5 April 2010 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Skip the movie; watch the nightclub.
Despite its portentous title, 'Behold This Woman' is one more Hollywood story about Hollywood: more inaccurate than usual, but with some interesting aspects.
Irene Rich stars as Louise Maurel, a movie star ... although the name 'Louise Maurel' doesn't have much star quality. She's engaged to millionaire playboy Eugene de Seyre. While I Steenbecked this silent film, I was wishing that it would briefly go talkie so that I could find out how de Seyre pronounces his name.
While jaunting through a rural area in her roadster, Louise's car breaks down near the shack of a couple of men cried the Strangeways, who don't seem concerned that they have the same name as a prison in Britain. These would be old Stephen Strangeway and much younger John Strangeway. The latter is played by one Charles A. Post, who's a revelation to me. He's a big burly man with a heavy beard, which remains incongruously well-groomed for much of this movie. The title cards identify John Strangeway as a 'hillman', a word I've never encountered before. Is a hillman the same as a hillbilly? Is a hillman sort of like a mountain man at a lower altitude? I couldn't accept that any rural region within a short drive of 1924 Los Angeles is bucolic enough to produce people like this.
Louise is attracted to John, and she takes him to a party at a posh Hollywood nightclub. (More about this later.) Eugene sees the couple, and he becomes jealous. He pays Madame Calavera (no relation to the celebrated jumping frog) to seduce John. But then Eugene becomes disenchanted, so he decides to marry Sophie: a convenient jazz baby with cupid's-bow lips. That's where I lost interest
This movie says nothing at all about the movie industry in 1924 but rather a lot about Hollywood's social life ... and that's this film's chief merit. The nightclub scenes were filmed at Cafe Petroushka, a swank club in Hollywood Boulevard which had opened only a few months earlier. The club's manager was allegedly a Russian princess who had fled the revolution, and the chef had purportedly prepared meals for Czar Nicholas. Merely for its nightclub sequences, this film has some historic importance. Some of the nightclub interiors are astonishing; clearly far too elaborate to be a movie set. Also, the minister who presides at a wedding in this movie is (or rather, was) apparently an actual clergyman who performed many Hollywood marriage ceremonies..
Eugene de Seyre is played by Harry Myers, a gifted comedian now remembered only for playing the drunken millionaire in Chaplin's 'City Lights'. (Like Chaplin, Myers died on Christmas Day, though not in the same year.) Madame Calavera is portrayed by Rosemary Theby, a silent-film actress now quite forgotten. She played W.C. Fields's wife in 'The Fatal Glass of Beer', but was not memorable in that role. Theby was gaunt, flat-chested, beak-nosed: she was not traditionally sexy, so it's intriguing to see her here in a role where she's required to vamp an extremely virile man.
In real life, Myers and Theby were a long-time married couple. They show real chemistry in their scenes together here, even though their characters in this film aren't attracted to each other. Watching them together here makes me want to see Myers and Theby teamed as lovers or a married couple on screen.
Charles A. Post as the hillman is stolid and awkward, but that might be part of his portrayal as a hick from the sticks in swank society. He brings an underplayed dignity and virility to his scenes, making me want to see him in other roles to gauge his range as an actor.
At this point in her career, Irene Rich was cast mostly in virtuous roles, so it's interesting to see her here as a woman of somewhat loose morals yet who's not an outright villain. I'm annoyed that her character's job as a movie star is just so much window dressing for a movie that's really not about movies.
The direction by J. Stuart Blackton is weak: he misses several opportunities, makes awkward shot decisions, and paces the action badly. This film was scripted by his wife: frankly, the script's not very good, and I can't help wondering if Blackton would have used it if he wasn't sleeping with the writer.
The elaborate nightclub scenes in 'Behold This Woman' are in stark contrast to the low production budget for the rest of this movie: a regrettable situation, given that the story is supposed to be about movie stars and millionaires.
As a film, 'Behold This Woman' is implausible and poorly made, yet it's still of interest because of the scenes at Club Petroushka, as well as for Charles A. Post's performance, and for the screen chemistry between Myers and Theby. My rating for this one is 6 out of 10.