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Sunday, 26 June 2016

Bologna Diary (5) - William Wyler lights it up. Plus Asquith, Soldati and Becker on show

Carl Laemmle Jr
Selected from a more extensive season presented earlier this year at New York’s MOMA, the ever estimable Dave Kehr has put together a  programming strand of eleven films produced  at Universal Studios from the early to the mid-30s. All have a production credit for the son of the studio head, Carl Laemmle Junior. The directors whose work is on show represent many of the best working in Hollywood at the time and include European and British emigres. I cant help thinking that the eminence grise hovering over Laemmle’s ambitions was that of the mighty FW Murnau, ensconced at the time at Fox and changing the sensibility of the cinema forever. Not sure how far I can chase that thought down.

The first two films in the series were both directed by William Wyler – the early sound film A House Divided  (USA, 1931) with Walter Huston, Douglass Montgomery and Helen Chandler. She plays a put upon 19 year old mail order bride, first rejected by the widowed Hustons but that’s quickly followed by his brusque marriage proposal (‘I’ll marry yuh’). Unfortunately in the moments between the widower’s son falls for the girl and she for him. With a lot of location shooting and the already apparent Wyler tendency to be more than a little emphatic, it’s a film of interest if not a major rediscovery for the pantheon.

However that may be somewhere for The Good Fairy (USA, 1935) where Wyler demonstrates that he has slipped into sound film with aplomb and has found a collaborator to maximise effect. That is Preston Sturges, a contriver of plots and a composer of lines the like of which has rarely been equalled. Working from a play by Ferenc Molnar the plot has Margaret Sullavan trying to escape the attention of suitor Frank Morgan by pretending to be married to smooth but poor lawyer Herbert Marshall. The dialogue has more than its share of risqué elements. Fabulous stuff.

More to come on a second Mario Soldati film Piccolo Mondo Antico made in Italy during WW2 and another Jacques Becker Falbalas from 1945 and a note to say that Antony Asquith’s Shooting Stars (UK, 1928) went over storm and was particularly well  accompanied by Donald Sosin’s improvisations at the piano. Donald got his own separate ovation.

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