Friday, 31 January 2014

Clara take a bow… Parisian Love (1925)

I’ve previously observed that sometimes it’s the smaller films that tend to reveal more about the contemporary appeal of silent stars but the same should apply to the less well-realized ones...

Parisian Love obviously had no shortage of budget, (the sets are lavish), nor acting talent, there’s a top-notch cast, yet it’s not the most convincing of stories with a narrative propelled by unfathomable motivations not helped by some strange cuts (maybe there were more than surviving reels?).

But there is one who keeps you watching through the muddle and whose energy, intensity and indomitable buoyancy keeps everything afloat… Clara Bow.

Directed by Louis J. Gasnier, from a story by F. Oakley Crawford then adapted by Lois Hutchinson, Parisian Love was a vehicle for the rising young star – just 19 when this was filmed.

She was aided and abetted by veteran stage actor Lou Tellegen along with Donald Keith – a likeable boy next door who was placed in a number of early Bow films, most notably The Plastic Age. Here he is unconvincingly cast along with Clara as an “Apache” a French gang member living a life of criminality on the rough fringes of Parisian society: they’re rough tough and dangerous to know, even if they are quite delicately featured…

But Clara, with her background, is eminently convincing as a girl who will stop at nothing: is she acting harder as a lover or a fighter? Either way, she is watchable - a high energy beauty with an emotional force that tramples all over the stodgy script…

Clara is Marie a dancer of ill repute who cons the tourists and the  otherwise unwary in faked bar-room crimes of passion, pretending to dance with one man (Jean De Briac) whilst her supposed lover Armand (Keith) shoots him in outrage.

During one of these mock dance-fights, Armand picks up a card belonging to one of the wealthy guests, it belongs to the wealthy Pierre Marcel (Tellegen) who the three decide to burgle… doesn’t do to leave business cards lying around in Parisian bars obviously…

Marie dresses as a man in true Musidora fashion, and keeps watch as the others break into Marcel’s chateau, but they are caught in the act by the millionaire and Armand intervenes to stop his partner in crime stabbing him. Marcel locks his assailant in another room and persuades the police that Armand is his friend. The police shoot the knifeman dead and are convinced that they’ve wounded the third thief…

Donald Keith and Lou Tellegen share a moment
Marcel recognises Armand from when he was a student of his and, knowing a hard-luck story when he sees it he resolves to rehabilitate the young man… especially after he feints from blood poisoning gained from an earlier injury (missing film?). Now, whether this philanthropic generosity has any more in-delicate motivation is entirely in the eye of the beholder…

Meanwhile… life is tough for Marie as she returns to the run-down apartment she shares with her drunken step-mother Frouchard (a splendidly shambolic turn from Lillian Leighton) and her even more dishevelled husband.

Lillian Leighton and Clara have a frank exchange
Marie gains entry to Marcel’s chateau disguised as a maid and manages to plant a kiss on her love’s forehead as he sleeps in delirium but she cannot wake him as his new benefactor keeps his own watch. For his part, Armand cannot get free to visit Marie and… one thing leads to another and he ends up believing her dead whilst she becomes convinced that Marcel has poisoned Armand against her and persuaded him to become engaged to the more appropriate Margot (Hazel Keener).

Sometimes you just can’t catch a break…

Marie and the Apaches discuss the plan...
Marie decides on exacting revenge and decides to break Marcel’s heart by marrying him to prove a point about how “suitable” she is and she gains support from fellow Apaches who plan to use the plan to rob the rich man.

There follows more twists and turns than in a second division  regency play as true love attempts to find its way through a maze of bad timing and misapprehension.

Clara shows her range
But… through it all Clara Bow plays it full strength and even if her motivation is lost her tears are always real… remembering the childhood trauma that she recalled when required to dry. And that’s the quality of Clara, she is genuinely emotional and honestly appealing in every role I’ve seen her and here is no different.

Lou Tellegen was interesting to watch too, a lot of stage craft had been gained in his time on Broadway with the likes of Sarah Bernhardt and he is grossly under-used here in this curious role. He completely outweighs the light comic touch of Donald Keith whose homely every-boy-next-door persona was a good pairing for the sexually electric Bow – he made her seem a “possibility” to the male audience.

In reality, Gary Cooper was more her style so, sorry boys, you’ll just have to dream on.

I watched the Kino DVD which pairs the film with the more interesting Down to the Sea in Ships… of which more later. It’s available direct and from reputable retailers. Catch Parisian Love if you can, it’s far from perfect but it captures a moment when the studio was trying to capture and refine the raw power of Bow.

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