JOAN CRAWFORD, CREEPY CHANTEUSE
Here's Joan Crawford's disturbing appearance in MGM's 1929 variety-show omnibus, "Hollywood Revue" (for TV showings the title was later amended to "Hollywood Revue of 1929", lest any unsuspecting viewers think that the film was made in 1974). In this segment, Joan sings a highly forgettable period ditty called "Got A Feeling For You" and then goes into a gyrating frenzy of a flapper dance that I find more than a bit terrifying. Indeed, everything about this little clip is a misfire. Something about Joan's performance is off--she's demonic instead of graceful, demanding instead of inviting. The film is basically a recording of what would have been a sort of high-end vaudeville show with one act following another, all of which appear to flop due to the lack of any response--the players are playing to an empty house. The notion of using the camera to connect the performer with the audience appears not to have occurred to anyone--Joan sings not to the movie audience, but to the audience that we know isn't sitting there in the non-existent theater. As a result, she looks left of camera through the whole thing which results in making the viewer constantly want to look over their own shoulder to see who she's singing to (the grip she slept with the previous evening perhaps?) A dopey quartet appears on stage to take up the slack once she goes into her dance--the male singer takes over the vocal but sounds so much like Joan that it makes me wonder if he wasn't voicing her during her on-camera performance as well. (Though this is before the existence of dubbing, stuff like this was actually done, usually with the voice actor standing off camera saying the lines into their own microphone while the on-camera actor mouthed the words. Hitchcock did this with the actress Anny Ondra in "Blackmail", his first talkie, the reason being that the film was already half-finished as a silent when the decision was made to add sound. Unfortunately, Ondra didn't speak English).
Finally, the number stumbles mercifully to its finish. Crawford leaps onto the piano which is wheeled off camera while they're still singing and playing, leaving us to stare stupidly at a curtain as the last few bars are hammered out. It's hard to believe from stuff like this that King Vidor made "The Crowd" a year earlier, and that Von Stroheim's epic artistry was already years in the past. Jesus.
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 2:47 PM