Thursday, 16 October 2014

Lust for life… Why Be Good? (1929), LFF, BFI with Vitaphone

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a …very big screen… Choose Colleen Moore!

This film is so full-on that there were times when I had a genuinely middle-aged reaction to the incessant movement, energy and Vitaphoned-Hi-NRG soundtrack! Parents, this film can still make you feel over-protective of your daughters!

Why be Good? Has been a lost film since a massive fire cleaned out many First National pictures at the Warner Archives… Luckily a copy was found in an Italian archive and this has been fully restored and placed alongside its existing Vitaphone soundtrack.

 It’s the missing link between silence and sounds with the perfectly-synced song-track and sound effects, mixed with witty inter-titles to create an intermediary experience that was surprisingly different from so many early talkies I’ve seen. The objective and the technology were different: the disc was never intended to provide the dialogue, even though the actors are clearly working from a script and the disc was there to provide a bespoke musical accompaniment that was almost an end in itself.

The music is frenetic and the perfect match to some of the most energetic dancing you’ll see in a teen movie – there’s a fair amount of abandon in Miss Moore’s dancing and the practical purpose of the legendary bob is revealed amidst much head shaking: the girl can’t help it and every hair falls back into place.

It’s a simple film but technically so well made by director William A. Seiter with smooth camerawork immersing the watcher in the midst of the Charlestons and general dance-floor argy-bargy: think Wigan Casino on a particularly frenetic Friday and you might get close…

Moore about to cut rug!
There’s a very witty script – I wish I could remember some of the one-liners – and a proto-feminist defence of the right of women to dress as they like and to be independent: a Flappers’ Charter with Moore’s character defending her fight for the right to party. With thoroughly-modern logic she fights back at the suggestion she is as she looks: woman only dress as men want them too but they also do this willingly and, overwhelmingly, for themselves.

Sound and fury aside, this is a film in which Colleen Moore’s energy and incisiveness shine through. This is only my third Moore film and she grows on me more with each viewing – there’s a simple integrity to her characters and she clearly worked so hard to portray women who were perhaps, younger, sassier and more extrovert than a relatively humble Irish girl who liked making dolls houses…

Late night drunken drive home...
The consistency of her portrayal of Pert Kelly (see what they did there?) is so impressive and she has the very definition of a winning personality. Pert is a hard-working shop girl who dances most nights away and has a string of trophies attesting to her considerable skill in the cutting of rugs.

She’s chatted up by neo-spiv Jimmy (a marvellously greasy Louis Natheaux) but catches the eye not once but – she makes sure – several times of handsomely square-jawed Peabody Jr. (Neil Hamilton who, if you didn’t know went on to become Commissioner Gordon in 1960’s Gotham City…).  The two leave a drunken Jimmy to sleep it off and start to hit it off in a big way.

Unbeknownst to Pert, her new beau is the son of the man who owns the department store where she works (Edward Martindel) and is due to start work there the next day as Personnel Officer. The two stay up to 3AM and whilst Junior makes his office on time, Pert is a little late…

Called to the HR department to explain herself, Pert thinks she’s in the clear when she realises who the new boss is but the surprise appearance of his dad means he has to put on a tough guy act and threaten to sack her. It’s all a game as son then explains to father but the latter is so concerned at his choice of girlfriend that he has Pert fired anyway…

Misunderstanding follows as Petr almost stands up Jnr: is she “good enough” for him and, let’s be honest, is he good enough for her in the eyes of an audience who were clearly wound up enough to have a collective “word” in his shell-like…

Junior and Pert
There are twists and turns on the dance floor and off before we can reach a resolution and Moore makes the absolute most of the script at the top of her considerable game.

There’s also superb support from Hamilton who responds to Moore’s glittering emotions with an understated energy of his own. Bodil Rosing is also good as Ma Kelly who knows her daughter better than she thinks, as is John St. Polis’ Pa Kelly as he wonders at the suitability of this gift-giving rich boy... what does want in return?!

Flapper Queen Colleen.
We watched the early matinee and it felt like a power lunch, propelling us out into the grey autumn sunshine with a spring in our step and an almost un-resistible urge to dance the Charleston…

The Flapper Queen is back and long may she reign!

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