Arlecchino Cinema > 10:45


Rouben Mamoulian


Sunday 23/06/2019


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

Becky Sharp, the protagonist of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, is a golden-haired gold-digger, a flirt and social climber of early 19th century England. Mamoulian’s portrayal of Becky in this satire of aristocratic life shows her not as an opportunist but a woman mischievously reversing gender power relations. She is a bon vivant – with three-strip Technicolor expressing her excessive world. This colour process, previously used only in shorts or for certain sequences in black and white features, was used here for a feature film for the first time. Shooting began with actor and (rather dull) part-time director Lowell Sherman handling the project. When Sherman died during the production, Mamoulian was brought on board, starting from scratch. Having made a succession of great films since 1931, the Tbilisi-born Armenian had one of the most consistent bodies of work in post-sound American cinema, and was renowned for his ability to encode his vision in light, movement, and now colour. Technicolor wished to seduce the viewer; Mamoulian wanted to tell the story via the colour. The continuity of colour temperature was of no concern. In the ball sequence, a sudden shot from above also marks a shift like that from an oil painting to a watercolour, with colours leaking from the edges of the figures. The palette is dominated by pale blues, tawdry yellows, royal reds and light greys mostly for backgrounds. Critic Tom Milne notes how the colours define Becky’s moods with “soft blues for melting ingenuousness, bright yellow for moments of triumph”, or more generally, when in the ball sequence “the blues, greens and yellows are gradually drained away to leave the screen suffused by a crescendo of red”. The film’s initial box-office failure and later availability in poor prints only (using the inferior two-colour Cinecolor process) created the impression that Becky Sharp wasn’t worthy of its director’s name. This definitive restoration finally reveals it as one of Mamoulian’s finest works of the 30s.

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Cast and Credits

Sog.: dal romanzo Vanity Fair (1848) di William Makepeace Thackeray e dalla pièce omonima (1899) di Langdon Mitchell. Scen.: Francis Edwards Faragoh. F.: Ray Rennahan. M.: Archie Marshek. Scgf.: Robert Edmond Jones. Int.: Miriam Hopkins (Becky Sharp), Frances Dee (Amelia Sedley), Cedric Hardwicke (marchese di Steyne), Billie Burke (Lady Bareacres), Alison Skipworth (Miss Crawley), Nigel Bruce (Joseph ‘Joss’ Sedley), Alan Mowbray (Rawdon Crawley), G.P. Huntley Jr. (George Osborne), William Stack (Pitt Crawley), William Haverham (duca di Wellington). Prod.: Kenneth Macgowan per Pioneer Pictures, Inc.. DCP. D.: 84’. Col.