Monday, January 2, 2012

Marion Davies Day

TCM is honoring actress Marion Davies (1897-1961) tomorrow on the anniversary of her birth. The salute goes from 6:00 AM until the start of prime time with nine of Davies' films. Davies is an actress who doesn't get the credit nowadays she deserves. In part it's because her career ended in the late 1930s, but I think it has a lot more to do with Orson Welles and the movie Citizen Kane. Marion Davies was the mistress of William Randolph Hearst, who was married to another woman, one who wouldn't grant him a divorce. Citizen Kane, of course, was a fairly thinly-veiled look at a media magnate based on the life of Hearst. In Citizen Kane, Orson Welles' Charles Foster Kane takes a chorus girl (Dorothy Comingore) and tries to make a serious opera star out of her, with disastrous results. As Marion Davies' career had already ended and there were no outlets for re-watching old films, critics looked at the Comingore storyline and unsurprisingly compared her character to Marion Davies, giving the impression that Davies was a lousy actress who only got where she did thanks to Hearst.

That's somewhat unfair. Hearst certainly did try to do as much as he could for Davies' career, to the point that he had his own production company (Cosmopolitan Productions) to put Davies in its films. But Davies was actually a fairly competent actress, and she had started making movies before meeting Hearst. Davies was best at more comedic films; her silent Show People is a spoof on Hollywood which is excellent. It's unfortunate that TCM is only looking at the talkies tomorrow. Still, Davies was able to do creditable jobs in films like The Florodora Girl, which kicks off the salute at 6:00 AM. Here, Davies plays a chorus girl who is unable to attract a rich man the way all the other chorus girls do. Then, wealthy Lawrence Gray (who had made a number of silents with Davies) comes along, although he may not have the best of intentions -- until he hits a financial reversal and he and Davies have to decide whether love will conquer all.

The Florodora Girl ends with a two-strip Technicolor sequence which would be better if the print were better, but it's a nice look at turn-of-the-last-century fashion. And this was one of Davies' problems. Although The Florodora Girl is a romantic comedy, it's also a period piece, and that's the sort of movie Hearst preferred she be in. Still, The Florodora Girl, along with the rest of tomorrow's Davies movies, are worth watching.

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