For Reel

Prestige (1932)
September 24, 2014, 1:21 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Tay Garnett
3.5 Stars
PrestigeWhen Hollywood made the transition from silent to sound in the late 1920s, one of the biggest casualties was the mobile camera. There were some exceptions–director Rouben Mamoulian pushed the limits with innovations that allowed the camera to move both freely and silently–but many early talking pictures are relatively staid in form. This is not at all so with Prestige, which filmed in 1931 is just about as radical as it gets. From the very first scene, director Tay Garnett reveals his incredible preoccupation with camera movement. In a few instances, actions are meticulously blocked out so that the camera can move from character to character or room to room while keeping the actors audible and in frame (Garnett showed a similar interest in movement in the same year’s One Way Passage, which includes a similarly impressive long take). Nothing that Prestige has to offer holds a candle to the stylistic interests–it’s a dated colonialist melodrama, with a dutiful but schizophrenic performance by Melvyn Douglas as a drunk. The reliable Ann Harding is luminous and is given an empowered role, but the dialogue leaves much to be desired. Despite these limitations, however, Garnett’s experimentation with movement is essential viewing with anyone interested in the filmmaking of the era.

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