Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Murray Mae but Rudolph will... The Delicious Little Devil (1919)

Long believed lost, this film was rediscovered in the early 1990’s and is a precious example of early Rudolph Valentino as well as the bee-stung lips of Mae Murray. This was Murray’s twentieth film and she certainly has star billing out-pouting Pickford (as you’d expect) and throwing herself around like a ditzy dervish.
Mae in full flow
Murray had a few years on Pickford and her performance background had been dance rather than straight drama. She was part of Vernon Castle’s troop on Broadway, became a star in the Ziegfeld Follies and then made her first film in 1916 at the grand old age of 30… Movement aside – and there’s no denying the sheer zest! – Murray had great timing - she wasn’t quite the actress Mary was but then who was?

Here she’s ranges from delicious to quite demented in a vehicle high on laughs and improbable, knowing, narrative. She’s not really a devil but she pretends to be…

Edward Jobson and Rudolph Valentino
Mae plays Mary a youngster with a good heart and an irrepressible joie de vivre that makes it hard for her to hold down regular employment. She gets a good job at a hotel but can’t resist play-dancing with one of the guests shawls… her co-workers are impressed and listen wide-eyed to her story of a childhood of carefree spinning in what looks suspiciously like a medieval European town… but her boss is not and he fires her on the spot.

Back home she lives with her mother and Uncle Barney McGuire (Richard Cummings) with her father Patrick (Harry Rattenbury) seemingly too lazy to be bothered even living with either child or wife?

Ma,Uncle Barney and Mary
Paddy turns up when he’s told there’s a new wage-earner in the house only to be disappointed as she has quickly re-joined the ranks of the unemployed… What is she to do?

Meanwhile, over at the out of town Peach Tree Inn, manager Larry McKean (William V. Mong) is trying to think of the big idea that will save the joint from closing. Talking with aged owner Mr Musk (Burt Woodruff) and his wife (Martha Mattox) he comes up with the idea of a new jazzier approach led by a woman with a dark past (and a bright future…). He’s looking to bring a touch of sophisticated sleaze to the suburbs.

"A good future for a girl with a past."
Mary sees this intriguing ad in the local paper (Press advertising to the rescue again!) and finds a backstory for her non-existent “past” in the strange tale of the Duke de Sauterne who has been causing a scandal in Europe romancing a famous dancer, Gloria du Moine, who has left him and gone into hiding.

Mary turns up at the auditions to find Larry rapidly offending a long line of dancers thereby narrowing the odds to an elegant tall woman (Gertrude Astor) applying too much foundation and Mary who stands below the lady grabbing as much of the cast-off dust as she can.

Larry falls for it... never sell to a salesman eh?
Mary clumsily slips and looks to have lost her chance until her wayward syncopation gets the band playing some righteous rag-time. Mary jitters around and Larry is impressed… all the more so when that phoney history is revealed.

Mary’s opening night is a hoot as she descends down the Peach Trees long staircase to perform the Peacock Walk; her own creation. For all her moves, Murray plays this for laughs, especially as she almost gets stuck after bending over backwards just a little too far.

The Peacock Walk almost ends with a cramped crab...
Amongst the audience is young Jimmy Calhoun (fresh-faced, mascara-encrusted Rudolph Valentino!) who is instantly impressed with Mary’s flexibilities. He is the son of construction tycoon, Michael Calhoun (Edward Jobson) a self-made man expecting perhaps too much of his son and heir.

Jimmy romances Mary and all looks good until Dad tries to show her up at a dinner party – he thinks she’ll drink too much and make a fool of herself but Mary doesn’t drink – not even to maintain her exotic cover story – and she doesn’t rise to the bait, much to her dark-eyed boyfriend’s pleasure.

What an absolute cad!
But the evening takes a turn when the Duke de Sauterne (Bertram Grassby) arrives to reclaim his girl. Turns out the Duke is no gentleman at all and had to leave Paris after his many misdemeanors were in the process of catching him up.

Mary and Jimmy eat carefully...
Spotting the fake du Moine he doesn’t let on, clearly fancying his chances of leveraging his knowledge to disreputable effect…

Will Mary get revealed as a good girl with a bad future and will gentleman Jimmy manage to win her in the face of the Duke’s aggressive persistence… even if he does will his father let him marry so far below his station? There’s a lengthy car chase, some fisticuffs and a chance reunion that combine to settle things in a frantic closing section.

Crickey, Jimmie's a bit macho ain't he?!
Robert Z. Leonard directs Harvey F. Thew’s scenario with pizazz and it’s an energetic hour of top-notch tom foolery. Murray maybe didn’t have the striking USPs of the top tier but she acts very well and, excessive face-pulling aside, makes for a very likeable little devil.

Mr Valentino performs longing looks to no doubt dazzling effect in spite of the heavy make-up of the time. It’s Murray’s film but clearly we’re going to see a lot more of him!

I watched the Milestone DVD (the film is on a double disc with Swanson Valentino film Beyond the Rocks) which features a sprightly performance of a 1922 cue sheet by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra! Milestone and Mount Alto always do right by these precious little devils.

No comments:

Post a Comment