Thursday, July 6, 2017

Adventures in Blu-ray: When Knighthood Was in Flower (1922)

The Kickstarter project from March of 2016 to raise funds to restore the 1922 Marion Davies feature film When Knighthood Was in Flower came to a most gratifying conclusion on the first of this month, when I received the Blu-ray/DVD combo that was my reward for tossing a few coins into the guitar case.  (There were 317 backers, and a total of $11, 928 was raised; the project’s goal was attained eight hours within its initial Kickstarter posting.  Yowsah!)  We have silent film accompanist Ben Model (and Undercrank Productions—in association with Greenbriar Picture Shows) to thank for this beautiful restoration; Ben availed himself of a 12-reel 35mm nitrate print of Knighthood’s “road show” release in the collection of the Library of Congress…so if you’re saying to yourself right now “Oh, I saw this already on YouTube” you really haven’t seen it the way silent movies are meant to be seen and enjoyed.

Ben Model
For starters, the refurbished Knighthood sports digitally reinstated tints and tones; the LOC print (which includes a reel from a nitrate print courtesy of the Michael Yakaitis Collection at the Academy Film Archive) was in black & white, but the indications for the tinting and toning were printed into the first and last frames of most of the reels, which proved quite a help in the restoration project.  The final reel, which features the film’s protagonists being pursued by soldiers wielding weapons and torches, digitally replicated the hand coloring (thanks to Jack Theakston, the torches give off an orange glow that is amazing to look at) of the original release.  Knighthood also boasts a brand-new theatre organ score composed by Mr. Model, and a most informative liner note booklet written by the woman who trims the hedges at Backlots—Marion Davies biographer and fellow CMBA member Lara Gabrielle Fowler.

Lyn Harding, Marion Davies & Forrest Stanley
Based on the 1898 novel by Charles Major (under the pseudonym Edwin Caskoden—one of the film’s characters amusingly borrows this name) and the 1901 play by Paul Kester, When Knighthood Was in Flower is a romantic melodrama set against the background of England’s Tudor period.  King Henry VIII (Lyn Harding) wishes for his sister Mary to wed French king Louis XII (William Norris) …though it’s more of a merger than marriage.  Alas and alack, Mary has become quite taken with Charles Brandon (Forrest Stanley)—a commoner who makes her poor heart go lub-dub from the moment she meets him at a jousting tournament.  Chuck’s lower societal caste dictates that any coupling between him and the princess is RIGHT! OUT! —so when Henry exiles Charles to “New Spain,” Mary insists on running off with him disguised as his brother.

The male masquerade of Marion Davies’ Mary isn’t any more convincing that the drag she donned in Little Old New York (1923); she and Charles are quickly rounded up by all the King’s horses and all the King’s men.  Charles is to have a date with the executioner…but Mary agrees to marry Louis XII if her brother will spare his life.  The scrofulous old fart (Louis) has his card punched when he attempts to behave like the young lover he’s convinced Mary wants and needs…and with the King’s death, his skeevy nephew Francis (William Powell—billed as “William H.”) decides to put the moves on the Widder Tudor.  Fortunately for Mary, Charles comes to her rescue…and King Henry VIII provides the obligatory happy ending.

A title card that produced a hearty guffaw.  (Why would she be dressed like a wonton?)

Davies & William Norris
With the help of her producer-patron—newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst—Marion Davies had already headlined fourteen feature films by the time When Knighthood Was in Flower hit theatre screens in 1922.  Flower would be the movie that cemented Davies’ stardom; it was a big budget costume epic, produced at a cost of $1.5 million (about $21 million in today’s dollahs) and believe you me—every penny of it shows in its lavish attention to detail (costumes, sets, etc.).  The 1922 version of the Major novel-Kester play made quite a few “best” lists (in addition to being the sixth biggest box office hit that year); it had been previously filmed in 1908 (though it is believed to be lost) and would see another adaptation in 1953 with Walt Disney’s The Sword and the Rose (the U.S. title).

William (H.) Powell
The more of Marion Davies’ cinematic oeuvre that I am exposed to the more I enjoy, though I’m firmly in the camp that believes that she was showcased best in comedies like The Patsy (1928—still my personal favorite) and Show People (1928).  Her talents as a comedienne are on display in Knighthood though, in very brief glimpses; I laughed loudly at the face she makes at one of the foreign ambassadors giving her the once-over on behalf of their marriage-minded monarchs, and when she and Stanley are hiding out at an inn while on the run from King Henry she does a funny backwards stagger into a fireplace as she cavorts in her male masquerade.  Knighthood started out kind of slow for me (I’m not much of a costume epic guy) but became more engaging as it built up a head of steam toward the finish.  It was also a treat seeing William Powell (in his second film…and in tights, even) as the lecherous Frances; a note at the (always reliable) IMDb states that despite both Davies and Powell being stars at MGM in the 1930s this was the only film they appeared in together.

The restoration of When Knighthood Was in Flower is beautifully done and a round of kudos go out rewarding the hard work that went into this Blu-ray/DVD.  It will be made available for general release July 25, 2017 (according to the listing at Amazon), and if you’re a silent movie buff you’ll want this one for the shelf…if you’re a Marion Davies fan, you’ll definitely have to have this.  Knighthood is also scheduled for a showing on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ when Marion Davies is one of the thirty-one stars feted during Tee Cee Em’s Summer Under the Stars in August.  (It airs at 8pm EDT on August 29th; two other recently restored Davies vehicles—Enchantment [1921; 9am EDT] and The Bride’s Play [1922; 10:30am EDT]—are also in the lineup.)

1 comment:

Drednm said...

ENCHANTMENT was restored in 2014 and debuted on TCM November 2014. This will be its second showing. Same with THE BRIDE'S PLAY, which made its TCM debut earlier this year. The broadcast of KNIGHTHOOD will be the television premiere of the restored film, which is gorgeous.