Ars Gratia Artis: Week of January 3rd, 1920

marcus_loew
Marcus Loew

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported that Marcus Loew had bought all of the stock of the Metro Film Corporation:

The deal is said to involve several million dollars, according to advices from the East. This will be Mr. Loew’s first invasion of the picture-producing field. Metro is to retain its stars, it is announced, including Alla Nazimova, May Allison, Viola Dana, Alice Lake, Bert Lytell, and Francesca Bertini…The purchase will not interfere with Metro’s business affairs, which will be conducted as in the past, nor will if affect Metro’s dealings with other exhibitors.

mgmlogoThis was part of the consolidation of the film industry that happened in the early 1920’s. Marcus Loew owned one of the largest chain of theaters in New York, Loew’s Inc., and he wanted a steady supply of films. His company is still in business today. In 1924 Loew merged with Goldwyn Pictures and with Mayer Pictures in 1925, creating MGM. The studio went on to make the most memorable and prestigious films of Hollywood’s classic age from Grand Hotel (1932) to The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Singing in the Rain (1952). Unfortunately, he didn’t get to live to see the success it became. He died of heart failure in 1927, when he was 57 years old.

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Kingsley’s favorite film this week was The Luck of the Irish, which came from “the genius of Allan Dwan.” She wrote:

If you want to be completely intrigued and charmed away even from the remembrance of the high cost of living and such sordid things, go the Grauman’s this week and look at Allan Dwan’s Luck of the Irish. You’re lucky to have the chance.

He has been uniquely successful, but that smoothness of production characterizing The Luck of the Irish, the hundred touches that make for naturalness and most of all the intimate something which makes the walls of the theater melt away, leaving us in a world peopled only by Dwan’s characters, these are the things that can only be the fruit of years of effort. And Mr. Dwan may rest content with the reflection that in The Luck of the Irish he has achieved such heights of seeming naturalness, and that his characters are so vital, one seems always peeing through a window at real scenes and real people rather than gazing at mere shadows. The subtitles are sparkling and round up the laughs.

The story of the picture has to do with a husky young plumber, who does his ‘plumbing’ in a basement and who falls in love with a pair of neat ankles which pass his window each day. Of course, he meets the owner and becomes her gallant knight in the MacGrathish [Harold MacGrath, the story’s author] troubles besetting her on a trip around the world. To tell this is nothing—to see the picture is to be entirely charmed.

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The plot is fairly outlandish: the heroine does go on a tour of foreign cities, meets the plumber on the boat and winds up imprisoned in a house of prostitution (that last bit hasn’t turned up in recent rom-coms). It’s a lost film, but Dwan went on to make lots of charming movies, including Robin Hood (1922) and Brewster’s Millions (1945) so it’s entirely possible that this one was too.

This week, Kingsley got to have some fun with a review of a “monumental comedy dud” (that didn’t go on the poster). Lew Cody played “a professional lover who has fairly to carry a club about with him to keep the ladies away” in The Beloved Cheater. In particular, the screenplay irked her:

I take no issue with the morals of the play; in fact, it has not the courage to be immoral. I merely take issue with the good taste of the thing, that and its naiveté. No authorship is announced, and so I feel free to guess it was written by the office boy, in collaboration with the Sweet Singer of Michigan.*

The authors didn’t remain anonymous. The story was by Jules Furthman, who went on to have an impressive screenwriting resume including Shanghai Express (1932) and The Big Sleep (1946). The screenplay was by the film’s producer Louis Gasnier, who worked on Max Linder’s early films and directed Perils of Pauline (1914), and Lew Cody himself.

Other critics didn’t question the morality or the taste of the film. J.S Dickerson in Motion Picture News (December 6, 1919) thought it was “an interesting study of the ‘he-vamp’ at his favorite recreation,” and was very happy that Cody did not reform in the end. Jane McCloskey in Moving Picture World (January 24, 1920) wrote that she enjoyed seeing the story from the ‘other man’s’ perspective – “a novelty of treatment to an old theme that is most refreshing.” Kingsley also reported that “many in the audience seemed to like the picture, even though it does seem to me personally that Cody muffed it sadly”. It’s a lost film, so we can’t find out for ourselves.

 

 

*The Sweet Singer of Michigan was the nickname of Julia A. Moore (1847-1920), a notoriously bad poet. Even Mark Twain parodied her, according to a terrific blog post from the Paris Review. They mentioned “a critic in the Rochester Democrat wrote of her work, “Shakespeare, could he read it, would be glad that he was dead.”

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Ars Gratia Artis: Week of January 3rd, 1920”

  1. As always a great post! Loew’s timing was good as was Metro’s. He he sought they had and what they sought he had and the concern survived into the new decade. And The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was just about to be a huge hit. A Plumber in a basement, eh? Why does my mind wander? Cody I have a soft spot for. He was great in Souls for Sale (1922). Seen that?

    Liked by 1 person

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