Sunday, June 23, 2013

It (1927)

Director: Clarence G. Badger                           Writers: Hope Loring & Louis D. Lighton
Film Score: Carl Davis (1991)                          Cinematography: H. Kinley Martin
Starring: Clara Bow, Antonio Moreno, William Austin and Priscilla Bonner

Clara Bow’s most well-known film, though not so much for the content as for the cultural sensation it created, "It" began as a novel by Elinor Glyn and was rushed into production the same year to capitalize on its popularity. The film, however, is wonderful, which is probably why it created such a sensation in the first place. And like the reality shows of today, Glyn makes an appearance as herself in order to tell the main character what "it" actually is. Bow plays a shopgirl in the largest department store in town. The owner’s son, Antonio Moreno, is in charge while daddy’s gone and his best friend, William Austin, happens to read a magazine in the office with a serialization of Glyn’s novel It.

Austin becomes enthralled with the idea of this innate attraction that the opposite sex would have for someone with “it.” He checks out all the shopgirls in the store and decides that Bow is the one. He becomes enamored of her at the same time that she’s trying to get the attention of Moreno. So when Austin asks her out to dinner, she agrees, as long as he takes her to the fanciest restaurant in town. And who should be eating there too but Moreno, along with his de facto fiancé, Jacqueline Gadsen. This time he definitely notices her and at the store the next day he asks her out. They go to a carnival at the beach, and have a tremendous amount of fun. But when the women from the social welfare attempt to take away the baby of her roommate, Bow steps in and tells them it’s hers, little knowing the consequences it will have on her burgeoning relationship with Moreno.

The story is not very original. In fact, it’s pretty standard stuff for any romantic comedy. But Bow is just plain fun, and the film is incredibly enjoyable because of her. Though she would go on to do more serious work later, including the Academy Award winning Wings, but she wasn’t able to make the transition into sound, probably because the studios were ushering in stars of a more exotic nature, like Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo rather than her girl next door vivaciousness. She had trouble in her first talkie, was trying to get more compensation for the low wages she received during her career, and was in several legal battles at the time and career lost all of its momentum. Her silent film work remains, however, and it is wonderful.

Silent films are simply amazing. But you really have to understand that they are a very different art form than sound films. Sure, they’re all films, but you have not only the time period to consider, but acting styles, directing styles, and a host of other aspects of film that are subtly and not so subtly different. Once you give yourself over to the pantomime, the musical accompaniment, the reading of lips, it’s an incredibly rewarding experience. Clara Bow is fascinating to watch, and she certainly was the best choice to showcase the elusive “It” of the film. She is light and frothy and it makes you feel better just watching her.

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