27 June 2022

Directed by Erich von Stroheim

Highlights at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna are always the cine-concerts. This year, the Bologna Opera House Orchestra, conducted by Timothy Brock, will be back to Piazza Maggiore to accompany two masterpieces turning 100. Tonight, the magnificent Foolish Wives by Erich von Stroheim (1885-1957) will be the first cine-concert. We will be there. So today's post is on Erich von Stroheim's short but interesting career as a director.

Erich von Stroheim
Spanish card by La Novela Semanal Cinematográfica, no. 78. Erich von Stroheim.

Mae Murray and John Gilbert in The Merry Widow (1925)
Italian postcard by Casa Editrice Ballerini & Fratini, Firenze, no. 657. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Film, Roma. Mae Murray and John Gilbert in The Merry Widow (Erich von Stroheim, 1925).

Mae Murray in The Merry Widow (1925)
Italian postcard by Casa Editrice Ballerini & Fratini, Firenze, no. 658. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn, Roma. Mae Murray in The Merry Widow (Erich von Stroheim, 1925).

Mae Murray in The Merry Widow (1925)
Italian postcard by Casa Editrice Ballerini & Fratini, Firenze, no. 660. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn, Roma. Mae Murray in The Merry Widow (Erich von Stroheim, 1925).

Blind Husbands (1919), The Devil's Passkey (1920) and Foolish Wives (1922)


Erich von Stroheim's directorial debut was Blind Husbands, made in 1919 for Carl Laemmle's Universal. He filmed a script he had written himself about a disastrous love triangle among tourists in the Dolomites. For this film, he also designed the set, did the editing and played a leading role. The film was a great box office success and brought him further directing assignments for Universal Studios.

Stroheim's second film, The Devil's Passkey from 1920, is considered lost today, and only a few stills exist. This film was also very successful, so Stroheim was able to indulge in wild and costly extravagances in his next production, Foolish Women (1921).

Blind Husbands (1919), The Devil's Pass Key (1920) and Foolish Wives (1922) formed a triptych of so-called "sex dramas", films about love triangles and adultery. All three films were about an American wife who went to Europe and, thanks to the attention of a European gentleman, became aware of her own sexuality. The role of the gentleman in Blind Husbands (1919) and Foolish Wives (1922) was played by von Stroheim himself.

Von Stroheim became known as a demanding director, obsessed with details and not afraid to spend money. He often took on multiple roles, including not only director and screenwriter but also actor, film editor and set and costume designer. His reputation was established with Foolish Wives He paints a vitriolic portrait of a society corrupted by money. As a perfectionist, he demanded that wardrobes and chests of drawers, which were not opened once, be filled with clothes.

Foolish Wives cost almost a million dollars which in 1922 was a considerable sum for a film. Von Stroheim had a life-size replica of Monte Carlo built and frequently filmed on location. The film ended up being Universal's biggest hit to date but managed to make little profit due to the high costs.

Blind Husbands
Italian programme card for Il Cinema Ritrovata 2007. Photo: Erich von Stroheim in Blind Husbands (Erich von Stroheim, 1919).

Miss DuPont in Foolish Wives (1922)
German postcard by Ross Verlag. Photo: Universal / Super Jewel. Miss DuPont in Foolish Wives (Erich von Stroheim, 1922).

Erich von Stroheim and Miss Dupont in Foolish Wives (1922)
Spanish minicard in the Escenas selectas de cinematografía series, series A, no. 2, for Chocolate Guillèn. Erich von Stroheim in Foolish Wives (Von Stroheim, 1922). The lady depicted is not Mae Busch but Miss Dupont.

Merry-Go-Round (1923) and Greed (1924)


Erich von Stroheim's films were also known for the slow pace at which the story was told. Because of this, Universal, under production head Irving Thalberg, often left the editing to other people. Foolish Wives was a third shorter than von Stroheim actually intended. Halfway through the production of his fourth film, Merry-Go-Round (1923), he was fired by Thalberg.

