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Sunday, March 05, 2017

Where Quality Counts The Most

Goodrich = Arbuckle For The Red Mill (1927)

A wall that separated a lot of us from enjoyment of silent movies was bad quality prints. That's still a bane for most, what ones exist, though DVD/Blu-Ray has rehab-ed flicker-jitter too long in force. For all of clean survivors from the 30's and after, dip into 20's means excusing nitrate decomp, footage gone, elements missing but for single poor copies ... litany to drive off all but the fully committed, this to say that clarity is everything where silents are involved, for what else is there but the visual? Take What You Can Get, and Be Thankful For It is defensive posture of hardcores, which is fine for them, but luring the uninitiated to sup on silence can only work where what we see is spanking fresh --- tough enough just getting civilians to sit for anything so old.

Best evidence of above is TCM's pristine render of The Red Mill, a Metro special for Marion Davies that sparkles like they shot it yesterday. 1927 was year of making, and I'd wager no MGM of a same season looks so good. For comparison, watch Our Dancing Daughters, a chore outside the cult, thanks to lone element with film gate hair printed in, and what of London After Midnight, which burned up in the 60's, so we've not even a bad print to watch. The Red Mill got tepid reviews when new, embarrassment of riches in '27 accounting in part for that, for it followed The General at Broadway's Capital Theatre, and that wasn't well received by critics either. The Red Mill is lavish with a wow, at times reminding me of The Beloved Rogue of a same year, which is to say it looks like a best William Cameron Menzies film that he didn't design. There is slapstick to which Marion Davies applies herself like Mabel Normand back in business, so deft as to earn decades-later placement in Robert Youngson's Big Parade Of Comedy, his collection of Metro-made humor. All these pluses on top of main one, which is direction by William Goodrich, nom de plume for ... Roscoe Arbuckle.

1/4/28 Trade Ad
Was Fatty behind cameras a secret? Not from trade or fan press, apparently. Variety mentions him in an otherwise excoriating review: "An idiotic screen morsel substantiating the contention that the average intellect of a picture audience parallels an eleven or thirteen-year-old youngster." Checkmate the Arbuckle comeback, though he would direct another feature, Special Delivery, with Eddie Cantor, along with numerous shorts, before going into a bow-out series of two-reelers for WB, wherein he finally got to perform again. Roscoe had been active through all this with vaudeville, a reliable fall-back while waiting for movies to re-embrace him. Trouble was reviews, if sympathetic, pointing up flaws with Roscoe's live act ("we all make mistakes ... that's why they put rubber mats under cuspidors," said Variety's Abel Green), plus humiliation of being barred from some territories, such as Minneapolis. Talk of a screen comeback was non-stop, but no one pulled the trigger, save Warners' deal at the end. It's said that Buster Keaton asked William Randolph Hearst to hire Arbuckle for The Red Mill, further report that Hearst friend and Metro hire King Vidor was told to keep an eye on Roscoe's progress. If there were set stills made with director Arbuckle, I haven't seen them, my guess being none were taken (Whoops, my error ... see below). Throwing the needy some work was common, and admirable, charity within the Hollywood community, but to publicize this occasion might have been risky where unforgiven-in-many-quarters Arbuckle was concerned.

UPDATE: 12:20 PM, 3-5-17: Historian Richard M. Roberts, who knows his silent era and Arbuckle cold, sends this rare image of Roscoe directing The Red Mill, and indicates he has seen others as well. So much for my guess that none were taken. Thanks, Richard!


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

When I see the miracles that the folks at The 3D Film Archive and Thunderbean Animation routinely work on minuscule budgets wish the folks who offer us silent films on dvd and Blu-ray would knock at their doors if not for outright help then for instruction on how to get the absolute best out of their materials. Back in the days of 16mm I had prints of some of the titles offered from John Griggs and others the originals of which are the source for many of these. These folks CAN do better. They should do better. If they want to stay in business they better do better. Film critics then and now are best ignored. THE GENERAL is proof of that.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

Odd note on TCM's presentation: The climax of the film involves a villain trying to lock Davies up in the Red Mill. She and the hero escape, leaving the villain clinging to the spinning blades. As the lovers go into a cute clinch, there's a cutaway to the villain, still spinning.

That plays as a broad cartoony finish -- early on a frost-covered Davies pulled from an icy river is likewise played as an implausible sight gag rather than hypothermia. But the newly-composed score treated the whole closing sequence as straightfaced drama, so the villain is less Wile E. Coyote foiled again than a man in mortal danger.

Music matters, and we're lucky so many outstanding composers and performers have done so many DVDs. Flashing back to my 8mm days, when I subjected the family to "Lilac Time" accompanied by a random stack of LPs: Pops, football fight songs, and I think a mock Roaring Twenties album. Any harmony between picture and sound was accidental and usually ironic.

4:33 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

The interesting thing about Arbuckle is the fact how many things are ignored that happened with his films outside the United States. Even though he was blacklisted, his movies were still distributed and offered in the 9.5mm market no matter what.

In this collection of Max Gl├╝cksmann's movie magazines that were prepared in Argentina for the markets in which he operated (this comes from Uruguay and I hope that they post more) you can see Arbuckle in the cover of one of the magazines, published in 1922.

I know what is to make miracles with silents, almost from nowhere. Inspired by these stills that were published in Brazil I tried to find more about this film, finding almost nothing in English sources:

I didn't find anything about it, but the film itself posted by the Eye Film Institute. Since the print is in Dutch, I translated everything to (even though I don't know Duch)... I hope to be able to reedit the movie soon in English for a number of friends who are waiting for it.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Great film! Showed it to an audience of about 85 two or three years ago and it went over like gangbusters with several folks coming up to me afterwards saying it was the best silent feature they had ever seen!

7:26 AM  

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