Showing posts with label Mary Pickford. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mary Pickford. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Coquette (1929)

Directed and produced by Sam Taylor, Coquette (1929)A Drama of the American South stars Mary Pickford in her first ever talking picture. Pickford plays Norma Besant, a "silly little coquette", as she calls herself, who enjoys being the toast of the town. She's the beloved daughter of Dr. John Besant (John St. Polis), and the sister of the equally frivolous Jimmy (William Janney). Norma comes from a wealthy family and could have any guy she wants, including Stanley Wentworth (Matt Moore) who is absolutely smitten with her. Instead she's fallen in love with Michael Jeffrey (Johnny Mack Brown). He's from the bad part of town, has never had a steady job and can't afford the suit he'd be required to wear to take Norma to the Summer social. And Dr. Besant wants nothing to do with him. It's clear that their relationship is not off to a great start. Determined to earn Norma's affection fair and square, Michael leaves for a few months to make something of himself. He returns earlier than expected and the two lovebirds are reunited. When a scandalous rumor makes its way through the town, Michael and Dr. Besant come face-to-face and a tragic incident changes Norma's life forever.

"He's a diamond in the rough."

Coquette was based on Jed Harris' stage play and adapted by George Abbott, Ann Preston Bridgers, John Grey and Allen McNeil. Sam Taylor contributed to the dialogue and the film was produced independently and distributed by United Artists. Sets were designed by William Cameron Menzies.

This film's historical significance is more interesting than the film itself which I found to be quite dull and lifeless. The period between 1927-1929 was crucial as the industry was transitioning away from silents. A talkie debut was a big deal. For Mary Pickford it launched the next leg of her acting career and won her an Academy Award for Best Actress. The Academy Awards were still brand new and Pickford, ever the visionary, decided to campaign for the coveted prize. She did a publicity tour to drum up interest in the movie as well as in her nomination. This is commonplace now but was a brand new concept back then. Pickford's plan worked, the film was a success and she won the award. However, because Pickford was a founding member of the Academy, some felt that favoritism came into play.

Coquette is a silly Southern drama that I found needlessly frustrating. There is a lot of talk especially between Johnny Mack Brown and his rival for Mary Pickford's attention, John St. Polis, but no real action or reaction. Michael is never given a chance to prove himself and Dr. Besant is an elitist jerk. Overall the film lacked the emotional gravity and nuance that would have me feeling invested in the characters and their journey.

Watch Coquette for the delightful Mary Pickford's talkie debut, for the utterly handsome and underrated Johnny Mack Brown and for Louise Beavers who has a small role as the Besant family maid and Pickford's confidante.

Coquette (1929) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection and can be purchased at the WB Shop. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thank you! 

This is Coquette's DVD debut. George, D.W. and Matt of the Warner Archive Podcast discuss this film in the Dynamite Dames episode.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I feature titles from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me copy of Coquette (1929).

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks

The First King of Hollywood: 
The Life of Douglas Fairbanks
by Tracey Goessel
560 pages
October 2015
Chicago Review Press

Barnes and Noble
Your local Indie

"His story is also the story of the birth of an industry -- the transition of the movie business from a nickel novelty to a world wide phenomenon." - Goessel

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. was a film industry pioneer. Not only did he pave the way for how male actors would influence film and culture, he also was a visionary who molded the fledgling business of making movies into what it is today. He used his influence to create United Artists, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the Motion Picture Relief Organization and Pickfair Studios. Fairbanks' charm, winning smile, penchant for nice clothes and his physicality influenced the culture. He's the reason why getting a tan was preferred over being pale, why leading men started donning mustaches and his mannerisms in his famous swashbucklers and action flicks became the standard for heroes on screen for years to come.

"He's not good-looking. But he has a world of personality -- just worlds of it. His name is Douglas Fairbanks." - Grace George

Born and raised in Colorado, Douglas Fairbanks' father abandoned the family and he was raised by his mother along with his two brothers. His brothers would become Fairbanks' right-hand men when it came to finances and business decisions. They're astute financial savvy kept Fairbanks wealthy for a very long time. Fairbanks himself was an entrepreneur. Even in the infancy of the film industry he had the foresight to become an independent producer and filmmaker.  His mother's influence on him was strong as well. Her commitment to temperance encouraged the young Fairbanks to abstain from alcohol which he did for most of this life.

In Colorado he studied and became an actor at a young age and avoided the vaudeville circuit for the most part. He immediately set his sights high and it wasn't long before he was in New York and on Broadway. Even when things didn't go well for him Fairbanks had a natural drive to succeed and he wasn't satisfied until he was lead actor in a major Broadway production. When he achieved that goal he set his sights higher to Hollywood.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks
"The next 14 years of their lives would find them inextricably linked in print and in perception and the hearts of the public." - Goessel

The book is a deep dive into Fairbanks' adult life and his career in film as well as his storied marriage to mega-star Mary Pickford. We learn about his first wife Anna Beth Sully, mother of his only child Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and who also served as his first business manager. We also learn about Fairbanks' brief and sad marriage to Lady Sylvia Ashley. But it's his love for Mary Pickford and their famous marriage that drove his career and his fame and made them both the envy of many. Their union is recounted in endless detail in the book with the help of love letters, wires and telegrams.

"If there was one thing that Douglas Fairbanks never did, it was stand still." - Goessel

Fairbanks' personality was what made him famous. He resonated with contemporary audiences and influenced them with his charm and antics. We learn a lot about Fairbanks' quirks including how he could never sit still enough to read a book or even read a full script. He had a major case of wanderlust and loved nothing more than to travel the world. Fairbanks did almost all of his own stunts and was innovative in plotting out action sequences. He was fearless in a way that made him admired the world over.

"He had assumed the role of pioneer so often and so well -- moving from stage to film; embracing production, then distribution; implementing new discoveries such as Technicolor; investing more; building higher; always at the forefront of the new and the better." - Goessel

Fairbanks was a business pioneer in an industry that was still figuring out how to be an industry. He was savvy enough to become an independent filmmaker and producer and made history when he co-founded United Artists along with Mary Pickford and his best friend Charlie Chaplin among others.

"His sunny cheer and astonishing athletic prowess spoke to virtues of America in an era when America had no self-doubts about possessing any." - Goessel

For all his strengths Fairbanks had flaws too. He was incredibly jealous and his restlessness often interfered with his marriages and his work. He had a troubled relationship with his son Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Father and son differed greatly in personality, physical appearance, acting styles and choice of roles. Jr. was a constant reminder to Sr. that he could only be young and popular for so long.
Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
The complexities of this larger than life figure are all captured in The First King of Hollywood. The author weaves a fine a tale delivering to us the most comprehensive look at Douglas Fairbanks' life and career. All of his films are discussed in detail including: The Good Bad Man, Mystery of the Leaping Fish, The Half-Breed, Manhattan Madness, Intolerance, The Thief of Bagdad, The Mark of Zorro, Three Musketeers, The Iron Mask, The Gaucho, The Taming of the Shrew, etc. No film plots were explained which was quite a relief. The focus instead is on the behind-the-scenes making of the film and Fairbanks' involvement.

Years ago author Tracey Goessel purchased a collection of Fairbanks and Pickford's love letters and this treasure trove was the seedling that grew into this book. Goessel is a silent film expert, founder of the Film Preservation Society, on the board of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and has given many talks about Fairbanks and his films.

Goessel's scholarship shows in the level of detail uncovered and shared within the pages of this book. What should make us willingly give our time to a biography should be rich and deep content we can't get anywhere else. I want the fine details and the bigger picture, I want the context, I want the uncovered gems laid out before me. I want more than IMDb and Wikipedia can provide. Goessel delivers that with this biography.

I did have a few issues with the book. I would have preferred the photographs in the book to be placed throughout the text, especially where they made sense in context, instead of in a glossy insert. The author had a tendency to make some remarks that were intended to entertain but instead come off as judgmental. It disrupted the narrative for me when I had to stop to look up the date of a film because the year wasn't referenced. Adding the year would have helped this reader follow along the chronology of Fairbanks' work.

Goessel comes to us an expert on this historic figure and The First King of Hollywood is the definitive biography on Douglas Fairbanks. For anyone interested in learning about this pivotal time in film history and about the man who influenced it, this book is a must read.

Thank you to Chicago Review Press for sending me a review copy of this book.

This is my first review for the 2016 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge.

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