He had once again not adhered to the studio's specifications. Von Stroheim ordered the necessary military uniforms in Vienna, because in his opinion this was the only way to portray the necessary authenticity. He had extras who appeared as soldiers drill for days until he was satisfied with the shots. He had the Prater in Vienna recreated in great detail on the studio lot. Von Stroheim was replaced by Rupert Julian and he left for Goldwyn.

His best-known film is maybe his fifth, Greed (1924), an adaptation of the novel 'McTeague' by Frank Norris. This film is now considered von Stroheim's masterpiece. The version of the film edited by von Stroheim followed the novel very closely. This led to a 42-reel version, lasting more than eight hours. Von Stroheim, however, had to contend with Irving Thalberg again, who became his boss when Goldwyn merged with Metro (where Thalberg was working at the time).

Thalberg demanded that Von Stroheim shorten the film. The new version included 24 reels, still too long for theatrical release. Rex Ingram shortened the film to an 18-reel version. Eventually, a ten reel version lasting just over two hours was released in cinemas, much to von Stroheim's dismay.

This version received mixed reviews from critics and was not a success in cinemas. The few who had seen the original, complete version said it was one of the greatest masterpieces in film history. However, this version has been lost and probably destroyed.

Norman Kerry in  Merry-Go-Round (1923)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1760/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Freulich / Universal-Matador. Norman Kerry in Merry-Go-Round (Rupert Julian, Erich von Stroheim, 1923).

Norman Kerry in Merry-Go-Round (1923)
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, no. 401. Photo: Roman Freulich. Norman Kerry in Merry-Go-Round (Rupert Julian, Erich von Stroheim, 1923). Norman Kerry's surname is misspelled on the card as Keery.

Norman Kerry in Merry-Go-Round (1923)
American postcard. Photo: Universal. Norman Kerry in Merry-Go-Round (Erich von Stroheim, 1923).

The Merry Widow (1925) and The Wedding March (1928)


For MGM, Erich von Stroheim made The Merry Widow, starring Mae Murray and John Gilbert as the romantic couple Sally O'Hara and Prince Danilo. It was an adaptation of Franz Lehár's operetta. He hijacked the operetta to make a film about orgies in a royal court with cripples, sex addicts and degenerate monarchs. The film was a huge success.

Von Stroheim made his next film for Paramount, The Wedding March (1925). Von Stroheim had also seen these films as part of a triptych, with Merry-Go-Round as the first part, about decadence in the Habsburg Empire.

Due to the great success of The Merry Widow, Stroheim was given a free hand again and was initially able to shape the production of The Wedding March at Paramount entirely according to his own ideas. Again, however, he exceeded the planned shooting time and budget to such an extent that filming was abandoned.

The Wedding March was also far too long to be released in cinemas, and was released in two parts, with the second part being shown as a stand-alone film, The Honeymoon.Today, only a fragment of the first part exists. The second part, The Honeymoon, is considered lost.

Mae Murray in The Merry Widow (1925)
Spanish postcard by EFB (Editorial Fotografica, Barcelona), no. A-26. Photo: Zerkowitz. Mae Murray in The Merry Widow (Erich von Stroheim, 1925).

John Gilbert in The Merry Widow (1925)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1319/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Loew Metro Goldwyn. John Gilbert in The Merry Widow (Erich von Stroheim, 1925).

Mae Murray and John Gilbert in The Merry Widow
French postcard in the Les Vedettes de Cinéma Series, by A.N., Paris, no. 369. Mae Murray [the trema is a mistake] and John Gilbert in The Merry Widow (Erich von Stroheim, 1925). The film was a huge success.

John Gilbert and Mae Murray in The Merry Widow (1925)
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, Paris, no. 383. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Film. John Gilbert and Mae Murray in The Merry Widow (Erich von Stroheim, 1925).

