Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Movie: Beggars of Life (1928)

Once again, I’m unable to attend the Silent Crime Spree at Seattle’s Paramount Theater. Once again, Rosemarie files her report.

When we first see Louise Brooks in William Wellman’s Beggars of Life, she’s already dressed in boys’ clothes, her trademark bob ready to be tucked up under a cloth cap. Her character, Nancy, doesn’t realize it yet, but she's illustrating a useful piece of advice for young women taking to the road - try not to look like a woman. Another helpful tidbit is get a companion you can trust. Jim, played by Richard Arlen, finds Nancy while sneaking into a house where a savory breakfast sits fresh on the kitchen table. Unbeknownst to him, the man not answering the door has been killed by Nancy, who shot him to stop an attempted rape.

The two hit the road together, pausing only to liberate a ham steak off the dead man’s plate. Posing as brothers, their trip to reach Jim’s uncle in Canada is delayed by train dicks tossing them off freights and the police looking to arrest Nancy for murder.

Another roadblock in their path is Oklahoma Red (Wallace Beery). Applause broke out in the theater with Beery’s first appearance, singing at the top of his lungs as he walks along with a barrel of moonshine hoisted on his shoulder. Now that’s a good time guy. Beery is terribly charismatic in the role. With his easy charm in a beefy frame, he reminded me of English actor Tom Hardy (Inception).

It only takes an eyeful of Nancy bending over for the tramps in a hobo jungle to realize she's nobody’s little brother. The rest of the film centers around who is going to get possession of Nancy, Red or Jim, clearly her true love. Louise Brooks is beautiful and magnetic throughout, though she looses some of her glamour when put into a dress at the end of the picture, complete with an unfortunate bonnet.

As always, this Silent Movie Monday featured a bravura performance by Jim Riggs on the Paramount’s Mighty Wurlitzer, impersonating the locomotives with brake squeals, steam hissing and of course the lonesome whistle announcing the passing of another freight into the dark night.