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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pocket-Size Melodrama From Vitaphone


Silent Star Blanche Sweet Speaks in Always Faithful (1929)

Blanche Sweet belied her name by being less sweet than acerbic in old age, not suffering fools gladly and insisting on star treatment right to the end. She had red carpets coming for having begun with Griffith and consolidating stardom in 20's features. By Vitaphone and Always Faithful, time weighed heavy and made Blanche look older than her thirty-three years. This one-reel "playlet" was drama in a thimble, issues raised and resolved within eight to nine minute relay. Blanche may have seen this as opportunity to audition her voice and prove suitability for talkies. It was, in any case, her first chatting appearance on screen. Was she already on a down slope by '29? Always Faithful addresses fidelity imperiled. Will Blanche give in to romantic blandishments of would-be seducer John Litel, even as her husband sleeps unseen in a nearby lounge chair? There's stuff of suspense here, as somnolent spouse has a gun by his side. Always Faithful was a quickie sort of melodrama done lots in vaudeville between dog acts and slapshoes. Blanche Sweet took such on the road herself, a song act and reprise of Anna Christie being nucleus of a vaude turn she'd hone through balance of the 30's. Nice that she transcribed flavor of same to Vitaphone for posterity's benefit. We can thank Warner Archive too for including Always Faithful in their latest Vita DVD set.

3 Comments:

Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson considers dramatic short subjects:


Those early one-act melodramas are truly odd. Were audiences really hungry for a reel of tears and depression between the cartoon and the feature?


There's one about a married couple postponing their honeymoon for decades; what could have been a comedy is played for tears. Another centers on the stoic wife of a cruel farmer, who kills her pet canary out of sheer meanness. Don't recall which sets they're on, but they're in there among the songfests and comedians.


The new MGM shorts set is mostly one- and two-reel musical comedies, but it opens with "Copy," a very stiff and very earnest newsroom drama about a snarling editor standing up to publisher and advertiser pressure. My current favorite is the much lighter "Once Over Lightly", which transfers all the collegiate musical cliches to a barber college where Billy Gilbert is a professor.

5:34 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

The genre of the 10-minute drama (in vaudeville or the movies) always seemed odd to me, ever since my first exposure to them in Godfather II (the little operatic playlet about the immigrant whose wife is apparently cheating on him). It seems weird to work up drama in such short space and expect us to care about characters and their outcomes when they're generated so quickly. I mean, imagine going to an action movie and seeing it preceded by... a short action movie. Why?

Is there a dramatic short that justified the genre by being a classic in itself? Is there a great one of these things, or one with a dazzling (non-musical) performance? The only possible candidate I can think of comes much later, Don Siegel's Oscar-winning short A Star in the Night.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

These films were designed for a working class audience not an educated one. That working class audience, by the way, is the only real one something Jean Cocteau talks about in his DIARY OF A FILM.

12:48 PM  

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