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Buster Keaton in The Saphead (1920) from Kino Classics

The Blu-ray release of Herbert Blaché’s The Saphead (1920) is the latest addition to Kino’s extensive catalog of Buster Keaton films. The Saphead holds the distinction of being Keaton’s first feature length motion picture. Prior to this movie, he starred in a number of two-reel shorts with dear friend and mentor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. The Saphead is adapted from Winchell Smith’s stage play The New Henrietta, which starred Douglas Fairbanks. When Metro Studios began casting for the film, Fairbanks was asked to recreate his role as the dim-witted, well-meaning Bertie Van Alstyne. He declined and suggested Keaton for the part.

Nicholas “Old Nick” Van Alstyne (William H. Crane) is a wealthy investor and businessman in New York City. Old Nick’s most recent acquisition is the Henrietta Mine, making him the richest man in town. Despite his prominence in the stock market and New York society, Old Nick struggles with the perpetual thorn in his side, son Bertie (Buster Keaton). Each night Bertie stays out late gambling and carousing, usually sleeping until late afternoon. Adding insult to Old Nick’s injury, Bertie is rather dense. Truth is, Bertie is actually feigning his wild behavior to win the heart of Agnes (Beulah Booker), who happens to be his adopted sister. Bertie’s biological sister Rose (Carol Holloway) knows that he loves Agnes, but must keep it a secret from their father. Upon returning home from college, Agnes informs Rose that she is in love with Bertie. Relieved that he no longer has to live the life of a playboy, Bertie proposes marriage to Agnes. Fearful of Old Nick’s reaction to their engagement, the couple asks Rose to break the news. Old Nick immediately condemns their engagement, citing Bertie’s n’er-do-well tendencies. Nick reluctantly agrees to bless their union on the condition Bertie establishes independence so to provide for Agnes. Despite the best of intentions, Bertie struggles to win his father’s favor. Stepping into the “ideal son” role is Rose’s husband, Mark (Irving Cummings). Although Old Nick respects and trusts him, Mark is a failure. Rose urges her father to help Mark steady his feet in the business world so he can be successful. The family doesn’t realize that Mark is dishonest and hiding a dark secret. Through a series of terrible events, Old Nick is on the verge financial ruin, but is rescued by a most unlikely hero.

Bertie discovers he needs many hats to play Wall Street
Bertie discovers he needs many hats to play Wall Street

Although this is Keaton’s first feature-length motion picture, it is certainly not a Buster Keaton film. He did not have any creative control over the writing, production, and direction as he did in later films like The General, Our Hospitality, and Sherlock Jr. The Saphead is merely a mediocre film with a restrained, underused Keaton. There is one brief sequence near the end of the film allowing Keaton to show a glimpse of his physical comedy genius, but the scene feels disjointed from the rest of the movie.

Kino Classics has a tremendous reputation for providing high quality, extras-laden DVDs and Blu-rays. The Saphead is no exception. The video and audio are both exceptional, especially for a 92 year old film. The Blu-ray edition features two versions of the movie, one being the standard American release and the other an alternate version intended for international audiences. The disc includes a brief featurette comparing the two versions. Also included are two different scores: one by Robert Israel and the other by Ben Model. One of the most enjoyable extras is an audio recording from 1962 entitled Buster Keaton: Life of the Party. Although The Saphead is not a great movie, Kino’s release is a nice addition to your Buster Keaton collection.

The Saphead (Ultimate Edition)
Starring: Buster Keaton, Carol Holloway, Edward Connelly, William H. Crane
Composers: Ben Model & Robert Israel
Tinted B&W
Year:1920
Language:English intertitles
Length:77 mins
Aspect Ratio:1.33:1

Disclaimer: I received a review copy directly from Kino Lorber.

