No corrections yet
.THE HAYSEEDS." i
Little by little, Australian film producers are feeling their way towards an authentic ex- pression of the life of this country. The path is hard. It is all very well saying, "Let us be Australian. Let us have an Australian story, and Australian local colour." The evolution of a national spirit in any art Is a slow pro- cess. It must wait on fine minds which have the power to seize on everyday life and trans- form that life into artistic form. In the field of painting, the change from a European to an Australian outlook began about 1875. In novel-writing it has been much more recent The drama has not yet pioduced a play of distinctively Australian atmosphere which measures up to contemporary world standards.
In England or America, the hack-playwright is provided for. It he lacks the skill and the insight to draw on real life as his model, there are swarms of good plays by other authors from whom he can draw suggestion and inspiration. In Australia, the only drama- tic models with any approach to an Aus- tralian spirit in them are plays whose dramatic technique has gone hopelessly out of date. Film producers are seizing on these plays, and trying to modernise them. Cinesound has already brought out "On Our Selection" and "The Squatter's Daughter," and has "Robbery Under Arms" in prospect. Mr. Beaumont Smith has made "The Hayseeds." But if such by- gone successes are reorganised sufficiently to meet the taste of the present-day public in Sydney and in London (for all local producers nowadays have their eye on the English mar- ket), they must emerge as completely different from their originals as though they were new stories.
In "The Hayseeds," which began a season at the Civic Theatre on Saturday, a good deal of new material has been interpolated: but the antiquated sentiment and the absurdly stilted dialogue of the original come staring all too plainly through. Meditating on impressions of the stage play, one remembers it as being boisterously farcical. There are humorous pas- sages on the screen; but, somehow or other, the farce has become toned down, and often subordinates itself to an element of deadly serious drama. TJnfoitunately, the production as a whole does not suggest Australian char- acters, or the basic qualities of Australian life. Three of the principal actors-John Moore, Arthur Clarke, and Shirley Dale-speak a par- ticularly genteel sort of Oxford English, which is appropriate only in Mr. Clarke's case, for while the other two are supposed to be Sydney people, he is the son of an English lord, who has nobly taken on himself the blame for a forgery committed by a younger brother, and fled from London in fear of the law. On the other hand, the sons and daughters of Dad Hayseed are grotesque half-wits, of the kind whom "On Our Selection" has already intro- duced to English audiences as a sample of Australian rural life.
Viewed as a whole, the acting in "The Hay- seeds" is patchy. Having been selected (ap- parently) on account of their voices, the three principals already mentioned sing well, but, as dramatis personae, they carry no conviction whatever. Cecil Kellaway, whose splendid stage acting in "Music in the Air" had sug- gested that his Dad Hayseed might rival the brilliant performance of Bert Bailey in "On Our Selection," cuts only a competent figure on the screen. Like Leal Douglas and Katie Towers, he merely suggests, in his agreeable repose, the possibility of finer work under more painstaking and sympathetic direction. The best acting in "The Hayseeds" is done by Molly Raynor. Her portrait of Pansy Ryan is finely resourceful and alive in its vein of
broad farce. Others in the cast include Tal Ordell, Kenneth Brampton, and Mr. Kellaway's small son, Brian.
As though seeking to distract attention from the dramatic hollowness of the story, Mr. Beaumont Smith has loaded the film from end to end with Australian flora and fauna and scenery. For a little while, the novelty of seeing such phenomena as kookaburras, native bears, the Harbour Bridge, Pitt-street trams, and the G.P.O. clock intruding themselves into screen drama will probably attract audiences to Australian films. But producers are mis- taken if they imagine these things, in them- selves, will have a lasting appeal. The most attractive scenes in "The Hayseeds" are those depicting the banksla-clad hills typical of the country to the immediate north and south of Sydney. The musical numbers have been written with pleasant brightness and origin- ality.
Although "Stage Mother" belongs to the "back-stage" classification, and, therefore, deals with a subject about which little that is new can still be said, its early passages comprise an honest and finely acted study of the hectic life of touring vaudeville companies. There are two conflicting themes-one the cruelty of forcing children through the harsh discipline necessary to produce a successful performer, and, the other, the joy of a battle in which toil and tedium eventually win the reward of popularity. In one pathetic scene, a band of hard-featured mothers are shown parading little children before a producer as singers, dancers, and contortionists. Some of the children hardly understand what they are about. Others have acquired an agility that speaks of years of monotonous coaching; and these years receive their reward when the producer waves them off the stage with a con- temptuous gesture.
