Jessie Matthews & Gertrude Lawrence + Ernst Lubitsch: Classic Movie Showcases

Jessie Matthews First a Girl
Jessie Matthews in the musical First a GirlVictor Victoria precursor.

The bfi is currently presenting a Jessie Matthews retrospective, which ends on March 11.

From Richard Stirling's bfi article: “Few stories in British show business are more potent than that of high-kicking, saucer-eyed Jessie Matthews. Born 100 years ago on 11 March 1907, as the seventh of a market vendor's eleven children, she danced her way from Soho poverty to theatre stardom – thence to blaze across the cinema screens of the world, becoming, in the words of Bette Davis, 'England's greatest star.'

“In 1936, she reached her zenith with It's Love Again, the last of five films for her mentor, director Victor Saville. But whereas Saville subsequently made the leap to MGM, Jessie – despite many offers and the dreams of her fans to see her dance with Fred Astaire – would never shoot a musical film in Hollywood.”

I've only seen the “Dancing Divinity,” as she was then known, once – well, apart from a small role in tom thumb. Matthews acts, sings, and dances in First a Girl (which will be screened tomorrow), a 1935 remake of the German musical comedy Viktor und Viktoria, released two years earlier. (Decades later, the story was remade as Victor Victoria in Hollywood.)

In the film, the pretty, charming, long-legged Mathews is a real delight – even though First a Girl is anything but. Part of the problem is Sonnie Hale, one of the dreariest leading men ever. And considering Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, et al., that's saying something. (Now, of course, Sonnie Hale has absolutely nothing in common with the aforementioned Hollywood stars; he was prissy-ish and light on his feet.)

Anyhow, here's hoping a Jessie Matthews DVD set will be released one of these days.

Jessie Mathews bfi schedule.

Gertrude Lawrence & H.G. Wells: Cinefest movies

Cinefest 2007 (website), the 27th edition of the yearly four-day rare film marathon held in Syracuse, NY, will take place from March 15-18.

Among the scheduled films – whether tentative or confirmed – are:

  • The Spanish-language version of the Harry Langdon two-reeler The Big Kick (1930), renamed La Estación de gasolina;
  • the American premiere of the 46-minute French-language version of the Charley Chase (right) 1930 two-reeler All Teed Up (co-written by future director Leo McCarey), Le Joueur de golf (“The Golf Player”);
  • and the Chase short The Way of All Pants (1927), not a spoof of the Emil Jannings melodrama The Way of All Flesh (which came out that same year – and is now lost).

On the serious side, there are:

  • Lewis Milestone's 1934 melodrama The Captain Hates the Sea, silent film star John Gilbert's last film (also with Victor McLaglen and Fay Wray);
  • Robert Florey's 1929 musical The Battle of Paris, which offers a rare screen appearance by stage legend Gertrude Lawrence;
  • Things to Come (right), art director William Cameron Menzies' take on H.G. Wells' futuristic novel. There's lots of scenery chewing, what with Raymond Massey and Ralph Richardson onboard – but then again, the sets do look delicious, so who can blame them? (Now, Wells' did foresee World War II, but he failed to predict 21st-century evils such as global warming, the ascendancy of religious fanatics, and television reality shows.)

Other Cinefest highlights include:

    • A rare screening of The Night of Love, a 1927 romantic drama starring two of the most popular pair of lovebirds in film history, Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky;
    • Herbert Blaché's 1920 comedy The New York Idea, with future Oscar winner Alice Brady (long before she became a ditzy matron in Hollywood comedies of the 1930s), Lowell Sherman (long before he directed Katharine Hepburn to her first Oscar, for Morning Glory), and Hedda Hopper (long before she became a precursor to the gossip rags – both in print and online – that now plague the planet).

And finally…

There'll be 35mm presentations of the following films at the Palace Theater:

  • Within the Law, future Oscar winner Frank Lloyd's 1923 melodrama starring Norma Talmadge, one of the biggest film stars ever, and popular leading man Jack Mulhall. (Joan Crawford starred in the 1930 talkie remake, Paid.)
  • Her Husband's Trademark, Sam Wood's 1922 society melo (make sure to bring a handkerchief, as you'll probably laugh so hard you'll end up sobbing uncontrollably) with Gloria Swanson.
  • The Spoilers, Edward Carewe's 1930 Yukon action tale with Gary Cooper, Kay Johnson (mother of actor James Cromwell), Betty Compson, and William “Stage” Boyd (a notorious troublemaker, not to be confused with the William Boyd of Hopalong Cassidy fame).

Piano accompaniment provided by Jon Mirsalis, Philip Carli, and Gabriel Thibaudeau.

Berliner Ernst Lubitsch retrospective

Marking the 60th death anniversary of Berlin-born film genius Ernst Lubitsch (1892–1947), Berlin's Kino Babylon Mitte is holding a month-long retrospective (March 1–27) of the director's films, “Lubitsch from Berlin.” The schedule consists of 23 silents (including at least one in which Lubitsch worked only as an actor) and 17 talkies, ranging from his early German comedies to his most acclaimed Hollywood fare.

Next weekend, March 10–11, Kino Babylon will offer two sets of silent film marathons: 12 Lubitsch silents on Saturday and 9 on Sunday.

Among the Saturday entries are the 1918 version of Carmen, a sensational worldwide hit for both the director and star Pola Negri; the 1918 gender-bending comedy Ich möchte kein Mann sein / I Don't Want to Be a Man, starring the German Mary Pickford, Ossi Oswalda; and the 1921 historical drama Das Weib des Pharao / The Pharaoh's Wife, starring superstar Emil Jannings (who, during his brief Hollywood stint, became the first best actor Academy Award winner).

Among the Sunday films are the wistful 1927 romance The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (above), one of Lubitsch's best silent films, boasting top-notch performances from Ramon Novarro and Norma Shearer; the 1919 version of Madame DuBarry, another box office sensation of global proportions, starring Pola Negri in the title role and Emil Jannings as Louis XV; and the delightful Lady Windermere's Fan, Lubitsch's nearly flawless 1925 adaptation of Oscar Wilde's play, with a superb Irene Rich, plus Bert Lytell, Ronald Colman, and May McAvoy.

The silent films will have live musical accompaniment by various artists, including Carsten-Stephan Grath v. Bothmer, Aljoscha Zimmermann and Sabrina Zimmermann, and the German Babelsberg Film Orchestra.

Robert Fischer's 2006 documentary Ernst Lubitsch in Berlin - from Schönhauser Allee to Hollywood, will also be screened.

Last Thursday, Nicola Lubitsch, the director's daughter, was on hand to unveil a plaque commemorating her father's old residence at Schönhauser Allee 183.

See also: Ernst Lubitsch retrospective at the 2006 San Sebastian Film Festival.

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