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Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Here’s the set-up: Big Hollywood silent star stumbles in his first Talkie even as his leading lady thrives. Soon, he’s lost everything, too proud to accept her help and too stubborn to alter his image. THE ARTIST/’11, that pleasing silent-by-choice award-winner, right? Well, yes, but also this sweet little B-pic from Columbia starring that real-life fading silent film star Richard Dix. Here, he’s a cowboy star who flops when he’s forced to wear fancy duds & speak romantic dialogue. Who’s making outdoor Talkie Westerns? There’s some pretty corny stuff in here, and a bathetic sub-plot with a sick little kid who believes in his cowboy hero, but lots of goofy fun, too. Plus, some more than decent behind-the-scenes Hollywood fare. Harry Lachman megs briskly, helped by an enthusiastic cast (Fay Wray is a charmer), and superior work from Frank Capra’s regular lenser, Joseph Walker, who adds glamor & style you don't expect in a programmer. (Watch him wipe a decade of disappointment off Dix in a couple of portrait shots late in the film.) The script is downright cavalier about its timeline (that sick tyke doesn’t age a day), but all is forgiven with a couple of neat plot twists that bring Dix back into favor. Plus, there’s a real Hollywood insider treat at a party with Hollywood Stand-Ins pretending to be the real thing. And they actually hired the real Stand-Ins for this knock-out scene. What a hoot!

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: You can check out the stars and their Stand-Ins @: Note that you won’t find a listing for Irene Dunne’s Stand-In. Yet, that must be her greeting Dix. That is, it must be the real Irene Dunne. Probably working on the Columbia lot, she must have come over as a favor to her old CIMARRON co-star. A very classy gesture.

DOUBLE-BILL: Of course, you could pair this with THE ARTIST (mentioned above), but why not check out Dix in one of his best roles as the Native American torn between old ways and modern life in REDSKIN/'29. The scenes in Indian territory were shot in 2-Strip TechniColor and, for once, the limitations in palette perfectly fit the look of the SouthWest. (This title is available in TREASURES III: Social Issues in American Cinema - National Film Preservation.)

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