Monday, November 16, 2009
THE PATSY (1928) King Vidor
"The Patsy" (1928) is the first of three films that King Vidor directed with Marion Davies as the star. In this silent romantic comedy, Marion Davies plays Patricia Harrington, the neglected sister in a middle class family that presents the marvelous Marie Dressler as Ma Harrington and Jane Winton as the other sister, Grace Harrington. Constantly pushed aside like her weak father, played by Dell Henderson, Patricia cooks, cleans, and wears Grace's hand-me-downs. Ma Harrington greatly favors Grace while Pa Harrington is sensitive and loving to Patricia. Grace is courted by Tony Anderson, played by Orville Caldwell, whom Patricia is secretly in love with. One evening the family attends a dinner and dance at the yacht club where Grace catches the eye of a playboy, Billy, played by Lawrence Grey. Billy waits on their table and shows off for her.
Grace responds positively to his advances and leaves the dance with him. Tony is disconcerted, and Patricia sees it as a chance to spend some time with him. He drives her home, and she asks him for suggestions about improving her personality and making her more attractive to men. Unaware that Patricia is interested in using her new charm on him, Tony happily gives her advice. Patricia's attempts in following Tony's advice only ends up convincing Ma Harrington and Grace that she has gone mad. One of her attempts at improving her personality leads Patricia to read a self-help guide that teaches her witty lines like "After all, a caterpillar is nothing more than an upholstered worm." Eventually, Tony begins to notice Patricia, not because of her improved personality, but because she is the only one who shows interest in his architectural designs. Grace decides that she wants Tony back. In desperation, Patricia goes to Billy's house to arrange a setting where Billy is attacking her so that Tony can rush to her rescue. Unfortunately, Billy is too drunk to notice her presence. Patricia decides to impersonate three of his favorite movie stars, Mae Murray, Lillian Gish, and Pola Negri, in an attempt to stir his interest. Instead, Billy thinks the Murray and Gish images are hallucinations and the sight of Negri causes him to collapse on the piano. Finally, Patricia locks herself in Billy's room, calls Tony, and then begins screaming for help. Billy jumps up and tries to save her by breaking down the door. When Tony arrives, he thinks Billy is after Patricia and knocks him out. Instead of being kind to Patricia, Tony scolds her for getting into this situation in the first place, implying only a woman of loose morals would go to Billy's house. Understandably, Patricia is devastated, and it looks like all of her hopes are ended. "The Patsy" is an enjoyable film and proof that Marion Davies was a very good silent comedienne. Most of the funny sequences in the film belong to her. Davies had incredible comedic timing and showed a great talent for mimicry. Her impressions of Mae Murray, Lillian Gish, and Pola Negri are so funny and accurate. The supporting cast is just as wonderful with Marie Dressler shining in her comeback performance. I had so much fun reading the witty subtitles. "The Patsy" is a sweet silent comedy with plenty of romance that will bring tears to your eyes.