Monday, July 06, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Lonesome (1928)

Over the last couple of years I've been delving into silent movies a bit at a time, enjoying the films of Harold Lloyd and titles such as NOAH'S ARK (1928), THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH (1926), and SUNRISE (1927).

As I've become more open to silents I've started collecting recommendations of silent films which seem likely to appeal to me, and during the Criterion sale last fall LONESOME (1928) was strongly recommended to me by several people on Twitter. It sounded good so I picked it up. A day off from work today seemed like the perfect time to finally watch it, especially as it's set during 4th of July weekend!

LONESOME is a charming 69-minute romance about two hardworking young people, Jim (Glenn Tryon) and Mary (Barbara Kent), who live alone but would really enjoy sharing life with a special someone.

The first 25% or so of the movie is remarkable for the absence of narrative cards, using only visuals to depict their morning routines and workaday life as a press machine operator and a telephone operator. There are unusual visuals such as a ticking clock superimposed on the screen as they work, and much is conveyed about both their personalities in these silent moments; for instance, Mary may be lonely but she's a cheerful, positive girl.

Mary and Jim each have the afternoon of July 3rd off for the holiday, and both watch wistfully as their friends go off to have fun with their dates. (Note that Jim's friend in this sequence is a young, thin Andy Devine!) They go home from work, feeling a bit sad, but are lured out of their rented rooms when a truck with a band passes by each of their windows, advertising holiday fun at the beach, and off they go!

Jim notices the pretty girl on the same bus, and once they meet on the sand at Coney Island, they shyly get to know one another, having an increasingly wonderful day and evening, enjoying all the attractions on the boardwalk together.

Jim and Mary are unexpectedly separated by a mishap involving a roller coaster, and as they don't know each other's last names or addresses, they're despondent about finding one another again. A small miracle is needed...

This was a lovely film in terms of both story and visuals. I was completely engrossed and felt at times as though I were getting almost a documentary-style true depiction of living in those times. I loved following them as they grab breakfast (with Jim shoving donuts in his mouth because he didn't hear his alarm clock), ride the subway, and go to work. There are so many interesting things to look at; the blue and pink color tints of the amusement park signs caused me to gasp with admiration. Utterly exquisite. I'd watch it again just to see that part once more, but the entire movie is so worthwhile!

Although ostensibly a silent film, LONESOME is one of those "hybrid" films from the dawn of the sound era which, like NOAH'S ARK (1928), has some sound sequences. I was so mesmerized by the movie as a silent, with its beautiful recorded score, that it was almost a surprise to hear voices!

Leading lady Barbara Kent lived to be 103. She passed away in 2011, which was noted at my blog here. She's very sweet in this, and I liked her a lot; it just so happens that she is in FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1926), which is on my list of 10 Classics to see this year. I was also moved by Tryon in the final scenes, as he doesn't shy away from showing his despondency at being unable to find the girl of his dreams again.

I was intrigued to learn that despite the very realistic feel, the movie was not filmed at Coney Island, but in Venice, California, with the roller coaster scenes filmed at the Long Beach Pike. I mentioned the Jack Rabbit Coaster to my mother, a Long Beach native, and she didn't remember it; it turns out that's because it was demolished before she was born! The Jack Rabbit Racer existed from 1915 to 1930, then was torn down to make way for the Cyclone Racer, which was at the Pike from 1930 to 1968. I love when a movie also provides a bit of local history!

LONESOME was directed by Pal Fejos and filmed by Gilbert Warrenton.

LONESOME is available on Blu-ray or DVD from the Criterion Collection. Two additional films directed by Fejos are included as extras, and the set also includes a commentary track, a detailed glossy booklet, and more.

Rumor has it that the summer Criterion sale will start on Tuesday, July 7th. I highly recommend buying LONESOME!


Blogger Raquel S. said...

This is one of my top favorite films so I'm delighted you enjoyed it so much. I love everything about it. Part-talkies interest me but I don't there will be another that I'll enjoy as much as this one. It's such a sweet film, I love the two main characters and I always get teary eyed at the end.

10:14 AM  
Blogger LĂȘ said...

I was also recommended this one on Twitter, twice in the same day. I was amazed when I finally saw it and I immediately wanted to watch again after the film finished. I was in awe during so many sequences!

10:39 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Sound wonderful, and nice to see from your review and the above comments that it lives up to everything I've heard about it. Must put this high on my list now.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Raquel and Le! This is definitely one I'll be watching again before long, a real "feel good" film.

Raquel, I happened to remember last night you'd seen this film on a big screen, and I enjoyed rereading your post; here it is for anyone else would like to read it!

Best wishes,

12:04 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Kristina, I'd love to know what you think of it! It was a real treat for me. :)

Best wishes,

10:11 AM  

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