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Wednesday, 24 October 2007

The Busher (1919) Jerome Stern

Back in 1919 Charles Ray was a huge star, generally playing likeable heroes that weren't particularly bright. However his star didn't continue to shine for too long and his huge career in the teens deteriorated throughout the twenties until he could only play uncredited supporting roles in the forties. In comparison his co-stars were very much on the rise and would soon become major names: Colleen Moore as the moonfaced leading lady and John Gilbert as his rival for her affections.

Ray plays Ben Harding, a bush league pitcher for the nowhere town of Brownville, who gets his chance to impress when the St Paul Pink Sox get stuck in the town because the train track is flooded. He doesn't have a clue who they are but plays them anyway and manager Steve Brady is highly impressed with his pitching. He soon gets picked up by the Pink Sox but getting signed doesn't equal automatic success.

For 1919 this is a hugely impressive film. The acting is decent, though a little overdone as you'd expect, and with the invitably obvious eyeliner on the male actors. The direction is excellent, with cinematography that doesn't approach the silent heyday of the mid to late twenties but which is a whole league above everything I've seen from the teens. The story is what shines most though. This is a real story, with grand themes and subtleties, and it doesn't disappoint. Maybe it's a little melodramatic but this is 1919 after all and it's still less so than half the early sound films I've seen. It wouldn't stand out anywhere near as much even a couple of years later but for 1919 it's outstanding.

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