Friday, 16 September 2016

Love and disorder.... The Mating Call (1928), Bioscope with Costas Fotopoulos

Oh Evelyn, you’re incorrigible, Renée, you’re adorable and Thomas, my Meighan, you’re faultless as well: what a good cast and what an interesting film The Mating Call proves to be. There’s proto-screwball, with Brent providing the template for Lombard and Hepburn to follow, shocking skinny dipping (really) and a KKK-type body known as The Order who dispense local justice for local people with all the due diligence of the Kray Twins.

James Cruze directed and some fella name of Howard Hughes produced a film that was as brave in its subject matter as his previous film with Meighan, The Racket, which dealt with the thorny topic of Al Capone and the Mob who no doubt took as close an interest in their fictional representation as the KKK who then numbered some four million members across American society.

Thomas Meighan - maybe more Mitchum than Wayne on second thoughts...
There are similarities between the two films beyond the criminal clubs with Meighan playing a fine, upstanding Irish American having to contend with smartly-assertive women. Brent’s character is a flirt, a manipulator but true to herself in much the same way as Marie Prevost in The Racket: she knows what she wants and she’s not going to apologise for wanting to get it. Louise Brooks may have famously referred to Brent as like an arctic roll but this is a warm-hearted performance that whilst not a million miles away from Feathers is the polar opposite of the long-suffering big-sis she played in Love ‘em and Leave ‘em – her breakthrough film with Brooksie.

She and Meighan have a great chemistry especially when he’s manhandling her into her car and away from his libido as she tries to wrap herself around him.

Against brassy-Brent we have the Gallic charms of Renée Adorée… or do we? In a shock announcement (to me anyway) Tony Fletcher revealed that not only was she born in Germany her father was a British music hall performer – she played down the German connection to become Renee from Lille. This is a story indeed as even Wiki and IMDB have this wrong and I look forward to Tony screening his documentary on the actress at the Bioscope.

Whatever her origin – British, really? – the woman had skill and here is able to act herself out of the un-promising scenario of being a bride for hire at Ellis Island immigration in a story line so modern it hurts: these people coming over to our country and upsetting the Clan etc. She melts into the frame in contrast to Evelyn’s bolder intrusions (as Brooks said, her opening gambit was often to adopt The Stance and fire forth…) and even with a relatively limited amount of screen time – a lot happens – she wins sympathy and also convinces as a romantic partner for Thomas M who is about as romantically convincing as John Wayne.

Renée not from Lille
The plot? Thomas Meighan plays Leslie Hatton who, whilst serving as an officer in the war, marries his village sweetheart Rose (Evelyn Brent) before returning to the front. After the war he returns eager to commence married life only to find that Rose parents have annulled the marriage on the grounds of their daughter’s youth (eh?) and that she has married businessman and serial philanderer Lon Henderson (Alan Roscoe).

Lon and Rose were made for each other and share the same desire to absolutely be with someone else as often as possible. Rose still carries a candelabra for Mr Hatton whilst Lon’s carrying on with young Jessie (Helen Foster) and moonlighting as a leading light in The Order, dressing up in black hoods (not white: black) in order that The Order may maintain order.

The exterior shots are well made.
All this is too much for Les who decides that the only way to get Rose out of his hair – and everywhere else, you should see the way she applies her perfume… saucy is not the word… is to claim he’s already re-married. He hasn’t but this is where he does a deal with Renée Adorée’s Catherine and her family: room and board in exchange for marriage.

Not a promising start to any relationship but, but… once you’ve seen Catherine cook breakfast, bath a piglet and, astonishingly, swim around with fewer clothes than Hedy Lamarr five years later… you’ll understand why the big lug falls for her.

But… there will be other complications too complicated to mention here: a suicide, some incriminating letters, the Order flogging to the wrong conclusions and much more.

The Order keep order
The film was believed lost for many years and shows the developments in story and performance that would morph into the “pre-code” talkies although here the images carry more weight than dialogue would have allowed…

Kevin Brownlow introduced reading from an essay full of his personal recollections of the film makers – he’s a personal emissary from the era that transfixes us.

Will Rogers and his ropin'
For the opening session Kevin showed us a fun film about lassoing starring Will Rogers in the self-depreciatingly entitled The Ropin’ Fool (1922). The film showed Will’s tricks in real time and then in slow motion and his ability to throw a rope under a horse to lasso its rider has to be seen to be believed. Rogers seems quite the character saying if folk didn’t like the film, he’d grow a beard, pretend to be German and they’d call it “art”.

The things dropped back a few millennia for a double-dose of Ben Hur… and what a difference two decades can make. The original Ben from 1907 was shot from a static camera which failed to capture even the majesty of a few horses against a painted backdrop whereas the 1925 is genuinely epic in a way that still stands against its CGI-drenched remake.

Mass spectacle in 1907...
Kevin showed the whole of the chariot race which still thrills on the big screen with a dust-mote sunshine depth of field as Ramon Navarro and Francis X Bushman are filmed amongst the chaos. It’s the knowledge that they and the actual riders, horse and crew where in a genuinely perilous environment that makes the contest gripping.

But not everything in the huge arena was as it seemed, the upper tiers of the Circus Maximus were formed of small figures hand-operated to create the effect of a living crowd with the camera shooting the models close-up to give the seamless effect seen on screen.

...and in 1925!
Costas Fotopoulos accompanied The Mating Call with classical flourishes and Meg Morley was on hand to musically-enhance the evening’s opening section (Carl Davis too, although not in person).

Another enlightening evening in Kennington – thank you to all at the Bioscope.

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