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Thursday, October 05, 2017

A Missing One Few Have Missed

Rathbone Romances Negri in Vertical Mode ..

... Then Tries Horizontal.

Negri Pola-rizes Public In First Talkie

For those who care (how many do?), this was Pola Negri's first talkie. She waited till late, maybe too late, for Garbo and Dietrich were by then giving us all of accents we could use, and Negri's registered harsh besides. She sang what would become a standard, Paradise, though others benefited more by association with it. Negri clicked in silents for same reason Garbo later would: both made love European style, which we saw and took to be reckless abandon. Garbo had softer features even if dour much of the time, while Negri, closing on 40 when she did A Woman Commands, was past enslavement of men stage. Still, RKO Pathe spent heavy for her speech debut, $415K, and result, laden with tall sets and many extras, looks it. Males in support come off better, Roland Young making sly fun where lesser talent would have played it straight, Basil Rathbone giving intense all for sake of modern watchers seeking fun.

To that last comes precious little, for A Woman Commands is gone, as in utterly --- not lost, but may as well be, for non-appearance at TCM (the only outlet that would have it) and access only on boot-disc for most part barely watchable, this the risk of swapping ten spots for pig-in-poke DVD at dealer tables. There must be legal embargo on A Woman Commands --- story rights? --- though most who saw it say it smells (including then-reviews and patronage that kept clear, a $265K loss for RKO). I was fortunate (or not) to get a just-OK copy, and enjoyed A Woman Commands, my curiosity sated re Negri vs. dialogue (she lost) and ravage of time (whatever Pola swains Chaplin and Rudy saw eludes me, though she admittedly had more "It" earlier on). 'Twas largely Basil that lured me, him stiff-backed as piqued lover and still learning screen as opposed to stage craft. Fact is, Roland Young acts rings around both Baz and Pola, a performance hep to times that would be changing. If audiences laughed at A Woman Commands, which apparently some did, then it was with Young, as opposed to at Negri and Rathbone. I just checked You Tube. There's video of Negri singing "Paradise," but no feature, and the song looks/sounds like one of Edison's 1912 tries at talk. Guess we'll have to live largely without this one.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

But she was great in THE MOON-SPINNERS.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Just watched that "Paradise" clip. Makes me wonder if Madeline Kahn patterned her singing in "Blazing Saddles" after it.

2:28 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Pola Negri was never appealing to me. I was never engaged to see one of her movies, but that is probably due to the available versions.

Yesterday, I managed to recover my restoration of FOUR SONS with its original Movietone soundtrack that I prepared nine years ago that I had lost because my backup got damaged. Fortunately, I have it back.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

After they found the Barrymore "Sherlock Holmes", I restrain my fantasies regarding lost films. I'd love to see "Frankenstein Meets Wolfman" with the blind, talking monster; also Richard Williams's version of "The Cobbler and the Thief", the limbo'd "Where's Charley?", and a multitude of cartoons and short subjects festering in various vaults. But I'm emotionally prepared for them to be awful.

4:21 AM  
Blogger Richard Schilling said...

Over 10 years ago I saw a documentary about Pola at the Museum of Modern Art; "Pola Negri: Life is a Dream in Cinema." It was quite interesting; I figured it would show up on TCM or PBS, but I never heard of it again.

She did a US film called Hi Diddle Diddle in the early forties which also fell into obscurity so deep it did not even become a public domain staple. Pola was up for the lead in Sunset Boulevard but apparently turned it down; maybe if she took it, everything would be different.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Pola was not Gloria. Swanson was the stuff of legend. Every inch of her.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I have most of it not all of those cartoons. They are good, really good. I wish they'd get someone to dub Bela's lines in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN. It would have to be the Ygor voice from SON OF and GHOST OF. I know it could be done. Richard Williams uncobbled THE COBBLER AND THE THIEF is floating around. Find it. You won't be disappointed.

4:13 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...

WHERE'S CHARLEY is far from awful, in fact, it may be Ray Bolger's best film, it was the one he wanted to be remembered for, not that other one.


3:14 AM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

...while Negri, closing on 40 when she did A Woman Commands, was past enslavement of men stage.

From the looks of the pictures you've shown of her with Rathbone, she still had 'it', and I'd let her enslave me any day (and I'd attempt to enslave her back, especially in the manner shown in the second picture posted.) Rathbone looks as if he's going to bite her on the neck in a similar fashion to Bela Lugosi biting somebody in Dracula rather than just seduce her. Of course, if I was directing A Woman Commands, I'd have Rathbone do it a certain other way (although the Hays Office would object.)

10:41 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

HI DIDDLE DIDDLE is out there:

Astor reissued it as DIAMONDS AND CRIME, which sounds like a caper movie, but it's really a screwball comedy. The last reel is worth the price of admission: Pola Negri leads the ensemble in a chorus of "Tannhauser," while Adolphe Menjou -- who can't stand the noise -- repairs to the sidelines for a drink. Even the wallpaper hates the noise and comes to life (via Leon Schlesinger's animators), evacuating the premises!

8:19 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

1:28 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

No doubt Bolger is great in "Where's Charley?". The issue is how much of the excellent score and clever libretto survived.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Lee Tsiantis said...

Hi John --

No legal entanglement keeps A WOMAN COMMANDS from showing on TCM; a lack of suitable negative/pre-print material does. The original RKO paperwork I had access to at Turner revealed that the original negative had deteriorated beyond use early on, keeping the film off the rosters of RKO titles that were sold to TV in the 1950s.

Lee Tsiantis

4:30 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks a lot for clearing that up, Lee.

I haven't forgotten that it is you we have to thank for clearing those RKO titles that were out of circulation for so many years, including one of my favorites, DOUBLE HARNESS, with William Powell.

4:55 PM  
Blogger Lee Tsiantis said...

You're welcome, John! You would have been pleased at the crowd that showed up at 9AM at the Egyptian for the Friday TCM Classic Film Festival showing of DOUBLE HARNESS back in April. 600 people in attendance (a near sellout crowd). And they loved the film!

5:04 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...

Pretty much all of the score to WHERE'S CHARLEY is intact in the film, it's a very accurate rendition of the show which also has the fortune to be shot on location in Oxford. It was run at the Columbus Cinevent this year and it killed, the audience applauded every one of the numbers and thoroughly enjoyed it. It really is a crime that it is not generally available to be seen.


9:52 PM  

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