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Monday, November 03, 2014

Colleen Moore Drenched In Deco

Hot Potatoes! Why Be Good? (1929) Is Really Good

Did Moore have more on the ball than Bow? I'm beginning to think so, based on Why Be Good?. If all of Colleen's are as fun as this, we'll need to upturn hierarchy of jazz babies and give her Pride Of Place. I understand fully now why she got $12,500 a week. Moore was stable alternative to twitchier Bow. Better control of work and personal life enabled less chaotic a run than flame-out Clara. Neither fireball lasted long into sound, but with 20's prosperity unglued, there had to be collateral damage, flappers like these unfortunately "It." Colleen Moore had the bobbed hair Louise Brooks would further immortalize and be better remembered for, but lest we forget F. Scott Fitzgerald calling Colleen the torch that lit flaming youth of the 20's, him a mere "spark." She hasn't got due since, thanks to nitrate crumble and her error donating personal prints to the Museum Of Modern Art, staff of which made colossal boner handing Moore's stuff back to Warners, from which none would emerge again. Appropriate then, that WB would be disc supplier of Why Be Good?, available to all via Warner Archive, a happy alternative to so many relics that stay behind locked vaults except for infrequent and far-from-me runs. If an oldie can't be had at home, it might as well not exist.

Why Be Good? is a 20's roar that's been silent eighty-five years to now. Pic itself was voiceless, released on cusp of talking takeover, but with a jumping Vitaphone track that's been remarried to 35mm found in Europe. That accompany alone commends Why Be Good?, future music legends said to have band-participated. Not for a moment does this thing seem "silent." It's a livelier wire than any talkie I've seen from 1929, or '30 for that matter. Why Be Good? is party central from opener bell, Clara a dancing machine in rolled stockings and kissable rouge. You have to figure from this that young folks had more joy then than since. Titles are slangy and tart. There are sheiks and bounders Colleen easily disposes of, her shop girl not so freighted as Joan Crawford over at Metro. Again, I suspect Moore's grounded cheer was result of less baggage she carried offscreen. Flappers were a day job for this actress, while Crawford and Bow needed concealment those carefree parts supplied. Just read Colleen Moore's memoir, Silent Star, then visit her astounding doll house on exhibit in Chicago to know this was one Renaissance Flapper.

What else is wonderful about Why Be Good?. The sex politics for one thing. Colleen vibes a promise for plenty of that, but she's a "nice" (read virgin) girl beneath "spooning and necking" engaged by her energized crowd. She'll quick-talk way out of many a too-tight embrace in Why Be Good?, even as true love Neil Hamilton gets impression she's "fast" like babes that millionaire Dad warns him about. You don't want a marriage ruined by doubt and suspicion, says the Voice Of Experience, who's presumably been there and done all that. Movie fathers of young men, especially rich ones, were usually indulgent of jazz-mad excess, in fact enjoyed it themselves, but drew lines where offspring got serious for girls who'd "been around." Neil Hamilton was a poster boy for not only Arrow Collars, but a double standard that required potential wives to be pure as snow. He'd get told off for that stance in silents, then talkers, by Colleen Moore here, and Norma Shearer later in Strangers May Kiss, where he smites the latter for "shadows on the wall" that disqualify her from home and hearth. No one was so rigid as Neil when it came to negotiating a marriage contract.

There is emphasis, but not undue, on class divisions. The wealthy and working make share of misjudgments, and thank be, no complication is belabored. Too many flapper flix will start out fun, then slow up or take wrong narrative turn. Why Be Good? does not. That's reward of sensitive direction by William A. Seiter, a maestro of easy comedy with heart-tug beneath. He handles with delicacy the home life of Colleen and her relationship with parents, none of which saps energy from wilder staging at penthouse, dance hall, and a discreet inn where Neil will test Colleen's virtue. Hope I'm getting across how marvelous this show is, Why Be Good? a happiest surprise of the DVD year by Greenbriar reckoning. And what of two other Colleen Moores also found of late, Synthetic Sin and Her Wild Oat? And who knows but what Lilac Time will be finally put right and let out. Synthetic Sin is booked for New York's Film Forum on 11/16, and word is that Her Wild Oat will be fixed up for future revive. If these are half so fine as Why Be Good?, we may see Colleen Moore ascension to "It" girl of the 2020's, better a hundred years late than never, thanks to rescue of these treasures.


Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson remembers another Colleen Moore film that's been longer available:

One Moore feature that IS fairly available -- albeit in varying condition -- is "Ella Cinders." The story is Cinderella by way of "The Extra Girl," and frankly more engaging than that film. It's mostly gentle small-town humor, peppered with broad two-reeler comedy. Harry Langdon pops in for a cameo.

The usual plot in these things is a hero or heroine seeking to become a serious actor but accidentally becoming a big comic star. Ella accidentally becomes a huge DRAMATIC star, because her expression of terror is so convincing (thanks to a real lion that's been chasing her around). I think that's the only time I've seen that twist.

7:30 PM  
Blogger Marc J. Hampton said...

Thanks for this great review. I saw a sample of the picture quality online and was stunned. Definitely ordering a copy of this one.

12:27 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

The woman was money smart too! Neither a trail of marriages nor the advent of talkies dented her fortune much. A famously sharp investor. I understand when she died, decades later, she was still a very rich woman.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

I don't know how much Her Wild Oat needs fixing, it played in the Chicago film Festival a half dozen years ago. It's lightweight but quite enjoyable, the old plot about the nobody who passes herself off as a rich kid at a resort.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Rae Quan said...

I'm glad to hear that more of her films are going to be available. Truly a shame because, like Harold Lloyd she actually owned some of her films -- or at least maintained decent copies. I remember reading her autobiography in the 1970's (yes I'm old) and her stories of old Hollywood were fascinating. She was famous for having elaborate dollhouses and donated them to a museum in her will (I'm too lazy to lookup exactly where).

It's nice to see her remembered.

3:47 PM  
Blogger VP81955 said...

I saw "Why Be Good?" at LACMA in September and it was wonderful. Glad to see Colleen's career rehabilitated; can someone please do likewise for Constance Talmadge?

1:52 AM  
Blogger HughMN said...

When comparing Colleen & Clara Bow as actresses and professionals, it might be good to remember that while they both played roughly the same age, in reality, Colleen was a pro who spent several years working her way up. Clara was a kid who ripped into films, at least by comparison. In real life, Colleen was nearly 6 years older, 6 years more seasoned and mature than Clara when they both hit it big.

1:45 AM  
Blogger tbonemankini said...

Saw this on THE TOY THAT GREW UP early 70s?...or so. Of course at the time I had no idea about the various state of prints,re-issue cutdowns,etc....just jazzed at seeing an actual SILENT!!!

12:35 PM  

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