Monday, 11 May 2015

Anny Ondra scores with new comedy! An Old Gangster's Moll (1927), Barbican with Neuveritelno

This was the UK premier of Milenky starého kriminálníka aka An Old Gangster's Moll (also aka The Lovers of an Old Criminal) and Czech beauty Anny Ondra may just have a hit on her hands! She stars alongside the uncontested “King of Czech Comedians" Vlasta Burian whose slapstick is more than worthy of his exuberant moustache!

The film was presented in partnership with the Czech Centre London and supported by the Czech National Film Archive and was projected on 35mm film with English subtitles manually inserted on the title cards – there’s no better cinematic experience than to see today’s light passing through images burned onto celluloid in 1927.

Vlasta Burian and Anny Ondra
The “live” feel was accentuated by a crackingly-quirky score from  Czech trio Neuveritelno, three impossibly young musicians who really captured the film’s tone and were able to connect with their countrymen’s sense of humour even 88 years down the line. Again, there’s little better than someone showing their culture off with such energetic pride.

The trio comprised Jan Prochazka on double bass, Andrea Rottin guitar and Tomas Majtan on drums, mandolin, they all vocalised whilst someone also played kazoo at appropriate moments. Their music was a very Czech confection mixing the feel of sixties euro-wimsy with jazz, metal, swing and something approximating Czech skiffle. At times they sounded like the Czech Dodge Brothers but they brought a unique sound of their own and their infectious themes are still stuck in my head.

The King of Czech Comedians
All of this was in response to the bonkers energy of Ondra (here Anny Ondráková) and Burian on screen in this complicated comedy of co-incidence. Last time I saw Anny she was getting away with murder but here she takes on the persona of ultra-Flapper with ease: think Bare Knees after a sugar-rush and a fair amount of vodka.

Fifi's early-morning routine
She plays Fifi Hrazánková the pampered daughter of an industrialist who requires an army of helpers to get her ready for the day with massage, make-up and manicure. Her father is in the process of merging with the company run by one Pardon (Jan W. Speerger) whom he intends to get his daughter married off too… but Pardon has other ideas. Many months before he had met a lovely woman Olga Lesczynská (Vera Hlavatá) at a ball. The two agreed an assignation but Olga’s mother, Stefanie (Betty Kysilková) drags her away leaving him frustrated. He has spent the intervening time trying to find the love of his life..
Pardon waits in vain for his Olga...
Confused yet? All becomes clear over time but not until well after the arrival of Pardon’s Uncle Cyril Pondelícek (Vlasta Burian) an apparently infirm old chancer who arrives to take advantage of his nephew’s hospitality with Burian executing a superb tumble down the steps of his new home.

After getting the letter announcing the visit of Fifi, Pardon hatches a plan to swap places with his Uncle in the hope of avoiding this marriage of inconvenience… what can possibly go wrong?

Un-insurable, that's what she is...
There follows a breath-taking sequence as Fifi drives like a maniac towards her appointment; something akin to Death Race 1927 with a least one hen casualty and many other near misses. She drives Pardon off the road before arriving at the house by crashing through a wall.

She finds Cyril in the process of practicing his charm and rapidly overcomes her disappointment at his age when she catches sight of what appears to be his photograph in a newspaper… Cyril is the spitting image for a notorious criminal called Alois Kanibal – The Cannibal – who is wanted throughout the Republic. Fifi finds the idea of being a gangster’s moll very appealing.

Fifi mistakes Cyril for her dream mobster...
She starts putting the mastermind through his paces by asking him to show her a genuine “Apache” dance. Cyril frets over his rheumatism but then kicks into a dance routine that has him swirling Fifi around in the air – an eye-popping routine that seemingly involved both actors. Clearly Anny was as adept at physical comedy as she was as Hitch’s prototypical blonde – she’s a riot!

Strictly criminal dancing
Just as you assume that the story would rest on its laurels it changes gear once again as Cyril’s long-lost “love” – that is a woman he has avoided for 18 years – turns out to be Olga’s mother, Stefanie. This would count for little but for the fact that riding on a train, Olga spots Pardon sitting in his car at a level crossing. The eagle-eyed young woman then manages to get the train stopped and to position herself on a park bench near his car within seconds…

Cyril outpaces a police motorbike on a scooter
Re-united the two lovers hatch a plan to stay together but Stephanie – who is a clairvoyant who clearly never sees things coming – must be kept in the dark!

Pardon takes them back to the house and the mad-house mix is finally complete: Stefanie recognising Cyril, Fifi chasing her Cannibal and Pardon trying to make love to Olga… whilst the range of eccentrics who tend the household gurn away in the background.

Queue mayhem and misunderstanding… but that’s not all as surely, at some point, the real Cannibal must turn up…

Svatopluk Innemann’s direction is sophisticated with high-energy cutting, seemless double exposures and an inch-perfect race across a level crossing between Pardon’s car and an onrushing train. There’s also a splendidly gruesome sequence of comic murder as Cyril tries to persuade Stefanie that he’s a serial killer of his ex-girlfriends.

Vlasta Burian’s comedy is knowing enough to impress even the jaded modern pallet and he succeeds in letting the audience in on the joke whilst at the same time acting so well as both Cyril and Cannibal. As for Anny, she truly shows another side to her talents as she bounces across the screen boxing her maid and flying around in that mad dance – a shame she and Ersnt Lubitsch never worked together as she reminded me so much of Ossi Oswalda.

Andrea Rottin, guitar, Tomas Majtan, drums, mandolin and Jan Prochazka, double bass
Neuveritelno had flown in from Prague especially for the screening, hopefully they and the film will return… they are currently touring it in Europe. More details of their music and the tour can be found on their website whilst details of the film are on the Czech Centre London site.

No comments:

Post a Comment