When it comes to finding crowd-pleasing silent films, you can’t go wrong with Marion Davies features. It’s pretty well known that her earlier features, financed by lover William Randolph Hearst, tended to be costume pictures that attracted more interest a century ago than today. But her charming mid- to late-Twenties films have aged beautifully. Blending light comedy, romance, a bit of tasteful slapstick and even satire, they still have universal appeal.
One of these crowd-pleasers is a film I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard of–Beverly of Graustark (1926). If we had to choose a film to mark the divide between Davies’s more sedate early features and her later comedies, it would probably be Beverly. And it’s a reminder that even obscure 1920s features can prove how darn good silent Hollywood could be.
It was almost too good to be true–a whole year flew by, and the festival was here again! After a busy day of travelling I made it to the Castro neighborhood on May 1 with time to spare (I highly recommend a kebab place just down the street from the theater. It gave me new life). Walking into the theater was like revisiting an old (and grand-looking) friend. And I couldn’t have been more ready for:
For decades, silent star Marion Davies was known mainly for two things: for being the mistress of uber-powerful newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, and for supposedly being the inspiration for the untalented Susan Alexander in CitizenKane. Well, the latter isn’t true–Susan was based on the wife of a different uber-powerful magnate (as Orson Welles himself finally revealed). And as for the former, while Marion was certainly part of a faithful “arrangement” with Hearst right up until his death, it didn’t define her. A look at her films proves that she was a warm, hardworking, immensely talented woman who likely had the charisma to make a name for herself in Hollywood without Hearst’s help. (I’d say she was mighty lucky to have him on her team, but she was already working on her acting career before he swooped in with 5-gallon buckets of money.)
While far too many films of Jazz Age star Marion Davies are lost or unavailable, happily a few gems still survive. In my opinion the shiniest gem is probably Show People (1928), an affectionate satire of the movies that’s the very definition of a “crowd pleaser”.