I know of two films that, comparatively speaking always, rival Kane in their bevy of diverse film technique, incidentally both French. Now a third, and the first in sound. Like Welles, Mamoulian started out in the theater and moved to film, though of course much less ceremoniously. Like him, an innovator, loved the camera, visual space and movement, and fought with studios on and off throughout his uneven career.
No comparison really. Welles was a narrative mastermind next to his other qualities as a showman. Still, interesting guy I will be seeing more from—already have Love Me Tonight, a light operetta in the Lubitsch mode.
The plot is shameless melodrama, a burlesque mother is made by her abusive boyfriend to pull her daughter from her boarding school and into show biz to start making money. The boyfriend is the kind of lecherous villain that audiences back when they thought the actor was his character, would probably boo his every on-screen appearance. In the silent format, the effect would have been somewhat mitigated by the presence of intertitles, and not being able to hear the constant sobs and wails of pathetic anguish—theatrical voicing on top of theatrical acting.
No matter, folks. Watch a few films of the era and get back to this, start with The Jazz Singer. It’s a breath of fresh air, the only way I can describe it relative to its time is New Wave—think of Breathless by contrast to a late 50’s run-of-the-mill crime flick.
The staging is fluid; the places some of them real, explored with a youthful, curious gaze; the camera expressive, cultivating visual space as of equal importance to the story than as simple conveyance for it.
The scene of two youthful lovers staring out to sea on top of I think the Empire State Building takes the breath away. Or the two of them wandering by sunup to Brooklyn Bridge—simple poetry, a pan from wrought iron framework to simmering horizon, still modern.
Ultimately, it exhilarates. You dwell long enough in the stringent melodrama and overall depressing feel of the burlesque world, so these free flows, when they come, sweep you out to sea and floating freedom.
It’s a smart bit of dynamics. You venture past the limits of the adult stage with these youth (she a dancer, he a sailor), it’s got to be you. When they part in the subway, and she looks with a kind of dumb amazement at the pieces of gum in her palm, it’s a heartbreaking moment.
Well, it wasn’t going to fly. It opened with three weeks to go for Black Tuesday.