The Patsy

Not the Jerry Lewis film, but a silent film from 1928 starring Marion Davies, which I saw last week at the National Film Theatre. Marion Davies is remembered for being the mistress of the mogul of the American yellow press, William Randolph Hearst. He though she ought to star in big historical film epics, and paid for her to do so, but the films flopped. Orson Welles's film Citizen Kane, loosely based on Hearst, presented a girl-friend who Kane tried unsuccessfully to turn into an opera singer, and the film has done some damage to Davies's reputation, suggesting that she was no good at all as an actress.

In fact she was an accomplished comic actress, with a tremendous and hilarious presence on-screen, and would have been more famous if Hearst hadn't interfered in her career. The Patsy, directed by King Vidor, shows just how funny she could be. She plays young Pat, bullied by her domineering mother (a magnificent performance by the great Marie Dressler) and her selfish older sister: her henpecked father tries to defend her but is hopelessly ineffectual. Her having a crush on her sister's boyfriend doesn't make life any easier,either.

Trying to improve her personality, she studies a book of smart things to say, leading her to come out with gems like 'Nature gives us many of features, but she lets us pick our teeth'. Not surprisingly, this behaviour convinces her mother that she has gone insane and has to be humoured... this ploy doesn't work for long. A visit to a smart Yacht Club leads to further complications (her mother comments 'Don't you know it's not good manners to be polite to a waiter') but in the end she gets the boyfriend, her father explodes at her mother, who subsides (for the moment), and even the sister becomes a little more sympathetic.

Despite the lack of sound (and hence the need for subtitles) the dialogue is witty, and Davies's performance is charming, sympathetic and hilarious.

Posted: Mon - July 17, 2006 at 08:43 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM