John Gilbert followed up on the scandalous (and scandalously successful) Greta Garbo classic, A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS/’28*, with this programmer. It’s a perfectly decent late silent with Gilbert playing the manager of a remote North African Diamond mine who breaks from the daily grind to show the heavily guarded facility to a group of titled Brits. But he’s blindsided when they pull out guns, grab a tray of priceless gems and take him hostage. Now, if they can just make it across the Kalahari Desert, they’ll be rich! Too bad the only desert expert around is . . . Gilbert. And where the devil is he leading them? The film, cleanly helmed by William Nigh and often splendidly shot by James Wong Howe (lots of real desert locations), survives in reasonably good shape with just a bit of missing footage, plus its original 1929 music track, but it’s awfully small beer. (Rushed into production to squeeze out one last (safe) silent from Gilbert before he plunged into his first (utterly disastrous) Talkie, HIS GLORIOUS NIGHT/’29?) The main interest lies in seeing how far they go in deglamorizing Gilbert as sun, sand & dehydration rough him up. Quite the switch from his typical posh persona. Had some studio exec taken note of a sea change in public perception on Gilbert before his famous Talkie tumble?
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Clarence Brown’s exceptional WoA is based on Michael Arlen’s sensational novel & play THE GREEN HAT. In fact, it was so sensational the studio wasn’t allowed to use the title of that infamous property. A gossip’s delight, alluding to the lives, loves & sexually transmitted diseases of Jack Pickford & wives Olive Thomas & Marilyn Miller, it’s not out on DVD. Even so, its story can’t match the real-life fiasco of Gilbert’s lovely co-star here, the tragic Mary Nolan whose past forced her to change her name to get into movies and whose future had her dead at 43. (See more here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0634322/bio WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: The classic death-in-the-desert film sequence (now and forever) comes at the climax of Erich von Stroheim’s GREED/’24. (Stick with the original 140 min. release. Yes, it’s butchered, but the so-called Reconstruction, at nearly 6 hours, is less movie than exhortation . . . with slides.