As I wrote in my last post, I did go and catch a screening of silent films on Saturday. Actually, I forced my father to come along, and he did not fall asleep this time as he did when we watched The Four Feathers. The reason I dragged him to the cinema (an hour drive) was because I wanted to take the opportunity to watch a Gloria Swanson silent! Never in my life had I seen any of her silents, even though I have wanted to for ages; I had only seen the classic Sunset Boulevard and Touko Laaksonen knows how I love her performance as the deluded Norma Desmond. When watching her silent film, I noticed that not only her voice I loved, she had a charisma I most wanted to possess.
Oh right. The film I got to see was Manhandled, preceded by a hilarious Harold Lloyd short and one comical one where Earl McCarthy is dressed in drag. I had already eaten my popcorn by the time Gloria’s film started so I drank a cola can all the way through.
When the credits appeared in the beginning, I noticed that the film was produced by Famous Players-Lasky, a motion picture company that also produced Pola Negri’s American films. So, it was kind of interesting to recognize it, you know? And no, I do not have issues with the whole Negri/Swanson feud. It was really stupid of Paramount to spread rumors only to attract attention. But anyway, back to Miss Swanson.
From the first minute she was on the screen, I already knew I was going to love her. This film had a cheerful vibe and I was glad for that because I was a bit tired of seeing tearful dramas. It was very girly, yes, and I LOVED that.
This film is about a girl named Tess (played by Swanson) who is a shopgirl in this type of clothing department store. She really hates her job, of course. She aspires to become something better, like someone more professional. I mean, she believes she can be something more than a clerk. To go home, she has to take the subway, and God does the film really show the realities of being in one! People even step on her hat! A fun fact I learned from a film historian who introduced the film was that to prepare for the role, Gloria was forced to ride the subway in New York by the director around five times. By the time the scene was shot, she was used to it and fully prepared. I’m pretty sure in the year 1924 Gloria Swanson did not ride the subway to get by, oh sweet Lord no. Her home isn’t even an actual home, according to the intertitles. She lives in a room in a boardinghouse and her boyfriend occupies the room next to hers. Tess wants to spend time with him but he is always working in his miserable job as he aspires that his invention will make him rich. Jim (played by Tom Moore) wants to marry her but she is a bit apprehensive about it because she does not want to become a housewife in a stressful household with financial struggles.
But, yes, something does eventually happen. Tess is invited to a party at work by her boss and friends but remembers that she has a date with Jim. When she calls him, he denies ever having invited her, meaning he forgot. He doesn’t even have time for her and chooses to forget?? Ugh, men. She chooses to go to the party and ends up chatting and getting acquainted with high class people and even pretends to be a Russian countess, which she does so so well. She even drops her underwear in the act! Her beauty and demeanor made a sculptor ask her to pose for him. And so she did. But he ended trying to rape her and she really got the hell out of there.
Meanwhile, her boyfriend is out of town and is working interminably. Tess encounters a man who saw her in the party and was amazed by her impersonation so he asks her to pretend to be a Russian countess for his business in order to fool people into making them think his stuff is fancy. There’s this laughable scene where a woman talks to Tess in Russian and Tess starts to panic. Then she starts crying and tells the costumer to not remind her of the painful present of her Russia. God, Gloria did it for me in that scene. She was fantastic! Then the man who is paying her to impersonate a Russian makes a move on her and to get away from him she agrees to go on a date with her boss. She does miss her boyfriend greatly. Now what shall happen? Well, watch the movie. I don’t want to spoil the ending.
What immediately caught my eye were Gloria’s many faces. She had a great deal of them, and each were shown with such energy, but in an adorable manner. Such charisma! Even my father was captivated by her performance. She has her own expressive style. I had a great deal of fun watching this film. I can guarantee you all that it is NOT boring. I recommend it without stopping for breath. It’s an entertaining silent that would never leave one disappointed.
Now I’m more interested in watching more of her work. Beyond the Rocks is a must because of Rudolph Valentino and because I want to see more of her many faces. Then is Queen Kelly and Sadie Thompson. Lovely Gloria! I can’t wait to watch more of her movies. She surely impressed me in this film! And, of course, I couldn’t recommend Sunset Boulevard enough. That’s where you see that her talent was inborn and never lost. Bless you, Gloria. Aren’t silent films just the best? It’s even better to watch them on the big screen.