Stroheim’s contribution to the script is unbilled, but in effect appears to be decisive somehow, as this is his theme utterly transposed intact to Russia from Vienna (it opens just over the border from Austria) in 1914. The prince is now a princess, the village girl is a peasant sergeant in the army. The treatment is recognizably proficient and remarkably so, Tempest takes its place in terms of style and perception with Hollywood films of the first rank, and certainly was remembered by David Lean in Doctor Zhivago, above all in the scene of the General’s humiliation (he is played by Stroheim’s usual father-figure, George Fawcett).
Taylor’s casting has the brilliant and beautiful Camilla Horn as the princess, and John Barrymore as the sergeant. Louis Wolheim, the Cornell mathematics professor with a broken nose who premiered The Hairy Ape on stage, plays a comrade-in-arms. A great and little-known actor, Boris de Fas (or de Fast) plays the part of a revolutionary instigator who exploits the romantic situation to win the sergeant over and is then dispatched when his bloodthirstiness threatens the kindly General as well as the Princess herself.
Taylor’s direction opens with a sweeping descent upon a model representing the garrison at night and effortlessly spliced with a camera on the set, years before Hitchcock opened The Lady Vanishes in the same way.
This, then, is a Stroheim film sent out to be worked by others, or one recognized in pre-production as akin to his understanding and which he made his own. These are its two excellences, its remarkable versatility in handling Stroheim’s material in an entirely unexpected way, and the sheer artistry and perfection of the realization in its own terms, which are not Stroheim’s.
UCLA Film and Television Archives have prepared a print of less than perfect quality that nonetheless supplies the original musical soundtrack with sound effects throughout, except for the first reel (no disc has been found, the rest having been reportedly discovered in a flea market), mainly Russian orchestral favorites with the occasional machine-gun burst and inarticulate shouting.
The Taming of the Shrew
The astonishing tenor of the work is slambang action, intensely comical.
“…with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor,” to prove it’s a Hollywood film.
Such a miracle of wit and drollery is only what you would expect, Pickford & Fairbanks & Taylor being what they are.
The Great McGinty owes everything to this, The Patsy much, Capra a good deal, The Candidate quite a lot, Woody Allen the hero as a child, Lloyd & Taylor pay off richly.
“The old reform gag” backfires on the machine, a poetical missionary cleans up Stockport as its mayor.
Charles Foster Kane and the chorus line, even, for the hero is no “longhair” after all.
Ling Po of ancient fame is the study of his youth in China, Tien Wang his friend in the States, a learned gentleman.
The machine has no use for Chinks and reformers, frames him up, the governor is about to sack him when The Great Chang arranges a surprise for his enemies.
“A mile or so of fun” (M.H., New York Times), a film beyond all others.
Nothing But Trouble
The wartime feature has a young king in exile who wants to play for Notre Dame someday. The regent, his uncle, arranges an assassination. Ollie and Stan are a cook and a butler unemployed anywhere in the world since 1932.
The surrealism and the mastery were simply lost on critics, the gags now rush onto the scene like the wave of employers looking for staff at the agency where, in the first scene, a delivery job is pounced upon by the out-of-work.
Mary Boland is accorded honors as a climbing matron who hires the pair for a soiree of steak à la Oliver. Stan and Ollie are sent shopping, the king eludes death by innocently joining in at a neighborhood game of football in the park, Ollie is persuaded to act as referee, Stan as ump.
Continuing home, they realize that they have forgotten the steak they were sent to buy with ration coupons not hoarded by the matron. They are at the zoo, a lion is being fed thick steaks which they are too far away to hear are horsemeat.
Here is the football game before MASH, and Lang’s Siegfried-dragon before Kelly’s Heroes.
Despite the animadversions of critics and Skretvedt, a pure Laurel-and-Hardy tone is established and maintained throughout, M-G-M has the great height of comic flair at the outset, and this is a top comedy on a theme of great seriousness, handled quite diligently in its construction and realization.
“You got the lion’s share, Stanley,” says the matron admiring the thick steak served on a platter. He turns dismayed and asks, “How’d you know?” This serves to pick up the theme gracefully after a countertheme has been introduced of the king hiding in the kitchen. The steak proves too tough to cut, a saw is brought out, the mock turtle soup has already “poisoned” the matron’s husband.
The regent tries poison in the salad at a hotel reception, the fatal plate is lost amid a sea of diners, the pellet lands upon an hors d’œuvre he eats with one hand while the other is holding a pistol on the king, Ollie and Stan, who are poised to jump to the street below when the regent counts ten.