The Oyster Princess (1919) A Silent Film Review

This has become one of my favorite silent films…if you like Lubitsch’s sound work, you’ll really dig his silents.

Movies Silently

The Oyster Princess 1919 Ernst Lubitsch a silent movie review

The Prince is the Pauper…

Ossi’s father is the Oyster King of America and she has decided that she deserves nothing less than a  European prince. Nucki is the penniless prince in question but a few cases of mistaken identity later, all plans are in shambles. Hidden amongst the the wacky hijinks is some pointed social commentary courtesy of director Ernst Lubitsch.

“I’ll buy you a prince!”

When most people think of silent German cinema, the phrase “romantic comedy” does not spring readily to mind. Classics like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari may get all the glory but German filmgoers of the silent era liked light films just as much as their American counterparts.

And the Germans had a secret weapon: Ernst Lubitsch.

While he was brought to Hollywood on the strength of his historical spectacles, Lubitsch’s great talent lay in sophisticated romantic comedy. Any fan of classic…

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TCM Week – April 23-29

Monday, April 23
There seems to be a lot of good ’20s-’30s stuff on this morning and into the afternoon that I have never seen before, including most of the all-silent Laurel & Hardy block:
6:30 a.m. Putting Pants on Phillip (1927)
7:00 a.m. You’re Darn Tootin’ (1928)
8:00 a.m. Habeas Corpus (1928)
8:30 a.m. Big Business (1929)
9:00 a.m. Double Whoopee (1929)
9:30 a.m. Angora Love (1929)

1:15 p.m. It Happened In Hollywood (1937)
“A silent Western star has trouble adjusting to the coming of sound.” With Richard Dix, Fay Wray and Franklin Pangborn, who also has a role in Living on Love (1937) at 2:30 p.m.

There’s a Western block beginning at 8:00 p.m., including Ambush, Ride Lonesome with Randolph Scott, and Geronimo. One of my few favorites, Stagecoach, is on at 1:00 a.m. (Tues.). I don’t think anybody needs to see this quite as many times as Orson Welles, who reportedly watched it 70 times while he was making Citizen Kane, but I’m still going to DVR it.

Tuesday, April 24
8:00 p.m. The Way We Were (1973)
This day is singer/actress/director/Taurus Barbra Streisand’s 70th birthday and TCM is celebrating with a bunch of her movies beginning at 8 p.m. and going on into Wednesday morning. Our TCM Party, guest hosted by @CitizenScreen, is probably one of the best of Streisand’s films and certainly one of the most referenced in TV and movies. Complicated and serious Katie (Streisand) is in love with her total opposite, easygoing Hubbell (Robert Redford). Their different approaches to life drive them apart against the scary backdrop of the McCarthyist witch hunts of the 1940s.  Join us by tweeting with #TCMParty…my late mother would be proud.

Wednesday, April 25
3:00 p.m. Crossplot (1969)
In the 1960s, an adman woos women at all hours and, with his loyal secretary’s help, manages to successfully deal with clients as well. Not Don Draper…Roger Moore, apparently as an art director, with his future M, Bernard Lee, in a supporting role. Yeah, I’ll be setting the DVR.

Thursday, April 26
Directed by John Cromwell
8:00 p.m. Sweepings (1933)
Of Human Bondage (1934) director John Cromwell’s first film at RKO is a comedy about a department store founder (Lionel Barrymore) who works his fingers to the bone to build a legacy for his underwhelmed children.

Friday, April 27
8:00 p.m. Stage Door (1937)
Chosen by the TCM Party people (or those who voted anyway), tonight’s film follows the girls who stay at the Footlights Club, a boarding house for struggling New York actresses. It’s fun and snappy, with much of the dialogue improvised or taken from the stars’ actual conversations and re-written by the director, Gregory La Cava (My Man Godfrey). The cast includes Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Ann Miller, and Lucille Ball. Tweet along with #TCMParty.

Saturday, April 28
Trevor Howard Block
Almost always described as a scene-stealer, Howard was never a big Hollywood star but he worked steadily for five decades. TCM’s got five of his films, beginning with The Third Man at 8 p.m. and continuing with the heartbreaking Brief Encounter (which basically established British film in the US), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), and The Golden Salamander. His performance in Third Man is so appropriate to the character…quiet, understated, but so persuasive.

