bagrov, Robert Byrne, Annike Kross; a cura di/curated by: Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi.

Original score by: Vladimir Deshevov.
Performed live by: Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone.
Conductor: Günter A. Buchwald.

    Based on the arrangement by Daan van den Hurk.

    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Eventi speciali.
    Orchestra San Marco played at the strength of 16 musicians.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Underlight, 9 Oct 2019.

Peter Bagrov (GCM): "Fragment of an Empire is one of the most canonical works of Soviet silent cinema (it was in fact shown at the Giornate in 2011 as a part of the Canon Revisited series). It is considered Fridrikh Ermler’s key work, and features a legendary performance by Fiodor Nikitin. The sequence in which the main character’s memory returns is often described as a perfect blend of Soviet montage and Method acting. But, as it turned out, for decades we were dealing with a re-edited and abridged version. Even the most famous shot of the film, that of Christ in a gas mask, reproduced in dozens of publications, was absent from all the distribution prints."

"The film tells the story of Filimonov, a non-commissioned officer who has lost his memory because of shell-shock during WWI and who “awakens” ten years later. He finds himself in an unknown city (Leningrad, instead of St. Petersburg) in a new country (the USSR, instead of Russia), the factories now belong to “the people” (whatever that means), and Filimonov’s wife has a new husband."

"Ermler’s intentions were to show the renewal of the country, the accomplishments of Soviet power, and the liberation and rebirth of the people, all through the eyes of a newcomer. But he had a remarkable ability to let the cat out of the bag, to turn propaganda into the most unvarnished exposure of reality. This happened exactly because he was a “Party Artist” and active Communist: Ermler sincerely believed that if everything happening in the country was not necessarily good, it was nonetheless expedient. And thus there was no sense in distorting or decorating reality."

"In Fragment, a man who used to have a world of his own, a house, a wife, finds himself surrounded by faceless members of the Komsomol, in a land of Constructivist blocks which press down on him from all sides. “Where is Petersburg? Who is the master here?” he screams hysterically. But there is no Petersburg any more. There is a new, frightful city-hybrid (part of the film was shot in Kharkov, because there was still relatively little Constructivism on view in Leningrad). And there isn’t a master – only the factory committee. “Poor fellow, he is to learn,” wrote Oswell Blakeston in Close Up in January 1930. “His marvellous face moves through a thousand positions, as quickly as the streets which flash by him from the tram cars. An arch is almost a halo round his head. But the new architecture terrifies him; he runs away. (…) the influence of the revolution (…) has changed the lovely Eisenstein type to the proletarian Menjou. (…) Victory. A new man. Yes, but something else has died.”"

"The famous scene of the protagonist regaining his memory was made under the definite influence of Freud (of whom Ermler was a huge admirer). Its climax was a succession of crosses – a military cross, a cross on a church, a cross at the cemetery. Concluding with a big Crucifix somewhere on the battlefield, and on Christ’s face, a gas mask (which was a citation of a scandalous anti-military drawing by George Grosz, one of the leading graphic artists of German Expressionism and the Neue Sachlichkeit/“New Objectivity”). Fragment of an Empire was widely distributed at the time of its original release, and each country had a censorship of its own. But of the nine versions (and a couple of dozen prints) that were located during this restoration, only two contained the Christ image."

"Numerous public screenings of Fragment in its native country in 1929–1930 proved that both its language and the multi-layered narrative were too complicated for the “masses”. It was decided to make a simplified version of the film – mainly for distribution in the villages. It now appears that what was long known as the “canonical” version of Ermler’s masterpiece is in fact this “village adaptation”."

"But it’s not only the missing shots and scenes that called for a new restoration. The original intertitles, which we are able to see for the first time since the 1930s, are not just remarks and lines of dialogue, but a full-fledged element of montage. They change in size and even in geometrical form, which is not only visually impressive, but determines the intonation. Finally, for the first time, this film has been restored using original nitrate prints; the previous restorations were based on a post-war dupe negative."

"All his life Ermler was highly receptive to music, and his career is marked by fruitful collaborations with some of the leading Soviet composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich and Gavriil Popov. The first of these was with Vladimir Deshevov (1889–1955), an eminent composer of the Russian avant-garde. Fragment of an Empire was one of the very few Soviet silent films with a commissioned orchestral score. However, Deshevov’s music was rarely performed – perhaps because it was anything but optimistic, and emphasized the ambiguity of the film’s ideology: tragedy here is mixed with sarcasm. Whether Ermler realized that or not, he was fascinated by Deshevov’s work, and wrote to him: “I am afraid that people will go to listen to the music, not to watch the film. So be it! I am delighted.”"

"This restoration was based primarily on a 35 mm nitrate print held at the Eye Filmmuseum, supplemented with another nitrate from the Cinémathèque suisse (which contained not only the legendary Christ-with-gas-mask image, but the original Russian intertitles for Acts 2–6 as well). The continuity was checked, and the titles absent from the Swiss print have been reproduced based on the Russian “montage lists” (censorship records) held at Gosfilmofond." Peter Bagrov (GCM)

AA: Premiere of a new arrangement of the original 1929 Vladimir Deshehov score.

I blogged in June about the Film concert Oblomok imperii to the score by Stephen Horne and this same 2018 restoration.

I blogged also about the Canon Revisited screening of Oblomok imperii in Pordenone in 2011 when an Österreichisches Filmmuseum print was viewed.


Tonight was by far the best experience I have had of Fragment of an Empire. The visual quality of the 2018 restoration is excellent. Played live in film concert, the original Vladimir Deshevov score sounds great.

Fragment of an Empire belongs to the films relevant to Le Giornate del Cinema Muto's commitment to the memory of World War One. Anton Kaes has written a book called Shell Shock Cinema about Weimar films, and the title fits this film perfectly, too.

It is a mind trip, a cosmic trip, a visit to another reality. Friedrich Ermler conveys the war psychosis, the amnesia and the traumatic recovery powerfully and eloquently.

For a Bolshevist film Fragment of an Empire is far from one-sided. The Czarist officer (Sergei Gerasimov) and the Bolshevik agitator (Valeri Solovtsov) are mirror images in their denial of life.

When the protagonist Filimonov (Fyodor Nikitin) recovers his memory and finds his wife (Lyudmila Semyonova) whom he has not seen in ten years, she turns out to have remarried. Her new husband is none other than the Bolshevik agitator who preaches feminism and practices chauvinism. "Scratch the Bolshevik and find the Old Russian chauvinist". Ermler's portrait of marriage inferno has touches of Ibsen, Strindberg and Bergman. The marriage is not even free of domestic violence. Perhaps only a card-carrying Communist like Ermler could pull it off to portray the agitator as the creepiest character.

The ideological centerpiece is a dialogue about capitalist competition versus a socialist "fight of the good fight" – a society not based on a zero sum game where winner takes all but a new order in which everybody wins.

If only.

Vladimir Deshevov's avantgardistic score has touches of Futurism. The machine of war, the machinery of heavy industry, and the burgeoning urbanization are reflected in Deshevov's music. It has affinities with Edmund Meisel's Battleship Potemkin score in the industrial touches of its sound but it is proudly original.

Deshevov's music ranks with the greatest vintage silent scores with Camille Saint-Saëns (L'Assassinat du Duc de Guise), Pietro Mascagni (Rapsodia satanica), Armas Järnefelt (Sången om den eldröda blomman), Armas Launis (Häidenvietto Karjalan runomailla), Edmund Meisel (Battleship Potemkin), Richard Strauss (Der Rosenkavalier the instrumental arrangement), Dmitri Shostakovich (The New Babylon) and Maurice Jaubert (Die wunderbare Lüge der Nina Petrowna).

Performed live by Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone, conducted by Günter A. Buchwald and based on the arrangement by Daan van den Hurk, this performance rose to the occasion at the strength of 16 players. It was a rich and atmospheric interpretation, and for instance the horn section played memorably.

Wait and See

Not from the film. Walter Forde. Photo: from Paul Joyce's Ithankyou blog.

Image from Letterbox'
GB 1928.
regia/dir, mont/ed: Walter Forde.
scen: Walter Forde, Patrick L. Mannock.
did/titles: Patrick L. Mannock.
photog: Geoffrey Faithfull.
scg/des: W. G. Saunders.
cast: Walter Forde (Monty Merton), Pauline Johnson (Jocelyn Winton), Frank Stanmore (Frankie), Sam Livesey (Gregory Winton), Charles Dormer (Eustace Mottletoe), Mary Brough (padrona di casa/landlady), London’s Thirty Fat Men (membri del consiglio d’amministrazione/Board Members of Quickthin Ltd.), Ian Wilson (caddie), The Forde Beauty Chorus.
prod: Archibald Nettlefold Productions.
dist: Butcher’s Film Service.
riprese/filmed: 1927 (Nettlefold Studios, Walton-on-Thames).
anteprima esercenti/trade screening: 16.2.1928.
Not released in Finland.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 5280 ft (orig. 6352 ft), 59′ (24 fps); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: BFI National Archive, London.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    European Slapstick – Prog. 3: The Celluloid Music Hall.
    Musical interpretation: Stephen Horne, Frank Bockius.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 9 Oct 2019.

Geoff Brown (GCM): "“I’m a dreamer, aren’t we all?”: so went one of Hollywood’s popular songs of 1929.  The phrase certainly fits the film’s hero, Monty Merton, a lowly worker on the factory floor of Quickthin Ltd., a company peddling a magic liquid dedicated to making the fat thin. Mischievous co-workers fool him into believing he’s become heir to a fortune, just when Quickthin needs an injection of cash, and the managing director’s daughter might be marrying a monocled twit called Eustace. Can Monty, in love with the daughter himself, avoid the calamities that usually befall him and ride to the rescue by taxi, sports car, bus, train, or possibly a picturesque biplane?"

"That is the plotline for Wait and See, Britain’s first feature-length film comedy to be shaped as a vehicle for a comic star. Walter Forde (1898–1984) wasn’t just Britain’s biggest film comedian of the 1920s. During that decade he was also, essentially, Britain’s only film comedian. A child of a theatrical family, first on stage as a baby, he initially earned his cinema spurs in one-reel, then two-reel, comedies, before breaking through into longer running times with Wait and See. Interviewed in 1927 in the Daily Film Renter, his backer and producer Archibald Nettlefold promised original stunts and gags, scenery “such as only England can produce”, and “a complement of very pretty girls”: a package he fully expected to compare favourably with anything imported from America. Once the film opened, audiences and industry observers reacted with relief. “A distinct success,” commented the Kinematograph Weekly, not at all influenced by the fact that its studio correspondent, Pat Mannock, devised the film’s pun-happy intertitles and co-wrote the story."

"American parallels with Forde’s comic character were, and remain, hard to shake off.  From 1921, he’d appeared in shorts as “Walter”, an eager young man with a straw hat (slightly too small), baggy trousers, tight jacket, and an unassuming, ordinary face. He was always endeavouring to better his status, or win the fair lady, or both. It was a variation on the Harold Lloyd formula, presented with English settings plus a certain English modest demeanour. Another, more obvious difference with Lloyd was that Forde didn’t wear glasses. Commentators also compared him at times to Chaplin, Larry Semon (I don’t see it), and Reginald Denny. You may find a touch of W. C. Fields, too, when Walter takes to golf. None of these echoes harmed his popularity. Over time, “Walter” became sufficiently popular with the British public to require his own spin-offs and merchandise. They could follow his antics in comic-strip form. They could play with a stuffed “Walter” doll."

"For some ten disappointing months in 1923, Forde worked in Hollywood himself, appearing with little success in several Universal one-reelers. But it’s obvious from his films that along with some Continental touches he usefully absorbed the American knack for snappy pacing, the precise timing of gags, and comedy’s need for incisive editing. The early scenes in Wait and See, establishing our hero’s character and factory routine, spin through multiple shots assembled with an easy flair not often found in British films of the time. And if the lengthy final chase to the altar seems a little repetitive now, the interweaving of trains, cars, winding roads, and a biplane is still managed with considerable and enjoyable aplomb."

"Among the cast, Pauline Johnson as the heroine looks pleasant and pretty in a range of cloche hats: all, essentially, that her role requires. Character actor Sam Livesey brings warmth and gusto to his role as the Quickthin boss. Frank Stanmore is also personable, though I suspect he was more so in the uncut release prints. Walter himself springs through the film’s fooling with quick physical responses and appealing enthusiasm allied to a degree of British understatement. He doesn’t pull faces, or yank the heartstrings. He might not always be screamingly funny; but he’s something more rare in a comic: he’s actually likeable."

"For all his years before the public, Forde was a shy man, and declared himself unhappy facing the camera’s gaze. After three more starring features, the last in 1930, he retreated behind the lens, quickly establishing himself in the sound era as a lively, reliable, and successful director of comedies and dramas throughout the 1930s and 40s. Ironically, his reign as a cinema star comic ended just as the floodgates opened and British cinema finally became swamped with comedians from music-hall, variety, the West End stage, and radio, spewing out puns and repartee, sticking out their bottoms, or noisily breaking crockery. All funny in its way; but it wasn’t Walter’s way."
Geoff Brown (GCM)

AA: Wait and See (1928) shares the premise with Preston Sturges's Christmas in July (1940) which was based on his play A Cup of Coffee (1931) but I would not be surprised if it would turn out that also Walter and Patrick L. Mannock had even earlier predecessors in this story concept.

Wait and See is a well-made film with interesting twists.

Central to the structure are two extended chase sequences, both much longer than mere sequences. The first one has a genuine nightmare quality as Monty Merton (Walter Merton) keeps facing obstacles on his way to his own wedding. He is fatally postponed, and the bride's family is helped by Monty's rival to the fact that Monty is not an inheritor of millions and the news about it was only a practical joke.

The second one is a Hollywood style trains-planes-and-automobiles chase to catch a genuine American millionaire to help fund the family business from going under.

The first funny twist is that the bride, Jocelyn (Pauline Johnson), does not care whether Monty is rich anyway and would actually prefer him to be a regular guy.

Another twist is that the mere news about Jocelyn getting married to Monty who is believed to be a millionaire saves the family business into which investors are lining up to invest more.

Among the highlights is the golf sequence in which Jocelyn teaches Monty how to golf literally holding on to his hand. It does not seem to matter how good Monty is in golf. What matters is that Jocelyn and Monty feel more and more at ease together. There is a funny, incredulous young caddie observing it all (played by Ian Wilson whose last film credit was in The Wicker Man).

Nothing wrong with Wait and See, but while Walter Forde is a fine comedian he is not very memorable.

A good 35 mm print.

Stirling Brown Family Film – British Legion Fête – Visit by Laurel and Hardy

Photo not from the movies shown. Laurel and Hardy, 1947 tour of Britain.

Duck Soup
(US 1927)
Fred Guiol; DCP, 21’
Musical interpretation: Stephen Horne, Frank Bockius

Stirling Brown Family Film – British Legion Fête – Visit by Laurel and Hardy
GB 1947
photog: Stirling Brown Family.
cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Ida Laurel, Lucille Hardy, Astrid Stirling Brown.
copia/copy: DCP, 3′ (da/from 16 mm); senza did./no titles.
fonte/source: BFI National Archive, London.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    European Slapstick – Prog. 3: The Celluloid Music Hall.
    Teatro Verdi, 9 Oct 2019.

Glenn Mitchell (GCM): "This 16 mm home movie was unknown for more than 60 years until it was donated to the British Film Institute by Petra Laidlaw and Gudrun Fickling, whose grandmother, Astrid Stirling Brown, appears in it alongside Laurel & Hardy. It was screened at BFI Southbank in 2013 on a programme with the rediscovered extended cut of their final feature, Atoll K (Léo Joannon, 1951), and subsequently included as one of the bonus features in the BFI’s Blu-ray/DVD release. It dates from the team’s 1947 tour, which, although they had made personal appearances around Britain in a 1932 visit, marked Stan Laurel’s true return to the music-hall world of his youth. For Oliver Hardy it was his first proper introduction to that milieu, which more recently formed the backdrop of John S. Baird’s Laurel and Hardy biopic Stan & Ollie (2018). Accompanied by their wives Ida and Lucille, the two comedians are seen wearing tam-o’-shanters, and while on this occasion clad in their normal suits, they would often wear kilts when appearing in Scottish theatres, as for their engagement at the Glasgow Empire that same month. Although the footage is silent, one can recognize a gag they would often use in personal appearances: Stan Laurel would periodically interrupt Oliver Hardy’s speech to ask, “Can I say something?” Eventually Hardy would allow him to do so, only to be told, “You’re standing on my foot!” Glenn Mitchell (GCM)

AA: Funny home movie moments with Laurel and Hardy in Scotland. They are delighted to greet children.

Revisited Duck Soup (1927) which we saw last night. This time we saw it back to back after the Austrian film adaptation Cocl als Hausherr (1913), and the comparison between Cocl & Seff and Laurel & Hardy was merciless to the Austrians.

There was a loud, vigorous and energetic musical attack in today's musical interpretation.

I was contemplating the original Laurel & Hardy musical solution in their early sound shorts: the sound of Marvin Hatley and Leroy Shield. Hatley, who worked for Hal Roach from 1929 until 1940, was famous for the "Dance of the Cuckoos" theme tune for L&H. There was a lounge music approach, even a muzak approach in the original scores. The same records kept being played in many movies. The harmless, brainless music has no connection with the events on the screen and it does not accompany the carefully cultivated escalation of disasters. Never does the music try to emphasize or explain.

It was Peter von Bagh's firmly held belief that Laurel & Hardy silents are best screened silent because then the laughter itself becomes the soundtrack. And it is true: first there are random, incredulous fits of laughter, and they escalate until there is a thunder of laughter. The films are so good that they are not ruined even by a vigorous musical interpretation; in any case they are best seen with a big audience, not in the silence and solitude of one's home. But it would be a good idea to screen these classics without music in a cinema for a change.

Cocl als Hausherr

Photo not from the film. The comedy duo in another film from the same year, Der Bauernschreck (1913). Rudolf Walter as Cocl, Josef Holub as Seff.

AT 1913.
regia/dir: Rudolf Walter, Josef Zeitlinger.
scen: Ernst Marischka.
cast: Rudolf Walter (Cocl), Josef Holub (Seff), Karl Karner, Richard Koß, Irma Nemethy, Marianne Austerlitz, Oskar Lobl, Friedrich Schild, Georg Moga.
prod: Sascha Filmfabrik, Wien.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 240 m, 10’29” (20 fps); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Filmarchiv Austria, Wien.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    European Slapstick – Prog. 3: The Celluloid Music Hall.
    Musical interpretation: Stephen Horne, Frank Bockius.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 9 Oct 2019.

Steve Massa (GCM): "A popular music hall sketch could have a long life – touring theatres for many years in addition to various permutations and borrowings. As the example of Au Music-Hall shows, early movies needed material, and weren’t always particular where they got it. Another music hall skit of note, Home from the Honeymoon, debuted in 1905 and toured for a few years with the Arthur Jefferson Company. Jefferson, a well-known theatrical manager and producer, had written the piece with the help of his son Arthur Jr. Better known today as Stan Laurel, the younger Jefferson got an early leg up touring with Home from the Honeymoon, which would eventually lead to his own engagement with the Fred Karno outfit. The sketch would find its way to film by way of Hollywood, and even Austria in 1913’s Cocl als Hausherr:"

"“The parallels to the familiar L&H story are very close, the most significant difference being the arrival of several different would-be tenants rather than one couple. It seems reasonable to suggest that Arthur Jefferson might have had grounds to claim this to have been an unauthorised adaptation of his sketch – which had made its theatrical debut five years before the film was produced – and that, given the existence of an English-language print, Jefferson may indeed have been aware of it. So why didn’t Jefferson take legal action? The answer may lie in a court case brought by Fred Karno over a film produced in 1907 by the French company Pathé Frères. Released in Britain as At the Music Hall – under which title it survives at the BFI – the film is an obvious version of Karno’s sketch Mumming Birds, which Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel later performed in the USA. (Its star was Max Linder who, ironically, was to prove a major influence on Chaplin’s screen work.) Karno lost the case. I had long believed this to have been because there had yet to be a legal precedent concerning screen rights to literary works, but according to historian Barry Anthony – in his recent book Chaplin’s Music Hall – the decision went against Karno because the judge believed the sketch did not qualify as a dramatic piece, of the type that would be protected by copyright. This, presumably, reflects the then-current distinction between music-hall and the so-called ‘legitimate’ theatre, of which Jefferson – who worked in both categories – would have been all too aware.” (Glenn Mitchell, 2013)"

"Rudolf Walter and Josef Holub as Cocl and Seff were two of the original Austrian movie stars. Bringing their stage backgrounds to film in 1912, the thickset Walter and the skinny (and usually owlishly bespectacled) Holub were firmly in the tramp-clown tradition, and in their mismatched physicalities were direct forerunners of Laurel and Hardy. Cocl als Hausherr comes from the beginning of their film teaming, with Rudolf Walter directing in tandem with cinematographer Josef Zeitlinger. The pair play two bums who take advantage of an empty house, renting out rooms to eccentric characters. The unexpected return of the true owner leads our comic heroes to “take it on the lam.” Relatively unknown outside their native Austria, Walter and Holub continued their “Cocl und Seff” misadventures until 1923." Steve Massa (GCM)

AA: Cocl as a Landlord.

The cinema's first comedy duo? Cocl and Seff started in 1912, nine years before Pat and Patachon began in Denmark and 15 years before Laurel and Hardy became an official team.

It's fascinating to learn from Steve Massa and Glenn Mitchell's remarks above that Cocl and Seff used for this comedy Stan Laurel's father's music hall sketch Home from the Honeymoon (1905), later filmed by Laurel and Hardy as Duck Soup (1927) and Another Fine Mess (1930).

The screenwriter is Ernst Marischka in one of the first credits of his long and illustrious career – he is best known as the director of the Sissi trilogy, launching the young Romy Schneider as the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. The film was produced by Sascha, the biggest film production house of Austria.

Comedy usually does not travel, and this film is proof. Rudolf Walter as Cocl and Josef Holub as Seff have not stood the test of time.

The visual quality of the print is ok. A green tint is in use.

Au music-hall (Max Linder, 1907)

Au music-hall (FR 1907). Max Linder, stone drunk, about to enter the music hall. Photo: Restoration CNC

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
European Slapstick – Prog. 3: The Celluloid Music Hall.
Musical interpretation: Stephen Horne, Frank Bockius.
Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Underlight, 9 Oct 2019.


Early Cinema: Flipbooks

[Bagarre de mitrons] FR 189?. 121 fotogrammi/frames, 12 fps): dubitativamente attribuito a / tentatively attributed to Méliès. Ex-cat. 53’’
    The Battle of the Bakers.

La Nourrice. FR 189?.
(90 fotogrammi/frames, 10 fps): dubitativamente attribuito a / tentatively attributed to Méliès. Ex-cat. 50’’
    The Nanny.


Au music-hall / En el café concierto.
FR 1907.
regia/dir: ?.
cast: Max Linder.
prod: Pathé Frères.
copia/copy: incomp., DCP, 5′ (da/from 35 mm, 101 m, 16 fps); did./titles: SPA.
fonte/source: CNC – Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, Bois d’Arcy.

David Robinson (GCM): "Au Music-Hall offers a curious prophetic link between Max Linder and Charles Chaplin, neither of whom was a familiar name to the public when it was released in January 1907. Linder was just a useful stock player at Pathé: it would be two more years before he fully established  his character of “Max”. Not until 1908 was Chaplin to make a name for himself in the music halls, as a coming star of Fred Karno’s Speechless Comedians."

"The link between them is Karno’s most successful sketch “Mumming Birds”, quickly run up for a special matinee in 1904 and developed under the successive titles of “Twice Nightly” (which proved confusing on the posters), and “A Stage Upon a Stage”. The setting was a music-hall stage, upon which a succession of ever more disastrously inept performers appeared, to the cat-calls and assaults of the occupants of stage boxes on either side of the set. The star role of a drunken swell in the lower prompt-side box was at various times played by all the Karno stars, including both Charles and Sydney Chaplin and Stan Laurel (as Stanley Jefferson). The sketch was a huge success in the USA and certainly played in Paris. Au Music-Hall is a shameless plagiarism of “Mumming Birds”, for which Karno promptly brought action against Pathé. He won, but complained that the damages awarded did not justify the trouble of the case."

"In Autumn 1908 Chaplin himself played “Mumming Birds” in Paris. Subsequently he was to perpetuate his performance in the role in his 1915 Essanay film A Night at the Show, which maintains the central idea of the sketch, while opening out the action and giving him a second character, Mr. Pest, a drunken galleryite. But the 24-year-old Linder had beaten him to it.
" David Robinson (GCM)

AA: A stunning discovery, as David Robinson reveals above: Max Linder beating Charles Chaplin to the draw in filming Fred Karno's most popular sketch as early as 1907, before either of them was famous. Au music-hall is a wild and merciless farce, and Linder plunges into it with abandon. We do not expect subtlety but discover tremendous energy and drive. In the sequence of hopeless performers, announced via running numbers, there is also an affinity with the comedy's tradition of the gong show and even Fellini's audition sequences.

Wolf Lowry (2019 preservation by Library of Congress)

Wolf Lowry (US 1917) by William S. Hart. The cancelled wedding. "You're a better man than I", to quote The Yardbirds. At the last minute, Wolf Lowry (WSH) lets Mary Davis (Margery Wilson) be wed with her true love Owen Thorpe (Carl Ullman). Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles

US 1917.
regia/dir: William S. Hart.
scen: Lambert Hillyer, da/from “The Rancher” di/by Charles Turner Dazey.
photog: Joe August.
scg/des: Robert Brunton.
asst dir: Cliff Smith.
cast: William S. Hart (Tom “Wolf” Lowry), Margery Wilson (Mary Davis), Aaron Edwards (Buck Fanning), Carl Ullman (Owen Thorpe).
prod: Triangle/Kay-Bee, supv: Thomas H. Ince.
dist: Triangle.
uscita/rel: 27.5.1917, orig. l: 5 rl.
copia/copy: DCP, 51’39”; did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    William S. Hart.
    Grand piano: Neil Brand.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 9 Oct 2019.

Richard Koszarski (GCM): "Critics and audiences regarded Wolf Lowry as a quintessential William S. Hart film, Exhibitor’s Trade Review citing “Exciting gun play, love interest, the sweep of the great out-of-doors country and the spirit of self-sacrifice exemplified in the central character,” as the recognizable hallmarks of any Hart picture. But while formulaic, Hart’s films were primarily star vehicles in which such familiar generic elements were always subservient to the actor’s carefully developed screen persona. Hart’s first film role was in the atypical His Hour of Manhood (1914), playing a complete rotter, a bad bad man. But in his very next appearance, in Jim Cameron’s Wife, Hart was already a wild man of the west sacrificing himself for a woman of ideal virtue, having created the prototype of a character that would not only make his fortune, but give new life to an entire genre."

"How wild this character might actually be, and how great his sacrifice, was the one big question that Hart and his writers would investigate for the next decade. Dramatically, Hart’s characters are always crossing the line between lawlessness and civilization. Sometimes he starts out on the wrong side of the line, a gambler or a thief, but is tamed by circumstance (or the presence of an inspiring female). Or he may begin as an honest man, drawn to the dark side by different circumstance (and different women). He seldom remains in the same spot, morally or ethically, for an entire picture, and even his most positive characters are sometimes shamed by the vigilante justice they are driven to."

"In order to give weight to these inner conflicts, Hart typically presents himself as a loner, a man with no one to answer to, but also no one with whom he can share life’s burdens. If playing a poor man, he is at least his own boss, a prospector, a trapper or a scout calling his own shots. But not a cowboy, because Hart saw little dramatic interest in the lives of these itinerant farmhands; if cattle are present he probably owns the ranch (as in Wolf Lowry). Even in Pinto Ben, the closest he ever came to a traditional cowboy role, he is the boss wrangler, leader of the cattle drive. Cowboy roles he left to Tom Mix and Broncho Billy Anderson. Once a barnstorming Shakespearean actor, Hart clearly believed that great inner struggles could not be dramatized by examining the lives of the average and ordinary. So he would often cast himself as a leader of men — but a leader whose best qualities, like strength, courage and resolve, may no longer be unalloyed virtues."

"In Wolf Lowry he is a cattle baron whose idea of a good time is running off anyone who dares trespass on his domain. The film presents this as understandable tough-guy behavior that has gone over the line, and will require a bit of civilizing. Note how this scene is juxtaposed with one in which his cowboys move from traditional male joshing (an unusual amount of cowboy comedy here) to a mock lynching of their own Chinese cook. There is something wrong with all this testosterone-driven behavior that could do with some feminine influence. Margery Wilson would seem to be the candidate here, and critics of the day were charmed by Hart’s “bashful lover” routine and the taming of his “cave man” persona. But this is one of those self-sacrificing films, a category in which the Hart character either dies, doesn’t get the girl, and/or wanders into the wilderness alone, leaving civilization to the more civilized (and domestic) characters. In fact, this romantic attraction seems somehow a part of the cattle king’s general property interests, his policing of a squatter’s cabin soon transformed into the stalking of its latest inhabitant (he begins hanging around at night, observing Margery Wilson’s shadow on the window shade). When he does realize the girl is lost to him, he abandons all the rest of his property, too."

"The copy recently preserved by the Library of Congress is based on a 28 mm version licensed to Pathescope by S. A. Lynch, who had acquired control of Triangle in June 1917, just after Wolf Lowry went into release. The following year the film was one of 16 Hart pictures reissued by S. A. Lynch Enterprises, which produced new advertising material eliminating the names of both Triangle and Thomas H. Ince. Lynch had the film’s main title card reshot and excised the card with Ince’s supervisory credit. But that card also contained other credits, including those of the director (William S. Hart) and the cameraman (Joe August). Instead of remaking that card with the proper information, someone simply spliced in footage of a card made up for a different film, with different names credited. Audiences looking at the Lynch version — in either 35 or 28 mm, I would assume — were told, incorrectly, that the film was directed by Walter Edwards and photographed by Robert Newland (the credit to “Chas. Oldman” is also in error)."

"But it doesn’t stop there. The Lynch version ends with Hart on a hilltop, looking down sadly at the wedding ceremony that is now going on without him. But reviews of the 1917 release had it differently, and described an additional sequence taking place years later. Fortunately, a 35 mm fragment of this version also found in the Library of Congress did contain that ending, which has now been included in the restoration. What other alterations Lynch may have made in the film (or any of the other Hart films he reissued) still require further research." Richard Koszarski (GCM)

AA: In this film William S. Hart is the monster, a character that can be compared with Ivan the Terrible, Wolf Larsen, and the tyrants that populated Weimar cinema. He belongs also to the great terrible cattle barons to be compared with John Wayne's Thomas Dunson in Red River. He reminds us also of another version of "my grandfather's story" in the Howard Hawks oeuvre, Edward Arnold as Barney Glasgow in Come and Get It. Wolf Lowry is a brutal saga of the original accumulation.

We see views of epic cattle drives and understand that might is right for Wolf Lowry who can evict little homesteaders ruthlessly when he needs to expand.

Wolf Lowry is a study of der Übermensch and the alpha male, literally, as a leader of a wolf pack. It is also a saga of brutalization, a loss of humanity.

When the old-timer bullied into leaving his place manages to find a real estate agent, Buck Fanning (Aaron Edwards) who sells his property to a woman about to be united with her fiancé, Wolf Lowry is startled to meet in the old-timer's cabin Mary Davis (Margery Wilson).

The conversion of the William S. Hart character is more abrupt and extreme than usually. He protects Mary from the harassment of Buck Fanning but is badly wounded himself and nursed back to health by Mary. "I'm sorry to get well". The tough brute cries. "There wasn't a touch of good in me before I met you". Mary is giving up hope to meet again her fiancé Owen Thorpe (Carl Ullman) but when he finally reappears, Mary lies to Lowry that Owen is her half-brother.

A wedding between Mary and Lowry is imminent, but Mary gets depressed, and the truth is revealed. The beast is unleashed, and Wolf Lowry's fit of rage is fearsome. But his wedding is cancelled and theirs is announced. Lowry cries, gives up everything and retreats to his gold claims in Alaska after "a silent farewell to all he has on Earth". His face is convulsed in pain and his invincible posture is stooped when he disappears in the darkness. In final shots we see Mary with a baby and Lowry in solitude in the freezing cold Alaska, crying in wolf furs.

The approach is mythical. In William S. Hart's world the woman incarnates the life force and the man the death drive.

The mythical current and the extraordinary fits of rage are reminiscent of Jean Gabin's films of the 1930s.*

This 2019 preservation from 28 mm sources conveys the visual force of one of William S. Hart's key films. Simulations of sepia and dark red tintings are included.


* André Bazin wrote in his essay on Jean Gabin's destiny:

“Before the war, it is said, Gabin insisted before signing any film contract that the story include one of those explosive scenes of anger at which he excels.”

“Was this the whim of a star, was it the ham clinging to his little touch of bravura? Perhaps, but he probably felt, through his actor's vanity, that to deprive himself of it would betray his character. Indeed it is almost always in a moment of rage that Gabin brings misfortune on himself, baiting the fateful trap that will inevitably cause his death.“

“Besides, in the tragedies and epics of ancient times anger was not just a psychological state amenable to treatment by a cold shower or a Gardenal pill; it was a state of unconsciousness, a trance, a divine possession, a cleft opened for gods into the world of humanity, through which destiny steals.”

"Bad Buck" of Santa Ynez

William S. Hart as Bad Buck and Thelma Salter as Little Honey.

“Bad Buck” of Santa Ynez (US 1915) by William S. Hart. A drinking contest between the Sheriff (Robert Kortman) and Bad Buck (Hart). Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles

"Bad Buck" of Santa Ynez. The end.

"Bad Buck" of Santa Ynez. Another side of William S. Hart.

US 1915.
regia/dir: William S. Hart.
sogg/story, scen: J. G. Hawks, Thomas H. Ince.
cast: William S. Hart (“Bad Buck” Peters), Fanny Midgley (Mary Gail), Thelma Salter (Little Honey Gail), [Robert Kortman (Sheriff)].
prod: New York Motion Picture Co., supv: Thomas H. Ince.
dist: Mutual/Kay-Bee.
uscita/rel: 21.5.1915.
copia/copy: DCP; 23’27”; did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    William S. Hart.
    Grand piano: Neil Brand.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 9 Oct 2019.

Diane Koszarski (GCM): "“Bad Buck” of Santa Ynez is the tenth two-reel drama of 17 Hart directed at Inceville, filmed in February 1915 just after production of the feature The Darkening Trail. Here he works with newly hired Ince scenarist J. G. Hawks on a rip-snorting tale of cowboy high jinks and sentiment, rough riding and tender gesture. Hart dies onscreen for the third time in his NYMPC career (after His Hour of Manhood and The Taking of Luke McVane), and Hawks supplies a worthy motive for draping the studio’s biggest box office star in a tragic ending: saving a child’s life."

"Despite a whiff of inside humor in the title (Inceville was located just east of Santa Ynez Canyon) and some levity in the intertitles, Hart plays the drama straight and sincere. After a brief glimpse of a pioneer family struggling in their covered wagon, “Bad Buck” Peters is cut in, clattering into town along a wooden sidewalk, filling the screen with the bold graphics of his checkered shirt and darting piebald horse, very like the energized cowboy paintings of Hart’s pal Charlie Russell. Inside the Red Dog Saloon, his macho drinking duel with the sheriff is choreographed in a strict pas de deux, played here with correct formality by Robert Kortman, one of the unit’s assistant directors. Buck wins, but incurs mortal enmity.  His behavior suggests that he is often guilty of practical joking, not capital crime, but the result is unfortunate; the sheriff is a sore loser. Riding hell-for-leather out of town over the muddy, bleak landscape, “The Terror of Santa Ynez” just manages to escape a lynch-minded posse."

"Scenes of the distraught pioneer family are intercut with saloon horseplay, laying out the contrasting story line of hapless Easterners in a wild and wooly West. Mother and child pray for Father, dead of his illness, and beg the escaping horseman for help digging a grave. Hart’s famous “soul fight” turn is expressed here by mise-en-scène more than facial expression. The plot operates on the 19th-century cultural standard that an innocent child, as a conduit of divine grace, can sway the blackest heart. And so she does."

"The child Honey is played by eight-year-old Thelma Salter, in pictures since 1913. She had been seen the year before as a “Keystone Kid” in a dozen one-reel comedies for Sennett, worked often in Inceville for other directors, and appeared in Hart’s second film, Jim Cameron’s Wife. He would cast her later in The Disciple and Selfish Yates."

"Moved to assist, Buck offers his cabin to the two unprotected women. Honey, obedient and helpful, is picking flowers after fetching water when she is bitten by a rattler. The drama, without close-up camera coverage of a striking snake (perhaps a censorship concern?) is constructed through editing. The fat rattlesnake, seen in close-up, is paired with medium shots of the reptile lurking under the flower bush. Salter mostly mimes the snake bite, as the creature’s motion is seen only from a distance.  A close-up of bite marks on her leg, and a big commotion when Buck kills the snake, shooting and splashing about, sells the scene."

"The horse-riding sequences in “Bad Buck” of Santa Ynez are glorious. A big posse crosses the screen in a strong diagonal movement. Buck, returning to town, is depicted in a crisp silhouette across the rugged horizon. This staple element of the western is used generously here, not as filler, but to develop plot. Buck tracks his pursuers seen on the trail below from a high mountain vista while he whittles a doll for Honey. Later, his silhouetted ride back to town to fetch a doctor is tracked by the sheriff, who plots an ambush."

"The redeeming power of an innocent is given full play in the closing scene as Buck, mortally wounded, delivers the doctor to save Honey, then drags himself with his last ounce of strength to her bedside for one last affirmation of his good soul – a bit Victorian in stagecraft, but part and parcel of Ince storytelling. Mother holds back the crush of the vengeful posse at the cabin door with a ladylike gesture of restraint as the camera pans to Buck, in peaceful death at her child’s side. “Bad Buck” of Santa Ynez is a strong iteration of Ince’s formula for Hart: peril and pathos expressed in the particulars of a Western milieu." Diane Koszarski (GCM)

AA: In the standard William S. Hart narrative he is the bad guy reformed by an encounter of the woman of his life. This film brings a variation: the resurrection is inspired by a child.

The first half is based on parallel montage. Bad Buck (William S. Hart) has a drinking contest with the sheriff. A pioneer family crosses the desert in a covered wagon.

Having insulted the sheriff, Bad Buck escapes a posse. The father of the family dies, and Bad Buck is asked to help bury him. "Please don't leave us all alone", asks Little Honey. Buck provides shelter for mother and daughter in his cabin.

When the little girl is bitten by a rattlesnake, Buck gives her first aid and brings a doctor in a last minute rescue.* Buck is mortally wounded by the posse on the way. Meanwhile he has had a moment to carve a pathetic wooden doll for Honey.

As Diane Koszarski analyzes above, the composition is striking in the chase sequences. The silhouettes on the horizon are eloquent, the long shots are sublime. There is a touch of raw physical reality in several scenes such as the digging of the grave.

A digital representation of a 35 mm nitrate source with a duped look but still impressive.


I had seen this film previously in Bologna in 2006. The print source also then was Library of Congress: on display was a 35 mm print from a nitrate positive at the AFI/Miller collection, 1924 Tri-Stone reissue, ♪ Gabriel Thibaudeau, 530 m /18 fps/ 26 min.

* "The only doctor in Santa Ynez, specialist in snake bites and delirium tremens."

The Man from Nowhere (William S. Hart, 1915)

The Man from Nowhere. William S. Hart as Buck Farley, the man without a past, appointed deputy sheriff, J. P. Lockney as the drunkard Jake Frazer, appointed sheriff, and Margaret Thompson as his daughter Emma Frazer, caught in a love triangle between Buck Farley and Johnson the saloon keeper.

His Duty.
US 1915.
regia/dir: William S. Hart.
sogg/story, scen: C. Gardner Sullivan.
cast: William S. Hart (“Buck” Farley), Margaret Thompson (Emma Frazer), J. P. Lockney (Jake Frazer), Alfred Hollingsworth (Johnson).
prod: New York Motion Picture Co., supv: Thomas H. Ince.
dist: Mutual/Domino.
uscita/rel: 6.5.1915.
copia/copy: DCP, 23′ (da/from 35 mm, 1445 ft, 18 fps); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    William S. Hart.
    Grand piano: Neil Brand.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 9 Oct 2019.

Richard Abel (GCM): "This story begins in the Chicago Saloon in Snake River, Arizona, where Johnson, the saloon owner, jokingly gets his cowboy customers to name a drunk, Jake Frazer, as sheriff and then is rebuffed by Emma, Frazer’s daughter. After Johnson stages a fight in which Frazer is beaten, Buck Farley, who has just ridden into town, breaks up the fight, rescues Frazer, and does not realize that Johnson pretends to have saved him, when he actually was about to shoot him. Buck becomes Frazer’s deputy, begins to fall in love with Emma, but is surprised to find that Johnson wants to court Emma. Johnson uses a ruse to get Buck searching for some allegedly stolen horses in the desert, and Buck forces him to accompany him. Without Buck’s knowledge, Johnson hides their water skins, one after another, and one night shoos Buck’s horse away. Invoking Buck’s earlier promise to save him in return, Johnson tries to retrace his steps, fails to find any of the buried water skins, and dies drinking from an alkaline-poisoned water hole. Meanwhile, Buck finds one buried water skin and struggles back to Frazer’s cabin. The surviving film print (likely a reissue from the Film Distributors League) breaks off at his point, perhaps due to damage, but a trade press summary has Buck learn from Frazer about Johnson’s “true character” and “win Emma for his wife.” What remains puzzling is that the trade press also calls Johnson Pasquale and Mexican, although the actor in the surviving print gives little sense of such added villainy at that time."

"This film begins with Buck on horseback looking down on the town from a ridge, a stranger “from nowhere” and without a past, much like Clint Eastwood’s loner in High Plains Drifter (1973). As director, Hart conveys Sullivan’s story clearly and efficiently, with revealing close shots not only of Buck’s restrained facial expressions as he registers the encounters between Johnson and Emma but also Johnson attempting to hold Emma’s hand, Buck gently placing his hand on hers at the cabin table, and his unsuspecting sleep during the first days in the desert. In early May 1915, Motion Picture News praised the film’s “atmosphere of the lawless west,” sometimes “realistic to the extreme,” especially in the “engrossing” desert scene. Filmed at the same time and in the same sandy desert as The Taking of Luke McVane, The Man from Nowhere strikingly foreshadows the marvelous ending of Stroheim’s Greed (1924).
" Richard Abel (GCM)

AA: I would not compare The Man from Nowhere with Monte Hellman, but there are elements of an existentialist Western in this tale about a man without a past, particlarly in passages of desolation during a desperate trek in the desert. Let's say that one could imagine a Monte Hellman film inspired by this script.

The sense of squalor and a makeshift existence is particularly tangible. Jake Frazer, the worst drunkard of the place, is appointed Sheriff. He can hardly stand on his feet, and his ankle is sprained in the first fight he tries to stop. His daughter Emma is furious and really lets fly on the men in the saloon.

It's Rio Bravo in reverse. The sheriff is the drunkard, and his deputy Buck Farley (William S. Hart) helps him sober up and walk tall like a man again. Meanwhile, Buck shares moments of tenderness with Emma.

When Buck, the stranger, walks into the saloon and stops the fight, the saloon keeper Johnson tries to kill him but lies that he saved him. His purpose with the desert trek is to have Buck killed. Buck still believes that Johnson had saved his life and swears: "I'll go through hell with you". But Johnson falls into his own trap.

A digital representation of a 35 mm source titled His Duty. Duped, in low definition, with occasional nitrate or water damage marks, yet watchable and impressive.

Weimar Shorts – Prog. 2: Work and Leisure

Marianne Brandt: Miss Lola. 1926. Photomontage of the film explorer Lola Kreutzberg with newspaper clippings on black cardboard. 48 x 63.2 cm. Image: MutualArt.

Lola Kreutzberg, explorer and documentary film-maker. Photo: eBay.

Weimar Shorts – Prog. 2 Work and Leisure.
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.
Grand piano and violin: Günter Buchwald.
Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Underlight, 9 Oct 2019.

AA: The second Weimar Shorts programme in Pordenone had an emphasis on artists: the puppet master Lotte Pritzel, Otto Dix at the height of his Expressionistic period, and Lola Kreutzberg the documentary explorer, here recording Javanese shadowplays, dances and orchestras. The long takes of Otto Dix at work creating a tempera painting are priceless. The show started with a sparkling wine ad relevant to the William S. Hart retrospective. It also included a tale of a lady film editor suffering from hangover... and seeing the Dadaistic results of the day's work on the giant screen of the Ufa-Palast, relevantly to this year's Films on Film programme. Ernö Rapée must adopt a prima vista approach to his Kino-Orchester of 85 players. Even the final ENDE card is upside down.

Image not from the film. Kupferberg Gold. Wikipedia: "Die Kupferberg Sektkellerei wurde 1850 von Christian Adalbert Kupferberg in Mainz am Rhein gegründet. Seitdem werden dort verschiedene Sektmarken hergestellt. Die bekannteste ist „Kupferberg Gold“, ein halbtrocken bis brut ausgebauter Sekt im unteren Preissegment."

DIE WARNUNG [The Warning] (DE 1921)
regia/dir: ?. photog: ?. prod: Projektionsgesellschaft Palast Charlottenburg, Berlin. riprese/filmed: 1920. v.c./censor date: 11.1.1921. copia/copy: 35 mm, 61 . (orig. 63 m), 3’03” (18 fps); did./titles: GER. fonte/source: Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Berlin.

Michael Cowan (GCM): "Early advertising film in Germany was often enlisted for the promotion of leisure products such as perfume, chocolates, or sparkling wine, and Kupferberg Gold – a leading producer of sparkling wine – was one of the first companies to wholeheartedly embrace the new medium. By the time this film was made in 1920, audiences would have been quite familiar with Kupferberg’s signature champagne glass and bubbles, which had already offered a pretext for various trick effects in films such as Julius Pinschewer’s Sektzauber (“Champagne Magic”) from 1912. Kupferberg also invested heavily in other forms of technological advertising, such as giant outdoor light advertisements, which showed – in animated images – a bottle of bubbly wine being poured into a glass. In this comical advertisement, the filmmakers draw on the iconography of the Western to demonstrate how a glass of Kupferberg just might save your life!" Michael Cowan (GCM)

AA: There is a William S. Hart connection in this sparkling wine ad: a reflection of approaching Native Americans in a glass of Kupferberg Gold gives them away, saving lives. Good visual quality.

Photo not from the film. Lotte Pritzel, puppet artist and costume designer. Photo: via Wikipedia from: Wanda von Debschitz-Kunowski (18701935) Unsere Zeit in 77 Frauenbildnissen, Niels Kampmann Verlag, um 1930. Gemeinfrei.

DIE PRITZELPUPPE [The Pritzel Puppet] (DE 1923)
regia/dir: Ulrich Kayser. scen: Maria Elisabeth Kähnert. photog: Max Brinck. cast: Lotte Pritzel, Blandine Ebinger, Niddy Impekoven. prod: Ufa (Universum-Film AG). v.c./censor date: 10.8.1923. copia/copy: 35 mm, 381 m, 18’31” (18 fps); did./titles: GER. fonte/source: Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Berlin.

Michael Cowan (GCM): "Documenting artists at work is a theme most often associated with the Schaffende Hände series included in this program. But there were also other variants on the theme; this film focuses on the work of puppet-artist and costume designer Lotte Pritzel (1887–1952). The screenplay was written by the author and film critic Maria Elisabeth Kähnert, and was directed by Ulrich Kayser — the head of technical production for the Ufa-Kulturabteilung, and later a specialist in industrial film — with cinematography by Max Brinck (who also worked on Die Seele der Pflanze)."

"Lotte Pritzel had been a well-known figure in the Munich bohemian arts scene for over a decade when Die Pritzelpuppe was made. She knew many of the leading artists and writers of the day, including Emmy Hennings, Jakob van Hoddis, Oskar Kokoschka, and Rainer Maria Rilke, who was fascinated by her work and dedicated an essay to it in 1921. Her work also exerted a strong influence on dancers such as Anita Berber (who had performed a ballet – also titled Die Pritzelpuppe – in 1921, two years previously) and Niddy Impekoven (who makes an appearance in this film). Pritzel can be seen as part of a long line of experimental puppet design, which would include Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer (Triadisches Ballett) and the work of Hans Bellmer (with whom she later stayed in contact)."

"In the film, Kähnert and Kayser take us behind the scenes to show Pritzel at work in her studio; they explain her techniques, speculate on her inspirations, and locate her work within a longer history of artistic styles." Michael Cowan (GCM)

AA: Maria Elisabeth Kähnert and Ulrich Kayser's film is not merely a documentary portrait of an artist but an artwork itself, including an overview of puppet-making, situating Lotte Pritzel in the contemporary approach of grotesque puppets. The puppet montages are fascinating, the cinematography is expressive. Intriguing. Visual quality: good.

Photo not from the film. Otto Dix: Self-Portrait with Easel 1926 © DACS 2017. Leopold-Hoesch-Museum & Papiermuseum Düren. Photo: Peter Hinschläger. Photo: Tate.

SCHAFFENDE HÄNDE. OTTO DIX [Hands at Work: Otto Dix] (DE 1924)
regia/dir: Hans Cürlis. prod: Institut für Kulturforschung e.V. copia/copy: 35 mm, 249 m, 9’04” (24 fps); did./titles: GER. fonte/source: Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Berlin.

Michael Cowan (GCM): "This short film document was part of a long-running series by the filmmaker Hans Cürlis entitled Schaffende Hände (Hands at Work), which he began filming in 1923 and continued well into the post-WWII period. Cürlis was the head of the Institut für Kulturforschung (Institute for Cultural Research), an important centre of educational film, where Lotte Reiniger and Berthold Bartosch both worked as animators. Schaffende Hände was a live-action series documenting the labor of visual artists (painters, sculptors, etc.), and occasionally extended to other kinds of manual production (e.g., Schaffende Hände. Wie Süßigkeiten entstehen / Hands at Work: How Sweets are Made, 1929). The series has provided footage for many documentary projects over the decades, and much survives to the present day (e.g., images of Kandinsky painting, which are still available on YouTube). This segment on the Neue Sachlichkeit (“New Objectivity”) painter Otto Dix was created as a stand-alone film in 1924, and was later incorporated into a longer film, Schaffende Hände. Die Maler (Hands at Work: The Painters), along with several other segments, on George Grosz, Lovis Corinth, and other artists, in 1926." Michael Cowan (GCM)

AA: A revealing and illuminating study of Otto Dix at work. This film belongs to the same privileged species as Le Mystère Picasso by Henri-Georges Clouzot, sharing an intimacy with the artist in a close study. We witness Otto Dix outdoors. He then starts an "Akt ohne Modell" – a full-figured nude without a model, working with ink, relishing the large breasts. He then prepares a composition with a pencil and proceeds to paint a portrait with tempera, working fast on the wet surface. Special care is devoted to hair: Dix paints each hair individually. Much of this is caught in long takes, enhancing the documentary value.

Photo not from the film. Lil Dagover appears in found footage.

WENN DIE FILMKLEBERIN GEBUMMELT HAT… [When a Film Cutter Blunders…] (DE 1925)
regia/dir: O. F. Mauer. cast: Alice Kempen. copia/copy: 35 mm, 328 m, 14′ (20 fps); did./titles: GER. fonte/source: DFF – Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum, Frankfurt-am-Main.
    Tragödie einer Uraufführung.
    With: Lil Dagover. (In recycled footage).

Anton Kaes (GCM): "This Dada-inspired film, also known as Tragödie einer Uraufführung (Tragedy of a Premiere), was made in 1925 in the shadow of Entr’acte, the classic French Dada film of 1924 by René Clair and Francis Picabia, which was shown in Berlin in the famous avant-garde film matinee Der absolute Film (“The Absolute Film”) on 3 May 1925. Filmkleberin satirizes avant-garde cinema itself by suggesting that the rejection of narrative is the result of carelessness and blunder. This little-known film, directed by O. F. Mauer and starring Alice Kempen, both minor figures in Weimar cinema, is also a comical take on censorship, film production, and exhibition practices."

"Filmkleberin begins in the manner of an industrial film, with the title “High Season in a Film Cutting Company,” followed by a tracking shot along editing tables, stopping at a group of five female employees in white coats, vivaciously engaged in a … crossword puzzle (which itself was a new phenomenon in 1925 – see our entry for Kreuzworträtsel im Film Nr. 3). A title card explains that films are put together from 1,000 large and small scenes – a manual process that the camera proceeds to illustrate via close-ups of female hands using razor blades, scissors, and glue to scrape, cut, and join strips of film together."

"In its own narrative, the film focuses on a young film cutter who is visibly bored by her work, daydreaming about a young man. The close-up of the couple’s imaginary kiss is interrupted by an intertitle declaring “Zensur,” and an inspection of the kissing scene under a magnifying glass, leading to a pair of scissors destroying the offending frames. The woman awakens from her daydream and resumes work – now under pressure to finish editing a film by a 6 o’clock deadline. The camera pans across two boxes, one labeled “Diverse Newsreel Clips,” the other “Blossoms That Float in the Mud,” a fictitious revue film whose titillating title alludes to the so-called Aufklärungsfilme (sex education films) from the censor-free period between November 1918 and May 1920. Predictably, the film cutter mixes up the boxes and strips from both are spliced into one film, with startling results. The second half of Filmkleberin takes place in a movie theater, where the cutter sits in the audience watching what her distracted editing has produced."

"Snippets from real life taken from newsreel and Kulturfilm shorts interrupt, undercut, and ridicule the fictional artifice of the revue film. For instance, a title announces “Lil Dagover at Breakfast,” but instead of the glamorous film star, we see a half-nude African woman nursing her baby while drinking palm wine – a scene presumably taken from one of the popular travelogue shorts, such as Quer durch Africa (Across Africa, 1924). Another title announcing the diva’s favorite small dog cuts to a hippopotamus. And so on. A montage of random clips from sports and entertainment, including a brief parody of the 1924 feature-length Kulturfilm, Ways to Strength and Beauty (1925), as well as an excerpt from a short entitled Zur Vermännlichung der Frau (On the Masculinization of Women), follows at an increasingly rapid pace, producing such chaotic anarchy that the frustrated and enraged audience throws objects at the screen and rips it. (Entr’acte also concludes with the tearing of its final “End” title.)"

"In the tradition of films that reflect on film, this short teaches the public about the making and breaking of a narrative film. By violating all norms of logic and formal organization, Filmkleberin lampoons and challenges these norms, including censorship, the ultimate norm that determines what can be seen and what cannot." Anton Kaes (GCM)

AA: A parody of film cutting, also relevant for Le Giornate del Cinema Muto's Films on Film series this year. There is nothing to add to Anton Kaes's thorough program note above. The film cutter lady, suffering from hangover, blunders by intercutting a revue film with newsreel footage, particularly botching the intertitles. The film is funny but the "film in film" feels slightly prolonged because the mismatching montage jokes are not all witty. Good visual quality.

Photo not from the film. Kuenstler AK Max Rabes: Forschungsreisende und Filmproduzentin Lola Kreutzberg. Photo:

ALLEREI VOLKSBELUSTIGUNGEN IN JAVA [Various Popular Entertainments in Java] (DE 1928)
regia/dir, scen, photog, mont/ed: Lola Kreutzberg. prod: Ufa (Universum-Film AG). sponsor: Parufamet GmbH. v.c./censor date: 19.11.1927. copia/copy: 35 mm, 200 m, 9’43” (18 fps); did./titles: GER. fonte/source: Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Berlin.

Michael Cowan (GCM): "Focusing on traditional Javanese leisure activities, Allerlei Volksbelustigungen in Java is the 5th installment of the series Aus dem holländischen Insel-Indien, produced by the Ufa-Kulturabteilung. The film was directed by Lola Kreutzberg (1887–1966), a former veterinarian who became a pioneer of films and photobooks on animals, nature, and exotic life in the 1920s."

"The “adventurer” cameraman was a well-known figure in the film and photography scene of the 1920s, represented in Germany by filmmakers such as Colin Ross (director of Mit dem Kurbelkasten um die Erde, 1924). Kreutzberg was one of the few women in this field, but she had forerunners in female travel lecturers from the late 19th century, such as Esther Lyons in the U.S. Kreutzberg was also very well known on the Weimar cultural scene. For example, the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung ran a series of her travel reports in 1926, the same year that the Bauhaus artist Marianne Brandt created a photomontage entitled “Miss Lola”. But Kreutzberg’s work was not without its critics; for example, the left-wing film society Volksverband für Filmkunst (Popular Association of Film Art, whose members had a hand in several activist films that are being shown in our third program) had this to say in a 1930 review of her work: “In her trip to the colonies, Lola Kreutzberg saw only the exotic aspects of colonial life. She saw nothing of the struggle of this oppressed people, their misery and poverty, their oppression by a colonial system.”"

"Allerlei Volksbelustigungen in Java is one several films Kreutzberg made for Ufa in the late 1920s, before founding her own company, Lola Kreutzberg-Film GmbH, which would produce dozens of travel and expedition films up to 1932. The film embodies some of the contradictions surrounding her work. In many ways, this is a typical colonial documentary, in which an omniscient narrator explains the customs of a “foreign” people for Western audiences. But the film is also remarkable for being made by a woman, and many of the motifs (puppets, shadow play, etc.) resonate with the work of other female artists (Lotte Pritzel, Lotte Reiniger) featured in this program." Michael Cowan (GCM)

AA: This movie introduces me to the intriguing film explorer Lola Kreutzberg. On display is fascinating footage from Java, including itinerant Chinese, shadow plays, puppet theatre, Javanese orchestras, and dances. The visual quality is obscure as if the print might have been struck from an inferior source.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Beverly of Graustark (1926)

Beverly of Graustark. Antonio Moreno (Danton), Marion Davies (Beverly Calhoun). (US 1926) D: Sidney Franklin. Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles.

Kruununprinssin rakkaus / H.K.H. blir kär!
US 1926
regia/dir: Sidney Franklin.
scen: Agnes Christine Johnston, dal romanzo di/from the novel by George Barr McCutcheon (1904).
did/titles: Joe Farnham.
photog: Percy Hilburn; Ray Rennahan (Technicolor).
mont/ed: Frank Hull.
scg/des: Cedric Gibbons, Richard Day.
cost: Kathleen Kay, Maude Marsh, André-Ani.
asst dir: H. B. Boswell.
cast: Marion Davies (Beverly Calhoun), Antonio Moreno (Danton), Creighton Hale (Principe/Prince Oscar), Roy D’Arcy (General Marlanax), Albert Gran (duca/Duke Travina), Paulette Duval (Carlotta), Max Barwyn (Saranoff), Charles Clary (Mr. Calhoun), [non accreditati/uncredited: Sidney Bracey (cameriere/valet), Lou Duello (ballerino/dancer)].
prod: Irving G. Thalberg, Cosmopolitan Pictures.
dist: M-G-M.
uscita/rel: 22.3.1926.
Helsinki premiere: 24 Jan 1927 Piccadilly, released by O.Y. Ufanamet A/B.
copia/copy: DCP, 77′ (da/from 35 mm, orig. 6977 ft, b&w, imbibizione e viraggio/tinting & toning, Technicolor finale, 364 ft.); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA (Marion Davies Collection).
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Musical interpretation: John Sweeney, Frank Bockius.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 8 Oct 2019.

Jay Weissberg (GCM): "Thank goodness Agnes Christine Johnston jettisoned most of George Barr McCutcheon’s 1904 novel Beverly of Graustark when writing her delightful screenplay for Marion Davies. The source material, about a daughter of the Confederacy mistaken for the princess of Graustark, falling in love with a prince disguised as a shepherd-bandit and thwarting a foreign invasion, is singularly lacking in distinction and makes Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda feel like a near masterpiece. McCutcheon himself wasn’t pleased with his book, the first of five sequels to his Ruritanian romance Graustark (1901), though his unhappiness was no doubt made less distressing by a $10,000 advance. Beverly of Graustark was already into its tenth edition just one year after publication and helped make the author one of the wealthiest writers in America by the time he died in 1928."

"Stage rights were sold to Arthur G. Delamater in 1908, and the dramatization by Robert Melville Baker went on the road the following year to great success. McCutcheon shrewdly continued to earn money from the material, selling the rights to Biograph for a 1914 Klaw & Erlanger film starring Linda Arvidson, but according to an essay in The Yale University Library Gazette (April 1985), litigation ensued and in 1924 he re-sold the movie rights to Hearst affiliate International Studios for $30,000, one-fourth of which went to Baker as dramatist. If Monta Bell’s Lights of Old Broadway (1925) can be considered the turning point in Davies’ career, allowing her playful spryness to take over the screen, then Beverly of Graustark, which began shooting shortly before that earlier film’s release, was the movie that really brought out her aptitude for physical comedy, establishing the Davies persona later seen to such delicious effect in Show People and The Patsy (both 1928)."

"Johnston, who also wrote those two comic masterpieces, discarded most of the novel’s plot, unlike the middling 1914 film. In the screenwriter’s new iteration, Beverly heads back home to Washington, D.C. from boarding school when she learns that her exiled cousin Prince Oscar of Graustark (Creighton Hale, in a part originally meant for George K. Arthur) has been made ruler of the tiny kingdom somewhere east of Switzerland. “Do not be excited,” her father counsels his daughter, but to no avail, and Beverly travels to Europe to witness the coronation. A ski accident incapacitates Oscar, who needs to be in the capital or risk a mutiny led by the duplicitous General Marlanax; the prince’s aide-de-camp Duke Travina spies Beverly looking boyish and hits on the idea of putting her in uniform and having her impersonate her cousin for a few days until he’s able to travel."