So far "Stage Mother" is an effective, though somewhat harrowing, film; but efforts to en- gineer a conventional happy ending cast their shadow over the later scenes. Creaking drama- tic devices are dragged into service. There Is the youth of good family who wants to marry the dancing girl; the misunderstanding which leads him to believe that she is mercenary; the scene in which the girl makes her critical ap- pearance in a New Yoik show, hiding a broken heart behind a forced smile; and the eleventh hour repentance of her "stage mother" who had hitherto been the villain of the piece. Al" this has been done over and over again; and even the skill of Alice Brady and the charm of Maureen O'sullivan are unable to give it vitality. "Stage Mother," a Metro Goldwyn-Mayer production, has begun a sea- son at the Plaza Theatre.
"Midnight Club" is a cleverly-designed comedy of crime and detection, based on a story by the dexterous E. Phillips Oppenheim. The author lets the audience into his confi- dence at the outset, so far as the methods of the criminals are concerned. The problem is not the Identity of the criminals, but, as they have discovered so neat (and Improbable) a system of outwitting the law, how they are to be detected. Colin Grant (played by Clive Brook) is the leader of a team of well-dressed Jewel-thieves, who establish an alibi when- ever they are at work by placing accomplices dressed and "made-up" to look exactly like them at a table in the Midnight Club, where they will be under the eyes of suspicious police officers. Into this gang an American (George Raft) forces his way, and nassages of plea- santly sharp comedy are provided in the form of conversational duels between the elegant and imperturbable Mr. Brook, speaking in per- fect English, and Mr. Raft, equally imperturb- able, but armed with the mordant slang of the American underworld. Helen Vinson, as the heroine, almost succeeds in convincing the spectator that she could have been an active accomplice in daring robberies; and Alison Skipworth turns up in a small part that gives her talent little scope. It is a smoothly flowing comedy, and sufficiently novel in its development to keep the spectator wondering what the next step is to be-and this is one of the chief objects of a tale of this
kind. "Midnight Club" is a Paramount pro- duction, and is being shown at the Prince
If the objects of "Torch Singer" were to present Claudette Colbert wearing a series of exquisite costumes and to display her great talent as a cabaret singer it could be rated as a complete success. But Miss Colberts gowns and Miss Colbert's singing are lonely plums in a gluey pudding of sentimentality. Practically every leading screen actress has been called upon once, or more than once, to play the part of a notorious woman v:hose brazen exterior conceals her love of a child, about whom th: public knows nothing. Now Miss Colbert has her turn. She, however, is presented as a woman living not merely a double but a treble life; for she is, firstly, a notorious cabaret singer; secondly, a broad- caster of children's bedtime stories; and, thirdly, the loving mother of a hidden child. One of the scenes, which will serve as a sample, shows the singer, very drunk Jeing dragged from a slum tenement, and then being plied with coffee and smelling salts so that she can keep a broadcasting appointment. Coffee and smelling salts prove of no avail; but when the manager reminds her that her little daughter may be listening, she is able to stagger to the microphone and do her worK. Other passages are equally maudlin. "Torch Singer," a Paramount production, is being
shown at the Prince Edward Theatre.