Fashion in Film Blogathon: Cary Grant, Style Icon

Angela of the classic film blog

Cary Grant had style. Actually, Cary Grant has style. When discussing men’s fashion, his name most assuredly enters the conversation. He could transform the simplest of clothes into fashionable and iconic looks. CG never made many historical films, and the few he made were disasters at the box office. Why? Because he was a modern man. He was timeless, ageless, and ultimately comfortable in his threads.

I could write an entire book on Grant’s style, but Richard Torregrossa has already done a marvelous job of that with his book Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style. Since I cannot be as comprehensive as Torregrossa, I will settle for highlighting some of my favorite CG looks along with anecdotes pulled from Torregrossa’s book, other publications on Grant, and my own observations.

First, here are a few tidbits about Cary Grant that relate to his sense of style:

• CG modeled himself after two men: Noël Coward and Douglas Fairbanks. For his sophisticated looks and manners, Coward was the inspiration. For the muscular, athletic, acrobatic side, Fairbanks.

• CG had a very large, muscular neck. He often attributed his neck’s size to the years he spent as an acrobatic performer in The Pender Troupe. He was self conscious about his neck and always made sure to draw attention away from it. In his films and in real life, Grant can almost always be seen wearing either a tie, scarf, or neckerchief. When he did not have on a piece of neckwear, he usually kept his shirts buttoned to the top or the back of his collar popped up. The majority of his clothing was custom made and he often requested the collars of his dress shirts be wider to better conceal his neck.

• Many of the custom pieces in Grant’s personal wardrobe were made by tailors from the famous Saville Row in London. He spared no expense as long as he could be assured of the quality. He bought clothing that would last. When his shirt collars and cuffs would start to show wear, like all shirts inevitably do, Grant would sometimes send them back to the tailors to have that portion replaced. Some call it cheap, I call it being savvy. With footwear he favored brogues. He can often be seen wearing brown and black brogues with many different styles and colors of suits.

• Early on in his career when he was still under contract to Paramount Studios, Grant struggled to find the right look and fit with his suits. For one, he was still developing his style. Also there were limitations to many of the suits that were made then–mainly with freedom of movement. Many of the suit coats had no venting, which created a lumpy mess with the simplest of movements, like putting a hand in a pocket. Grant worked with his tailors and staff in wardrobe to create vented suits. Most of his jackets had extra long custom vents to allow for maximum movement while giving him a taller and leaner look. This was perfected with the tuxedo Grant wears in the Highland Dance scene in Stanley Donen’s Indiscreet and more famously with the grey suit in North By Northwest. 

• Grant wore women’s nylon panties. I have read this in many books about him. Some of the authors try to attribute this to some weird fetish he supposedly had, but I believe Richard Torregrossa has the best explanation. There were no briefs or boxer briefs, only boxer shorts which would bunch up. After years of aggravation, CG finally discovered that nylon panties provided enough support, was flattering to the male anatomy, and didn’t show through clothing. Ok, then!

Sweaters!

Early on in CG’s career, he was still discovering his sense of style. He didn’t get much chance to experiment in his first several films because 1) he didn’t have the clout, and 2) he mainly played the pretty boy in a tuxedo and top hat. Many of these films were the scraps that remained after Gary Cooper had his top pick. When not in those damn tuxedos, Grant incorporated a timeless classic into his wardrobe: the pull over sweater. Paired with a collared shirt and sometimes a scarf, this look was casual yet sophisticated.


The Exposed Neck

As I already noted, Grant was self conscious of his neck size. He went to great lengths to conceal it, but there were times when he allowed its exposure. I don’t know about you, but I find his neck to be quite nice.

This is one of my favorite photos of CG, taken in 1932 by photographer Imogene Cunningham. Not only does it ooze sex, it shows a more vulnerable side of Grant. I know this is a beefcake shot, but to me it is pure art. Absolute perfection.

This photo is from the most famous scene in Howard Hawks’s Bringing Up Baby. Grant’s character David Huxley is a nerdy scientist who is socially awkward around everyone except a fossilized dinosaur. He is uptight, a little frumpy, and isn’t concerned at all with his looks. When David is forced to wear a frilly women’s robe, he suddenly has sex appeal. Why? The audience knows that he is completely naked under that robe. His hair is slightly disheveled and his neck is exposed.

The submarine might sink, but CG is going to look sexy in the process. It’s not often we see a bare chested Cary. It’s a shame because he pulls the off the look very well. If you take a closer look, he is wearing a gold necklace. This is a piece of CG’s personal jewelry. He wore it every day and it can be seen in several of his films. The necklace had charms that represented the religious beliefs of each of his wives. Of course at this point Cary had only been married twice, so there were only two charms. By the end of his life, the necklace had a total of five.

NOOOOOOO, Cary!

99% of the time Cary looked perfect. Clothing freshly pressed and coordinated, face clean shaven, and not a single hair out of place. However, even style gods make mistakes.

 

This is a publicity still of Grant as Matt Howard in the 1940 historical drama The Howards of Virginia. Not the best look for Grant and he knows it. If you have seen the film, it is obvious that he is not incredibly comfortable in the role.

Thankfully Grant only made one other historical drama after Howards: the steaming pile The Pride and the Passion. One cannot fault him for taking the role, especially with the great Stanley Kramer as director, close friend Frank Sinatra as a costar, and his lover Sophia Loren as the leading lady. Sexytime aside, this is not a good look for our modern man.

No comment.

 

The Hitchcock Era
For many people, the iconic Cary Grant consists of a combination of Johnny Aysgarth, T.R. Devlin, John Robie, and Roger Thornhill. These four identities make up what we know as the quintessential Hitchcock leading man.

In Hitchcock’s Notorious, Grant’s character Devlin may be troubled, but he always looks like a million bucks. Even faced with great peril, his suiting is perfect. One important thing to note: while Grant’s clothing is immaculate, it never overshadows him. He wears the clothes, the clothes do not wear him. They are merely an extension of his personality and his character’s personality.

This is one of the few times we see Grant without neckwear. Although he is tie-less, Grant’s neck does not look large because of his patterned jacket. He’s also got on his angry face because his lady has lots of “playmates.”

The pinstripe suit that Grant wears at the end of Notorious is my favorite of the whole film. It gives him the appearance of being taller which is important for the impending showdown with Sebastian (Claude Rains) on that infamous staircase. I also love how Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) is grabbing onto the lapel.

When filming the 1952 thriller To Catch a Thief, Hitchcock trusted Grant to select his wardrobe. Above is an example of one of the ensembles: A simple striped pullover with foulard neckerchief, a look that inspired a fashion trend in the 1950s and today ranks as one of Grant’s most iconic looks.

This is one of my all time favorite shots of Grant. This outfit is so simple and sophisticated. Again, he uses the neckerchief as an accessory. Any man who dresses like this on a beach day is doing everything right. No wonder Frances (Grace Kelly) is so eager in her pursuit.

The grey suit. It still influences men’s fashion to this day. The color and cut of the suit is incredibly flattering on Grant’s body. He looked taller and leaner and the color brought out the silver in his hair. After almost driving off a rocky cliff, murder at the U.N., a one night stand on a train, and running from a rogue bi-plane, the grey suit needs only to be sponged and pressed.

In real life, Grant’s style was a combination of all his characters, especially those he played for Hitchcock. Once he was an established star, he brought his own style with him in the roles he played. This is an example of his head to toe perfection. Everyone wants to be him or be with him.

A Wonderful Night at the Fabulous Fox Theatre: The Mark of Zorro (1920)

Thursday, August 25th, I attended a very special screening at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre: 1920′s The Mark of Zorro starring the original King of Hollywood– Douglas Fairbanks. Up until last Thursday I had never seen a Douglas Fairbanks film. Something I’m not proud of for sure. The Fox Theatre is truly a gem. For most of the year the theatre features off-broadway musicals and plays, concerts, and ballet performances. In the summer The Fox holds a movie festival featuring classics and newer films. The architecture and décor enrich the moving-going experience. Often described as Arabic, Moorish, and Egyptian, the design is opulent. The main feature of the theatre is of course the auditorium. The ceiling is painted twilight blue with moving clouds and has lighted crystals that twinkle like emerging stars. Sitting near the stage and looking up, one can almost imagine being in a majestic courtyard in some far away land. The Fox also boasts the second largest theatre organ in the country. The “Mighty Mo” is used for pre-show sing-a-longs and silent film accompaniment. The organ also controls a full size baby grand piano! The screening was hosted by TCM and introduced/emceed by Ben Mankiewicz. In his introduction, Mankiewicz discussed Fairbanks’s influence on the action/adventure genre. In Mankiewicz’s words “Fairbanks was Errol Flynn before Errol Flynn was Errol Flynn.” The accompanist for the evening was renowned theatre organist Clark Wilson. He travels around the country playing his original scores for silent films (more info about Wilson in this article).

Don Diego Vega and Sgt. Gonzales
Don Diego Vega and Sgt. Gonzales

Honestly, The Mark of Zorro should be called The Mark of Fairbanksbecause in every scene he leaves his mark as he triumphs over the rest of the cast in commanding fashion. Fairbanks is Don Diego Vega, a wealthy fop who is more interested in performing magic tricks than wooing women. He is socially awkward–hands in his pockets, shuffling around with his head down. Don Diego is the kind of guy who would today live in his parents’ basement. In the opening scene, he is sitting in a bar drinking with a group of rowdy men, including the villain of our story, Sgt. Pedro Gonzales (played by Noah Beery, older brother to Wallace Beery). Led by Gonzales, the men are all discussing the pesky Zorro, champion of the poor and oppressed. Gonzales, right hand man to the governor and his dictatorship, details how he will capture and kill the masked bandit. After an elaborate display by the sergeant, Don Diego stands up and politely makes his exit. In this moment, Sgt. Gonzales has no earthly idea that he will soon receive that famous mark…

Zorro makes his entrance to an unsuspecting Gonzales
Zorro makes his entrance to an unsuspecting Gonzales

Fairbanks’s first entrance as Zorro is one of the greatest in cinema. With smoke and a wicked little smile, the audience knows the bad guys will get what is coming to them…and it is going to be loads of fun.Fairbanks’s Zorro is lean, light, and quick–blink and he’s gone as quickly as he arrived. In between swordplay and ducking flying objects, Zorro easily slinks past his opposition. He lights a cigarette, grabs a drink (he’s thirsty!), and sits back to watch the bad guys fight each other. I imagine Zorro’s motto might be “Fighting evil one prank at a time.” Being a master swordsman, Zorro is also quite the lover. No awkwardness or magic tricks here. Zorro always knows the right things to say or do, especially to the lovely Lolita Pulido (played by Marguerite De La Motte). Currently being “courted” by Don Diego, Pulido is quickly swept off her feet by the dashing and mischievous Zorro. After watching The Mark of Zorro, I now understand the magnificence that is Douglas Fairbanks. His wit, athleticism, and timing is perfect. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance and the film. His athletic style made an impression on many actors and especially on a young Archie Leach. In 1920, Leach was on his way to America to tour with the Pender troupe. During the voyage, he met Fairbanks and new bride Mary Pickford, who were on their way home from a European honeymoon. The newlyweds were nice enough to spend time with Leach, who idolized Fairbanks. The young acrobatic Leach later became Cary Grant. For years, they kept in touch and Grant often cited Fairbanks as being a huge inspiration. Fairbanks’s influence changed the action/adventure genre and many copy cats followed. He is the original Errol Flynn. or Tyrone Power. or Stewart Granger. And in my generation–the original Harrison Ford. Douglas Fairbanks as Han Solo? Hmm…