Monday, June 18, 2018

A little look at makeup through the early years of Mr. B

So Mr. B liked to say he was generally in films and on stage "as is" and bare-faced, but he wore a fair number of wigs, prosthetics, and especially eyebrows in the early years. Given that in the majority of his silent film years he was making several at a time, is it a wonder he had a few scars from makeup and perhaps lights on his face?

Let's have a look at some early film and stage makeup, shall we? After you.

 Above are from Drums of Love, where Mr. B was heavily made up (at the same time he was filming Sadie Thompson for 1928 release!)

In A Yaqui Cur, center. MUCH mustache!

 The wonderful Mme. Mandelip in The Devil-Doll

 As John, the "strong man" in The Stong Man's Burden

 Ah, the ill-fated Macbeth on Broadway...

 Above two are from The 13th Hour (not Mysterious Island!)

 The little-known and probably not extant Decameron Nights

 Mr. B enjoyed dressing up to play Scrooge

And of course, Mr. B as Rasputin, with his "deer-hunting dog" infested beard he speaks magnificently of in his bio.

He was indeed a man of--well, perhaps a couple dozen faces. Later prosthetics, like in the later 30s and 40s, occasionally made him virtually invisible (I'm thinking of you, The Gorgeous Hussy!)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Happy 140th, Mr B: and the winner is...

Today (April 28, 2018, though this went up APR 29 due to tech issues) is the 140th anniversary of Lionel Barrymore's birth in Philadelphia, PA. For almost 2 years now, I've been blogging, researching, writing, and so forth on this fascinating man. I've sat in archives, gone half blind looking online, talked to people, watched films, read an inordinate number of books. I try to put my finger on the cause of my fascination, but it's elusive in some ways. So this year, after blogging almost every day from April 12 to today, I think I may just pick my five (or so) favorite roles of my favorite actor. Some are well-known indeed; others are brilliant secrets. But all showcase the outlandishly talented "other Barrymore", Lionel.
So let's call these awards the Leos, given Mr B's name, studio, and roaring talent. I give you: THE LEOS OF 2018!

With Norma Shearer, who was walloped in the acting stakes here

A FREE SOUL: playing alcoholic, self destructive Stephen Ashe, Mr B owned that awards season, but rather than rehashing the idea his still Hollywood-record-length single take courtroom scene at the end won him the Oscar, I recommend watching it carefully all the way through for the many moments that build Ashe into the complex character caught in his own success and theory of life, which is also bringing his daughter down. The fight Ashe has to balance his drinking, success, headstrong daughter, and disapproving family is epic, and could have swamped a lesser actor. Mr B allows Ashe's frailties, emotions, and brilliance their turns by vocal skills, tiny trademark Barrymore movements, and his understanding of excess' impact on a man.

A truly great performance in a good film with lots of pre-order action, this is fine, vintage Lionel Barrymore. And when he won the Oscar, he was wearing a borrowed tuxedo.

SWEEPINGS: as Daniel Pardway in this 1933 film, Lionel Barrymore ages from about 28 or so to 78 or 80. It's an epic tale of post-Chicago fire success in retail, and has Pardway as a Marshall Field kind of character. He rises to the top by bargaining, luck, hard work, a brilliant sales manager, and by force of enormous will. He loses his wife after the birth of their third child, and mourns that he could never give her all she deserved - - for years they lived in a stable or barn above the mercantile shop to save and be on premises of the "Bazaar", the huge store about which most of the story revolves. Pardway is alternately hard, loving, gregarious, stubborn, and dictatorial. Watching Mr B pull those off was wonderful, and he is simply shattering at times, most especially the final scene, where his masterful vocal control and expressions hold one spellbound.

This is not the most well known of his 1933 films, but deserves to be much better known. I challenge you not to feel a lump in your throat at the end.

[pic to come!]
THE DEVIL - DOLL: as Paul Lavond, former baker turned framed escaped convict, Lionel Barrymore pulls off the impressive feat of holding his own with some impressive special effects as well as the  much-mentioned old lady costume he wears for much of the film. The guise of Mme Mandelip helps him wreak intense havoc on the former partners who framed him as well as see his estranged daughter. There are wonderful scenes between Mandelip/Lavond and his family, where Mr B's ability to listen carefully and express emotion without saying a word are astounding.

 He runs the gamut from fierce vengeance to paternal, deep love, often while not being able to say what the character really would like to, as  he seems to be hiding from almost everyone. The tender and emotionally fraught scene at the end in the Eiffel Tower between Lavond and his daughter, who does not recognize him and hears him say her  "father" wanted her to forget him is a 4 minute master class of careful acting, listening, and vocal skills. He even manages to seem younger after his "confession" there, and that is yet another classic Mr B moment. This is a film I return to often and it never bores me.

