Tag Archives: the patsy

TREASURES FROM THE WARNER ARCHIVE: The Patsy (1928)

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Hello readers! I am happy to report that following a 2-week delay in delivery, the USPS has finally succeeded in delivering my next two Warner Archive titles, and they are great ones. I will start with one of my favorite silent comedies, a great treat from director King Vidor and one of Marion Davies’ masterpieces–The Patsy (1928).

You may notice that I am going very heavy on the Marion Davies titles lately. We are lucky in that the Warner Archive has several Marion Davies films available, and I would like to review all of them for the blog.

Marion Davies is one of the most severely underrated actresses on the screen. She had extraordinary natural abilities for mimicry, physical comedy, and timing, and at times she gives off an almost uncanny Carole Lombard vibe. Indeed, in Captured on Film: The Story of Marion Davies, Kevin Brownlow states that Marion Davies could be called the first screwball comedienne, before the term was coined for Carole Lombard. Critics saw that Marion had a certain charm and a unique ability to portray zany and cunning characters, but they couldn’t attribute her style to any specific type of comedy that had come before. That style, Brownlow argues, was a sort of proto-screwball comedy.

Nowhere in Marion Davies’ filmography is this more present than in The Patsy. Marion had dabbled in comedy since the early 1920s, and always successfully, despite the misgivings of her boss and live-in romantic partner, William Randolph Hearst. Hearst wanted to see Marion in costume dramas, in roles that would put her in an elegant and dignified light, and not in what he considered to be the lowbrow world of slapstick comedy. Though many of her early Hearst costume dramas are not inherently great films, Marion had great dramatic skill and makes them work to the full extent that the material will allow her. Marion did Hearst’s bidding in terms of what he wanted for her pictures, but comedy was always her preference–and where she felt she was at her best. Hearst finally allowed her to test her comedic waters to great acclaim in The Red Mill in 1927, and finally got her wish granted in full when The Patsy came along in 1928.

Centering on the story of a young woman who is picked on by her family and tries to seduce a beau of her sister’s, The Patsy may be Marion Davies’ best film (perhaps a photo finish with Show People from the same year). She gets ample time to show off her delightful comedic skill (at one point doing wicked impressions of Mae Murray, Lillian Gish, and Pola Negri–so accurate are these impressions that one would think the three actresses were actually in the movie), and deliver some of the most unbelievable lines during a scene when she is pretending to be insane (to get what she wants from her domineering mother). One of my favorite title cards in the movie is “A caterpillar is nothing but an upholstered worm.” It is a comedy that leaves the audience laughing out loud at nearly every line.

Marion’s impersonations of Murray, Gish, and Negri were a familiar sight to Marion’s frequent party guests at Hearst Castle. Hearst, who delighted in Marion’s incredible knack for mimicry, often asked her to perform impersonations to entertain the guests at parties they gave together. Marion Davies was extremely well-liked in Hollywood, and given the fondness that the Hollywood community had for her, nearly all the stars she impersonated were beloved friends. No one was safe from Marion’s wickedly accurate impressions, and everyone seemed to delight in them as much as she did.

The Patsy was also a significant movie for Marie Dressler, who played the matriarch of the family. After 10 years of not working, Dressler returned to the screen in 1927 for several small-scale flops. It seemed as though she would remain in a career slump, until The Patsy. This was the film that singlehandedly revived Marie Dressler’s career, and after The Patsy she skyrocketed into the 1930s, becoming one of the biggest box office draws of the early sound era.

If you would like to order The Patsy, click here. In fact, if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to order The Patsy. It is one of the most hilarious movies of the 1920s, and you will not regret it. This movie is also a great introduction to Marion Davies, for people who are not familiar with her work, and I always recommend this and Show People as the masterpieces in Marion Davies’ filmography.

See you next time!

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SAN FRANCISCO SILENT FILM FESTIVAL Day 2: Amazing Tales from the Archives, The First Born, Tokyo Chorus, The Patsy, The Golden Clown.

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

The first full day of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival was full indeed, consisting of four feature-length silent movies and a fascinating behind-the-scenes presentation on the restoration of The Half Breed, premiering this afternoon. Beginning at 11:00 in the morning and continuing on straight to the stroke of midnight, day 2 of the festival proved to be a monumental marathon of a day.

