Louise Brooks will kick off the 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. At 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 17, the SFSFF will screen Augusto Genina’s Prix de Beauté aka Beauty Prize at the Castro Theater. Released in 1930 — when talkies had already become established in much of the moviemaking world — the French-made Prix de Beauté came out in both sound and silent versions, a widely common practice in those days as many theaters had yet to get wired for sound. Needless to say, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s Prix de Beauté print is the silent version, recently restored by the Cineteca di Bologna. (Photo: Louise Brooks in Prix de Beauté.)
Prix de Beauté, which marked the last time Louise Brooks starred in a feature film, tells the story of a typist who enters a beauty contest — much to her boyfriend’s chagrin — and finds herself on her way to becoming Miss Europe and the object of desire of multitudes of men. The Prix de Beauté story and screenplay were concocted by G.W. Pabst, for whom Brooks had starred in Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl, and René Clair, whose directorial efforts — e.g., Under the Roofs Paris, À Nous la Liberté — would inspire the likes of Ernst Lubitsch, Rouben Mamoulian, Charles Chaplin, and their myriad imitators, emulators, and "homage-payers."
Prix de Beauté: Louise Brooks talkie minus Brooks’ voice
The sound version of Prix de Beauté turned out to be Louise Brooks’ first talkie — though, ironically, her singing and dialogue were dubbed. Back in 1929, Brooks had refused to return to Paramount to dub her lines in the silent-turned-talkie The Canary Murder Case; Margaret Livingston (Sunrise) had to step in to provide the Canary’s voice. If IMDb release dates are correct, audiences would have to wait until the February 1931 release of Frank Tuttle’s It Pays to Advertise, a Norman Foster / Carole Lombard comedy in which Brooks has a small supporting role, to hear her actual voice.
Also of note, Prix de Beauté was shot by Louis Née and Rudolph Maté. The latter was to become a five-time Academy Award-nominated Hollywood cinematographer, among whose credits are Leo McCarey’s Love Affair (1939), with Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer; Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent, with Joel McCrea and Laraine Day; Alexander Korda’s That Hamilton Woman, with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh; Sam Wood’s The Pride of the Yankees (1942), with Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright; Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942), with Jack Benny and Carole Lombard; and Charles Vidor’s Gilda (1946), with Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford.
Besides Louise Brooks, Prix de Beauté features Georges Charlia, Augusto Bandini, André Nicolle, Marc Ziboulsky, Yves Glad, Alex Bernard, Gaston Jacquet, and Jean Bradin.
Prix de Beauté: Post-screening party
For the gala opening-night screening of Prix de Beauté, tickets cost $20 for the general public. Those wishing to join the post-screening opening-night party — "with drinks, hors d’oeuvres, dancing to the Frisky Frolics, and more in the amazing top floor loft of the historic McRoskey Mattress Company" — will have to shell out $42. San Francisco Silent Film Festival members pay $15 and $35, respectively. Don’t expect to rub elbows with Louise Brooks at the party, but do expect to bump into Louise Brooks look-alikes.
Louis Brooks in Prix de Beauté photo via the 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival.