Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Beery Brothers

No, this is not a reference to my homebrewing past, but yet another entry about last weekend's 12th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Fest. And the brothers are not happy guys well-fortified with Monkshof Kloster-Bock, but those ubiquitous character actors from the silent and early sound era, Wallace and Noah Beery, who held prominent roles in two films shown in the festival.

In "Wild Bill" Wellman's Beggars Of Life (1928), Wallace Beery absolutely nailed a plum role as a "good bad guy", while his half-brother Noah exemplified slimy, despicable villainy as "The Brute" in the festival's closing opus (by that master of mayhem, Cecil B. DeMille). As "Oklahoma Red", larger-than-life godfather of the rail-ridin' hobos, Wallace stole the picture and got top billing in the main titles. Noah Beery played one sicko juvenile detention prison guard - sadistic and a craven coward to boot - and really gave audiences a "man you love to hate" in The Godless Girl.

Although both films were conceived as "part-talkies" (only silent prints exist today), The Godless Girl exemplifies the acting approach and visual style of a silent movie, while Beggars Of Life definitely points forward towards the sound era. If you could have heard Wallace Beery, the voice that accompanied those nuanced movements and magnificent facial expressions, backed by the stirring soundtrack by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, it would have been the best of both worlds.

The story after these two late-1920's features, of course, holds more tragedy and drama than the films themselves. Only the directors and the two Beeries would continue, unabated, in "talkies".

  • The film's comely yet androgynous co-star, that most original maverick actress known as Louise Brooks, would soon leave for Europe and achieve silent screen immortality in Pandora's Box and Diary Of A Lost Girl, two notably dark, corrosive Weimar Republic-era time capsules by director G.W. Pabst.

  • The prolific Cecil B. DeMille would recover from the commercial disappointment of The Godless Girl and hit the talkies with a bang, producing two even more hysterical, ridiculous and provocative films, Dynamite and Madame Satan, in 1929-1930.

  • Reputedly having a New England accent that limited her options in talkies, Marie Prevost drew the "bad luck" card, big time, which ultimately cost the successful silent movie star her life. The fates being cruel, audiences would be deprived of her warm and likeable screen presence in character roles.

  • After striking paydirt at Warners directing "little tough guy" Jimmy Cagney in Public Enemy (1931), Wild Bill Wellman would return to the thematic territory of Beggars Of Life with the Depression era drama, Wild Boys Of The Road (1933)

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