Sunday, May 16, 2010

This Pick is a Dilly

OK, I apologize for the title of the post - Piccadilly (1929) does not deserve a cheap gag like that. It's a great silent musical (!) melodrama and vehicle for the enchanting Anna May Wong.

The dancing team of Gilda Grey and Cyril Ritchard (Capt. Hook/Mr. Darling in Disney's Peter Pan) is the big draw at Jameson Thomas' Piccadilly Club in London. Actually, Ritchard is the star, Grey is owner Thomas' girlfriend. When Ritchard quits Thomas needs to find a new star. He also needs to find out why customers (like Charles Laughton in a sweet little cameo) keep complaining about dirty dishes.

The answers are one in the same. He finds Anna May Wong dancing in the scullery, distracting the workers. He fires her, of course, then offers her a job dancing.

Wong's scullery dance is wonderful, a swirling hoochie-coochie. Her dress is cheap and tawdry, her stockings have more runs than material, her dance sketchy and unaccomplished. But her eyes...

When we first see Glinda Grey dancing with Ritchard, I was not impressed by her dancing. It appears that Grey actually invented popularized the Shimmy. She plays the great diva (actually literally swooning more than once), but without the talent to back it up

Wong's character, on the other hand, is played very down to earth. She has a regular life, with a punk boyfriend, the scowling runt type you still see in Chinese films, usually trying to bully Jet Li and getting whomped. She upgrades her living quarters and wardrobe when she becomes a sensation, but somehow, to me, she stays real.

Of course, things don't work out well for Wong - I won't give away the twist endings. But this is definitely her story.

Two other things:

* Nice directing by German Ewald Andre Dupont. Some almost documentary shots of London, a fluid camera in the club, some long takes through the kitchen, etc.
* The score on the disc I got from Netflix was pretty good except when the band is playing during the dance numbers. Than it just doesn't match up.

In conclusion: A solid silent with a magnetic star. Doesn't deserve lousy pun in title.

1 comment:

mr. schprock said...

I believe there's a whole industry set up for young composers writing musical soundtracks for silent films. A long time ago I saw the Alloy Orchestra, a band that wrote numerous soundtracks. TCM used to have silent films featuring new, original scores late on Sunday nights. Maybe they still do.

Have you seen Birth of a Nation? Boy, that sure wasn't what I expected.