Saturday, October 05, 2019

The Wanters (fragment) (2019 restoration by The Academy Film Archive)

Photo: Internet Movie Database.

The Wanters (US 1923) by John M. Stahl. Stahl sitting to the left. Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles.

Naisia ja rikkaita miehiä.
US 1923
regia/dir: John M. Stahl.
scen: J. G. Hawks, Paul Bern, from a story by Leila Burton Wells.
did./titles: Sada Cowan, Howard Huggins.
photog: Ernest G. Palmer.
mont/ed: Margaret Booth.
cast: Marie Prevost (Myra Hastings), Robert Ellis (Elliot Worthington), Norma Shearer (Marjorie), Gertrude Astor (Nina Van Pelt), Huntley Gordon (Theodore Van Pelt), Lincoln Stedman (Bobby), Lillian Langdon (Mrs. Worthington), Louise Fazenda (Mary), Hank Mann (pensionante favorito/star boarder), Lydia Yeamans Titus (padrona di casa/landlady), Vernon Steele (Tom Armstrong), Harold Goodwin (chauffeur), William Buckley (maggiordomo/butler).
prod: John M. Stahl, Louis B. Mayer, Louis B. Mayer Productions.
dist: Associated First National Pictures.
uscita/rel: 20.11.1923.
Helsinki premiere: 19 Jan 1925 Civis, released by Ab Maxim Oy at 1765 m.
copia/copy: 35 mm, incomp., solo/only rl 5 (orig. 7 rl, 7145 ft); did./titles: ENG?. Fragment 11 min.
fonte/source: Academy Film Archive, Los Angeles.
Restauro/Restored 2019, The Academy Film Archive.
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
Grand piano: Stephen Horne.
Viewed at Teatro Verdi with e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 5 Oct 2019.

Bruce Babington (GCM): "Of the ten lost silents definitely directed by Stahl, the only trace discovered till now is a single reel  of The Wanters. A single reel from a lost film, Reel 5 of a total of 7, over half-way through a narrative of which we possess only a broad outline, presents obvious difficulties for audiences, however grateful they are for its survival. A further problem is that it has not been available for viewing ahead of the Giornate, thus restricting these notes to contextual information."

"By mid-to-late 1923 the personal production unit Mayer had allowed Stahl at Louis B. Mayer Productions was well established. Another lost film, The Dangerous Age, released almost exactly a year before The Wanters, in November 1922, had been a major success, marking the zenith of the powerful advertising combination of Mayer and his distributors Associated First National Pictures, in the notable saturation advertising for its premiere in Paterson, New Jersey, where a year later The Wanters also opened. Of this Moving Picture World’s critic reported (8 December 1923), “When the writer saw this picture at the supper show on the last day of a week’s run, the house was filled and the lobby was jammed, the crowd extending onto the street at the beginning of the night show.”"

"Publicity for  the coming film centred largely on what was by now expected of Stahl, the perfectionist director’s assembling of one of the “all-star” casts for which he was becoming famous. The much-publicized choice of Marie Prevost (an ex-Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty) divided film reviewers, the majority’s approval probably influencing Lubitsch’s repeated uses of her in The Marriage Circle (1924), Three Women (1924), and Kiss Me Again (1925). The film also was Norma Shearer’s breakthrough Hollywood role. Stahl’s casting was additionally notable for its use of comic and vaudeville actors, e.g., Louise Fazenda and ex-Keystone Kop Hank Mann in minor parts, as well as actors like Huntley Gordon and Lillian Langdon in the New York high-society roles. The film’s very effective advertising combined appeals to audiences’ ambivalent fascination with the rich, its alternation of laughter and tears, and the universality of its moral spectacle, the much  reiterated theme “we are all wanters”. In an interview, Stahl added the admonition that “we are all Wanters and incapable of being entirely satisfied with life.” (Orlando Sentinel, 20 January 1924)"

"Like The Song of Life (1922), shown at the Giornate last year, The Wanters begins with a young woman yearning for more than her humdrum job and existence. Myra (Marie Prevost), takes on a temporary position with the wealthy Worthingtons, where she meets the family’s son, Elliot (Robert Ellis), and pretends she is a friend of his sister, Nina. When Nina (Gertrude Astor) returns from the opera, Myra is exposed and dismissed, though Elliot unsuccessfully defends her. Smitten with her, he brings her back to the family, announcing their intended marriage. The shocked family decide to let her enter their world in order to be educated as a suitable high-society wife. The bulk of the narrative centres on the abysmal social trials the heroine endures at the hands of these snobbish hypocrites, with some attention to the plight of the unhappily married Nina van Pelt, in love with Bobby (Lincoln Stedman), though constrained by the gulf in wealth between them."