Roy d'Arcy in The Merry Widow (1925)
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, Paris, no. 396. Photo: Roy d'Arcy in The Merry Widow (Erich Von Stroheim, 1925).

Queen Kelly (1928) and Walking down Broadway (1932)


Erich von Stroheim's last film was Queen Kelly in 1928. Stroheim used up countless hours of footage for the prologue alone. Due to friction with leading actress and producer Gloria Swanson, Joseph Kennedy, Swanson's co-producer and partner, forced the director to leave. Kennedy declared: "Stroheim must never be allowed to direct a film again".

Swanson had a few more scenes shot without Stroheim to bring the plot to a close. However, this version was only shown a few times in Europe and then disappeared into the archives. A restored version of the existing material according to Stroheim's original plans was only made available to the public in 1985.

His reputation as a director was ruined as a result, and Von Stroheim was forced to return to the camera as a performer for other directors. In 1929 he played the title role in his first sound film, The Great Gabbo by James Cruze. Just like at the beginning of his career, he was now often seen again as a villain in supporting roles. During this period, Stroheim was also frequently forced to work as a technical advisor and assistant dramaturge.

All Von Stroheim's films were silent movies. Fox allowed him to direct the sound film Walking Down Broadway in 1932, but the film was entirely re-edited on the orders of producer Sol Wurtzel and enhanced with new scenes shot by Alfred Werker. The final version was released in 1933 under the title Hello, Sister.

John Gilbert in The Merry Widow (1925)
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, Paris, no. 478. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Film. John Gilbert in The Merry Widow (Erich von Stroheim, 1925).

John Gilbert and Mae Murray in The Merry Widow (1925)
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 559. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Film. John Gilbert and Mae Murray in The Merry Widow (Erich von Stroheim, 1925).

Fay Wray and Erich von Stroheim in The Wedding March (1928)
Italian card for the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival. Photo: Fay Wray and Erich von Stroheim in The Wedding March (Erich von Stroheim, 1928).

Walter Byron and Gloria Swanson in Queen Kelly (1929)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4125/1, 1929-1930. Photo: United Artists. Walter Byron and Gloria Swanson in Queen Kelly (Erich von Stroheim, 1929).

Gloria Swanson in Queen Kelly
Spanish postcard by Casa Molina, Madrid. Gloria Swanson and Walter Byron in Queen Kelly (Erich von Stroheim, 1929).

Sources: Wikipedia (Dutch, French and German) and IMDb.

26 June 2022

Alla Nazimova

One of the fixtures at Il Cinema Ritrovato is the programme '100 Years ago'. One of the masterpieces of 1922 was Salomé by Charles Bryant and the Russian-born film and theatre actress, screenwriter, and film producer Alla Nazimova. Nazimova (1879–1945) was a grand, highly flamboyant star of American silent cinema. On Broadway, she was noted for her work in the classic plays of Ibsen, Chekhov and Turgenev.

Alla Nazimova in Salome (1923)
Italian postcard by Casa Editrice Ballerini & Fratini, no. 16. Photo: United Artists. Alla Nazimova in Salome (Charles Bryant, 1922). Collection: Marlene Pilaete.

Alla Nazimova in Camille (1921)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 830/1, 1925-1926. Photo: British-American Films A.G. Balag. Publicity still for Camille (Ray C. Smallwood, 1921).

Alla Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino in Camille
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 831/1, 1925-1926. Photo: British American Films / Balag. Collection: Didier Hanson. Publicity still for Camille (Ray C. Smallwood, 1921) with Rudolph Valentino.

Stanislavski


Alla Nazimova (Russian: Алла Назимовa) was born Marem-Ides Leventon (Russian name Adelaida Yakovlevna Leventon) in Yalta, Crimea, Russian Empire, in 1879. She was the youngest of three children of Jewish parents Yakov Abramovich Leventon, a pharmacist, and Sofia (Sara) Lvovna Horowitz, who moved to Yalta in 1870 from Kishinev.

