Monthly Archives: January 2013
Two to One (Vitagraph, 1927)
Directed by David Smith
Starring Alice Calhoun and Cullen Landis
It’s amazing what a difference being able to actually see a film makes. I first saw Two to One years ago on a wretchedly poor quality VHS tape with a generic needle-drop score, and despite it being only half an hour long, it felt as though it would never end. It did not leave a very good impression. When I had the chance to buy a film print in decent shape, I jumped at it. And it does make a tremendous difference. I can’t say it improves my impression of Two to One, but it does make a difference.
The film is based on Booth Tarkington’s novel The Magnificent Ambersons. At least, the first half is. The ending is something else entirely. Actually, I should say the film is based on Pampered Youth (1925), which itself was based on The Magnificent Ambersons, but that gives the impression that Pampered Youth and Two to One are separate entities. They aren’t. Pampered Youth was released by the Vitagraph Company of America shortly before they were bought out by Warner Bros. Pictures. Two years after the purchase, Warner Bros. re-edited Pampered Youth, gave it the new title Two to One, and re-released it under the short-lived Vitagraph Films banner, making Two to One the last theatrically released film to go out under the Vitagraph name.
The Ambersons were the richest and most prominent family of their hometown of Midland, Indiana in 1850. Isabel, the Amberson daughter (Alice Calhoun), is of marrying age and has two suitors: the rather boring Wilbur Minafer (Wallace MacDonald), and the unconventional Eugene Morgan (Allan Forrest). She initially favors Eugene, but after he makes a fool of himself by getting drunk and serenading her window one night, she announces her engagement to Wilbur and Eugene disappears for a while.
Twenty years pass. Isabel is now a widow, left with one son, George (Cullen Landis), whom she dotes on to a fault. He has just returned to Midland from back east, where he’d been at college. Eugene is also back in Midland. In the intervening decades, he’s become a major figure in the fledgling automobile industry and returns a wealthy man. Eugene is himself a widower with one daughter, Lucy (Charlotte Merriam).
George and Lucy hit it off at once and the two are happy until George notices that Eugene and his mother also seem to be getting rather close. Why George disapproves of his mother remarrying takes up the majority of the novel and ties closely into the novel’s commentary on George himself, but here it’s left as a vague Oedipal jealousy. When next Eugene calls on Isabel, George tells him in no uncertain terms that his presence is not welcome. Isabel, who would give the world to make her son happy, breaks their engagement.
Meanwhile the health of the family patriarch, Major Amberson (Emmett King), has been in decline. He dies shortly after the falling out between Isabel and Eugene (and, consequently, Lucy and George). At the reading of the will, George learns to his surprise that the estate is in ruins. He and his mother are left broke and homeless, and George’s dreams of idle wealth come crashing into the reality that he’ll have to work to survive.
Then we depart from the book, there’s something about a tenement fire (which I have to admit is spectacular – no expense must have been spared in shooting it) and forgiveness and redemption for all involved and… bah.
I rank The Magnificent Ambersons as one of my all-time favorite novels, and while I normally try to approach film adaptations on their own terms, divorced from their source material entirely, I just don’t think I can in this case. Two to One is probably a decent film, but it fails to capture the book and that’s all I can see when watching it. For that reason, I’m going to abstain from rating it.
My rating: Abstain.
Available from Harpodeon
Daughters of Eve (Cine-Art, 1928?)
Daughters of Eve was made by Cine-Art Featurettes, who were most known for producing… ahem… “gentlemen’s entertainment”, but unlike other films of theirs that I’m aware of, there is no nudity in Daughters of Eve.
Quite short – only a split reel – and without any real plot, it posits that throughout history man has been a slave to woman and then it shows a series of brief vignettes illustrating its claim. It starts at the dawn of time with Adam and Eve, moves into the Stone Age, to Ancient Greece, to the time of the Borigas, Colonial America, Victorian England, the vamps of the 1910s, the flappers of the present day, and it finally ends with an idea of what the not-too-distant future may hold.
None of these vignettes feature much more than a woman walking by in period-appropriate dress and capturing a man’s attention. Each is preceded by an intertitle introducing the setting and date. The titles are in rhyme and at least make an attempt at humor. Despite it obviously just being a setup to parade attractive women passed the camera, the film comes across as more playful than erotic.
Judging by the clothes, hair, and cars, I’d say it’s from the late ‘20s. The edge code on the film dates it to 1928 and that’s probably within a year or two of when it was shot.
Is it a good film? That’s a difficult question. If you were expecting the usual Cine-Art softcore porn, you’d be disappointed. If you were expecting an entirely aboveboard short comedy, it really isn’t funny. I suppose my difficulty in rating Daughters of Eve stems from my not knowing exactly what it is or what it’s trying to be. The absurd future getups alone are worth something, so I can’t say it’s all bad. I’ll have to say…
My rating: Meh.