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Monday, August 15, 2011

THE EXTRA GIRL (1923)

Mabel Normand, the longtime star & sometime romantic interest of comedy producer Mack Sennett, was just 28 when she made this charming programmer, her last feature. She’s a small-town girl who’d rather try her luck in Hollywood than settle down, and she runs off on her wedding day to prove it. But dreams of fast stardom are quickly dashed; she’s lucky to land a supporting gig in wardrobe. Soon, Ralph Graves (a star for Frank Capra in early Talkies) shows up from back home along with her folks. He finds work as a stagehand; they get fleeced by a con man. All the while, Mabel's going thru studio purgatory with props, screen tests & runaway lions. Lesson learned, it’s back to the simple life. Standard stuff, but well worth watching in spite of its ragtag story construction for a winning cast, the handsomely preserved print on the KINO-DVD and especially for its forgotten director, F. Richard Jones. He died young (in 1930, the same year as Mabel), but not before making Doug Fairbanks’ THE GAUCHO/’27 and Ron Colman’s BULLDOG DRUMMOND/’29, one of the best early Talkies. What a natural! The guy doesn’t put a foot wrong. There’s a lot of nice camera movement for the period and he really knows how to make a composition ‘sell’ the gag. He’s good with the dramatic stuff, too. A wheezy idea, like the runaway lion sequence, comes off fresh & funny, but also pretty darn scary, and he nails the big confrontation with the con man in the last act. Mabel’s shadow moves over the man, Graves attacks, there’s a slug-fest, a desperate moment when the money seems lost, and a nice gag ending. And check out the sophisticated use of mise-en-scène in an early scene where Mabel sneaks into her own home to avoid an unwanted suitor in the parlor. In a Sennett programmer!

DOUBLE-BILL: Colleen Moore in ELLA CINDERS/'26 and Marion Davies in SHOW PEOPLE/'28 played the same girl-goes-to-Hollywood rom-com tune, but for bigger studios with bigger budgets.

CONTEST: Normand was a prime suspect in one of Hollywood’s great unsolved murders a year before this film came out. You’d think the filmmakers would have avoided bringing up the subject, but a prominent reminder of the whole sorry mess is quite literally spelled out in the film. Find the unfortunate connection to win your choice of any NetFlix DVD for a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up.

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