WHEN THE CLOUDS ROLL BY

Victor Fleming

S.: Douglas Fairbanks. Sc.: Thomas Geraghty. F.: Harry Thorpe, William McGann. Scgf.: Edward M. Langley. In.: Douglas Fairbanks (Daniel Boone Brown), Kathleen Clifford (Lucette Bancroft), Frank Campeau (Mark Drake), Ralph Lewis (Curtis Brown), Herbert Grimwood (Dr. Metz), Albert MacQuarrie (Hobson), Daisy Robinson (Bobbie DeVere). P.: Robert Fairbanks per Douglas Fairbanks Pictures Corp. (United Artists). 35mm. L.: 1843m. D.: 86’ a 19 f/s.
info_outline
T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

“By the late 1910s, Fairbanks was one of the most popular and powerful stars in Hollywood. In 1919, along with Mary Pickford (whom he married in 1920), Charles Chaplin, and Griffith, he formed United Artists, a firm to distribute their independently-produced films. Chaplin, Pickford, and Griffith still had contractual obligations to other films, so Fairbanks made the first two films United Artists released, His Majesty the American and When the Clouds Roll By. When the Clouds Roll By contains some extremely imaginative scenes, some of which seems to anticipate devices used by avantgarde filmmakers in Europe during the 1920s. In one early scene, the hero has a lengthy nightmare as a result of eating a heavy late meal. Shots made into a distorting mirror create a demonic figure that threatens Daniel. He then flees through a room full of women who laugh at him, escaping by diving into a painting of a lake, only to find himself, after a cut, falling into the middle of a real lake. The various portions of his meal, portrayed by actors dressed up as an onion, a lobster, and so on, chase him with the pursuers following in fast motion and Daniel running in slow motion. This chase also involves an extraordinary shot of a revolting room, with Daniel going up the walls and across the ceiling. The device is the same one used much later in the Fred Astaire’s musical Royal Wedding (1951). Yet Fairbanks goes further than the later imitation by using a split-explosure technique to bring the pursuing “food” into the room. The costumed actors stand on the floor, vainly trying to reach Daniel, who capers about on the ceiling. This scene is all the more impressive because during the silent period, the trick effects had to be done by explosing the film twice in the camera, rather than added later in the laboratory. Aside from this unusual dream sequence, When the Clouds Roll By displays the quick tempo of action and editing that characterized many Hollywood films of the late 1910s, and expecially those of Fairbanks. As in many of his early films, Fairbanks here displays a delightful willingness to allow his character to look a bit ridiculous. Daniel’s superstitiousness leads him into absurd antics. At one point he mistakenly kisses the feet of a chicken, mistaking them for a woman’s hand - a joke reminiscent of Jacques Tati. Seeing When the Clouds Roll By today may make us regret that Fairbanks, apparently feeling his comedies were not important enough, abandoning them for more ambitious projects”

(Kristin Thompson, Cahiers du Muet, n. 3, 1993)

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