Wednesday 5 July 2017

Marceline Day deserves a gold star… That Model from Paris (1926)

“Dumb?” “No! French…”

This is not the most sophisticated comedy but it has a number of things going for it… well, OK it has one thing going for it and she’s called Marceline Day one of those timeless people who just looks like they’ve been dropped straight from 2017 back into 1926.

Marceline it was who went swimming with Buster in The Cameraman, stayed true to Lars Hanson in Captain Salvation and kept a straight face alongside John Barrymore in The Beloved Rogue.  She has lovely open face and a strong range of naturalistic responses to ensure she kept pace with her leading men. She has charm and knows how to use it, seemingly with no deliberation.

Here she is most definitely the leading lady and in all ways as her male co-stars fulfil supporting roles and she is the centre of the situation and most of the comedy. We still have films led by women but were there proportionately more in the silent era? Marceline must be in 90% of the scenes and her nominal co-star Bert Lytell looks out of his league, in spite of a winning smile shining through his make-up…
Marceline is Diana Prince or possibly Clark Kent's sister
Like so many comedies of the time, this one is set in a department store. Marceline, heavily disguised as be-spectacled plain Jane Miller, works as a cashier. When floor manager Mr. Katz (Otto Lederer) hands out free tickets to his daughter’s debut at the Follies, poor Jane has no one to go with (not credible, even with those glasses on) and no posh frock to wear. Fellow wage-slave and well-connected ambitious blonde Marmie (Eileen Percy – also very good value) agrees to accompany Jane and also comes up with a scheme to borrow one of the dresses from the store…

On the night, Marmie is accompanied by her sugar daddy, Morgan Grant (Ward Crane) who brings a pal along for Jane even though he quickly decides she’s more his type… Oh Marmie, he may have money but he’s not that sweet!

Marmie watches Morgan try and impress Jane
Cue some follies action featuring Sabel Johnson  as Katz’s that, frankly, I wouldn’t be handing out tickets for if my duaghter was on stage: shocking! But Mr Katz is soon diverted by the realization that one of his store’s dresses is being worn by his cashier!

No matter how Jane tries to hide behind her stole she isn’t getting away from this one and faced with the certainty of a bad Monday morning opts to escape for a good night back at Grant’s opulent pad.

Whilst Marmie and his pal dance, Grant’s devious plan takes shape as he offers her a modelling job at the store and – in a note he doesn’t show to Jane, we see him offering to pay all of her salary… What a rat and, looking up at an inopportune moment, Marmie notes the suspicious intimacy between the two. However, what she has missed is Jane rebuffing the traitorous letch – he apologises but his is the long game…

Jane duly arrives and gets the gig – the Manager (Arthur Hoyt) being delighted at this additional free helper – and  then, the real set up begins… a visiting group of French models are minus their star attraction and so, of course, Jane, the rookie, can stand in for her as no one knows what she looks like!

The only, or rather main, complication is that Jane doesn’t speak French and so must act dumb to avoid being found out. Nothing could be simpler n’est pas?

Bert is overjoyed to meet a French gal
Meanwhile, the son of the store owners, Robert Richmond (Bert the inert) has spotted Jane’s talent immediately and begins to try and befriend her using her native language? All Jane can say is “no!” and shrug her shoulders, not even “non!” but the universal language of Anglais.

There is much fun to be had over this simple device, especially when Robert takes “Miss DuPont” to a French restaurant and they both end up with ham and eggs. Gradually Jane warms to his charms and even begins to translate his little notes professing admiration in French.

Meanwhile wicked mean Morgan is pushing Jane hard to meet with him alone…

Eileen Percy as Jane's pal, Marmie
How long can Jane avoid his creepy clutches and how long can she carry on being French without Robert finding out? More to the point, what chance does Mr Grant have if Marmie finds out his plan for Jane?!

Directed by Louis J. Gasnier That Model from Paris is a slick enough vehicle for its star and makes the most of a competent if unexceptional script.

It’s worth watching for the two main women characters - Eileen Percy’s Marmie is a gal to be reckoned with and you wouldn’t want to see her mad, especially when she’s getting a facial! Marceline Day clearly had star qualities and not just the most regular features in Hollywood. She is not as remembered as perhaps she could be and, according to the Silent Film Hall of Fame from whom I obtained this DVD, she has not even got a star on the Walk of Fame.

On this evidence, and the aforementioned roles alone, she deserves one.

Marceline Day and Bert Lytell

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