Marion Davies’ 1923 Historical Rom-Com-Drama is Now Avaiable in a New DVD
When Marion Davies’ own collection of nitrate 35mm prints of her films came to the Library of Congress in the 1950s, she couldn’t possibly have predicted that her silent films would ever be available again to the general public. The motion picture elements would now be cared for and preserved. But…watched in hundreds of people’s homes?
It’s certainly possible now. Little Old New York (1923) was released on DVD this week. It’s the fourth of Marion Davies’ silent feature films from the two-year period that established her as a movie star to be released in new editions by my label, Undercrank Productions.
It might not have occurred to Ms. Davies at all that there’d be interest in the silents she’d made in the early 1920s, breakout and blockbuster hits though they were. At the time the 35mm cans from her collection were shipped off to the Library of Congress’s vaults, people were just rediscovering silent movies and were starting to take them seriously again. But Davies’ silent films weren’t necessarily part of the then-emerging canon of classics from that era.
They’re still not quite part of what might be considered a top of the heap list of classic silents, but that is slowly changing. Some of Davies’ silent pictures are only just getting their second day in the sun now. Thanks to artrepreneurial efforts by fans like Edward Lorusso — who’s Kickstarted six Marion-to-DVD projects in recent years — and even yours truly.
Scoring and releasing a handful of Ms. Davies’ early 1920s features on my Undercrank Productions DVD label has been a revelation for me. I was already duly impressed with her screen work, having accompanied Show People and The Patsy a few times at shows. What caught my eye in terms of her acting chops was something I started seeing in When Knighthood Was In Flower (1922), in particular because I was scoring it for release.
There are several moments in When Knighthood where the camera holds on Marion’s face in an extended medium-closeup at pivotal moments in the story. Moments when Marion’s character has to think through a situation and make a decision. And you can see what she’s thinking. Not with eyebrow movements or pulling faces mildly, and not the sort where you can almost hear the off-screen director coaching an actor through the moments. With real acting.
These moments could have been handled, visually, utilizing the language of silent film, in a number of different ways. There could have been a title explaining the decision to be made, clue-ing us in to the moment we’re about to watch, followed by a wider shot of the decision, or even the moment just after it when Marion’s character would begin taking action on her decision. But, beginning with Robert Vignola’s directing her in When Knighthood, it’s handled in a way that trusts her as an actor. We just hold on her face while she figures out what to do and comes to a conclusion.
You see it, too, in Little Old New York (1923). Which was directed by Sidney Olcott. These moments in both films are what help to ground them and To draw you into the intimate story that’s intertwined with the historic tale with giant production values.
One of the snarky comments I’d get on social media (okay, mostly on Facebook) when I started posting about my DVD-Blu-ray release of When Knighthood in July of 2017 was “can she act?”, because of people’s exposure to Citizen Kane. The character of Susan Alexander was amalgam of a few different real people, and only the newspaper-magnate-mistress component comes from who Marion Davies was.
Because, as you’ll see in both When Knighthood Was In Flower and in Little Old New York…yes, she can act. She’s often a bit better at it than some of the others in the ensemble cast.
Little Old New York (1923) starring Marion Davies has just been released on DVD. It’s another undiscovered silent era gem that’s made its way from film cans to film fans thanks to artrepreneurial gumption, crowdfunding and MOD DVD. The project was Kickstarted by Edward Lorusso and backed by 229 fans, scored by yours truly, and the new release has DVD box art by Marlene Weisman. The 35mm film element has been preserved by, and was scanned in 2K by Library of Congress.
The nitrate print you’ll see on the DVD was Marion’s originally, so you also have her to thank.