Wednesday, October 09, 2019

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.


AA Facebook capsule:

Britain's number one silent comedian Walter Forde tried his luck in Hollywood before settling back home again where he became one of the best directors of the 1930s. His British silent feature Wait and See is funny and original, and he is a very good comedian but not particularly memorable. Preston Sturges shared Forde's idea in Christmas in July.

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