At age 17 Alla Leventon abandoned her training as a violinist and went to Moscow to work in theatre with V.I. Nemirovich-Danchenko. In 1892, she joined Constantin Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre using the name of Alla Nazimova for the first time. Her stage name was a combination of Alla (a diminutive of Adelaida) and the surname of Nadezhda Nazimova, the heroine of the Russian novel Children of the Streets.

Nazimova's theatre career blossomed early. In 1899 she married Sergei Golovin, a fellow actor, but they soon separated. Gary Brumburgh at IMDb: “She grew discontented with Stanislavsky and later performed in repertory. She met the legendary Pavel Orlenev, a close friend of Anton Chekhov and Maxim Gorky, and entered into both a personal and professional relationship with him.”

By 1903 she was touring Russian provinces. She also toured Europe, including London and Berlin, with Orlenev. They immigrated to the United States in 1905. He soon returned, but she was signed up by the American producer Henry Miller. Although she spoke not a word of English, she so impressed the Shubert brothers that they hired her on the condition she learn English in six months.

In 1906 she made her Broadway debut in the title role of 'Hedda Gabler' by Henrik Ibsen with critical and popular success. She also played other Ibsen characters: Nora in 'A Doll’s House', Hedwig in 'The Wild Duck', and Hilda in 'The Master Builder'. She quickly became extremely popular and remained a major Broadway star for years.

From 1912 to 1925 Nazimova maintained a ‘fake marriage’ with British actor and director Charles Bryant, who was often her co-star. In order to bolster this arrangement with Bryant, Nazimova kept her marriage to Golovin secret.

Due to her notoriety in a 35-minute 1915 pacifist play entitled War Brides, Nazimova made her silent film debut in the film version, War Brides (Herbert Brenon, 1916), which was produced by independent producer Lewis J. Selznick. She made $100,000 touring in War Brides and an additional $60,000 for the film version. The film's lost status makes it now a sought-after title.

In 1917, she negotiated a contract with Metro Pictures, a precursor to MGM, that included a weekly salary of $13,000. She moved from New York to Hollywood, where she made a number of highly successful films for Metro, including a part as a reformed prostitute in Revelation (George D. Baker, 1918), which earned her a considerable amount of money.

Nazimova soon felt confident enough in her abilities to begin producing and writing films in which she also starred. Examples are Eye for Eye (Albert Capellani, 1918), The Brat (Herbert Blache, 1919) and Madame Peacock (Ray C. Smallwood, 1920).

Nazimova
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 203

Nazimova
French postcard, no. 344. Photo: Studio G.L. Manuel Frères. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Alla Nazimova
British postcard in the Pictures Portrait Gallery by Pictures Ltd., no. 174.

Lavish Art Deco sets


Alla Nazimova starred in Camille (Ray C. Smallwood, 1921) as the courtesan Marguerite opposite Rudolph Valentino as her idealistic young lover Armand. Camille is based on the play adaptation 'La Dame aux Camélias' (The Lady of the Camellias) by Alexandre Dumas, fils.

The film was set in 1920s Paris, whereas the original version took place in Paris in the 1840s. It had lavish Art Deco sets and Rudolph Valentino later married the art director, Natacha Rambova. Jennifer Horne at The Women Film Pioneers Project: “Working under contract with Metro Pictures Corporation between late 1917 and April 1921, her company, Nazimova Productions, produced nine largely profitable, feature-length films and brought along the writing talent of writer-producer June Mathis. Details regarding the supervisory roles Nazimova played in the production of many of her films remain confusing since not all of Nazimova’s contributions are reflected in the official credits on films.”

In her film adaptations of A Doll's House (Charles Bryant, 1922), based on Henrik Ibsen, and Salomé (Charles Bryant, 1923), based on Oscar Wilde's play, Nazimova developed her own filmmaking techniques, which were considered daring at the time.

