Friday, 2 May 2014

Love 'em and Leave 'em (1926)

I occasionally treat myself to a mini Louise Brooks movie retrospective when I come across one of her previously unseen film roles. A charismatic screen icon from the 1920s with her trademark dark bob, she has left more of a cinematic legacy than her acting talent warrants.

She came to New York from Kansas to further her career as a dancer with George White's Scandals and the Ziegfield Follies, before drifting into a series of obscure films in 1926 and 1927, most of which are largely unavailable or forgettable, although "The Old Army Game" -- a W C Fields vehicle is of some interest. She was treated as mainly attractive totty before breaking through as a screen force to be reckoned with in the closing third of 1928's "A Girl in Every Port" and the road movie "Beggars of Life". In the latter her luminous beauty could not be dismissed, even if she did spend most of the film disguised as a boy. After an important role in "The Canary Murder Case", she left for Europe and her iconic Lulu in Pabst's "Pandora's Box" and "Diary of a Lost Girl" (both 1929).

'Canary' was originally shot as a silent, the first of four Philo Vance whodunnits starring the urbane William Powell. With the coming of sound, it was decided to reshoot it as a 'talkie' but Brooks refused to return from Europe. Her voice was disastrously dubbed by a very nasal Margaret Livingston and Brooks' Hollywood career was dead in the water. After making "Miss Europe" in France in 1930, she found herself persona non grata on her return to Tinseltown and only managed the occasional roles in Z-grade oaters before retiring from films.

The above movie, while not a Brooks vehicle by any means, would probably not be available today were it not for her presence. It was intended as a starring vehicle for Evelyn Brent, the elder of two sisters living in a boarding house and working in a department store. Brent had promised their late mother to look after younger sister Brooks and soon discovers that the amoral and feckless lass needs a lot of looking after. Brent is in love with workmate Lawrence Gray (a totally uncharismatic chancer), but Brooks soon moves in on the young Romeo when Brent goes on vacation. She has also squandered the firm's annual dance fund on bad horses and manages to cast the blame on big sister, who has until 11 pm that evening to find the money or go to jail. Brooks' Jane is a complete nightmare but 100% irresistible with it. She tells her sister that yes, she will go to the dance but certainly won't enjoy herself. One minute later the film cuts to her in her short-skirted circus outfit (think Marlene Dietrich in "The Blue Angel"), energetically Charlestoning her little heart out.

Gray, who really doesn't deserve her, manages finally to reconcile with Brent, but Brooks in the meantime -- having cozied up to one of the store's managers -- is last heard of having driven off with the big boss in his Rolls Royce. Gold-diggers of the world unite! 

A sidebar of interest in this film is that the sleazy, rat-faced resident of the house and would-be lothario, who acts as Brooks' bookie and who has cheated her out of the winnings that would have saved the day, is played by one Osgood Perkins. Perkins was in fact a well-respected Broadway star of the day, who died at the very young age of 45 and who is best known to us today as the father of Psycho's Anthony. 

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