DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS: 1916-1922
There have been one or two minor changes in tonight's program (affecting
only excerpts) for a variety of reasons. For one thing, when edited
together we found that the whole show was more than a little unwieldy,
running some five reels longer than planned. (Our running time of 13 reels
tonight, with a lot of it at silent speed, will still give us a minimum of
three hours). Secondly, when we announced an excerpt from "The Americano",
many members, asking us to run the whole film, pointed out that it was an
unfamiliar Fairbanks which many hadn't seen. This of course is quite true;
the Huff Society did run it once, in its very earliest days, and we haven't
repeated it because it has always seemed a lesser Fairbanks. But since so
many of you obviously wanted to see it, here it is -- not quite in its
entirety, since this is a trimmed print, but with very little missing.
The casualties: "Wild and Woolly" (since we now have so much of the "modern"
Fairbanks in our show"). "The Gaucho" and "The Black Pirate". But they are only
temporary casualties, and will soon be included in a second Fairbanks show.
We have a lot of unusually interesting (but as yet unedited) material
including out-takes, screen tests and rejected scenes of Fairbanks films,
and this material, together with further excerpts and another complete feature,
will make up another complete program in the not too distant future.
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Tonight's program, in order of screening:
"FLIRTING WITH FATE (Triangle, 1916) Dir: Christy Cabanne; supervisor:
The 7th of Doug's Triangle films, "Flirting With Fate" had a good comedy
story (later used by Joe E. Brown in a sound film with the same title) and
not much else. It was pretty dull stuff, with more excitement in spotting
the Griffith players (Lillian Gish as an extra, among them) than in following
the rather foolish comedy. This one sequence is quite good however, and the
only real action episode in the film.
"THE AMERICANO" (Triangle, 1916) Dir: John Emerson, scenario: Anita Loos; with
Alma Rubens, Carl Stockdale, Tom Wilson, Mildred Harris,
Spottiswood Aitken, Charles Stevens.
The 14th and last of the Triangles, "The Americano" was the most elaborate,
but also one of the weakest. ("American Aristocracy", "Manhattan Madness" &
"His Picture in the Papers" were easily the best, and up to the standard of
Doug's later films for Artcraft; "The Lamb" and the strange "Mystery of the
Leaping Fish" were the weakest of the Triangles). Something of a blueprint
for "His Majesty the American", "The Americano" has a lot of good humor and
moves along quite quickly. Huge "sets" borrowed from the Mexican
Exposition gave it added production values, but both in terms of action and
comedy it disappoints after some of the earlier Triangles. Griffith's
supervision on these 14 pictures was presumably in name only, for none of them
give any indication of personal participation.
(Doug's "Golden Age" - 1917-1920 - is represented tonight by "The Nut",
of which more in a moment, Undoubtedly his best film from this period, and
that means his best from any period, was the brilliant "When the Clouds
Roll By". Although it has had a couple of NY showings in the past ten years,
it is such a delight that a further unveiling wouldn't come amiss, so we may run
it again soon).
"THE MARK OF ZORRO" (UA, 1920) Dir: Fred Niblo. Excerpt. With Marguerite
de la Motte, Noah Beery, Charles Stevens, Robt. McKim
Doug's first swashbuckler (the prologue to the delightful "A Modern Musketeer"
excepted) "The Mark of Zorro" combined western action, Doug's cheery comedy
and comparative brevity for the last time. A fairly small-scale film, it
was still better and far more exciting than the top-heavy and ponderous
cloak-and-dagger extravaganzas that were to follow.
"THE NUT" (UA, 1921) Dir: Ted Reed Story: Kenneth Davenport, scenario by
William Parker Lotta Woods; camera: Harry Thorpe, William McGann,
Charles Warrington. With Marguerite de la Motte, William Lowery, Barbara
LaMarr, Gerald Pring, Morris Hughes, Sydney de Grey. 6 Reels.
Uncertain of public response to "Zorro", Doug reverted to the old style for
this film. It was a reversion for one film only, for the reaction to his Zorro
was so enthusiastic as to cause him to abandon his old characterisation
completely, and concentrate solely on swashbucklers. It was a sad decision in
a way, but not sad in another way. If "The Nut", with its indecisions and
faltering pace, was an indication of things to come, then a clean break and
a new style was infinitely to be preferred to a gradual decline. Far from
being the weakest of his modern comedies, "The Nut" was also a long way from
equalling the best ("When the Clouds Roll By", "His Majesty the American").
It starts beautifully. The invention is there; the breezy Fairbanks
character is there; the excessive but enjoyable titles are there; all that
is lacking is enthusiasm. Somehow one feels that Doug was getting a little
tired of jumping through the hoop, even though the hoop was such fun for his
audience. There are some individual comic sequences that rank with Doug's
best, and he himself is on top form in these sequences. But in between there
is tedium, a kind of desperation to the plot (plots were never models of logic
or drama in Doug's comedies, but they did have spontaneous incident and a
smooth flow). Second-rate Fairbanks is still several notches above first-rate
anyone else however, and with all its flaws "The Nut" remains a spasmodically
enchanting and always diverting comedy. If Doug's acrobatics are at a minimum,
and the villainy ill-motivated, one can always point to Doug's beautifully
timed pantomimic bits, the pleasing whimsy of the Cupid device (we'll leave
you to discover this delight for yourself) and the ingenious camera effects,
and feel well satisfied that Doug has delivered the goods again. "The Nut"
is rarely shown nowadays, and apart from a screening a couple of years back
for the Museum's Saturday Morning group, this is the first New York showing
in over ten years.
"ROBIN HOOD" (UA, 1922) Dir: Allan Dwan; photography, Arthur Edeson; with
Enid Bennett, Alan Hale, Wallace Beery, Sam de Grasse. Excerpt.
After "The Three Musketeers" (shown by this society a year or so back) Doug
launched into "Robin Hood". One of his most popular pictures, it was also
one of his dullest - overburdened with titles, plot, decor, and magnificient
sets. It was a pictorial delight -- but a tedious and frustrating experience,
always promising what it subsequently failed to deliver, and rarely allowing
Doug to come to life either as a personality or as an athlete. The last two
reels of the film (our excerpt) contain the best moments, and the only lively
ones; indeed, those of you who haven't seen the preceding nine reels may well
feel that we have been unjust. Certainly these two reels give an ample
indication of the sheer size of the production; perhaps also they give a
sampling of Doug's ponderous approach too, for the plot really finishes at
the end of reel 10, yet Doug grinds out another full reel, taking care of
loose ends, and dissipating the excitement by delaying the fadeout as long
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