Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sally and Fields

I just noticed that I forgot to review W.C. Fields' Sally of the Sawdust. We saw it on streaming, so I guess I should have mentioned it in my recent tirade.

This 1925 silent was directed by, of all people, D.W. Griffith. It features a young orphan girl, played by Carol Dempster, whose mother had run away from strict New England parents to be with the circus. After the mother's demise, young Carol is raised by her "Poppy", W.C. Fields. She grows up wild, with acrobats and elephants for friends. She is a tomboy and a circus ballerina. Fields is, of course, Prof. Eustace McGargle, a sideshow barker, a juggler, a pickpocket and conman. Sadly, we get to see only a snippet of his famous cigarbox juggling, an act which he later grew too drunk to perform. We don't get his melodious vocalizations, either, but he's still the great man.

Dempster is another story. She plays the uninhibited circus girl with a ton of silent era overacting and mugging for the camera. Yet, as the film goes on, she either finds her range, or just gets better situations. I got to like her a lot, and even found her style verging on the modern and natural in places. Performing at a charity function, she does a tableau vivant as a fashionable lady, and it is quite a striking change from her plain tomboy image.

Not altogether a successful effort. Griffith doesn't seem to know much about comedy or how to handle Fields. He even makes Fields imitate Chaplin in places, or was it Fields idea, and he failed to prevent it? But well worth watching for fans of the silents, and mandatory for Fields fans.

And of course, available to Watch Instantly.

1 comment:

mr. schprock said...

D.W. Griffith, eh? He was probably pretty thankful the KKK made America safe for comedy.

Added to instant queue. No promises that I'll watch it though.