Sunday, April 29
7:00 a.m. The Falcon Takes Over (1942)
Yes, this is a poorly disguised version of the novel Farewell, My Lovely, which the producers bought from Raymond Chandler for a measly $2000 and bizarrely grafted onto another writer’s detective character. The title was even pinched from another film, The Saint Takes Over. But George Sanders is in it, so it’s here.

12:45 a.m. (Mon.) A Modern Musketeer (1917)
Our resident silent film expert @tpjost is hosting this TCMP, in which Douglas Fairbanks plays both D’Artagnan of The Three Musketeers and a contemporary version thereof, a guy whose gallantry and daring can match any 17th century swashbuckler. Look for us on Twitter with #TCMParty.




TCM Week – April 2-8

Monday, April 2
6:45 a.m. Born to Dance (1936)
Eleanor Powell and James Stewart in a good old-fashioned (by that I mean, sorta corny) musical full of mistaken identity and misunderstandings.

8 p.m. Doris Day Block
TCM salutes the Star of the Month Doris Day with 28 movies beginning tonight at 8 p.m. with her musicals. I never knew that Day idolized Ginger Rogers and wanted to become a dancer. She thought her dream was lost when she was injured in a car wreck as a teenager. She learned to sing while recovering and was soon a huge recording star, but she was quite nervous about dancing in Tea for Two because she hadn’t danced in years.
8:00 p.m. The Lullaby of Broadway (1951)
9:45 p.m. By The Light of the Silvery Moon  (1953)
11:30 p.m. My Dream Is Yours (1949)
1:15 a.m. (Tues.) On Moonlight Bay (1951)
3:00 a.m. (Tues.) Romance on the High Seas (1948)
4:45 a.m. (Tues.) Tea for Two (1950)

Tuesday, April 3
9:45 a.m. The Fugitive Kind (1960)
Film version of Tennessee Williams’ play Orpheus Descending, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani and Joanne Woodward. A really weird movie.

8:00 p.m. Lover Come Back (1961)
Tonight’s Doris Day block begins with this ad-biz comedy in which Day and Rock Hudson play account execs for rival agencies. Their work philosophies and client relations skills are drastically, hilariously different (to say the least). Guest hosted by @mercurie80. Find us on Twitter with #TCMParty.

Wednesday, April 4
Doris Day Block
Tonight TCM spotlights Doris Day’s dramatic talents in four films: Midnight Lace (1960), Storm Warning (1951), The Winning Team (1952), and Julie (1956). Disturbingly she is beset by creepers in two of them.

Thursday, April 5
8:00 p.m. Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960)
A drama critic and his wife have a difficult period of adjustment when they decide to move from New York City into the suburbs. Find us on Twitter with #TCMParty.

Friday, April 6
9:45 a.m. Jewel Robbery (1932)
Don’t miss William Powell as a well-mannered jewel thief who’s fallen in love with his mark (Kay Francis). Their chemistry is pretty close to what he had going with Carole Lombard and Myrna Loy. Did I mention it’s a pre-Code?

12:45 p.m. The Man with Two Faces (1934)
This sounds really interesting. Edward G. Robinson plays an actor trying to shield his sister from her murderous husband, who seems to have her under some kind of hypnotic spell.

Saturday, April 7
3:00 p.m. The Great Escape (1963)
It is well-known to you all that I have a thing for World War II movies; not all of them are good, but this one is. A bunch of Allied soldiers try to dig their way out of a German POW camp — it’s the sworn duty of every British officer to attempt to escape! Based on a true story, it stars Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. Find us on Twitter with #TCMParty.

6:00 p.m. 4 for Texas (1963)
Rat Pack Western.

Rita Hayworth Block
I’ve seen the first two of these and not the others but I doubt you can really go wrong.
8:00 p.m. Gilda (1946)
10:00 p.m. The Lady From Shanghai (1948)
11:45 p.m. Fire Down Below (1957) With Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon. Personally I’d tune in just for that.
2:00 a.m. (Sun.) The Happy Thieves (1961)

Sunday, April 8
TCM features mostly Christian-themed films today. One that caught my eye airs at midnight, Leaves from Satan’s Book (1919), a Danish silent film directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. It depicts various historical events from the point of view of the “disheartened” Satan.

TCM Week spotlights a highly subjective selection of the week’s essential or undiscovered films on the Turner Classic Movies channel to help plan movie viewing, DVR scheduling or TCM Party attendance. All times are EST.


