Monday, February 20, 2012

Beggars of Life: a review of reviews

Beggars of Life will be screened on February 20th as part of Film Forum's Wellman Festival taking place in New York City. It is a great opportunity to see a rarely screened film not readily available on DVD. Back in 1928 and 1929, the film was screened widely and just as widely reviewed. Here are extracts from some of those reviews.

“Wallace Beery plays the lead, with Richard Arlen and Louise Brooks. All of these stars outdo themselves in this picture. Wallace Beery talks in this picture, sings a hobo song and ends with an observation about jungle rats in general.” -- Kelcey Allen, Women’s Wear Daily

“Of these three pictures it is the only one weakened by a conventional plot, a plot for which I see no reason except that it gives Louise Brooks a chance to wear boy’s clothes and to jump a freight, both of which she always does, however, with an imperturbable maidenliness, generally to the synchronized accompaniment of sentimental music.” -- J. C. M., New Yorker

“Miss Brooks looks attractive, even in men’s clothes, and scores in the two or three scenes where she is placed on defensive against male attackers.” -- Mori, Variety

“Louise Brooks, in a complete departure from the pert flapper that it has been her wont to portray, here definitely places herself on the map as a fine actress. Her characterizations, drawn with the utmost simplicity, is genuinely affecting.” -- P. G., New York Morning Telegraph

“Louise Brooks figures as Nancy. She is seen for the greater part of this subject in male attire, having decided to wear these clothes to avoid being apprehended. Miss Brooks really acts well, better than she has in most of her other pictures.” -- Mordaunt Hall, New York Times

“A great deal of the charm which is contained in Mr. Tully’s realistic tales of hobo life has been brought to the screen in Paramount’s picture made from Beggars of Life. . . . Here we have Louise Brooks, that handsome brunette, playing the part of a fugitive from justice, and playing as if she meant it, and with a certain impressive authority and manner. This is the best acting this remarkable young woman has done.”  -- Quinn Martin, New York World

“Richard Arlen’s juvenile vagrant, so delightfully played on the stage by James Cagney, is an excellent piece of work, while Louise Brooks’s delineation of the girl fugitive is so good as to indicate that Miss Brooks is a real actress, as well as an alluring personality.” -- Richard Watts Jr., New York Herald Tribune

“Richard Arlen and Louise Brooks also capture honors for their sincerity and a poignant, moving quality they infuse into their roles without seeming to act at all. Miss Brooks, who has hitherto qualified as a particularly provocative figure, now establishes herself as a real actress.” -- Norbert Lusk, Los Angeles Times

“I was a little disappointed in Louise Brooks. She is so much more the modern flapper type, the Ziegfeld Follies girl, who wears clothes and is always gay and flippant. This girl is somber, worried to distraction and in no comedy mood. Miss Brook is infinitely better when she has her lighter moments.” -- Louella Parsons, Los Angeles Examiner

“Considered from a moral standpoint, Beggars of Life is questionable, for it throws the glamour of adventure over tramp life and is occupied with building sympathy for an escaping murderess. As entertainment, however, it has tenseness and rugged earthy humor. . . . It is a departure from the wishy-washy romance and the fervid triangle drama.” -- Harrison Carroll, Los Angeles Evening Herald

“Louise Brooks does her best trouping: she is absolutely convincing.” -- Weekly Film Review

“Beery with his coarse humor and Miss Brooks with her simplicity are exceedingly good. The direction is admirable. Vitaphonic sounds lend some extra force. Beery is heard singing.” -- Frank Aston, Cincinnati Post

“The picture is a raw, sometimes bleeding slice of life. . . . Both Arlen and Miss Brooks appear as effectively as I have ever seen either of them. They are a couple of babes in the ‘jungles’ and they understand their characters. Miss Brooks, considering her record, does surprisingly well.” -- W. Ward Marsh, Cleveland Plain Dealer

“The American tramp receives his glorification on the Michigan screen this week. . . . Louise Brooks, who always looks gorgeous in beautiful clothes, suffers a bit from the man’s garments called for by the role, but she does well.” -- Harold Heffernan, Detroit News

“Wallace Beery, Richard Arlen (also playing in Wings) and Louise Brooks play the featured roles. All do praiseworthy work. By the way it is a sound picture and Wallace Beery speaks a few lines and sings a song. His speaking voice is splendid.” -- Peggy Patton, Wisconsin News

“Another good bit was a scene where Louise Brooks describes a murder. It is much the same way in which Victor Seastrom showed thoughts in Masks of the Devil. Miss Brooks’ face was superimposed upon the action which took place during the murder, and thus the audience got her reaction to everything. It was very interesting.” -- Donald Beaton, Film Spectator

“Beggars of Life was recognized as one of Paramount’s major productions of the year, even aside from the sound feature. With sound feature, it is overwhelming in its power.” -- Hollywood Filmograph

“The story which has been something of a screen sensation is said to be based upon the life and adventures of its author who before he took ‘his pen in hand’ saw most of America from ‘side door Pullmans’. . . . the cast includes Louise Brooks as Nancy and Richard Arlen as Jim.” -- Manly Wade Wellman, Wichita Beacon

“Louise Brooks is interesting, with a cold, half-insolent beauty of face and figure masking a hidden fire. It is a new Louise Brooks.” -- W. J. Bahmer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



“Louise Brooks essays the difficult role of a girl tramp escaping from police who seek her for murder. She is a star of no little amount of personality - the sort she would have to have to enable her to carry the type of role she has in this picture through successfully and that she does. If her career in pictures is further enhanced through her work in Beggars of Life, it will not be underserved.” -- J. O. C., Memphis Commercial Appeal

“Louise Brooks, as the girl who murdered her guardian to save herself, and turns hobo to escape the vengeance of the law, is an actress who will bear watching. She has a vivid personality. Her attempts to walk like her ‘adopted’ pal, Jim, so her masculine disguise will not be discovered: her emotional reactions finely restrained as she lies beneath the stars with a haystack as a roof, and knows ‘that all she wants is peace and a home,’ give her opportunity to disclose some very effective acting in a subtle manner.” --   Ada Hanifin, San Francisco Examiner

“The Great Unshaven appear in numbers, and at the same time there is a well-sustained romantic theme most admirably interpreted by Louise Brooks and Richard Arlen. Accompanied by a synchronized musical score of more than average excellence, the picture provides an hour and a half of film entertainment radically out of line with the general run of cinema drama. It is pungent, powerful, appealing, masterfully directed and superbly acted.” -- San Diego Union

“In Beggars of Life, Edgar Blue Washington, race star, was signed by Paramount for what is regarded as the most important Negro screen role of the year, that of Big Mose. The part is that of a sympathetic character, hardly less important to the epic of tramp life than those of Wallace Beery, Louise Brooks and Richard Arlen, who head the cast.” -- The Afro-American

“Sordid, grim and unpleasant, it is nevertheless interesting and is certainly a departure from the usual movie. Its salient features are excellent acting on the part of Mr. Berry, Richard Arlen, and Louise Brooks, distinguished direction and photography and undeniable sincerity of intention. . . . Sound effects add to, rather than detract for once, and Wallace Beery sings a rollicking ditty somewhat self-consciously.” -- Picture Play

“Louise Brooks is cute in her little trousers, and not so cute in the final feminine sun bonnet. . . . This is rough, romantic, tender, dramatic and very good indeed.” -- Motion Picture

“ . . . one of the most entertaining films of the littered season.” -- Musical Courier

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for collating this fascinating set of contemporary opinions! "Pungent..." and "powerful..." great stuff! Beggars is showing again in London with music from the magnificent Dodge Brothers on 29th April!

    http://www.barbican.org.uk/film/event-detail.asp?ID=13271

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