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Sunday, 17 February 2008

Marianne (1929)

It's hard to imagine what filmmakers in 1929 must have been thinking about sound. Sure, the studios were gambling by shelling out on an unknown factor, against some of their heartfelt judgements, but what did the actual filmmakers think about sound? Well, the fact that so many films of that year seem to be musicals could be a suggestion that if they're going to have sound they might as well go hog wild and throw music and songs and everything they can think of into the mix too.

We're in Bienville, France, in 1914 and off go the boys to war, including André, the sweetheart of the titular heroine. 33 seconds later (I counted them), it's 1918 and the war is over. Bienville looks a little different, of course, and in march the Americans to camp in Marianne's farm and steal her pig. She's not far off the only person left in the town, with the exception of a bunch of war orphans she looks after and she spends her time being frazzled, defending her honour in a superb mangled English in a French accent. She's played by Marion Davies, who always had a talent for accents and this one is a far more consistent French accent than the Irish one she put on for Peg o' My Heart.

A few of the soldiers spend their time wooing her, and a couple in earnest who become bitter rivals. These two are Lawrence Gray as Private Stagg, serenading her with song, and Scott Kolk as an MP called Lt Frane. The only one I recognise is Cliff Edwards, in his film debut, long before achieving immortality as the voice of Jiminy Cricket, but because this is a musical his ukelele is put to good use. To be honest, the character who deserves to have received co-star status is Anatol the pig, because of both the amount of screen time he gets and his importance to the plot direction.

As always though, it's Marion Davies who steals the show. Not only does she put on a pretty fine French accent but she gets to impersonate a male French officer, complete with bad moustache, and then sing under the personas of Maurice Chevalier and Sarah Bernhardt. Her films are often not that great, but she's always very watchable indeed. This one fits both those descriptions.

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