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Thursday, December 16, 2010

WITHIN THE LAW (1923)


The top female star of the mid-‘20s wasn’t Mary Pickford or Lillian Gish, but the now forgotten Norma Talmadge. And you can see why she was popular and why she’s forgotten in this well-made meller about an innocent store clerk just out of prison and looking for payback. With the help of a sporty con-man (Lew Cody in the film’s best perf) and a bubble-headed gal-pal from jail, she aims to marry the curly-haired son of the department store mogul who put her behind bars. It’s sweet revenge, and all ‘within the law.’ Joe Schenck, the ultimate inside Hollywood man, was Norma’s husband & producer and he surrounded her with serious talent: Frank Lloyd to helm, Tony Gaudio lensing, a script from Frances Marion, art design by Stephen Goosson & Hal Kern editing; future Oscar winners all. If only Norma could act! But her appeal is now hard to fathom. She doesn’t really ‘take’ to the camera or even carry off the heavy fashions of the day. Yet, somehow she caught the fancy of shopgirls everywhere. (No doubt, you can come up with a modern equivalent.) Well, we can still enjoy some of the marvelous location shots of NYC circa 1923 and hope that a DVD release of her two biggest hits, SMILIN’ THROUGH/’22 and SECRETS/’24, show her in a better light. (NOTE: Instead of a poster, here's the cover of the Music Prompt Book from the 1917 film adaptation.)

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: The best version of Bayard Veiller’s wildly popular play (there are five official film versions and scores of knock-offs) is probably PAID/’30, an early Talkie starring the young Joan Crawford.

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