Friday, September 11, 2009

They Had to See Paris (Frank Borzage) **1/2

Director: Frank Borzage

Cast: Will Rogers, Irene Rich, Owen Davis Jr., Margeurite Churchill, Fifi D'Orsay

Background: Frank Borzage was the master of romantic melodramas, but he decided to mix it up for his first talkie and tackle a light comedy. At the time, Will Rogers was avery well known performer and humorist, having made his fame in the Ziegfield Follies and appearing in over 50 silent films.

Story: Pike Peters (Rogers) and his family get rich when they find themselves part owners of an oil field. At the urging of his wife (Rich) they leave the comfort of Oklahoma and take a trip to Paris, but Pike finds himself at odds with his family who get caught up in their new ritzy lifestyle.

Thoughts: This one is certainly a misfire, although it is at least an interesting one. Will Rogers gives a strong performance as an almost maddeningly decent man that just feels out of place in Paris. At first the character seems like it might go in the direction of a typical country bumpkin, but it's to Rogers' credit that he never oversells the character. He's not an idiot, but just has principles that he's not willing to compromise just because the family is now rich. Unfortunately, the other performances are not quite as nuanced and the film goes a little too far in showing how much his family, especially his wife, are frustrated with him. There's one scene in particular where his wife says things so mean to him that I almost wished he ran off with the cute waitress that keeps flirting with him. The ending of the film is just a little too neatly wrapped up and not very convincing. Credit to Borzage for attempting a departure from his usual fare, but it simply lacks the artistry he brought to his silent films, and all that remains are the storytelling problems that have sometimes hampered him in the past.

Postscript: Not one of Borzage's more notable works, it only has 44 total votes from IMDB users. He would return to his roots for his most well known talki, 1932's Farewell to Arms, which earned him a Best Director nomination. Sadly, Will Rogers would die in plane crash just 6 years after this movie was made.

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