Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Applause (Rouben Mamoulian) *1/2

Director: Rouben Mamoulian

Cast: Helen Morgan, Joan Peers, Fuller Mellish Jr., Jack Cameron, Henry Wadsworth

Background: This early talkie was director Rouben Mamoulian's first film. It was adapted from a novel by Beth Brown.

Story: Kitty Darling (Morgan) is a popular burlesque performer who sends her daughter April (Peers) to a convent to keep her away from a seedy lifestyle. Years later, April returns as her mother's popularity begins to fade.

Thoughts: There's definitely some positive stuff here. Mamoulian was ahead of his time in the way he utilized sound equipment, and the seedy, negative portrayal of burlesque clubs is refreshing. It's very similar to how you would see a strip club portrayed in a modern film. Helen Morgan gives a brave and realistic portrayal of a woman stuck in a lifestyle she knows there is no escape from. Unfortunately, none of that can make up for some ridiculously horrific performances by the other actors, especially Joan Peers as her daughter. It has to be one of the worst performances I've seen in a movie, with a dramatic sequence where her mother is consoling her that is unintentionally funny. Then when I thought it couldn't worse, they pair Peers up with the equally wooden Henry Wadsworth as a romantic interest. There is an incredibly long courtship sequence for the two that just destroys the entire movie.

Postscript: Mamoulian would go on to a successful Hollywood career, with notable entries such as 1931's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and 1933's Queen Christina. Morgan would continue a career on both stage and screen until 1940.

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