Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Beggars of Life (William Wellman) **

William Wellman

Cast: Louise Brooks, Richard Arlen, Wallace Beery

Background: Director William Wellman was the flavor of Hollywood after directing the smash hit Wings, the most successful film in the silent era. He's reunited here with Wings star Richard Arlen, provocative leading lady Louise Brooks, and character actor Wallace Beery.

Story: A young woman (Brooks) murders her abusive stepfather and is forced to run from the law. Dressed as a boy, she meets up with a man (Arlen) who helps her

Thoughts: What a disappointment. There is an interesting premise in here, and the first half maintains a nice simplicity as the two leads hop from place to place and grow closer to one another. The chemistry between them is really strong (despite the fact that Brooks detested Arlen during filming) and the character development is very nice. However, the film falls apart once they get involved with a group of hoboes, the main one named Oklahoma Red (Wallace Beery), who takes an unhealthy liking to the girl. The problem is that the film itself takes an unhealthy liking to Oklahoma Red and hands over almost the entire 3rd act to him, with a ridiculous redemption arc that isn't believable for a second and a series of action scenes that belong in a much different film. As our leads disappear, so does the film's heart. I'm certainly not happy with the William Wellman ouevre so far.

Postscript: Wellman continued a successful career through the 50's with several notable films to come. Arlen was mostly a bit player from here on out, but managed to keep acting through the 70's. Brooks was in the midst of her career high point, with Pandora's Box just around the corner, to be followed by Diary of a Lost Girl. She would quit acting at the end of the next decade.

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