"Though there was a short novelization of the film in Motion Picture Magazine (October 1923), like the reviews in newspapers and the trades, it fills in only scattered details. A few significant ones are that Myra, coming down a palatial staircase, slips, and is publicly mocked; that Nina’s husband Theodore van Pelt (Huntley Gordon) tries to bribe Myra to come away on a sexual holiday, yet reacts hypocritically when he discovers Nina’s liaison with Bobby; and that in a strikingly brutal image the group watch a hunted hare being torn to pieces, a parallel to their cruelty to Myra. When she, able to take no more, turns on them, she includes even Elliot in her condemnation: “You are poor, poorer than I am. Poor miserable things; you are Wanters, just like I am,” and rushes away. In a variation of the car and train chase in The Dangerous Age, a distraught Myra, wandering by the railroad tracks, gets her foot caught and seems as doomed as a serial heroine as a train approaches, but is rescued by Elliot in an action finale of the kind Stahl would not return to again. Persuading her of his repentance, Elliot says, “I am a Wanter, too. But I want only you.” The Los Angeles Times critic was appreciative of the film’s satiric bias – “Tinged with a fine shade of sarcasm” and with a “lash of cynicism that cracks over the heads of the self-appointed aristocracy” – but wondered whether the happy couple might eventually obey the narrative’s logic by eventually starting to want more." Bruce Babington (GCM)

Preceded by: - ADVERTISING
ET ALVORSORD [A Serious Word] (NO 1927)
Ottar Gladtvet, DCP, 2’54’’

AA: Screened was the surviving Reel Five in which Myra (Marie Prevost) is a stranger at her own home, the former maid now the mistress of a palace but at a loss with her situation.

In this reel we see her disastrous walk downstairs to perform her introduction to high society. I am reminded by similar situations in Alfred Hitchcock's Easy Virtue, Rebecca and Under Capricorn interpreted by Isabel Jeans, Joan Fontaine and Ingrid Bergman.

The icy wave of contempt of the high society freezes Myra midway. She faints and falls down the stairs. The hate and the contempt are palpable. Worst of all is Elliot's mother who directly suggests to Myra: "the sooner you get out of his life the better". The formal dinner is a part of the mother's plan of humiliate and discourage Myra permanently.

Myra has been preparing for the event in front of a mirror, memorizing phrases and manners. 

A male servant consoles Myra, and when Elliot reproaches her for that she states: "Your servants are the only human beings in this house".

This tantalizing glimpse is a promise of a strong and elegant drama, John M. Stahl at his best.

The elegant visual quality of Ernest G. Palmer's cinematography can be appreciated in this reel, especially in the subtle sepia toned sequences. In the beginning the projection speed feels too fast.


AA on Facebook, 5 Oct 2019
A beautiful day, a sunny day, a market day and a brass band day in Pordenone: 26 fantastic brass bands of the region parade on the streets. My first film is a rare glimpse of a John M. Stahl film believed lost, one reel only, dramatizing the agony of Myra (Marie Prevost) in a high society marriage. No matter how much she has rehearsed in front of a mirror, her descent down the stairs is an ordeal, and the palpable hate of the high society makes her faint and fall down the stairs. The sequence brings to mind echoes from later films by Alfred Hitchcock (Easy Virtue, Rebecca, Under Capricorn). This reel focuses on Marie Prevost. The great cast also includes Norma Shearer and Gertrude Astor. All three women were already well established, but this film elevated them to the next level.


Bruce Babington said...

Just read your very useful comments on the fragment, Antti, and wondered where you managed to find those two splendid illustrations- the foyer card and the photo of Stahl and others during filming. Clearly an excellent film was lost.
Best wishes, Bruce Babington

Antti Alanen said...

Dear Bruce, thank you very much for your kind words! I love your book on Stahl. The foyer card photo is from Internet Movie Database. The photo during filming is from the press service of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles.