Saturday, November 22, 2008
When the subject of lost films comes up, there are a number of movies that top just about everyone’s list. For some, it’s the Lon Chaney feature “London After Midnight”, others want to see uncut versions of Orson Wells “The Magnificent Ambersons” or Erich Von Stroheim’s "Greed", but my choice as the lost film I most want to see is F.W. Murnau’s “4 Devils”.
Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (his real last name was Plumpe, he took the name Murnau after the German town Murnau am Staffelsee) was considered one of
“4 Devils” was based on the story “Die Fire Djaevle: excentrisk novella” published in 1895 and written by Herman Joachim Bang. An earlier film version appears to have been made in
A kindly old clown rescues four children (Charles, Adolf, Marion, and Louise) from the brutal tutelage of a circus owner and brings up the quartet himself, training them to be acrobats. Years pass, and the children form a successful trapeze act known as the Four Devils. Charles and Marion are engaged, but while at the Cirque Olympia in
It is known that 4 different endings for the movie were originally shot. The first, showing that Charles and Marion die in the fall at the film’s climax, was previewed on July 2nd and questionnaires were filled out by members of the audience as to their reaction of the motion picture. 49 of these sheets exist in the Murnau archive at the
It was decided in early 1929 that approximately the last 2 reels of “4 Devils” should be re-shot with talking sequences to cash in on the sound revolution that was starting to take over the industry. The part talkie version was premiered on June 10th, 1929 in
As for reviews, Variety said “4 Devils” was "an elegantly produced, photographed, and directed picture by Fox, of high value regular release quality, and missing the super height class only because it is missing any one big kick." Mordaunt Hall in the New York Times singled out the director’s work, “It is, however, the unfaltering manner in which Mr. Murnau attacks his scenes that is responsible for this picture's greatness. One forgets the actors and thinks of the characters.” and “one could go through the whole list of players congratulating one after another, and they probably all know that they owe a great deal to that artist among directors, F. W. Murnau.”
So what happened to “4 Devils”? In 1937, a fire destroyed nearly all the pre-1935 camera negatives held at the Fox Film archive in Little Ferry,
“I think that Mary Duncan had the studio print since 1948 or 1949 is a fact, as
this is documented in the Fox files. So part one of this story is not an urban
legend. However part two seems to be one. The story has variants including her
throwing the film into her pool, or sticking a match to it. All quite
unbelievable, considering that anyone working in the industry in the1920s knew the
films were nitrate and could be dangerous if not handles correctly.”
While we may not be able to enjoy the “4 Devils” today, I certainly recommend Janet Bergstrom’s excellent documentary "Murnau's 4 Devils: Traces of a Lost Film" which will be included as an extra in the “Murnau, Borzage & Fox” DVD box set scheduled for release on December 9th. This documentary contains much more information about the production, a very thorough overview of the Murnau film, and is filled with rare photographs and memorabilia. The box set will also contain two coffee table books, one being on the "4 Devils". Not to be missed.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Monday, November 17, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Not a lot of films that she appeared in are available on the home video market but check out the schedule on our BELOVED Turner Classic Movies as they frequently play the films she appeared in.
Lifelong friends, Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell out and about and looking very glamorous at an event in the early 30's.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Today we would never think that a figure skating idol could be one of the largest grossing money makers in
Henie was already a household name, being the Olympic gold medal champion in the 1928, 1932, and 1936 winter games making her an international figure skating star. A desire to be in motion pictures from a young age, ultimately led to her being signed by 20th Century Fox studio head, Darryl F. Zanuck, to appear in films for the company. Her first film, “One In A Million” (1936) was a success and she would go on to appear in 9 more films for the corporation.
1938’s “Happy Landing” is kind of a screwball-comedy-on-ice with Cesar Romero as the big band leader (and ultimate cad) Duke Sargent, Don Ameche plays the friend/manager Jimmy Hall and Ethel Merman rounds out the cast as Sargent’s nutty and overbearing love/hate interest, Flo Kelly.
The film opens as Jimmy Hall is getting ready to fly Duke Sargent over to
Jimmy and Trudy go to a town celebration and a Norwegian custom (made up for the film of course) states that if you dance with a girl twice then you are engaged to her!! Duke’s friend Jimmy finds out about the custom and informs his clueless friend that he is about to be hitched so they both flee
Eventually Jimmy and Duke return to
Now as a skating star, Trudy realizes that she loves Jimmy and he adores her, but through a series of misunderstandings Trudy believes that Jimmy actually is in love with Flo! Of course, in true
According to published reports at the time of the movie’s filming, Miss Henie received $80,000 for “Happy Landing” and was contracted to be paid $125,000 for each of her next 3 films, but in the
“Happy Landing (Twentieth Century-Fox), is blonde, Figure Skater Sonja Henie's third motion picture, makes it clear that Producer Darryl Zanuck must soon find some other way of keeping Miss Henie's films fresh than by putting them on ice. To give Sonja presentable, even spectacular, settings in which to display her twinkling, silver-bladed eurhythmy is a set designer's holiday. But to blend a plot with her icebound talents is something not even a Zanuck budget seems to be able to accomplish. Happy Landing makes Miss Henie a million-dollar sideshow on a cheapskate circuit.”
But Variety said "Glitteringly performed," the third box-office hit of skating champion Sonja Henie "has just about everything...comedy, suspense, romance...action, music, dancing" and an "amusing story." and Harrison’s Reports singled out her skating, “Very Good. It is Miss Henie’s marvelous skating routines that make it exciting. She does not appear often, but when she does, it is something to see. She executes the most difficult feats on the ice with the utmost ease and grace.”
The working titles of this film were Bread, Butter and Rhythm, Hot and Happy and Happy Ending and in 1938 Henie was ranked by Motion Picture Herald poll of exhibitors as the third biggest money-making star of the year. It also is interesting to note that El Brendel’s name does not appear on any advertisements for this film or in the movie’s opening titles. It is only in the ending titles is he mentioned.
One final note about El’s acting situation at this time. From the Mansfield Ohio News-Journal of February 10th, 1938 in the column “Hollywood Speaks” by Robbin Coons, a short interview right after the release of “Happy Landing” the subject of Brendel not having any more major roles and being “washed-up” as far as Hollywood was concerned was mentioned to El and he replied:
“I wish I could be washed up the way some of these stars are.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Sunday, November 2, 2008
"El Brendel, Fox comedy star, decides to entertain company by playing a record, Turn On The Heat" from "Sunny Side Up," in which he was featured. Note the record finish."