"Blonde Bombshell" lampoons life in the American film colony. It is much in the same vein as "Once in a Lifetime," which has been seen in Sydney both on the stage and on the screen. The central figure is Lola Burns (Jean Harlow), a platinum-haired film star who is being used to play parts requir- ing a tempestuous passionate temperament and a good deal of physical attractiveness of an opulent kind-parts, indeed, of the kind that Jean Harlow herself is allotted. Lola Burns has a press agent (Lee Tracy), who sees to it that she is presented to the public as a colourful though disreputable character. Actually, she is an empty-headed person, sur- rounded by parasitical servants and relations, at whom she incessantly bawls like a fishwife. The storv concerns her effort to break her .way out the web of unreality in which the press agent has entangled her. For a while she succeeds; but she escapes only into other dieamlands of her own miking, In which she imagines herself first as a simple, home loving girl, and then as an inhabitant of the world of elegance and refinement. The whole film is carried through in a broadly comical vein and ut a high speed. The consistency with which everything is kept at the same low-comedy level is admirable. Several actors in the cast reveal an unexpected talent for caricature. There is Frank Morgan, for example, as Lola's bottle-nosed father; Fran chot Tone temporarily in the character of a poetic, fastidious youth from cultured Bos- ton; and C. Aubrey Smith. Miss Harlow and Mr. Tracy, of course, are in parts of the kind in which each of them specialises, though Miss Harlow is required often to go outside the limits of her stereotyped character, and manages this very well. "Blonde Bombshell" is a noisily amusing film of a novel kind. Here, as in "Once in a Lifetime," Hollywood must be congratulated on pillorying her own con- ventions, institutions, and legends so boldly. "Blonde Bombshell" is a Metro-Goldwyn Mayer picture, and is being shown at the Regent Theatre. It is interesting to note that the film made its first American appear- ance under the name of "Bombshell," but so many women stayed away, under the Impression that it was a war picture, that the title was
"MEET THE BARON."
"Meet the Baron" is a farcical extravaganza that seems to have been made in Imitation and emulation of the work of the four Marx Brothers. Like their work, it is on a grand scale, with crowd scenes and opulent spec- tacles. The effect of some of these scenes in "Meet the Baron" Is made all the more comical by reason of the fact that thev have patently been culled from newsreels of great national celebrations in New York and elsewhere. As in the films made by the Marx Brothers, every- thing has been sacrificed to speed, and the dia- logue is the same kind of Inconsequential non- sense, that flows from the lips of Groucho and Beppo Marx. The narrative, such as it is, centres round the arrival in New York of a trouser-presser who represents himself to be Baron Munchausen. This part is played by Jack Pearl; but most of the fooling Is provided by the voluble Jimmy Durante, as the "Baron's" manager; Edna May Oliver, as the dean of a girls' academy; and Zasu Pitts, an the upstai-s maid in the same institution. These three are intensely amusing (particu- larly Miss Oliver), and some of the musical scenes, with conversation set to well-known tunes, is effective; but the film relies too much on the crudest kind of buffoonery, in which the characters smack one another's faces, or hit one another on the heads with padded sledge-hammers. "Meet the Baron" is a Metro Goldwyn-Mayer film, and is being screened at
the Capitol Theatre.
"Flying Devils" Is as dull as lifeless acting and a sordid and obvious story can make it. Films of aerial fighting have now gone out of fashion, and spectacular flying is presented on the screen as an appendage to tales of air mail pilots or, (as in this Instance) of travel- ling showmen, who provide entertainment at country fairs by giving disolays of aerial acro- batics and parachute-jumping. The leading pilots in the present team are gruff, disen- chanted "he-men," who speak in slangy mono- syllables, continually repeating the same phrases, and show their manly regard for each other by affectionate punches and back slappings. One soon grows tired of their limited vocabularies; the false sentiment with which the story is presented; and the comic inter- ludes which are gross and devoid of wit. Ralph Bellamy manages to give some vitality to the part of an embittered and taciturn victim of the war, but the other characters remain mere puppets. "Flying Devils," an R.K.O. production,
is at the Capitol Treatre.
"THE WORST WOMAN IN
This film was written and directed by Monta Bell, a veteran among film producers, and the leading part Is taken by Benita Hume, a ver- satile and attractive English actress who did distinguished work in British pictures and was recently transported to Hollywood. The theme is somewhat similar to that of Carl van Vechten's novel, "The Tattooed Countess." It concerns the consequences of the appearance of a woman of the world in a small American town. But Mr. Bell seems not to have been able to make up his mind whether the film was to be a comedy or a sentimental melodrama. His difficulty may have been caused by the taboos which surround the presentation of female character in American films. The central figure is at the same time a "sympathetic" charac- ter and a woman with a "past," which she looks back upon imnenltently. For its effect the film relies on a sharp contrast between the woman's notorious career in Paris and her temporary assumption of virtue in Kansas. To comply with screen conventions Mr. Bell has pre- sented her life in Paris in the vein of comedy; but when the scene is changed the film lapses Into sentimentality and also moves at a tedi- ously slow pace. Miss Hume manages as well as could be expected in the circumstances, and Adolphe Menlou is an amusing Parisian liber- tine. "The Worst Woman in Paris" is a Fox film, and is being presented at the Regent