ESSAYS FROM THE COUCH brings you Fernando’s quadruple tribute to the work of Richard Arlen with the first of four reviews of movies he appears in.
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FERNANDO’s CORNER ~ Posted September 1st, 2016
Some years ago –twice– I tried to watch William Wellman’s “BEGGARS OF LIFE” (1928), but the copies of the film I got lacked the ending. Thanks to my friend Wendy I was finally able to see the film in its entirety.
I had seen most of the movie, so I was aware this was a masterful film, perhaps the best Silent directed by Wellman I have ever seen; definitely one of the best Silent films I have ever watched. And, as well…one of Bill Wellman’s best films of his whole career. But what I had missed was truly pivotal.
Wellman’s crew for “Beggars of Life” – It takes a village to make a masterpiece
The film is very simple in terms of story, but not less complex in its depiction of
- the human feelings involved,
- the miseries of the life of the homeless and
- the multi-dimensional aspects of these loafers.
The plot basically is: an abused girl kills her foster parent after he almost rapes her and, by chance, she is rescued by a good-natured and friendly hobo who takes her under his wing and protection. He disguises her as a young boy. Afterwards, they reach a camp of hoboes, tramps or “forgotten men” ( as Joan Blondell sang in the early ‘30s ) where these men discover that the boy is really a gal and a murderess. Enter Oklahoma Red, the tough, but oddly endearing character played by Wallace Beery.
The film is simply BEAUTIFUL and the background music or score available on the Grapevine release works very well with the story. It is a pity that the print is not as good as it might have been, but at least this film is not lost.
Richard Arlen and Louise Brooks are perfect as the young couple matched by circumstances and director Wellman extracts excellent performances from both. This might well be Brooks’ finest moment on the American screen. Arlen was a reliable actor, and depending on the director with whom he worked, he could be very good. There are very sweet, tender and moving moments between them, especially In the first half of the picture when they start this journey together. These two have great chemistry.
Special mention goes to Wally Beery who, as the tough-as-nails and brutish tramp, wants Brooks for himself, but he’s basically a decent man in the presence of real love. Yes, love in such circumstances they are living in, surrounded by poverty, ignorance, chauvinism, alcoholism, suffering and all kinds of needs.
The film realistically shows the dirt and misery these human beings live in and that’s to Wellman’s credit all the way, as well as his depiction of the human story the three leads live.
For me, this film is a masterpiece, superior to Wellman’s “Wings” (1927) and one of the unsung masterpieces of the late twenties, when Silent films reached its maturity and apex in the American cinema, and ended too soon with the advent of Sound.
[ “THUNDERBOLT!” ( 1929 ) ] [ “THE SECRET CALL” ( 1931 ) ]
[ “TOUCHDOWN!” ( 1931 ) ]
[ H O M E ]