Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Colleen and the Minstrel Boy: The Bride’s Play (1922)


In May of this year, I joined 158 additional Kickstarter backers to raise funds for the restoration of The Bride’s Play—a 1922 feature film starring the legendary Marion Davies, released in the same year as her breakthrough picture, When Knighthood Was in Flower (1922).  (Knighthood was the object of another Kickstarter project in late March, and successfully reached its initial goal within the first eight hours; it will be reviewed on the blog upon its DVD completion.)  On a  related topic, the Kickstarter project to restore Little Orphant Annie (1918)—mentioned here last month—also met its fundraising goal.  So it’s a very exciting time for fans of silent cinema, as you can well imagine.

The project to restore Bride’s Play was instituted by Edward Lorusso, a Maine author/film historian who successfully launched crowdfunding projects to restore two other Davies features to DVD, The Restless Sex (1920) and Enchantment (1921).  (I have not seen Restless Sex, but I did catch Enchantment when it premiered on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ in November of 2014, and found it thoroughly delightful.)  Working in tandem with a Library of Congress print (the LOC premiered this one with a public showing at The State Theater in Culpeper, VA in June, according to the [always reliable] IMDb), Lorusso also obtained the services of the hardest working man in the tinkling-the-ivories business, Ben Model, to compose and perform the musical score.

Lorusso and all involved should take a victory lap for their roles in The Bride’s Play restoration; it looks magnificent and the score Ben composed is positively pluperfect.  (You have the option of watching Play in a black-and-white version or a tinted one—I watched the tinted cherce and enjoyed the nice, rich sepia tones.)  My only reservation is that this isn’t one of the strongest Davies films I’ve watched; I’m in the camp that believes Marion was better served by light comedy vehicles—in such films as The Patsy (1928—my favorite of her silents) and Show People (1928)—instead of the costume dramas in which her gentleman friend Mr. Hearst kept insisting she appear.

The Bride’s Play spotlights two story arcs: the costume drama part takes the form of a tale told by an old peasant woman (Julia Hurley) to her friends and neighbors of the fateful wedding day of Sir John Mansfield (Frank Shannon—a.k.a. Dr. Zarkov!), the Earl of Cloves Kenmare.  He’s scheduled to happy ever after with Lady Enid of Cashel (Marion), but complications arise when he insists that she participate in the matrimonial custom that provides the film’s title.  “The Bride’s Play” requires the bride to ask of each male wedding guest—“Are you the one I love the best?”—the theory being that by the time she gets to the groom and poses that question he’ll respond with an enthusiastic “Hell to the yes!”  (I have no idea why they do this—maybe it’s a good luck superstition or something.)  But here’s the problem: Lady Enid is only marrying the Earl in acquiescence with her father’s wishes; her real love is the Marquis of Muckross (John O’Brien), who answers “Betcha by golly wow!” when Enid poses the question…and the two of them run off together, leaving the Earl with egg on his face and wedding gifts to return.

The modern part of this tale involves a lovely Irish lass named Aileen Barrett (Davies as well—the first of many movies in which she would play dual roles), whose father (Richard Cummings) achieves great wealth after years of skimping and saving to purchase the materials to build a quarry on his land.  (The soil is useless for growing, but there’s a lot of valuable minerals underneath.)  Father Barrett builds a fine house with the money he makes from mining…but he doesn’t get to live in it long; he takes ill, and is soon being welcomed at the Pearly Gates.

The new Earl of Kenmare, Sir Fergus Cassidy (Wyndham Standing), has a mad crush on Aileen…however, Ms. Barrett only has eyes for a rake named Bulmer Meade (Carlton Miller), who writes goopy poetry that Aileen eats up with girlish admiration.  Aileen pledges her eternal love to Bulmer, whose fickle nature is well-established by the time we first meet him (a little title card tells us); he’s most assuredly someone who’s a heartbreaker and a love taker.  Told by one of Meade’s many flames (Thea Talbot) that she’s better off without that hound, Aileen eventually realizes that Fergus is the man for her.  Meade does show up for the wedding in time to cause trouble with “The Bride’s Play” …but Aileen has the good sense to smack him upside the head:


You go, girl—kick that fop to the curb.

The Bride’s Play is a worthwhile watch if you’re a casual Marion Davies fan (like myself); I’m sure true Marion devotees will probably rate it a bit higher (I’m looking at you, Lara!).  The only major nitpick I had about the movie is that the title cards contain a lot of that overripe dialogue (“You must not speak so to me…we have but lately met”) that so often lends itself to parody.  Still, it’s an engagingly told tale and there are some sweet moments here and there: my favorite is a scene where Aileen and Fergus stand over a “wishing well” and Fergus reluctantly tells his love he’d ask for her hand in marriage if he were a younger man.

“It was the face of a young man I just saw now in the well,” she replies, and with that he is walking on air.  I also chuckled at a title card that reads: “I’ve never heard of a good landlord—it’s a bad trade”—because we’ve been having some problems with our landlord of late with regards to our dishwasher (it’s been running a little wonky).

I don’t regret my contributing to this restoration (Ed was lucky that this was before the medical bills started rolling in), and I’m ready to be dealt in should Mr. Lorusso undertake another movie project.  Hopefully this one will be added to the Tee Cee Em lineup in the future so that it can be enjoyed by a wider audience.

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