[pic to come!]
SADIE THOMPSON : oh lord, what a film and what a background story on the making of it! My next longish blog/article will be on the making of the film. Gloria Swanson became a heroine to me after I read of all she had to do to get the film made. She was an extraordinary person all around, and shines as the blithe but troubled Sadie. Mr B as Alfred Davidson is at the top of his game, and that's astonishing as he confessed to her to be in a great deal of pain and on narcotics to manage it. She wanted him, though, and got him and all that he could bring to the dynamic, ferocious, righteous, hypocritical, and complicated Davidson. There's not a scene of action (and there are many) where his physical debility is obvious. However, Raoul Walsh's brilliant direction focused more on the eyes, faces, and hands of the characters, using close ups very well and the atmospheric rain itself becomes a character.

Much is known of the film, but I recommend revisiting it and perhaps not running the music with it. It is incredibly effective muted, and the story is clear through the cards and the two main performers at the top of their games. The loss of about 4 minutes near the end is not too troubling, either. But to watch Mr B tear his way through Sadie's defenses, to see him morph into something he did not expect, is electrifying. Easily, he could have won an Oscar for the performance. Of course, the film also caused a lot of controversy, which bothered Mr B not in the least. He'd be part of more controversy later. A wonderful, brilliant film with captivating performances

[pic to come!]
ONE MAN'S JOURNEY : in this lesser known film, Lionel Barrymore plays overworked and underappreciated doctor Eli Watt, who returns to his hometown after his wife dies, leaving him a young son and a need to start over. Few have much interest or encouraging words for him, since he was supposed to set the world afire when he left after high school for college. Indeed, he ends up working for peanuts--and potatoes, corn, whatever the patients he sees on the poor side of town can give him. Mr B also ages over 30 years in the film, which has the character being involved in epidemiology, psychology, public health, raising his son and creating all the chances for the young man Watt never had, and fighting with intransigent town fathers. Watt keeps up with medical advances, but his diary constantly shows how he becomes trapped in the town. In one case, he's invited to do neurological research and just about manages to leave the town... Only to stop.

In the end, when Watt is an old and tired man, he rises yet again to prove his skills at medicine are top notch, as are his skills with human nature. Mr B pours himself into this role, one requiring so much of an actor, and not just in adding. Watt has to be everything to everyone, and almost no one appreciates his work. Hence, the final scenes, where he is recognized by peers, are wonderful to behold. Indeed, Watt is so overwhelmed, he breaks into tears, but there's no pathos. It's just a purely honest and real reaction, and Mr B knew it needed less, not more.
This is with a view, and five. It's got a good cast, script, and solid direction. Another of the difficult roles Lionel Barrymore made seem easy.

[yep, pic to come!]
ON BORROWED TIME : a powerful role, Julian Northrup is an old, wheelchair-using grandpa trying to raise his grandson Pud in a quaint but lowering town after the death of the boy's parents in a car wreck. Turns out that  affable but intense Mr. Brink, or death, took them and he comes for Northrup, who has very different ideas from dying anytime soon. It's an amusing and a hit disturbing all at once, really.

Northrup is a part that could have been pure cliché. In Lionel Barrymore's capable hands, though, as he edged toward 61 during filming, the cantankerous old man became a sparking, edgy, sly fox with total commitment to Pud and complete lack of fear. This was his first major, non-supporting role post-wheelchair and it's not only fun, it's brilliant. While there is an oddly ADA-compliant town and not much that is overtly a barrier to Northrup, the film holds a delicate balance between pathos, humor, and thoughtful dealing with mortality.

This is so much fun to watch, but indeed, there are some tense, maybe even frightening moments. My significant other was in bravely held back tears in at least some parts, and death, while brilliantly played by Cedric Hardwicke, is indeed there for a reason and he has a strict schedule. But the energy, humor, love, and tender care Mr B imbues Northrup with is one of his great characterizations. He had done at least one Kildare film as cranky Dr Gillespie already, but Julian Northrup is in a class alone. Give it a watch. Bobs Watson is pretty good too, a young actor who would work in 2 Kildare films.

There you have them, 2018's Leos! Several more contended, especially Washington Masquerade, and more silents, but these are beloved, fine performances. I curse my technical difficulties, but oh well...

Happy birthday, Mr B. Thank you for so much to ponder in admiration and bemusement. Here's to the next 140 years! 

Friday, April 27, 2018

El dieciseis de Lio--Lionel Barrymore from other countries

Tomorrow is the day, folks! Lionel Barrymore's 140th birthday anniversary arrives anon, and I'm glad it's on a Saturday, frankly. Been a crazy kind of month and year.  So I dug up some stuff that is more original to my online friends,some of the many articles and images from non-English language magazines and newspapers, some from Brazil, some Spain, some Argentina, some elsewhere. In a few cases, there were entire novelizations of films, which are really interesting and sometimes the only evidence I've found of storylines in semi-complete form. So here we are! Happy 16th of Lionel!

Images above from a Spanish novelization of Fifty-Fifty, 1925

From a Spanish novelization of The Barrier, 1926--also with HB Walthall
Pretty close to Mr. B's actual eye color!

From a Spanish novelization, Unseeing Eyes, 1923

From a French serialization, Unseeing Eyes
Ad left for 1940 revival of Ah Wilderness from 1935

Ad for The River Woman, 1928

Ad for The Show, 1927

19-teens portrait in Spanish film magazine

From Spanish novelization of I Am the Man, 1924
Portuguese ad for Sadie Thompson, 1928

Above--German magazine on The Thirteenth Hour, 1927

German magazine on Arsene Lupin, 1932

Blog articles and pics, non-English A few more are here.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The fifteenth of Lionel: Roarin' Rasputin, 1932


One of very favorite guilty pleasures is watching the 3 Great Barrymores tear their way through 1932's Rasputin and the Empress (released Dec 23, 1932), Lionel in particular. It's an over the top spectacle of historical dubiousness that is still, even in the post-libel lawsuit form, highly entertaining. TCM's Spotlight on the film helps explain the huge event the film was:

"MGM production chief Irving G. Thalberg thought he had hit pay dirt. Not only did he have a hot story from recent history - the mad monk Rasputin's rise to power in imperial Russia until he was taken down by a noble-minded assassin. He also had signed the most famous family in acting history - John, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore - to make their first appearance together in a talking film. It seemed like the perfect project for MGM, Hollywood's house of stars, but in the end the film became an unending headache. There were so many problems during production that studio wags nicknamed Rasputin and the Empress - "Disputin'" - and before the picture could show a profit, a series of lawsuits took it out of circulation for decades.

The Barrymores themselves weren't all that impressed with the idea. John, whose looks and memory were fading from the effects of too much drinking, only really cared about the money, though he was intrigued about entering another upstaging contest with brother Lionel after their work together on Grand Hotel (1932). Ethel openly disdained the movies. She only took the job because she had lost most of her money in the stock market crash and was currently touring vaudeville. And at 53, she was terrified of what the cameras would do to her once legendary beauty. The only sibling to enter into the project with any real glee was Lionel, who was willing to spend two hours each morning and evening to physically transform himself into the mad Russian monk."

Ethel was also quite capable of roaring her lines in her stage-voice. Her brothers helped her out, especially Lionel: "In the midst of this furor, Ethel had to learn how to act for talking films. After one scene in which she moaned, flailed about and pulled on the curtains on the set, John asked her, "What the hell are you doing?" "I haven't the faintest idea," she replied. Finally, Lionel gave her some advice that worked. He told her to whisper so that her stage-trained voice wouldn't overpower the sensitive microphones. She whispered so effectively that most critics praised her for her subtle underplaying and the sense that there was always something she wasn't saying." Lionel pointed out to her the mike would be JUST above her head.

That libel suit was what led to each Hollywood film having the admonition "Any resemblance to people living or dead is coincidental" or variation thereof. Ethel had known the czar and his family, and had apparently warned the producers they were playing with fire because, 
"To motivate Rasputin's murder, MacArthur had included a scene in which Rasputin rapes the wife of his intended victim. Ethel and Mercedes d'Acosta, a Russian emigre hired to do research for the film, both protested that this was a libelous fabrication. The studio's only response was to change the couple's name from Youssoupoff to Chegodieff. But all that did was double the risk of legal action. The film opened to strong reviews and box-office receipts, only to be hit by libel suits from Prince Youssoupoff, his wife and Prince Chegodieff. Ultimately, settling the suits cost MGM over $1 million, almost matching the picture's production cost. To avoid further suits, they withdrew Rasputin and the Empress from distribution for decades."

Now, one also has to bear in mind poor Charles MacArthur was writing as they went--Ethel bullied him into writing the film by going to his and Helen Hayes' house and threatening to wreck it unless he did so. Mr. B writes of hating to see him coming, more rewrites on the way, and while all were pretty fast studies, not having a complete script was really bothering Ethel, who was really just off the stage then.  But as John, Lionel, and Ethel all reported, any news of them fighting with each other was nonsense--all were too professional for that, as Lionel wrote,

 "...the delusion, the feeble-brained nonsense that Ethel, Jack and I would be so unprofessional, so peacock-proud and petty that we would actually imperil our own picture, is on the level with--to make it ridiculous but no less accurate--the proposition that three trick bicycle riders would kick each other's spokes out fifty feet above the center ring.... Katzenjammeries and japeries, perhaps yes, for the hell of it during some of those...moments which seem to beset all performers and/or artists, but never anarchy. We were happy, as happy as any Barrymores can be under the impress of gainful toil. We did not throw things. We did not set fire to the stages.  We did not quarrel" (We Barrymores 11).

There is certainly family resemblance here!

 Here are some of many pics I have of the film and various ads. Enjoy, and yep, indulge the film and Lionel's brilliant performance with tongue in cheek. Ethel paid him a perfect comment when she finally saw the film in the 1950s on television: "After finally watching it, she called her friend George Cukor to tell him she was surprised at how much she liked it, then added, in reference to her brother's scene-stealing antics, "My, my! Wasn't Lionel naughty?"

My favorite poster of the film

With Tad Alexander

The infamous cellar scene

This epic fight took the brother quite a while to shoot.
 And some on-set moments:

one of my favorites
Great set shot of Jack

During the filming, at Ethel's rented house
During filming--John Jr on Jack's lap 

Color me Russian!

And the end!

 Happy 15th of Lionel!