j "HARMONY BOW."
"Harmony Row" Is the first really successful picture that Efftee Films have produced. In "The Sentimental Bloke," they made an un- convincing attempt to be very Australian. In "His Royal Highness," they tried to cope with the Ideas oí oversea exhibitors by putting forth an Australlan-cum-Hollywood farce. In "Harmony Row," however, they have at last got down to basic principles, and realised that the play itself is the thing; the "atmosphere" only incidental. A good farce Is a good farce, whether It is produced In London, California, or Berlin. Except for George Wallace's Aus- tralian accent, which is always very amusing and characteristic, the scene of the play might almost as well be London as Melbourne. In fact, some of the minor characters have a distinct tinge of cockney in their speech, while the police officer with whom Mr. Wallace has so many interviews gains an "all-British" cur- rency through his rich Irish brogue. Mr. Wal- lace himself has improved enormously since "His Royal Highness." He now shows a sense of what the camera requires, as opposed to the vaudeville stage. Indeed, he has developed his style so richly that he bears comparison with the best of the leading comedians who come onto the screen from overseas. This Is fortunate, for he has to bear almost the whole burden of the humour In "Harmony Row" on his own shoulders. Tho other characters are mere "feeders," who circulate about him in order to bring forth his droll strokes of panto- mime and . burlesque-a pantomime and bur- lesque which sometimes seem to be extem- porised from moment to moment; but never- theless avoid the vague rambllngs which are often so trying In English-made farce. "Har- mony Row" disposes, once and for all, of the excuse which so many Australian producers have put forward for childish, incompetent work-the complaint that "Australia cannot produce good films because she cannot afford, like London and Hollywood, to spend ltirge sums on settings." There are only three or four backgrounds In the whole of "Harmony Row," and these of a modest, even parsi- monious kind. Yet the spectator does not feel depressed or irritated by this fact In the slightest.
The early part of the programme at the Capitol Theatre, where "Harmony Row" is showing, Include several short EfTtee produc- tions which are unusually interesting. One Is a film of the Great Barrier Reef, describing Oie multitudinous bird life. Another brings forward the J. C. Williamson-Imperial Grand Opera Orchestra in the overture to Gounod's "Faust"-a pleasant change from the "Poet and Peasant" and "Light Cavalry" with which picture-goers have been persistently regaled.
"THE SIGN OF THE CROSS."
In nine cases out of ten, when a critic makes some adverse comment on a film, its adherents in the industry will seek to nullify this Judg- ment by saying: "Well, It's good entertainment, anyway. We don't claim more than that." The pronouncement infallibly silences further discussion, for the simple reason that it con- tains no meaning whatever. The churning forth of "good entertainment" has succeeded In driving audiences away from the picture theatres in shoals. It has brought two large American studlea to bankruptcy; and others hesitate on the brink of similar disaster. The one cardinal rule for solvency would seem to be: "Avoid what the film trade calls 'good entertainment,' at all costs." One wonders whether Cecil B. de Mille had this thought In mind when he produced "The Sign of the Cross." For once, the catch-cry cannot be raised. No one in his senses would call "The Sign of the Cross" "good entertainment." It is a catalogue of brutalities and horrors. His- torians are practically agreed that the Roman circus at which the citizens revelled In orgies of slaughter and sickening cruelty, reflected the Increasing decadence of the Roman State -a decadence which led to the collapse of Roman civilisation. Mr. de Mille reproduces the carnage of the arena in the most minute, the most hideous detail. An Amazon spears a pygmy, and rushes about brandishing the Impaled body aloft. One sees arms and legs being cut off, human beings being mauled by beasts; swords plunging into opponents' breasts. Not only the arena scenes, but other episodes, such as the slaughter by soldiers of a band of Christians, and the frightful tor- ture inflicted on a young boy, are portrayed in the most graphic way. In still other parts of the film, Mr. de Mille gives himself up to a lively demonstration of the sensuous cor- ruption to be found among the Roman aristo- cracy