"“Marion Davies makes the best-looking boy you ever saw!” proclaimed the New York Herald Tribune, and a great deal of the film’s humor comes from the cross-dressing gag (devoid of even a trace of homoeroticism), nowhere to be found in the novel. In a June 1926 profile by Jane Tilton in Motion Picture Magazine, Davies said, “It isn’t going to be like the story. It will be ‘Graustark of Beverly Hills’ rather. You see, the director didn’t like the story. I wanted to do ‘Twelfth Night.’ The studio thought Shakespeare wouldn’t be so good on the screen – they may be right, I don’t know! – so the two stories were considered together, and a tale of a girl who masqueraded as a boy – Prince Oscar – was evolved.” Whether it really was director Sidney Franklin’s decision or Irving Thalberg as producer or Johnston, the changes breathed new life into the Ruritanian genre."

"So too did Franklin’s fine balance between slapstick and visual flair, with cinematographer Percy Hilburn adding more sophisticated layers. To further boost the film’s prestige, the producers decided on Technicolor for the final reel, shot by Ray Rennahan, whose 1972 interview with Richard Koszarski, quoted by James Layton and David Pierce in The Dawn of Technicolor, 19151935 (2015), offers invaluable information: “It was in a very soft gray all the way through and the costumes were all pastels, beautiful things. It was about the prettiest shot I had ever seen at that time for an interior and we were almost ready to shoot,” but then studio executives and Hearst felt the tonalities needed enhancing. “We had to give up that gorgeous shot and they sent out and got a lot of bunting and they strung it around the beautiful walls. It was murder.” The press, unaware of the backstory, still singled out the color sequence as the highlight of a film highly praised for its production values."

"Davies however remains the film’s raison d’être. In the words of Delight Evans, Screenland, July 1926, “ninety years from now, when all the war pictures and propaganda films and arty productions have been forgotten, some old white-beard is sure to mumble, ‘There was a girl named Marion who looked awfully cute in boy’s clothes.’” Make that ninety-three years." Jay Weissberg (GCM)

AA: Beverly of Graustark, the 1926 remake, is a Marion Davies vehicle, and I'm getting to know Davies better whom I mostly know from her King Vidor trilogy (The Patsy, Show People, Not So Dumb) of which Show People is my favourite. I haven't seen Davies's films from the years of the peak of her popularity (When Knighthood Was In Flower, Little Old New York); in Pordenone's Monta Bell retrospective I was not mightily impressed by Lights of Old Broadway.

Beverly of Graustark is a bright and sparkling MGM showcase of gloss and glamour. Everything is perfect, the cross-dressing device is delightful, and Marion Davies has natural talent as a comedienne. Her sense of fun and joy is innate. But it all feels a bit shallow and superficial. In truly great comedy there is also a sense of transience, mortality and disappointment, and the dark side is not absent here, either, but genuine gravity is missing. It's all a sport and a pastime.

The comparison may be unfair, but Lubitsch and Stroheim were not afraid to tackle similar Ruritarian fluff, even for the same studio, MGM. Neither were they afraid of the dark, and it made their glamour shine brighter. Think about Mae Murray in Stroheim's The Merry Widow, made the year before for MGM.

Roy D'Arcy's villainy is a common denominator between Stroheim's The Merry Widow and Beverly of Graustark. Antonio Moreno in the male lead is competent, no more. The same can be said of Sidney Franklin, the director. Creighton Hale shares a humoristic wavelength with Marion Davies. Their connection carries the comedy.

John Sweeney and Frank Bockius offered an inspired score to the humoristic spectacle.

Duck Soup (Laurel & Hardy 1927) (2019 restoration-in-progress in 4K of Lobster Films, BFI, Library of Congress)

Duck Soup (1927). Madeline Hurlock and Stan Laurel.

Duck Soup (Fred Guiol, Leo McCarey 1927). Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

US 1927.
regia/dir: Fred Guiol.
supv, regia/dir: Leo McCarey.
scen: da/based on the sketch “Home from the Honeymoon” di/by Arthur J. Jefferson.
did./titles: H. M. Walker.
cast: Stan Laurel (James Hives/Agnes), Oliver Hardy (Marmaduke Maltravers/il finto colonello/fake Colonel Blood), James A. Marcus (il colonello/Colonel Blood), William Austin (Lord Tarbotham), Madeline Hurlock (Lady Tarbotham), Bob Kortman (guardia forestale/Forest Ranger McFidget), William Courtright (il maggiordomo del colonello/Colonel Blood’s butler), Charlie Holmes (facchino/moving man), James A. Marcus (Colonel Buckshot).
prod: Hal Roach.
copia/copy: DCP, 21′, col. (da/from 35 mm nitr., imbibito/tinted); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Lobster Films, Paris.
    2019 restoration-in-progress in 4K of Lobster Films / BFI / Library of Congress.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    European Slapstick.
    Musical interpretation: John Sweeney, Frank Bockius
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 8 Oct 2019.

David Robinson (GCM): "Although released before the on-screen partnership was officially acknowledged, and without the couple’s familiar fraying-bourgeois air – Ollie sports a scrubby beard – the ultimate Stan-and-Ollie relationship is already firmly defined. Stan is dithery, timid, but ultimately the more resourceful; Ollie is dominating-going-on-bullying, confident, and generally badly mistaken."

"They learn with alarm that the Forest Rangers are rounding up vagrants to fight forest fires, and swiftly take refuge in a mansion whose owners are leaving on holiday. In their absence Oliver endeavours to rent  out the house, while Stan helpfully disguises himself as Agnes the housemaid. Things do not end well."

"Although they dominate the film, the nominal star was Madeline Hurlock (1897–1989), who set out as a serious actress, was recruited as a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty, and went on to be teamed, in turn by Sennett and by Roach, in two-reelers with comics like Harry Langdon and Billy Bevan. Here, as Lady Tarbotham, she maintains her poise against all odds."

"Though they enjoy the incomparable directorial guidance of Fred Guiol and Leo McCarey, Stan Laurel may well already have been exerting his influence on the concept of their films, since the story is adapted from a sketch by his father, Arthur J. Jefferson."

"The film was re-made with sound as Another Fine Mess in 1930. Leo McCarey re-used the title for his 1933 Marx Brothers film." David Robinson (GCM)

Ulrich Ruedel (GCM): "The restoration  Long lost, then rediscovered in a cropped, foreign-titled sound re-release and in 9.5 mm, “the first Laurel and Hardy film” has now been restored by Lobster Films close to its original form, following the rediscovery of a beautiful full-aperture tinted nitrate print at the BFI of what appears to be a British re-release, which is the main source for this new digitization-restoration. A censorship out-take preserved at the Library of Congress preserves the only two known American-English title cards for the film (“My gawd – she is raw!” – when Laurel believes to see naked Madeline Hurlock, who then calls out “Agnes!”), while its script has been published in Randy Skretvedt’s The Laurel & Hardy Movie Scripts: 20 Original Short Subject Screenplays (1926–1934) (2018). But in an ironic twist, British-English titles seem rather appropriate for a piece based on a music-hall classic to begin with. The Giornate is proud to present a new restoration of Duck Soup, made possible through the teamwork of Lobster Films, the BFI, and the Library of Congress." Ulrich Ruedel (GCM)

AA: Long believed missing, Duck Soup (1927) was found in 1974 as a cropped 9.5 mm re-release version with French intertitles replacing the originals (Wikipedia). I saw a dvd based on that version in 2010 in the wonderful complete four box set Kirch Media / Universal publication but failed to recognize the value of this excellent comedy then.

Seen now in the Lobster Films restoration Duck Soup is a revelation. The main credits announce:

Stan Laurel
Duck Soup

but although not planned as a film for the comedy team Laurel & Hardy it already becomes one. Everything fits together, the chemistry is there.

Laurel & Hardy films work on many levels. They can be received as broad farces, showcases for physical comedy. The slapstick is always present, often in quite brutal form. But also the sophisticated levels immediately click here.

We register the outlandish action: the bicycle chase downhill, Laurel posing as a coy maid asked to help Lady Tarbotham to bathe, robbing the big game hunter's mansion in front of his very eyes, the police arresting the duo to help quench a forest fire. With Laurel & Hardy as firefighters, we see a hommage to the first film comedy, L'Arroseur arrosé by the Lumière brothers.

But already the real treasures of the comedy are in nuances of the characters. Laurel and Hardy are veritable bums here, not yet dressed in identical black suits and bowlers. Instead, Hardy is in rags, his clothes severely torn. In no way that affects his dignity. He is already the pompous, assured, magnificent man in charge, no matter how desperate the situation.

Madeline Hurlock is excellent, a perfect leading lady, one of the duo's best, blithely oblivious to Stan Laurel's blatant cross-dressing.

A previous preservation of Duck Soup (1927) was released in Finland in the giant Laurel & Hardy series of four box sets (Kirch Media / Universal) on 24 March 2010 on the disc L&H and the Law (disc 12, box 3). Please do click on the image to enlarge it.