Sog.: dall’omonima pièce di Barry Connors. Scen.: Agnes Christine Johnston. F.: John Seitz. M.: Hugh Wynn. Scgf.: Cedric Gibbons. Int.: Marion Davies (Patricia Harrington), Orville Caldwell (Tony Anderson), Marie Dressler (Ma Harrington), Dell Henderson (Pa Harrington), Lawrence Gray (Billy), Jane Winton (Grace Harrington). Prod.: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Corp. 35mm. L: 2111 m. D.: 84’ a 22 f/s. Bn. Music composed by Maud Nelissen and performed by the group The Sprockets: Daphne Balvers (soprano saxophone), Frido ter Beek (alto & baritone saxophone), Marco Ludemann (banjo, mandoline, guitar), Jasper Somsen (double bass), Rombout Stoffers (percussion, effects, accordion) e Maud Nelissen (piano)
Orson Welles belatedly apologised for his cruel depiction of ‘Susan Alexander’ as a shrieking ignoramus in Citizen Kane, but can such damage ever be undone? Marion Davies has remained a laughing stock ever since – the irony being that she was in reality one of the finest comediennes Hollywood ever produced. But who can forget that she was also mistress to William Randolph Hearst? And so her memory is clouded by myth.
Take the long-surviving legend that Hearst, jealous of an affair Marion was having with Chaplin, shot at the great comedian during a party aboard his yacht, but hit Thomas Ince instead. If Hearst had wanted Chaplin killed, would he carry out the act in person? Would he ask him to play in his production of Show People (1928)? And what about that home movie showing all three romping on the beach at Santa Monica? I rest my case.
Hearst and Marion Davies had a relationship lasting thirty-five years and Marion remained loyal in her fashion. Hearst put a studio at her disposal. His reign as her producer lasted twenty years. He loved to see her in historical epics. Critics quickly realised that light comedy was her forte but it took ages before Hearst was persuaded to allow her to play in full-length comedies rather than brief sequences. Even when he realised how well audiences responded to her comedies – Vidor’s trio The Patsy, Show People and Not So Dumb (1930) were the high point of her career – he was reluctant to change.
Hearst hired Roscoe Arbuckle to direct The Red Mill. With the rushes not up to standard, King Vidor was brought in. Marion loved his Big Parade – it was her favourite film of all time – and the combination was so successful Vidor stayed on to direct the other comedies.
The Patsy is a superb example of how a play can be transferred to the screen without one being aware of its origins. But sound had arrived the year before. You would think that film-makers would struggle to reduce the titles, whereas so often the opposite happened. There are a hail of titles in The Patsy, most of which, luckily, are very funny – they were the work of the top title-writer of the day, Ralph Spence, although he had a Connors play to provide extra ammunition. Admittedly, one of the best ever made, this is a silent talkie.
“After two or three reels of this one”, said “Photoplay”, “the director tossed away his script – maybe his megaphone too – and turned the picture over to Marion Davies. Which was a very smart thing to do, for when Marion cuts loose with clowning the result is that sort of comedy which reflects its results in crowded theaters”. Incidentally, Charlie Chaplin voted The Patsy the best film of the year.
The Music for The Patsy
In 2005 I was commissioned by the Dutch Film in Concert Foundation to write music for The Patsy for small orchestra. The Patsy has made me into a zealous crusader for Marion Davies, and this great comedy, with its wonderful cast, deserves to be better known by the greater audience. It has been challenging to musically underscore a film of so much vibrancy, while at the same time giving the necessary quietness to two hundred very witty intertitles.
In the course of my research, I discovered the original cue-sheet for The Patsy, a list of popular hit songs and classical themes that were performed ‘live’ with the film on its original release in 1928. From this list I distilled the theme for Tony, one of the film’s main characters, while adapting it for our times.
In my composition and arrangements I have tried to stay loyal to the musical idiom of late 1920s America. It is a broad idiom, and for The Patsy I have been largely inspired by the phenomenal dance orchestras and songs of the era. The love theme also originates from this period, and is based on the song Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, from Jerome Kern’s musical Show Boat.
For the funny yacht club scene I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pay musical tribute to one of the era’s best dance orchestras, the band of Jimmie Lunceford. For some special refinements in my score I wish to express my deep gratitude to Mark Fitz-Gerald. The adaptation for film orchestra The Sprockets present at the festival has been premiered at the Hippodrome Silent Filmfestival in Bo’ness in March 2017.