Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Lucky Lady (1926)

Director: Raoul Walsh                                     Writer: James T. O’Donohoe
Producer: Raoul Walsh                                   Cinematography: Victor Milner
Starring: Greta Nissen, Lionel Barrymore, William Collier Jr. and Marc McDermott

I’ve been in a Norwegian state of mind lately. In attempting to read up on these films I was rather disappointed at the paucity of literature available. About films from Norway there is really only one book on the subject, Nordic National Cinemas, but that only covers Norway in one section along with sections on the other Scandinavian countries. The other book, about Scandinavians in Hollywood, is Nordic Exposures by Arne Lunde and that is where I ran across The Lucky Lady. Not only does it star Norwegian actress Greta Nissen, but also the talents of Lionel Barrymore and director Raoul Walsh, so it seemed as if it had the potential to be a great film. It’s actually a charming romantic comedy, and Nissen is tremendous in the title role. It’s a familiar story that comes out of the tradition of arranged marriages in royalty, a story that would be reprised in countless films over the last hundred years in many different ways. This one contains elements of Roman Holiday, The Princess Bride and Pretty Woman.

The film begins in a fictional European country, a tiny land where gambling and tourism are the primary industries, similar to Monaco. The people of the country are talking about forming a republic after the death of their king, something the prime minister, Marc McDermott, is dead set against. The heir to the throne is young Greta Nissen, now living in a convent and determined to marry for love. McDermott hatches a plan to have her marry a duke, Lionel Barrymore, who owes the casino half a million and will be able to set him on the throne with complete control over him. Meanwhile, American William Collier accidentally bumps into Greta Nissen when she sneaks out of the convent and is immediately infatuated with her, but believes he has no chance when he discovers she’s a princess. Barrymore reluctantly agrees to the deal in lieu of going to jail, but when Nissen realizes all she has to do is repulse him so he won’t go through with it, the comedy really gets rolling. Once Collier sets eyes on the playboy Barrymore, he becomes determined that she shouldn’t marry him and sets out on a Romeo-like quest for her hand, even to the point of climbing up a balcony. Then it’s a race to see if they can catch Barrymore in an uncompromising condition, canceling the marriage, before McDermott can get her to the alter with him.

Raoul Walsh is one of the great Hollywood directors, but his work here is decidedly pedestrian, especially after some magnificent early work like Regeneration from a decade earlier that shows how much he could bring to a picture when given some room to maneuver. I’m guessing he was limited in time here with the addition of production chores and the quick shooting schedule inhibited his considerable artistic abilities. Just one example is the first tracking shot with Nissen hiding in the back seat of Collier’s car. The camera can’t keep the two stars in the frame together as it swings wildly back and forth. Another take would have seemed warranted, but it didn’t happen. As with so many films with an actress in the starring role, the male lead is fairly uninteresting. Nevertheless, William Collier Jr. had a lengthy career in silent and early sound films that ended in 1935 when he became a producer. Lionel Barrymore is terrific, as always, though one misses his distinctive voice. But Greta Nissen is clearly the star, radiant onscreen, confident and capable with all of the comedy elements. Unlike other European stars like Garbo, Dietrich or even Bergman, her Norwegian accent was so thick that she was unable to successfully make the transition to sound. The Lucky Lady is one of her great silent films and a very entertaining, if predictable, romantic comedy.

No comments:

Post a Comment