11 October 2012 | boblipton
Salomy Jane's Kiss
Raoul Walsh tackles Bret Harte in this one. It's a natural for this usually muscular director with a vicious sense of humor; he was fond of repeating Jack Pickford's comment that his idea of light comedy was to burn down a whorehouse.
Although he has fallen out of favor, Harte and Mark Twain were judged neck-and-neck for the two best writers to come out of the Old West. Harte's characters were not one-dimensional; he approached them as complex human beings with conflicting sets of emotions and self-justifications. As a result, this movie, derived from "Salomy Jane's Kiss" has a lot going for it. Add in the outdoor shooting among the redwoods around Mount Shasta and the lovely conceit of using frame wipes that freeze the frame and then make it look like a page being turned, and you have a beautiful motion picture.
Unhappily, few of the performances are up to the visuals. Perhaps it was due to the fact that handling of sound outdoors was still pretty primitive and some of the performers are either unseasoned for the screen or still not out of the silent era and the line readings sound very stagey. Whatever the reasons, they act best when they are doing things, not saying things -- the hanging sequence is devastating.
Even with that cavil, this is a wonderful picture. Everyone looks right and Joan Bennett is stunningly beautiful. If you get a chance to see it -- mine came with the 2012 Museum of Modern Art 'To Preserve and Project' festival -- take it.