Sunday, January 22, 2012

Louise Brooks film screens in Berkeley, California

As part of its 25 film, four month Howard Hawks retrospective, the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California will screen A Girl in Every Port. The 1928 Louise Brooks film, by consensus the best of Hawks' silent efforts, is set to play on Tuesday, January 24 at 7 pm.

A Girl in Every Port is a buddy film which tells the story of two sailors (Victor McLaglen and Robert Armstrong) and their encounters with various women in various ports of call. Brooks, under contract to Paramount at the time, was loaned to Fox for the film. She plays the girl from Marseille, France. Myrna Loy, Sally Rand, Leila Hyams, Natalie Kingston and Maria Casajuana (the soon to be Maria Alba) are among the other girls in other ports of call.

Brooks is cast as a vamp, a circus artiste / high-diver known as Marie (Mam’selle Godiva). McLaglen and Armstrong, each suitors, offer a towel and more. 'Mlle Godiva' handles each with Lulu-like aplomb.

When A Girl in Every Port premiered in February of 1928 at the massive Roxy Theater in New York City, it played to a packed house. At the time, advertisements placed by Fox claimed the film set a “New House Record – and a World Record – with Daily Receipts on February 22nd of $29,463.” Considering admission was likely less than a dollar, that’s a lot of movie-goers in a single day – then or now.

Popular as well as critically applauded, the film received good reviews in New York’s many daily newspapers. Mordaunt Hall, writing in the New York Times, described it as "A rollicking comedy,” while the New York Telegram called it “a hit picture” and the Morning Telegraph pronounced it a “winner.”

Irene Thirer, writing in the Daily News, noted “Director Howard Hawks has injected several devilish touches in the piece, which surprisingly enough, got by the censors. His treatment of the snappy scenario is smooth and at all times interesting. Victor’s great, Armstrong’s certainly appreciable, and Louise Brooks is at her loveliest. The rest of the gals from other ports are good to look at, too. Roxy’s got a winner this time.”

Similar sentiments would be echoed in other New York City papers including the German-language New Yorker Volkszeitung, the trade journal Women's Wear Daily, and even the socialist Daily Worker.

Reviewing the Roxy premiere, the anonymous critic for TIME magazine wrote, “There are two rollicking sailors in this fractious and excellent comedy. . . . A Girl in Every Port is really What Price Glory? translated from arid and terrestrial irony to marine gaiety of the most salty and miscellaneous nature. Nobody could be more charming than Louise Brooks, that clinging and tender little barnacle from the docks of Marseilles. Director Howard Hawks and his entire cast, especially Robert Armstrong, deserve bouquets and kudos.”

Critics singled out Brooks, and some described her as “pert.” Regina Cannon, writing in New York American, stated “Then comes THE woman. She is Louise Brooks, pert, fascinating young creature, who does high and fancy diving for a living. . . . Miss Brooks ‘takes’ our hero in somewhat the manner that Grant took Richmond. . . . Louise Brooks has a way of making a junior vamp and infantile scarlet lady seem most attractive.”

As well received as the film was in the United States, it was even more highly regarded in France, where it has been regularly revived.

Writing in Cahiers du Cinéma in January 1963, the French film archivist Henri Langlois stated “It seems that A Girl in Every Port was the revelation of the Hawks season at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. For New York audiences of 1962, Louise Brooks suddenly acquired that ‘Face of the century’ aura she had had, many years ago, for spectators at the Cinema des Ursulines. . . . That is why Blaise Cendrars confided a few years ago that he thought A Girl in Every Port definitely marked the first appearance of contemporary cinema. To the Paris of 1928, which was rejecting expressionism, A Girl in Every Port was a film conceived in the present, achieving an identity of its own by repudiating the past.”

A Girl in Every Port
is considered by many scholars to be the most important of Hawks' early works because it was his first to introduce the themes and character types he would continue to explore throughout his long and distinguished career. And, notably, Louise Brooks is the first to portray what became known as the "Hawksian woman."

More info: A Girl in Every Port screens on Tuesday, January 24 at 7 pm as part of "Howard Hawks: The Measure of Man," a retrospective  at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. The film will be introduced by UC Berkeley professor Marilyn Fabe; Judith Rosenberg will accompany on piano. Details at http://bampfa.berkeley.edu/film/FN19308


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