Sunday, 29 May 2011

Free-running Fairbanks! When the Clouds Roll by (1919)

"When the Clouds Roll by" is a 1919 Douglas Fairbanks vehicle directed by Victor Fleming - later to make Clara Bow's "Mantrap" and those couple of major 1939 colour movies!

It's a slight story but very well told from the inventive opening titles showing the actor, director, writer and even the camera men smiling for their introduction, through some bizarre dream sequences to a physical battle between the main character's sense of humour and "despair".

Even the intertitles are different, illustrated and witty, all rendered in hand by Henry Clive. This is one smart movie.

But the energetic performance of Douglas Fairbanks is what makes the film work. He's an extraordinary athlete who jumps, climbs, falls and bounces throughout. His escape from the vegetables of his dream (yes...they are...) looks like an exercise in Parkour freerunning almost a century before its invention. He never stops and was obviously meticulous in planning his stunts and the whole physical choreography of his story.

On top of this is the winning smile and natural exuberance that made him one of the early silent stars, the equal of Pickford or Chaplin (this was the second United Artists feature).

The story revolves around the attempts of one nutty professor, Dr Metz, to show that it is possible to drive a man to suicide through the power of suggestion...the wrong foods (see the above vegetables) and just generally messing up the subject's work, life and love.

It doesn’t quite hang together as a story but it certainly works as a great basis for Fairbanks to show what he can do. Too superstitious to cross the path of a black cat he simply climbs up the side of the building whilst he's even able to nip down to a submerged kitchen to bring forth breakfast for his sweetheart.
All in all, undemanding and thoroughly entertaining. The whole thing a call to good humour and positivity in the face of all the negatives of human experience: "Never despair folks, everything will be Jake...when the clouds roll by!"

Next up "The Mystery of the Leaping Fish" when Douglas plays one Coke Ennyday!?

Clouds rolling by the amazon here or via TCM.

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