Sunday, June 13, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Lights of Old Broadway (1925) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Marion Davies stars in the silent romantic comedy LIGHTS OF OLD BROADWAY (1925), which was just released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

In retrospect it almost seems as though this delightful film should have begun "Once upon a time..."

Twin newborn girls are orphaned aboard a ship sailing to New York. One of the babies is picked up by wealthy Mrs. de Rhonde (Julia Swayne Gordon), the other by the poor Irish immigrant Mrs. O'Tandy (Eleanor Lawson). Each of the women, enchanted with the baby she holds, wanders off into another part of the ship, and thus the girls begin their separate lives.

Dark-haired Anne de Rhonde (Davies) and her adoptive brother Dirk (Conrad Nagel) are raised in luxury. Blonde Fely O'Tandy (also Davies) has a hardscrabble existence, living in a shack and ultimately going on the stage as a dancer at Tony Pastor's.

Dirk sees Fely at Pastor's and falls head over heels for her. When he introduces Fely to his family, she and Anne feel as though they've always known each other... The de Rhondes are kind to the awkward Fely but when Dirk's father (Frank Currier) learns that Fely is an actress (the horror!) he asks her to leave.

Dirk loves Fely deeply and leaves home rather than give her up. He's further horrified when he learns his father is about to evict the O'Tandys and others from their shacks. Can this tangled mess be solved?

I believe this was my third Davies film; several years ago I saw her in EVER SINCE EVE (1937) with Robert Montgomery, and I really loved her in the silent comedy SHOW PEOPLE (1929) at the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival.

I think I enjoyed her in this even more. Davies is absolutely marvelous in her dual role. Fely is the dominant character, but Davies also creates a nicely distinct second characterization with the reserved Anne. The viewer initially thinks that Anne might reject Fely, as her father has, but there's a pull between the two young women and Anne only treats Fely with kindness.

In contrast with Anne, Fely is a livewire, ready to dance or brawl as needed. The sequence where Dirk walks her home and they get to know one another is enchanting. Davies' body language, such as the way she sprawls across a rock as Dirk is leaving, in order to ask his name, contributes greatly to her vivid characterization.

Early in the film Davies plays Fely as a wild young girl. She is completely believable as a child of perhaps 12, and I was amazed to look up Davies' age and realize she was 28 when the movie was released. I would have guessed she was closer to 20 when playing a girl several years younger in the early scenes. She's remarkably effective.

LIGHTS OF OLD BROADWAY features a subplot involving Thomas Edison (Frank Glendon) and electricity. A color sequence with electric lights is among the film's delights; additional scenes are also in color. Three different early color techniques were utilized: Two-strip Technicolor, the Handschiegl process, and color tinting.

This 70-minute film was directed by Monta Bell and filmed by Ira H. Morgan, The screenplay by Carey Wilson was adapted from a play by Laurence Eyre. The movie, with several settings and Davies playing two parts, doesn't feel overly much like a filmed play.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray features a 2K master of a 35mm Library of Congress print which looks wonderful. There is a new orchestral score composed, arranged and conducted by Robert Israel which I thought was excellent.

The disc includes a commentary track by Anthony Slide and a nice image gallery.

I can confidently say that LIGHTS OF OLD BROADWAY will make my Favorite Discoveries of 2021 list. Recommended.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger barrylane said...

I have just run Lights of Old New York, charming and well observed dealing with at least super officially, but perhaps with subtle depth some of the exact same social problems we have now. No surprise. Glad you are safely back online. Congratulations on the children and the anniversary.

3:54 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Should be 'Broadway but there was a film made a year or so later, Lights of New York, near the title I used, with Cullen Landis and Helene Costello.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you so much for the welcome back, Barrylane, and for the congratulations! I appreciate it very much.

So glad you saw this film, and I'm delighted you found it charming as well.

Funny thing, not long ago I was able to record LIGHTS OF NEW YORK from Turner Classic Movies! It's in my mile-high "to watch" stack.

Best wishes,

11:11 PM  

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