Saturday, 10 December 2016

Keeping up appearances… Skinner's Dress Suit (1926), Kennington Bioscope with John Sweeney

“He enjoyed making nice medium pictures. Simply, easily, quietly.”   Reginald Denny describing his pal, director “Bill” Seiter.

Kevin Brownlow introduced this film – a print from his own collection - with a description of how he’d met its star Reginald Denny in 1964, many years after the British actor’s silent heyday and after decades of playing stock English characters in the talkies. Brownlow projected the film for Denny and his family and, despite the letters fears that the film might “creak” he was rewarded with an emphatically-amused response.

The same thing happened tonight aided and abetted by John Sweeney’s effortless period piano precision.

Skinner's Dress Suit is that rare thing a genuinely charming comedy featuring two vibrant leads – Denny and the lovely Laura La Plante who cut a rug almost as sharply as her platinum bob. In thrilling style, the two dance the Savannah Shuffle…. a variation on the Charleston – before leading a host of society types in trying to learn the steps.

Strictly Come Shuffling
Directed by William A. Seiter a keen golfer and close buddy of Denny’s the film never strains and the relaxed humour is testament to the compatible temperaments of both men: “we never had an argument, never a cross word, “he told Brownlow, “…and we always brought the picture in within budget...” Seiter was clearly a very able manager of time and people.

Denny plays Skinner and over-reaching and under-achieving office worker whose wife, Honey (LLP), keeps egging him on to get a raise. But Skinner not only doesn’t have the nerve he doesn’t really have the edge being walked all over by both his juniors and his superiors. Unable to tell Honey he’s been passed over yet again, he pretends that he’s had a $10 a week raise and the two start extending their credit starting with a party dress for her and a dress suit for him.

Both prove very useful after Skinner is taught the new dance craze, the Savannah, by fellow wage slave Miss Smith (a peppy Betty Morrissey) and simply everyone at the party they attend wants to learn it. Social mobility awaits but in keeping up appearances their credit gets stretched to the limit.

Laura La Plante and Reginald Denny
But gradually they are accepted by their snooty neighbours, The McLaughlin’s and are invited into higher society…

All comes crashing down when a major contract is lost and Skinner is the man to be let go… he hasn’t the heart to tell Honey as she entertains but has to fight off the repro men gathering for their furniture and the tailor who wants his fine dinner suit back.

There’s just one last chance… an invitation to the party of the season held by the Colby’s (Hedda Hopper and Henry Barrows) if they can make an impression Skinner could still save his social standing…Cue Mr Jackson (Lionel Braham) the man who withdrew his contract with Skinners firm and his wife (Lucille Ward) both eager themselves to get introduced to society… You can work out the rest but the story is so well pitched the resolution works as smoothly and reassuringly as you’d hope.

A really enjoyable mainstream slice of silent Hollywood and just the thing after my week of Vampire Counts and murderous priests!

Skinner negotiates with his tailor
On the undercard tonight was a selection of the really rare and fascinating a collection of unique 4k high definition scans of original nitrate prints made by Tony Saffery, taken from his personal collection. You’ll only find this kind of thing at The Bioscope folks… we are spoilt rotten!

Rambles around Mulhausen (c1920) was a genuinely stunning Pathecolour travelogue around Alsace and Sparta showing slices of the everyday in colour including folk dress that has “hardly the Bond Street flavour…” and a boy with a pig.

Adventures of little Nibs (1928) was a cartoon of Itchy and Scratchy style – bullets and brickes flying through the ultra-violent air of a city. Policemen are wanted “good pay, as long as you live” and Nib’s pal Mike gets a job meeting the height required thanks to a bump on his head.

The view from south, Mulhausen, Alsace Lorraine
The Makeshift Bedroom (1906?) was a bizarre Andre Deed short in which Mr Deeds lives in a bed in the street… Policemen tiptoe around so as not to wake him and street lights ae covered before everyone decides to chase him and he floats off into the harbour on his multi-purpose mattress.

LCC Housing campaign film (c1921) was a typically British public information film asking people to do their patriotic duty and buy binds to support house building. A surreal turn is made when two of the most famous people in the World, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, join in the call… or at least their pictures do.

His New Cane (1912) This film is presumed lost in some quarters but here it was larger than life – a man sticking his walking device into others business until, again, there’s a huge chase…

Mr Deed in a spot of bother in a later film
Cinema Lake (1920) was a part live action/part animated oddity with a drawing board character erasing drawings and actuality alike: “Just wait till I take away Prohibition…” even now that’s funny!

London Wonder City (c1921) was indeed a wonder: The Guildhall, Mansion Houise, St Pauls and Fleet Street as well as Piccadilly Circus in colour at night..

Tommy Marries his sister (1910) involved the casual brutality of a small boy helping his sister marry the guy she likes and not the one she’s been given. Well done kid!

A mad-mixed bag and an excellent intiative to share and brought to life with skilled accompaniment from Meg Morley and Mr Sweeney.

Thankyou Kennington! See you in 2017!

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