The first event of the day was a program entitled Amazing Tales from the Archives, which is a programming staple of the festival each year. This year, Board President Rob Byrne discussed the restoration of Douglas Fairbanks’ The Half Breed, which was made possible only by digging very deep into the archives of film centers around the world. By using source material from the original Tri-Stone script, the Library of Congress, The Cinémathèque française and an incredible discovery in the Yukon (hundreds of film canisters were discovered buried under the ground in an abandoned swimming pool), the San Francisco Silent Film Festival was able to restore The Half Breed to its original 1916 splendor, or as close as possible given the 100 years that have passed since its

initial release. It premieres today at 2:00–and it will be the first time this restoration will have passed through a projector. After this showing, the film will be sent to the Library of Congress, where it will become the first title in the new San Francisco Silent Film Festival Collection at the Library.

One of the highlights of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is the programming of consistently excellent scholars and speakers from around the world. Next on the program was an example of this, a representative from the Cinémathèque française by the name of Céline Ruivo, who talked about the wonderful Phono-Cinema-Théatre. Created in 1900 and starring some of the most prolific stars of the Belle-Époque, Phono-Cinéma-Théatre was one of the very first attempts to put sound on film. Though Edison first experimented with sound in the mid-1890s and his footage of a man playing a violin is considered to be the first “sound” film, Phono-Cinéma-Théatre took it a step further. It presented a true performance to the viewer, and provided him with the very new novelty of sound on film. Ms. Ruivo showed us how they restored this art form at the Cinémathèque française, and projected a short video called “La Poupée” that they recently found and restored. It was mindblowing to think that this art form existed in 1900, less than 5 years after Edison’s first foray into sound.

A poster for Phono-Cinema-Théatre.

Following a short break, the feature-length films began with The First Born, a British film starring Madeleine Carroll about a woman who goes to desperate lengths to keep her sleazy politician husband from leaving her. Knowing that he wants a child, she adopts a baby while her husband is away and passes him off as their biological child upon his return. After a conniving mistress tells the husband to ask his wife who the baby’s father REALLY is, he becomes angry and decides to leave his wife for his mistress. But after a row, the mistress throws something at him while he is waiting for an elevator and he falls down the elevator shaft. What happens next is a marvelous and shocking twist that I was not expecting, and the entire audience gasped. I will not reveal the ending, as I implore you to see this film if you can find it. At first I was rather put off by the misogyny that I perceived (even by 1920s standards I found it to be that way), but by the end, everything turns around. It leaves the viewer with a very positive feeling.

The sleazy husband in The First Born.

Next up was Tokyo Chorus, a 1931 film by Yasujiro Ozu who was an extremely prolific Japanese director in the 1920s and 1930s. Ozu continued to make silents long after it was popular, and Tokyo Chorus is a very relevant and relatable piece. It tells the story of a middle-class family in Tokyo that lives comfortably until the husband suddenly loses his job. It follows their journey of trying to make ends meet, their struggle paying hospital bills after their daughter gets sick, and the embarrassment the father feels when he is unable to buy his son the bicycle he longs for. It is a sweet, pensive drama, and ultimately ends on a very uplifting note. It continues to be relevant today, as many families are going through this exact dilemma around the world. Ozu created a really timeless piece that examines and comments on universal family dynamics.

Tokyo Chorus.

The uproariously funny comedy The Patsy was next, starring the supremely gifted Marion Davies as the screwball-esque lead. Indeed, I would say that this film influenced what eventually became screwball comedy. A quirky, somewhat dizzy family doesn’t understand their bouncy, energetic daughter Patricia (called “Pat”), and hence they make her the butt of many of their jokes and negative remarks. This is much to the chagrin of her father, the rock of the family. Pat tolerates it, but through a series of circumstances Pat pretends to be insane in order to win a boyfriend. The tone of the film reminds me a bit of My Man Godfrey, and Davies’ antics are quite a bit like Carole Lombard’s later screwball roles. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and the theater seemed to be constantly roaring with laughter.

Marion Davies in one of the funniest scenes in the movie.

I had to leave early in order to catch the last train home, but I was lucky enough to stay and see Eddie Muller, known as the “Czar of Noir,” introduce the Danish The Golden Clown. He described it as “clown noir,” and the initial happy nature of the film belies a very dark second half. I very much regret not being able to stay and see all of it, but what I saw was quite interesting. It takes place in a circus, and I regrettably had to leave before its tone got sinister. Muller mentioned that the “tower of clowns” scene was particularly terrifying.

The Golden Clown.

Today’s lineup is probably the most noteworthy of the entire festival–a presentation on Windsor McKay, followed by The Half Breed, Legong: Dance of the Virgins, Gribiche, The House on Trubaya Square, and The Joyless Street.

See you tomorrow with another blog post! And don’t forget to check Twitter, as I will be tweeting throughout the festival.