After breaking through in Hollywood in the teens, Evelyn Brent subsequently found herself on the stage in London where her genuine American accent helped make her a bit of a star. She performed in a number of West End productions before getting involved in the murky world of British cinema.
In 1921 she headed to Europe to make an Anglo-Dutch drama Laughter and Tears (Een lach en een traan in dutch but most certainly not Circus Jim as both IMDB and Wikipedia wrongly assert) which, thrillingly, features location shooting in both Paris and Venice.
|Adelqui Migliar and Evelyn Brent|
A British silent from 1921 you say? Can’t be much cop can it? Well, it’s not a classic but it is very enjoyable not least for those glamorous backdrops but also for the hints of Bright Young Thing hard-partying. Then there’s Miss Brent, her face slightly fuller than in her von Sternberg films but with that famous profile, the infamous sulk, those piercing eyes all much in evidence.
She is the standout performer in the film as director B. E. Doxat-Pratt gives her plenty of close-up as well as walking shots as she drifts, wrapped in darkened shawl along the Champs-Élysées or down canal-sides. She also laughs and not in a world-weary or loaded way… but then she is meant to a bohemian sprite, an unaffected creature of pure and simple emotion.
|Out come the feathers!|
But that’s not to say that we don’t get the sharper end of Brent’s acting personas… that comes in force as events progress. Maybe this is one of those secret origin stories…I mean, we even get a glimpse of feathers as broken-hearted Brent turns nasty.
“Masks and their grimaces are oft-times the mirror to the soul beneath…” the title cards are a tad full of themselves but this is a cautionary tale about the perils of absent-minded Bohemia although, to be fair, it’s the guy who sells out to The Man – or in this case The Wo-Man – who harshes the bohos’ mellow.
|The gang disturb the artist not at work|
After some establishing shots of Venice, we’re taken to the apartment of the impoverished artist Mario Mari (Adelqui Migliar) who is starved of both food and inspiration…. An acute overhead shot then shows the arrival of a boat-load of colourfully- costumed characters. A Roman general turns out to be Adolpho (E. Story Gofton) one of the scene’s leading lights – a lover of fine wine/women and so forth.
Also in tow is the Squirrel Painter Georgio Lario (Reginald Garton) dressed as a Pierrot, the Futurist composer Ferrado (Bert Darley) who borrows as much from his rich uncle as from Beethoven, and then the zestful Zizi (Maudie Dunham).
|Don't stop the Carnival|
Mario doesn’t want to be disturbed, he just wants to paint but… sooner or later he will succumb to the 24 Hour Party People and so it is that we see him join in with the annual Carnival. But, the party isn’t really for him until and nor should it be according to Georgio for whom the Squirrel is more important than the undeniable distractions of the fairer sex.
|Pierette comes between the painter of squirrels and his pal's dedication|
Mario may be in total agreement but the second he sees the electrifying free spirit in a clown’s costume who is Pierrette (Evelyn Brent) all that will change. She talks of love without consequence with loyal friendship over-riding all. She is a pure soul seemingly living these words and Mario can’t fail to be attracted to someone who embodies the potential for freedom that Bohemia promises but rarely delivers.
He follows Pierrette out into the night and their course is set. They begin living together – one of the reasons the Roman Catholic Church advised people not to see the film* – gold dust in PR terms even then!
Pierrette works as a milliner whilst Mario gets his mojo back, but not in a George Osborne way: he starts to do good work! His new painting Laughter and Tears (see!) will be his masterpiece and it is born out of his relationship with Pierrette.
But, when the Laughter and Tears wins a prestigious competition the painting is very quickly on the wall… as Mario is lauded by the arts establishment and finds his excitable lover an embarrassment in comparison with the cool sophistication of Countess Maltakoff (Dorothy Fane).
|Laughter and Tears, the painting|
The Countess insists that he comes to Paris to paint her portrait and there are juxtaposed images of her wandering her elegant gardens fixating on her new conquest as Mario and Pierrette share an awkward evening with their band of bohos.
Mario tries to sneak away to Paris and to leave some money to ease the pain of splitting… he’s a darned cad and he knows it and it’s just his bad luck that Pierrette arrives home early so that he has to explain to her face. She doesn’t want his money, she only, for some reason… wants him. But off he goes with a series of diffident shrugs to fame, fortune and the vampiric grip of the Countess Maltakoff.
|The lady is a vamp...|
The others try to cheer Pierrette up but she cannot live without her painter and sets out north to win him back. Meanwhile Mario is finding live under the Countess less pleasurable than he’d hoped as she pushes him to complete a rather uninspired portrait – interesting how poorly it compares with his award-winner; good detail from the director.
|Pierrette bumps into an old friend in Paris|
In spite of this, Mario can still not accept Pierrette back into his life and sends her away yet again… but this is Miss Evelyn Brent you’re dealing with pal and naturally she is now given to revenge. The feathers come out and an “old friend” Captain Lombardie (played by the director himself) turns up as her new love.
Consumed with jealousy, the title cards are triumphant: “Hell hath no fury like a man who has got what he deserved” and Mario descends in the madness of bitter regret… we all know what’s coming next or do we… you’ll have to find out for yourself as I couldn’t reveal a secret gifted in such confidence.
|Consumed with jealousy, Mario can only see Pierrette in the eyes of her new lover|
As you can tell from the screen-shots, I watched the EYE copy on their YouTube channel which is in decent quality but it would be splendid to see all this projected on screen and an accompanist could have some real fun with the BYT’s bacchanal!
*Fact courtesy of Lynn Kear’s fab biography of Evelyn Brent… copies still for sale from Amazon and elsewhere.