by HELEN GEIB
Cinesation 2011 Day 3 – Sunday, September 25
Lord Jim (1925)
Lord Jim is a good movie taken on its own terms and a creditable adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel. The film is well directed by Victor Fleming and the production values are quite incredible. It’s hard to believe it was filmed entirely on the Paramount backlot, the “locations” are so convincing. English actor Percy Marmont looks the part and gives a very good performance as Jim; Noah Beery is fine as usual in the villain’s role. The psychological complexities of the novel are largely simplified and smoothed away but some interesting traces remain in the plot, which is fairly faithful to the novel, and some of the titles, such as the close pairing of Jim addressing the villagers as “my children” and a white enemy contemptuously summing Jim up as “a child.”
A note on the casting: The local chief and his son are played by white actors in the usual bad practice of the time, while Jim’s native wife is not just cast with a white actress, but re-written as a white girlfriend. That’s a particularly irritating failure of nerve given that 1) she dresses, acts, and thinks like a local anyway; 2) the filmmakers had the cover of a literary adaptation for an inter-racial romance; and 3) in the movie, they never even get together. Much more positively and an interesting bit of trivia: Jim’s native servant- a character treated by the film with great respect- is played by Hawaiian five-time Olympic medalist in swimming and pioneering surfer Duke Kahanamoku.
The Showdown (1928)
The Showdown is a vehicle for George Bancroft, one of the unlikeliest and most captivating stars of the silent screen. Bancroft had an awesome vitality, but a vitality that was modulated and contained- except when he allowed it to explode. You can’t take your eyes off him, no less when he’s laughing silently into his coffee cup then when he’s trading punches with a bully who gives as good as he gets. The scenario: four men and a woman driven crazy by heat and isolation after months living at an oil wildcatting camp in the tropics. Good characterization fills in the outline drawn by the simple plotline. Bancroft is, of course, tremendous. Evelyn Brent is very good as the woman and so is Helen Lynch as the “bad girl” waiting in the wings (“when you figure out she won’t give you a tumble, maybe I’ll still be chump enough to be here waiting for you”). Director Victor Schertzinger stages the action really well; both that of the characters warily circling each other, in the common room of the boarding house where they all seem to spend far more time than is good for their mental health, and of the penultimate fight.