1 September 2009 | drednm
Just Plain Awful
Unfortunately, this is one of the worst acted films I've ever seen.
This 1929 production of Booth Tarkington's play MAGNOLIA has just about everything go wrong. The writing and direction are atrocious, the sets are incredibly cheap looking, and the actors wallow in performances that range from stage posing to undecipherable blathering.
Buddy Rogers stars as a southern boy schooled in Philadelphia. He returns to his daddy's plantation totally ignorant of Southern ways. He's engaged to the silly and simpering Elvira (June Collyer) although her younger sister (played by Mary Brian) is in love with him. Daddy (Henry B. Walthall) seems happy with everything until a pair of brothers (Walter McGrail and Anderson Lawler), who are happily pursuing a state-wide feud, are insulted when Elvira refuses one's advances. They demand a duel with Rogers, who refuses because it's dumb. He's chased away and branded a coward.
Rogers shows up somewhere on the Mississippi in a gambling den run by Wallace Beery, who sports an eye patch because his ex wife "got religion" one day and chucked a hymn book at him. The local chanteuse (Natalie Kingston) swishes around singing amid the many fights that break out. When Fred Kohler arrives and threatens Beery, Rogers jumps to his defense and deflects a dagger with a breadboard. Beery and Rogers become friends.
When Rogers, now sporting a mustache, returns to the plantation for Brian's debutante ball, he finds that the Patterson brothers are deeply in debt and swindling daddy because they now live there, one having married the simpering Elvira. But things have changed even more, and when the bullying brothers challenge Rogers (with an assumed name) to a duel, he now accepts. The brothers back down and all is well in the world.
The actors labor under bad direction, bad recording technology, and an inability to hold their fake accents. Mary Brian comes off best although she seems to be patterning her performance on Mary Pickford's in COQUETTE. Buddy Rogers and Wallace Beery actually seem to be trying hard here, but have too many handicaps to deal with. Poor Henry B. Walthall seems totally lost as do June Collyer, and Anderson Lawler. Natalie Kingston, playing the mulatto named Mexico, and Walter McGrail as the older brother are just plain hideous.
Interestingly, Leo Carrillo starred in the 1923 Broadway production, which ran for only 40 performances.