I have to confess that probably the first time I was aware of Colleen Moore was through Barry Paris’ references to her in his Louise Brooks biography. Colleen was the first to really popularise the bob haircut that Louise was to epitomise for modern audiences from Henri Langlois onwards, yet she was without doubt one of the stars of the twenties and operated at a level of far greater popularity than her younger, sassier, competitor: she’s just less now… or is she?
There’s no good reason for Colleen Moore not to be remembered and recognised as even this routine back stage drama demonstrates. She had energy and great timing, lighting up her face at will with far greater impact than any of her co-stars and pulling the viewer down with her after every set back. Yes indeed, what we have here is an actress of controlled natural expression who wouldn’t be out of place living in the adjoining dwelling to your own. Not glamorous, super-natural or overtly sexual (hi Clara!)… just a bit real.
For Broken Hearts of Broadway Moore plays a small town girl come to New York to make her mark. From the film’s opening framing sequence we learn that she does but for much of the narrative we find it hard to work out how.
|Tully Marshall and Creighton Hale|
He’d first encountered Mary Ellis (Colleen Moore) on a similar rainy evening. She was yet another small-town amateur who’d come to find her fortune. His wife set her up as a room-mate for another wannabe, the aptly named Bubbles Revere (Alice Lake) full of vim and a vigorous willingness to do what it takes to “make it”. Bubbles is – loosely-speaking – committed to a young painter who also rooms in the house, Tony Guido (Anthony Merlo). His room-mate is a song-writer named George Colton (Johnnie Walker)
Bubbles gets Mary a gig at her theatre whilst Mary meets George after helping him complete a song by playing the logical ending after overhearing his struggles above… a sequence requiring considerable wit in a silent film. George manages to sell their song: things are looking up!
|George and Mary tune up|
|Meeting the money men...|
As the money runs out he loses his piano and Mary has to address how ambitious she actually is… Can she go through with the exchange of favours or will talent somehow win out? A breathless closing section neatly provides the answer albeit with a convoluted denouement that lacks the cutting edge of uncertainty.
|An offer she can't refuse?|
|Breakfast al fresco|
Broken Hearts of Broadway is available on a Grapevine DVD, other versions are available from Amazon which probably use the same source – I think it’s public domain now?
PS Flaming Youth is largely lost but there's a tantalising eleven minutes preserved by the Library of Congress and available on YouTube... Here's a sample with Colleen getting dolled up: ready to help make the twenties roar.