“I don’t think I’ll be falling in love with Ellen Richter any time soon,” said a gentleman to me in the hotel lift this lunchtime. Everyone else, please form an orderly queue. We sampled riches of Richter today, in three hour(ish)-long installments of Die Frau Mit Millionen (The Woman Worth Millions, Willi Wolff, 1923) – a fine example of her work in the “Reise- und Abenteuerfilme” or travel-and-adventure films genre.
And what adventures! I don’t ask for your sympathies too often, but please, won’t some consider the lot of the poor recap-bloggers? Die Frau Mit Millionen had lotsaplot. Richter plays the glamorous, resourceful Smaragada Naburian, an Armenian princess whose father is languishing in a cell thanks to the cruel machinations of a despotic pasha. I think we’re meant to be reminded here of the Armenian genocide of 1915, without any actual topical references being made. She goes off on the trail of some gold (10 million francs) that has been raised by a corrupt “oil swindle” and pals along with a handsome Englishman (Anton Pointner) and then goes on to impersonate a prince, and … well it beggars belief. One particular joy is all the mad inventions that help to power along the plot, like a car made from pickaxes and manacles, and a paddle steamer fashioned from a car and some handy timber.
There’s a fantastic sequence set in a freight carriage where Smaragada is tied up in hammock by a gourmand goon named Kelptomanid, which ends up with a truck load of cow manure and the two lovers drenched in pig swill. Kelptomanid is played Karl Huszár-Puffy – Hungary’s answer to Arbuckle and you’ll have seen him in many a Weimar classic. He was my man of the match today, apologies to Snowy Baker and the wonderful Conrad Nagel. With his bald head and Fu Manchu moustache he embodied a certain groteseque gauche malignance at all times. My seat neighbour said he reminded him of Garfield – only if Garfield twirled his moustache, and went in costume as a dancing bear or sat on an oil geyser.
I was never 100% sure what was happening in the story, but I did mostly know what exotic locations we were in (Paris, Corfu, Venice, ‘Constantinople’, etc) and I was always enjoying the ride. Thank heavens for the musical contributions of Maud Nelissen, John Sweeney and Neil Brand for keeping us all on our toes, and mostly, on track. It was all wrapped up beautifully too – all’s well that ends with an oil well.
I only saw the first of the Snowy Baker double-bill this afternoon. I had my reasons, but also The Empire Builders – “a tale of the African Veldt” – was every bit as alienatingly racist as you might fear. It began with a stunningly offensively intertitle about “the Dark Continent” and the rest may as well have been written in riddles – mostly it sort of was. We will understandably sigh about anything that glorifies British colonial rule in South Africa but there was a sin of omission to atone for, too: barely any stunts from Mr Baker. Perhaps his one spectacular clifftop dive would have worth the price of admission alone in a more appealing film.
Tonight’s headline act was exactly the kind of film I long to see on a Tuesday evening in Pordenone. Something epic and sensational and yet something you’re not surprised you haven’t already seen. I don’t really know what the word “batshit” means but I heard it a lot tonight. Fool’s Paradise (1921), scripted by Beulah Marie Dix and Sada Cowan and directed by some chap called Cecil B DeMille, was at least a mile and a half more movie than we had any right to expect. Sex, tragedy, romance, comedy and beautiful scenery by the yard, plenty for everyone. And a really terrific score by Gabriel Thibaudeau and Frank Bockius, which was rightly welcomed by riotous applause.
Conrad Nagel is Arthur, an aspiring poet, former solider, languishing in a Mexican border town, still painfully besotted with a French girl he met during the war, Rosa (Mildred Harris, having the best time I have ever seen her have on screen) and recovering from a terrible eye injury. The “natural vamp” Dorothy Dalton is the cantina “tart with a heart” Poll Patchouli who has the hots for him, but stands no chance while dream girl has his heart. A terrible, cruel accident late and Arthur is blind once more and Poll is “playing” Rosa in order to get close to the man she loves. It’s a terrible deception, but oddly terribly romantic.
There are many elaborate twists and turns to come, including a trip to Thailand where we will encounter hungry crocodiles and ask ourselves some valid questions about animal cruelty. Props though, to Cameo who plays Arthur’s devoted canine companion Chum – a true character, not just an accessory in this filmscape. Every frame of this lovably ludicrous movie is a picture to treasure, crammed with detail and shameless picturesqueness, just as each character may be borne of a cliché but is also a flesh-and-blood creation we can believe in, and one we can both love or hate and laugh at. Love to see Harris playing a fraudulent hussy, love to see Dalton be noble and sexy, adore seeing Nagel as an entirely flawed, despondent man, who nevertheless saves a lamb from ritual sacrifice and realises the nature of true love in the space of five crucial minutes in “Siam”. Are sheep the unofficial theme of this festival? You do ewe, Pordenone.
Intertitle of the Day
“I know what loneliness is and I wouldn’t wish it even to a dog. Please give Chum a home. AP.” A suicide note to melt the heart even of an ice queen, from Fool’s Paradise.
The Pordenone School of Egg Cookery
Planning to snack on a raw egg at your next picnic? The easiest way to open it is to shoot the top off with your before slurping the insides. Or so I learned from Die Frau Mit Millionen. Also, a cheese omelette for two is a love poem. Thanks to Fool’s Paradise for that one.
Festival Fashion Tip of the Day
Jay Weissberg was wearing a leather biker jacket in the Posta tonight. Why weren’t we all?
Supporting Character of the Day
The dancehall girl from Montmartre who was plied with champagne and relieved of her ensemble to provide a disguise for Ellen Richter in Die Frau Mit Millionen? Who didn’t cheer when she got her due reward in the end?
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