Despite the film being only a little over an hour in length and having no real action to speak of, Salomé cost over $350,000 to make. All the sets were constructed indoors to be able to have complete control over the lighting. The film was shot completely in black and white, matching the illustrations done by Aubrey Beardsley in the printed edition of Wilde's play. The costumes, designed by Natacha Rambova, used material only from Maison Lewis of Paris, such as the real silver lamé loincloths worn by the guards.

Both A Doll's House and Salomé were commercial failures. Gary Brumburgh: “The monetary losses she suffered as a producer were astronomical.” Marlene Pilaete adds: "A Doll’s House and Salome were commercial failures but not exactly critical failures, especially A Doll’s House which received mainly positive reviews. The reviews for Salome ranged from favourable to dismissive, which is understandable as it is a much more unconventional movie."

By 1925 Nazimova could no longer afford to invest in more films, and financial backers withdrew their support. Left with few options, she gave up on the film industry. She became an American citizen in 1927.

Alla Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino in Camille (1921)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 831/2, 1925-1926. Photo: British-American-Films A.G. (Balag). Publicity still for Camille (Ray C. Smallwood, 1921) with Rudolph Valentino.

Nazimova and Milton Sills in Madonna of the Streets (1924)
Danish postcard by Stenders Kunstforlag, no. 39. Photo: First National Pictures. Publicity still for Madonna of the Streets (Edwin Carewe, 1924) with Milton Sills.

Alla Nazimova
French card by Mon Ciné. The card was a supplement to the magazine Mon Ciné, no. 102, published 3 January 1924.

Outlandish parties at her mansion on Sunset Boulevard


In 1928, Alla Nazimova returned to the Broadway stage as Madame Ranevsky in Eva Le Gallienne’s production of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.

Acclaimed were also her starring roles as Natalya Petrovna in Rouben Mamoulian's 1930 production of Turgenev's 'A Month in the Country', Christine in Eugene O’Neill’s 'Mourning Becomes Electra' (1931), O-Lan in Pearl Buck’s 'The Good Earth' 1932), and as Mrs. Alving in Ibsen's 'Ghosts' (1935).

In the early 1940s, she played character roles in a few more films. She played Robert Taylor's mother who is in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany in Escape (Mervyn Le Roy, 1940) and Tyrone Power's mother in Blood and Sand (Rouben Mamoulian, 1941). Her final film was Since You Went Away (John Cromwell, 1944), an epic about the American home front during World War II.

Nazimova openly conducted relationships with women, and there were outlandish parties at her mansion on Sunset Boulevard, in Hollywood, California, known as ‘The Garden of Alla’. She is credited with having originated the phrase ‘sewing circle’ as a discreet code for lesbian or bisexual actresses.

Nazimova helped start the careers of both of Rudolph Valentino's wives, Jean Acker and Natacha Rambova. Although she was involved in a lesbian affair with Acker, it is debated if Nazimova and Rambova had a sexual affair. Nazimova was impressed by Rambova's skills as an art director, and Rambova designed the innovative sets for her film productions of Camille and Salomé.

Of those Nazimova is confirmed to have been involved romantically, the list includes actress Eva Le Gallienne, director Dorothy Arzner, writer Mercedes de Acosta, and Oscar Wilde's niece, Dolly Wilde. Nazimova lived with Glesca Marshall from 1929 until her death.

In 1945 Alla Nazimova died of coronary thrombosis in a hospital in Los Angeles. She was 66.

Alla Nazimova
Spanish postcard by La Novela Semanal Cinematografica, no. 75.

Alla Nazimova
French postcard by Editions Filma, no. 131. Photo: Phocea was a French distributor in the early 1920s, that apparently distributed films with Nazimova in France then.

Alla Nazimova
British postcard by Lilywhite Ltd, no. C.M. 125. Caption: Nazimova, A Noted Cinema Star. Sent by mail in 1921.

Sources: Marlene Pilaete (by mail), Jennifer Horne (Women Film Pioneers Project), Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Sandra Brennan (AllMovie), Encyclopaedia Britannica, Wikipedia and IMDb.

25 June 2022

Forever Sophia

We are in Bologna for our favourite festival. One of the main programmes of Il Cinema Ritrovato 2022 is 'Forever Sophia', curated by Emiliano Morreale and Gian Luca Farinelli. Sophia Loren is a symbol of Italy's rebirth from the postwar period to the 1960s, going from national beauty queen to international glamour idol. Nowadays, La Loren is still one of the most recognisable Italian icons in the world. Morreale and Farinelli focus in 'Forever Sophia' on her filmography: the hidden treasures, forgotten gems and nuanced roles. And so do we in this post with postcards of 16 remarkable and unforgettable films starring Sophia Loren.

Sophia Loren in Un giorno in pretura (1954)/
Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 717. Photo: Minerva Film. Sophia Loren in Un giornata in pretura/A Day in Court (Steno, 1954).

Totò and Sophia Loren in Miseria e nobiltà
Italian postcard in the series Gli Artisti di Napoli. Photo: Totò and Sophia Loren in Miseria e nobiltà/Misery and Nobility (Mario Mattoli, 1954).

Sophia Loren
French postcard by P.I. / Korès, no. 38. Photo: Constantin Film. Publicity still for La bella mugnaia/The Miller's Wife (Mario Camerini, 1955).

Sophia Loren
German postcard printed by Krüger, no. 902/304. Photo: Georg Michalke. Sophia Loren (1934) in her 42nd Italian film, La donna del fiume/The woman of the river (Mario Soldati, 1955).

Sophia Loren in La fortuna di essere donna (1956)
German postcard. Photo Ufa. Publicity still for La fortuna di essere donna/What a Woman! (Alessandro Blasetti, 1956).

Sophia Loren and Jorge Mistral in Boy on a Dolphin (1957)
German press photo by ORF Fotodienst, 1988. Sophia Loren and Jorge Mistral in Boy on a Dolphin (Jean Negulesco, 1957).

Jack Warden, Sophia Loren and Barbara Nichols in That Kind of Woman (1959)
Vintage photo. Jack Warden, Sophia Loren and Barbara Nichols in That Kind of Woman (Sidney Lumet, 1959).

Sophia Loren and Eleonora Brown in La ciociara (1960)
Belgian postcard by Ets. Dagneaux & Co. for STAR, Chewing-gum. Sophia Loren and Eleonora Brown in La ciociara/Two Women (Vittorio De Sica, 1960).

Sophia Loren
German postcard by ISV, no. A 93. Photo: 20th Century Fox. Publicity still for the British film The Millionairess (Anthony Asquith, 1960).

Sophia Loren in Heller in Pink Tights (1960)
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. 516. Sophia Loren in Heller in Pink Tights (George Cukor, 1960).

Sophia Loren
Dutch postcard by Uitg. Takken, Utrecht, no. 4894. Photo: Hafbo. Publicity still from El Cid (Anthony Mann, 1961).

Sophia Loren
German postcard by Filmbilder-Vertrieb Ernst Freihoff, EssenParis, no. 5096. Photo: publicity still for Boccaccio '70 (Vittorio De Sica, 1962).

Sophia Loren in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
East-German postcard VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 55/71, 1971. Sophia Loren in The Fall of the Roman Empire (Anthony Mann, 1964).

Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren in La Moglie del Prete
German postcard by pwe Verlag, München (Munich). Photo: Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren in La moglie del prete/The Priest's Wife (Dino Risi, 1970).

Sophia Loren in La pupa del gangster (1975)
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 21/77. Sophia Loren in La pupa del gangster/Get Rita (Giorgio Capitani, 1975).

Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren in Prêt-à-Porter (1994)
French postcard in the Collection Magie Noire by Éditions Hazan, Paris, 1997, no. 6521. Photo: Constant Anée. Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren in Prêt-à-Porter (Robert Altman, 1994).