The Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book brings me the last tie in recommendation for The General with this fun and joyous, a occasionally satirical look at Hollywood silent film.
Peggy Pepper (Marion Davies) has arrived in Hollywood from Georgia, escorted by her father Colonel Pepper (Dell Henderson) with dreams of being a loved and famous dramatic actor. The two of them are awestruck by stars, celebrity, and the name Hollywood which seems to be everywhere.
They meet their first problem at the gate when they are told they can’t meet the company president, and if that if Peggy wishes to be an actor she should head over to Casting. They fill out her card, the clerk there believes she’s playing everything for comedy (something Davies is amazingly good at), and then they head to the cafeteria for a bite to eat on their meager funds.
It is there that they meet Billy Boone (William Haines) a pie-in-the-face comedy actor, who is attracted to Peggy from the off, and decides to help her, by casting her in his next pic. She has no idea what she’s getting herself into, and is shocked when she’s hosed down with a water bottle in a sequence, but the director thinks she’s priceless.
So much so that the picture is built around she and Billy, which meets with a rousing box office success, and she gets her first brush with real fame when Charlie Chaplin asks for HER autograph.
She never loses sight of wanting to be a revered dramatic actress though, despite her obvious talent and knack for comedy, and when the opportunity presents itself, she chases it, leaving behind her father and Billy in pursuit of an illusion both on and off-screen, right down to a new name, and a made-up history about herself, aided by waiter-turned-actor-and-fake-count, Andre (Paul Ralli).
Davies has wonderful comedic timing and expressions, two scenes stand out as my favorites, one involves a dramatic screen test where she’s required to cry, and everyone on the set is trying to make her cry, sad stories, onions, music, and she can’t make it happen… The other is the interview for a magazine, where her facial expression is simply priceless.
As she falls deeper and deeper into the illusion of her own perceived image, her fans and those who love her begin to sour on this new look, and she has to learn that image and fame perhaps isn’t everything if you aren’t being honest and happy with who you are.
Running at just short of an hour and a half, this one was surprisingly delightful. I thought when reading the blurb for it in the book it would be a tougher watch, but it’s light, romantic, has some very funny moments, and the sheer charm of both Davies and Haines reels you in.
Although, Peggy’s maid steals the few scenes she’s in.
If you come across it, throw it on and let me know what you think!
The next one up in the book, I’m very excited about it, because I get to spend some time with the Marx Brothers!