Where Very Old Looks New Again
Children Of Divorce (1927) Reveals Legends Both Made and In The Making
Clara Bow was for too long a high wattage star in low wattage prints. For me, at least, she's another of those who survive best in stills, if you could find them. Ever seen originals? Creamy, rich, detailed ... and high as a kite on Ebay or auction sites. Once her movies looked like that, when nitrate was the norm. Now they are either lost or eternity removed from camera elements. Two exceptions have come to Blu-Ray as remind of what Clara Bow was and why she made a sensation, Wings and newly-released Children Of Divorce Exhibits A and B of pictoral beauty common to all silent films when fresh on 20's market. I'm just greedy enough to want all of Bow output to look like these, but that won't happen in my lifetime or anyone's to come. Guess we're lucky to have even these two. We could suggest Blu-Ray upgrade for It and Mantrap, a pair of hers that exist in perhaps comparable quality. Ones of us accepting silents on take-what-you-can-get basis have been succeeded by a generation who'll have them no way but pristine. Digital spoils folks that way.
Children Of Divorce has been around, but not digitally. There were archive runs, at Cinecon once as I recall. Interest runs higher for Bow being joined by Gary Cooper at career start and Josef Von Sternberg as relief director (Frank Lloyd being credited). Children is drama of people making wrong decisions and reaping emotional harvest for it. Bow is willful and for most part misguided, so we spend runtime hoping against a bad end for her. Cooper is lip rouged and likeably awkward in tuxedoed confinement. He grabs attention from start with an almost missed horse leap over hedges (a number of takes he did miss, from what I read).
For the deeper committed, there is Esther Ralston as party mom to reckless Bow and hapless Coop, character traits mirrored by offscreen future and fates of the three. Ralston was a most moderate and sensible in her choices, being married and with child when Children Of Divorce was made, and not for a moment fooled by fairy dust that stardom sprinkled. She'd live long as well to reflect upon it, Bow and Cooper beating her to the barn by thirty years, give or take (GC in 1961, CB in 1965, Ralston in 1994 at age 91). Someone always gets to go last, Ralston having opportunity to speak with historians (or rather, they with her) and consider Children Of Divorce as ancient text it by then was. What a wildly diverse world and culture she knew.
Part of magic Bow and Cooper still exert comes of their hitting the high-life off as well as on the screen, leaving lore for personal ups-downs worthy of drama or farce their movies provided. Meanwhile players like Ralston, however glamorous they register in roles (ER a wow at her peak), simply did the job, went home, and there waited for a next assignment. There won't be a thousand dollar run on Ralston stills at Heritage or Butterfield, even as she did leave a best interview record of what it was like to perform in Children Of Divorce with to-be icons that were Clara Bow and Gary Cooper (and for her look-back, see William M. Drew's conversation with Ralston in his Speaking Of Silents: First Ladies Of The Screen, a marvelous gathering of profiles by a top historian). Children Of Divorce can be had on Blu-Ray from Flicker Alley. There are extras (a Bow documentary written by David Stenn, plus an excellent booklet essay he wrote).