The Artist: Homages, tributes and shoutouts

In my 2011 Year-End List, I chose The Artist as one of the 2011 movies I was dying to see but couldn’t until 2012. Well, I did get to see it — twice! — and I have to say it’s one of my favorite movies of last yearthis year…any year. I even modified my banner…yeah, it’s that good.

The film offers a special thrill for fans of classic movies, because it pays tribute to them, yet it’s thoroughly modern. Without giving too much away, I noted homages to classics like Sunset Boulevard, A Star Is Born, and Singing in the Rain (see below). Director Michel Hazanavicius shot at 22 frames per second, instead of the standard 24, to give the film a little of the jumpiness so characteristic of silent movies. Music is used more centrally than in a sound film, to emphasize moods or events. But the way sound is used and the way shots are framed are thoroughly 21st century. Also, it is a rare silent that has the high contrast of the deep blacks and crisp whites that Hazanavicius and his DP, Guilllaume Schiffman, were able to produce. I don’t want to say too much because I want everyone to see this movie on the big screen if possible…but even at home, it’ll still be stunning.

I so love seeing a movie made by people who love classic movies that I decided to try to put all the references I could think of together. NB: I have a complex about spoiling things for people…I hate to do it! So: There may be spoilers below…if you haven’t seen The Artist you might want to wait until you see it…and then come back and add the movie references you find! I know I’ve missed some.

Poster - A Star Is Born (1937)

The basic idea that propels the film is familiar to viewers of all three versions of A Star Is Born: a young woman who wants to be an actress (Peppy Miller, played by Bérénice Bejo) works her way up from extra to top-billed talent, aided greatly by an established actor (George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin), whom she meets in a chance encounter. Her career skyrockets while his is fading. TCM is running the 1937 and 1954 versions of Star on Feb. 26, so if there are any more specific points in common I’ve missed, I might be able to pick them up then.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) and Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in the screening room

The Artist shares a thread with Sunset Boulevard: The proud (though faded) star who is disdainful of change and has a kind chauffeur. Like Norma Desmond (silent star Gloria Swanson), George Valentin has no use for talkies. Both like to relive their pre-talkie glory days by watching their old movies. I can see him nodding vigorously in agreement as she declaims, “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small” or “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!” Unlike the protagonists in the above-named films, thank goodness George is ultimately a more sane and hopeful figure.

The Artist takes place at around the same time Singin’ in the Rain is set, and in the same context, and there are quite a few similarities between the two films. Like Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), George has an acting partner, Constance (Missi Pyle), whose transition to talkies was rough. Her sound test reminded me a lot of the work done by Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) in Singin’ (above). Kelly as an actor seems to have been a major influence. Dujardin gives George the same athletic style of movement as Kelly. I wish I could have found a still of Dujardin in the swordfight scene; with the thin moustache. he really resembles Kelly as D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (1948) or in The Dueling Cavalier (the movie within a movie in Singin’).

Early in The Artist, the scene where George is having breakfast with his disapproving soon-to-be ex-wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) references the breakfast montage in Citizen Kane. Hazanavicius’ use of mirrors reminds me a lot of Kane. Also, when George finds a room full of belongings that he had to sell (that’s all I’m going to say), it reminded me of the shot at the end of Kane, depicting the dead man’s vast and largely meaningless collection of stuff.

In Charlie Chaplin’s A Dog’s Life, The Little Tramp’s dog is always getting his human out of a jam, as is George’s dog (played by Uggie). I know there are probably references to other silent films, especially the staircase scene where George, on his way down, meets Peppy, on her way up. I have a lot to learn about silents though, so I will have to discover them as I work through them. Many thanks to @tpjost, for his help with this post. If you want to learn or talk about silents, definitely follow him on Twitter.

UPDATE: From sharp-eyed and knowledgeable film fans @caralluch and @Kinetograph (you really should follow them :)): The dance number at the end of The Artist is a lot like Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell’s tapdance to “Begin the Beguine” in The Broadway Melody of 1940. Also, @caralluch alerted me to Hazanvicius’ use of mirrors, which recalls Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise. And, though @Kinetograph wasn’t the first to notice the use of part of Bernard Hermann’s Vertigo score in the scene where Peppy drives frantically across town to save George, he did give me the heads-up on that and also similarities with 7th Heaven, which I haven’t seen. So there are more specifics in the works.

UPDATE: Vincent from Carole & Co (dedicated to the fabulous Lombard) has written a great review of The Artist that includes some similarities that I missed.

What do you all think? What did movie references in The Artist I miss? Let me know below 🙂