in Nero's time. There would seem to be little distinction between the Roman citi- zens who took part in such happenings and the twentieth-century audiences who look at them on the screen. If picture goers really do glory (as Mr. de Mille supposes they will) In such unbridled outbursts of sadism. These savage episodes, which fill up a large proportion of the film, are all the more regrettable because Mr. de Mille has lavished on his production a superb opulence of artistry in the acting and the set- tings. Time and time ngaln, the spectator's eye is delighted by some brilliant background, where emphasis has boen achieved through just the right degree of detail and ornament. A pair of wrought-lron gates, a well with a creeper behind it, the magnificent curtains of Poppaea's chamber-such settings as these are ravishlngly beautiful. In the re-creation of a Roman street, Mr. de Mille has brought history to life more vividly than one has ever seen it on the screen before. The photo- graphy is sometimes extraordinary. The character-studies, too, have an unusual In cisiveness and conviction. Most spectacular among them is Charles Laughton's portrait of Nero-a very caricature of an Emperor, rotten and depraved to the core; but fascinating In the sheer whimsicality of his malice. As Poppaea, the frivolous, sensuous, unscrupu- lous Empress, Claudette Colbert gives a per- formance which, in the richness of its light and shade, far exceeds anything she has done before. Fredric March is finely robust as Marcus Superbus, the Prefect; and Elissa Landl gives natural, though rather subdued charm to Mercla, the Christian girl. "The Sign of the Cross," a Paramount film, is being shown at the Prince Edward Theatre.
"DIGGERS IN BLIGHTY."
Mr. Pat Hanna announced from the stage at the Capitol Theatre on Friday that his company had just started on the production of another film. The first public view of "Diggers in Blighty" suggests that, before proceeding further with this venture, he should have a radical overhauling of his technical methods. The whole procedure of himself and Mr. Raymond Longford in directing "Diggers In Blighty" has been anti- quated and unsatisfactory. They have re- peated the mistakes that London and Holly- wood made in the earliest days of talking films; and that the best directors in both camps have long outgrown. First and fore- most, they have had the idea that the audi- ence must be treated during every moment to a torrent of shouting and noise. Everyone in the play seems to be talking at the top of his or her voice; and talking so fast that the listener often grows quite desperate trying to keep up with them. Any microscopic respites from speech are zealously filled up with bursts of lively music. In the second place, the directors must realise that actors need directing when they are before the camera. Merely to turn the players (however clever) loose in a drove across the studio floor is fatal. There must be minute attention to detail In every movement. The acting in "Diggers In Blighty" is often much too vio- lent for the screen; and, in the case of the women, the energetic "registering" of emo- tion recalls the early days of the silent screen. In the third place, Mr. Hanna would be wise to consult well-informed opinion concerning his story and his continuity. Both are ex- ceedingly weak. These three groups of technical defects all but swamp what con- ventional humour the film contains; though there are some genuinely amusing moments near the end.
If it is the object of a film dealing with crime and detection to baffle Its audience, "Under-Cover Man" must be ranked as a dis- tinct success. In the first place the dialogue consists of cryptic remarks in the Jargon of the American underworld, and a great deal of It is unintelligible even to a fairly experi- enced plcturegoer. There Is the added diffi- culty of distinguishing between the police, the criminals, the police who are disguised as criminals (the "under-cover men") and the criminals who are disguised as police. This obscurity is compensated for, to some extent, by the interesting performance of George Raft in the leading part. Mr. Raft seldom allows even a flicker of expression to pass over his face. This poker-player's style of act- ing which would be tiresome in other cir- cumstances, and Mr. Raft's peculiar coun- tenance were admirably suited to his part in this picture-that of a police spy living under the continual threat of discovery and mur- der "Under-Cover Man," an R.K.O. pro- duction, Is at the Empire Theatre.