Friday, September 18, 2009

The Silver Horde (George Archainbaud) **1/2

George Archainbaud

Cast: Evelyn Brent, Joel McCrea, Jean Arthur, Louis Wolheim, Raymond Hatton

Background: Director George Archainbaud was a veteran of 60 silent films and was a very prodigious filmmaker, making 9 films in the previous two years. Evelyn Brent gained notoriety for a series of performances she gave in the Josef von Sternberg films Underworld, The Last Command, and The Dragnet.

Story: Boyd Emerson (McCrea) is a salmon fishermen fighting for control of the salmon business in Alaska, while his heart is torn between high society Mildred Wayland (Jean Arthur) and Cherry Malotte (Brent), a girl with a mysterious past.

Thoughts: The real revelation here is Evelyn Brent. While I found her to be a terrific actress in both Underworld and The Last Command, I'd never heard her speak before. Not only does her voice match the resourceful, tough-talking persona she showed in silent films, but she delivers her lines with a sparkling energy that betrays none of the problems that many actresses faced in the early sound era. In fact, a young Jean Arthur is completely wooden here, and it is she that would rise to fame throughout the decade. It's too bad the story, or the rest of the cast, just isn't strong enough to support Brent's wonderful performance. McCrea isn't interesting enough to be a leading man, and it almost seems like the director realizes this because much of the story is told from Brent's point of view. She creates a memorable character in Cherry Malotte, but she deserved a better script and cast to support her.

Postscript: Brent continued acting in many films over the next two decades, but it was Joel McCrea and especially Jean Arthur who would really become stars in the future. Arthur made a name for herself by playing the female lead in several Frank Capra classics, while McCrea would star in the classics Sullivan's Travels and The Palm Beach Story. Sadly, the modern DVD cover (see above) completely ignores Brent's presence in the film.

No comments: