For Reel

The Show of Shows (1929)
December 11, 2016, 8:08 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: John G. Adolfi
1.5 Stars
the-show-of-showsWarner Brother’s response to the revue trend of the early sound period is a lumbering, stiff mess. For two hours and change, a camera parks itself in front of a stage as a series of performers are paraded by in skits that are often not well-suited to their strengths. If Fox’s answer to the genre in King of Jazz was aided by the fact that Fox had no stars and therefore had to mine a series of eccentric vaudeville performers, the spectacles that occur in The Show of Shows are often no more engrossing than Chester Morris and emcee Frank Fay engaging in awkward banter. As a relic of its time, it has its pleasures—the film makes a great case for Winnie Lightner’s talents in that she’s about the only performer to give the production the necessary pomp—but to suggest that the film’s creaky, stiff limitations are a product of the technology is exceedingly generous to director John G. Adolfi. Regardless of how it plays for modern audiences, however, Mordaunt Hall’s glowing review for the New York Times suggests that static or not, the spectacle of seeing most of Warner’s top stars engage in such material was enough to sell the film. Regardless, when the history books refer to the audience’s lack of interest in musicals shortly into the sound era, The Show of Shows is a clear example of how that fatigue could have set in so quickly.


The Millionaire (1931)
June 25, 2016, 4:57 pm
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Director: John G. Adolfi
3.5 Stars
The MillionaireIn the early-1930s, there is perhaps no better example of a Hollywood star as the auteur of their films than George Arliss. After prestige picture Disraeli proved to be a big hit, the unlikely star not only had the respect of his peers, but new freedom at the studios. The Millionaire is a key example of Arliss’ forward-thinking genius in that he personally cast James Cagney for the role of a braggadocios insurance salesman who prompts the turning point in the film. It’s a small but crucial role, and the scene itself is a fascinating clash in styles—it is remarkable that a British thespian with a theater background could recognize the brilliance in Cagney’s unhinged, neurotic line deliveries. The rest of the picture is as charming as one would expect from Arliss, rife with his bemused reactions as he slyly controls the people around him, working as a sort of puppet master over the younger generation. As charming as the later scenes are (Evalyn Knapp is irresistible as his young daughter), Arliss’ true genius tends to come through in the melancholic moments. Here, there’s a bittersweet farewell to the automobile factory he built. The sequence plays much longer than one might typically expect, and Arliss focuses on the gestures with terrific detail—the way he studies the engine he innovated, how he throws his keys on the table. A bittersweet piano rendition of Auld Lang Syne accompanies the scene, giving equal credence to both the farewell and to the promise of the future (the poetic equivalent of the Cagney/Arliss scene, which similarily carries the weight of the passing of a generation and the rise of the next).

The King’s Vacation (1933)
November 23, 2014, 3:05 pm
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Director: John G. Adolfi
3 Stars
The King's VacationThe uneasy transition from royal to civilian life is spotlighted in The King’s Vacation, a mildly amusing comedy starring the esteemed George Arliss. In the early scenes, Arliss seems disinterested as he moves through his palace, having little to hope for other than a lack of appointments on his calendar. There’s a bite in his dissatisfaction with politics, and the early sequences are well-shot in that the set’s walls seem to absolutely dwarf Arliss–his disinterest in the locale makes the scale seem more ridiculous than regal. His boredom with court leads him to pursuing a childhood love who has since taken a new identity as a wealthy socialite. There are amusing reactions from Arliss when he discovers that he’s walking into the same thing that he just ran away from, but much of the drama that follows in the latter half is predictable. Regardless, Arliss’ sense of wise sensitivity makes him an unusually pleasant screen presence–he seems physically frail but strong-willed, and it is lovely to watch the genuinely affectionate way that he looks at his queen (played by his real-life wife, Florence Arliss).