Monday, October 2, 2017

Marion Davies: Thumbs Up Or Thumbs Down? (Part 1)

While getting to know more about the work of Marion Davies, it became clear to me that I had to divide her work into two segments: silent films and sound films. This post deals with Marion's work in silent films.

Let's cut to the chase: a HUGE thumbs up for Marion Davies' silent film body of work.👍

Marion's story is well known: New York stage actress catches the eye of William Randolph Hearst, becomes his life-long companion outside of his marriage, emerges as a big movie star in the silent era with his backing, as well as an important figure in the social scene in Hollywood (and San Simeon, Hearst's castle north of L.A.). Her reputation was enhanced by constant promotions in Hearst papers and forever tarnished by the common assumption that the character of Susan Alexander in Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" was based upon her (Welles denied it).

Let's allow Marion's work to speak for itself. I viewed 4 of her silent films before writing this post, hoping to get to know this legendary actress a little better.

Show People
"Show People" is one of Marion's best known silent films. I had seen this film before, and had a good opinion of it, but on second viewing I confess I simply fell in love with her. While Hearst liked to see her in romantic, damsel-in-distress roles (that weirdly called for her to impersonate a boy at times), Marion's true talent was in her funny bone. As Peggy Pepper, she is so delightful it almost hurts. I wanted to just reach out and put my arms around her and give her a big hug. Oh, and the endless list of "A" list cameos is mind boggling. 

Marion and co-star William Haines encounter Charlie Chaplin
in "Show People." Marion  is not impressed.

The Patsy

"The Patsy" is the other Davies silent film that has remained well-known and popular. And for good reason!

Marion's comedic flair again gets showcased in this Cinderella story of a less-beautiful sister (major acting challenge here) who is the better person. While Marion's character of Patricia Harrington seeks improvement through a number of funny self-help programs in order to appeal to the man of her dreams (who, of course, is engaged to her older, supposedly more beautiful sister), Marion wins our hearts and her man. Major highlights are Marie Dressler as the bullying mother and Marion's dead-on impersonations of silent stars of the day.

The Red Mill

This film was a little more challenging. I can't say I was thrilled with the subject matter (thwarted love in old Holland), but Marion is, as always, adorable and amusing (Karl Dane and Louise Fazenda supply a great deal of the comedy). This film is also interesting because it was directed by Roscoe Arbuckle under the pseudonym of William Goodrich. It is ironic that Arbuckle found work in Hollywood in a Hearst picture after the Hearst newspapers effectively killed his career with yellow journalism. One has to believe that Marion's influence played a part in this. It was also interesting to me to see Owen Moore in a starring role. Known only to me as Mary Pickford's nasty first husband who stood in the way of her union with true love Douglas Fairbanks, I was quite impressed. He was charming and had a nice ease about him - not hard to see why Mary fell for him.

When Knighthood Was in Flower

I saved the best for last, because this film was a total revelation for me. I was lucky to be able to see a newly restored version on the big screen with live accompaniment by the great Ben Model. 
Captivating her audience
Filmed in 1922, "When Knighthood Was in Flower" was a mega production (reportedly costing up to $1,500,000) and represented Heart's full-throttle push to make Marion as beloved by the movie going public as she was by her adoring suitor. Verdict? It worked! Beyond the expensive sets and costumes, Marion's delightful personality and charm and talent shines through. She is everything in this film. Without her, it is just a lot, and I a mean a lot,  of stuff. If you ever want to surrender to the spell of Marion Davies, see this wonderful film. As Mary Tudor, she is downright adorable (I keep using that word, but there is no better one to describe her) while pursuing true love. 

Pre martini and Nora: boos and hisses from the
audience for this guy in his 2nd film
In 2017, the audience absolutely ate her up. Murmurs of appreciation of her beauty and talent continued throughout the film. So, in silents, big great big, unequivocal thumbs up for Marion Davies' silent film work. She clearly stands the test of time.

Next up: Marion Davies talks.



I've watched all but The Red Mill - but I didn't have the chance to see a restored copy of When Knighthood was in Flower! The Patsy was so-so to me, but Show People quickly became a personal favorite. Marion was born to be a comedienne, and the 1928 film is truly here masterpiece.

Silver Screenings said...

I LOVE "Show People". So far, it's the only Marion Davies silent I've seen, but you've prompted me to track down the others. I'm looking forward to your analysis of Davies' talking films! :)

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Le. Knighthood was such fun and what was really great was the audience reaction to Marion - they loved her.

FlickChick said...

Hey Ruth - I am looking through Marion's talkies now. So far, my reaction to her is very positive - not so much for her material.