Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Patsy (King Vidor) ***1/2

King Vidor

Cast: Marion Davies, Marie Dressler, Orville Caldwell, Lawrence Gray

Background: Marion Davies was the mistress of tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who only wanted to see her in expensive costume dramas. Director King Vidor got the idea to cast her in this when witnessing her do impressions of her friends. Marie Dressler's career was over and she was contemplating suicide before getting a last minute offer to portray Marion's mother.

Story: Patricia Harrington (Davies) struggles to win the approval of her mother (Dressler). Things don't get much better when she falls in love with her sister's boyfriend, but decides to pursue him after finding out her sister is cheating on the man.

Thoughts: It's a shame that it took so long for her to be cast in a comedy, because this film proves Marion Davies was meant to be a comedienne all along. The comic persona that was threatening to break out in last year's dud Quality Street is fully evident here and her spirited performance is a joy to behold. At one point, she tries to impress a man by doing impressions of silent film stars, including a Lillian Gish impersonation that is dead on. There's some really inspired stuff in the 2nd half where Marion has to pretend to be crazy and the many inventive ways they come up with for her to do that are absolutely hilarious. Marion's splendid performance completely carries this movie, but there are some strong support with Marie Dressler's manic performance as her mother of special note. The basic story is certainly simple (although the genders are reversed from the norm), as it was in most comedies of the day, but what's important is that we have a funny and endearing main character to make it all work.

Postscript: From here on out, Marion would make mostly comedies and she enjoyed success in the transition to sound. Her reputation would later be shattered by the unflattering portrayal of her fictional alter ego in Citizen Kane, and subsequent films featuring Marion would portray her in a similar light. However, film historians have since recognized that those portrayals didn't really do her justice, and even actress Virginia Madsen regrets how she portrayed Marion in the 1985 tv-movie The Hearst and Davies Affair.

No comments: