How much excitement can one person handle on a Sunday morning? For myself, the opportunity to see – finally – Raoul Walsh’s classic crime drama Regeneration (1915) and on 35mm no less, with music by John Sweeney, was more than reason enough to get out of bed. That it was preceded by a film packed with vice and violence (and fabulous clothes), made this a far-from gentle Sunday morning. But the biggest surprise of the day was to come later in the afternoon. Call that a cliffhanger, if you will.
To the vice and violence first, with Hans Steinhoff’s Das Frauenhaus von Rio (1927), a German crime saga adapted from a novel by Norbert Jacques. That the film is set mostly in Hamburg rather than Rio, and barely in the “Frauenhaus” (a particular kind of lady, a particular kind of house, if you get my meaning) at all, is hardly false advertising. Concerned with what was called the white slave trade in those days, and also that silent-movie staple, international jewel theft, Frauenhaus was florid, schlocky and tremendously good fun – and very niftily directed. French actress Suzy Vernon made a winning heroine, although Ernst Deutsch as a puckish chancer and Vivian Gibson as a tigress of a villain stole the show.
But Regeneration was the main event of the morning, and it did not disappoint. This story of a tenement toughie reformed by a guilt-stricken socialite soars past your cynicism, because it is so exquisitely, tenderly photographed. It’s realism, but editorialised. And those performances! Rockliffe Fellowes has the best name in showbiz, hands down, and is reminiscent of a young Brando here as the angsty hero. Anna Q Nillsson (yes, a “waxwork” from Sunset Boulevard) puts in a heartfelt turn as his goodhearted ladyfriend. And oh, the photography, those truncated tracking shots and oh, the ensemble cast of characterful and possibly threatening faces. Everything Scorsese ever did is here, and it’s compelling, enthralling to watch.
Before you accuse me of being a softie, remember how harsh I was on the John Barrymore vehicle When A Man Loves yesterday. Then stop thinking about that because I thoroughly enjoyed The Incorrigible Dukane (1915) today: here Barrymore stars as what else, but the wastrel son of a rich family. He’s meant to go to Colorado to oversee the construction of a dam and learn about the nobility of work, and stop pouring absinthe into his gullet, etc. But there’s a buffet car on the train, and a mischievous hobo, and a pretty girl, and it all gets rather complicated. Needless to say, Barrymore has all the right jokes in all the right places, even if there is not a moment he does not leave unhammed. Plus, there’s a dog, who knows how to use dynamite. So, nuff said, top movie.
After lunch, it was time to regress to the land of early cinema, with a programme of automobile-themed films. So many comic chases, so many upturned apple carts and torn-down fences. My favourite was the gorgeously stencil-coloured travelogue Les Pyrénées Pittoresques (1909) – like a journey to another world.
I am saving the best until almost last, mostly because I don’t know quite how to describe the Norwegian rediscovery Pan (1922). Lush, detailed photography, delicately tinted, with epigrammatic intertitles, and many a layer of mystery to uncover, this was a film of great beauty and unique oddity. Our hero is a strange, detached type, living in rural Norway but barely interacting with his neighbours, until he becomes embroiled in a confusing love affair. And even then, no … It was the first and last film that Harald Schwenzen ever directed and it was a captivating gem that grew more enthralling as it went on its mad path towards a dramatic but strangely anticlimactic conclusion. If you were wondering from where it sprang, it was based on a successful novel by the Nobel-winning author Knut Hamsun. Why didn’t Schwenzen direct any more films? When will I see it again? I am a Pan fan.
A screening of Ben–Hur would constitute a gala event for most, but here at Pordenone it’s business as usual on a Sunday evening – all 141 minutes of it. If you’ll permit us to draw our attention from the chariot race – and Ramon Novarro’s pectoral muscles – the focus of interest tonight was in just a few scenes of this biblical epic. Ben-Hur is showing in the Giornate’s strand dedicated to early Technicolor, so it’s those gleams of two-strip splendour in the middle of the film that shone the brightest tonight.
Intertitle of the day: From Das Frauenhaus von Rio the not-so reassuring phrase: “Don’t panic, you’ve fallen into white slave traders’ hands.” Perhaps there was at least a “but” in the original German …
Silent London moment of the day: Also from Das Frauenhaus von Rio, some grainy stock footagee of the West End was evidently intended to transport us to not just a ritzy hotel in the Big Smoke, but the Lloyd’s of London office also. Hmmm…
Verdi shot of the day: