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Richard Barthelmess

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drednm
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Richard Barthelmess

Postby drednm » November 26th, 2011, 10:28 am


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moira finnie
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Re: Richard Barthelmess

Postby moira finnie » November 29th, 2011, 1:20 pm

I appreciate the the link to the well-researched article on Barthelmess, drednm, but wish I knew your opinion of the actor.

While Broken Blossoms, Way Down East, and Tol'able David are certainly silent classics, (Broken Blossoms is probably my fave of those three), the power of this actor in sound films such as The Dawn Patrol, The Finger Points, Heroes for Sale, Massacre, A Modern Hero, and Only Angels Have Wings has had more impact on me than any of his earlier films--perhaps because the soft-spoken actor was never completely reliant on the spoken word to convey meaning after his silent experience. It is interesting that he communicates so much intensity with his body language, relatively small gestures, and, despite his mask-like face, considerable subtle feeling. Barthelmess remains a compelling figure when he is on-screen in his earliest talkies, even when the script, the director, studio politics, and Father Time seem to work against him, as was evident in Pabst's American film, A Modern Hero and the nearly forgotten Alan Crosland film, Massacre, which dealt with Native American identity in an intriguing way for its time. I just think that his movies in the pre-code period tried fresh approaches to examine what was relevant at the time. His films from this period tried to look realistically at war's after-effects on society, the cut-throat atmosphere of business, the racist exploitation of minorities, and other issues. I often wonder if his tendency to choose projects that largely avoided easy categorization and were swimming against the cinematic tide of studio era escapism in that decade might have ensured his relative obscurity today.

A fine account of Richard Barthelmess in the early sound era was written by our former guest author, Mick LaSalle, in his book, Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man. A portion of Mick's chapter on the actor in that book can be seen here if anyone is interested.

Thanks for reminding me of this good actor's full career by starting this thread.
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drednm
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Re: Richard Barthelmess

Postby drednm » November 30th, 2011, 3:51 pm

He's a favorite of mine also.... Masscre is extremely compelling as is Heroes for Sale and The Last Flight. These three especially are hugely underrated.

For me Barthelmess ranks as one of the best silent film actors. He played a variety of roles, and he wasn't afraid of doing unsympathetic roles as in Shore Leave where he is arrogant or his vain character in The Patent Leather Kid. In the latter, his cocky character in the beginning of the films makes the ending all the more devastating. Good stuff!

the articles were written by me.... :) .

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Re: Richard Barthelmess

Postby pvitari » November 30th, 2011, 4:54 pm

Richard Barthelmess is one of my favorite actors, to the point that I actually went to the Library of Congress and told them I was working on an article so I could view their print (without music) of The Enchanted Cottage. (Now there's a movie I wish someone would commission a score for -- hello, Mount Alto Orchestra! -- and release on DVD.

I also have a copy of an extensive interview he gave to a film history professor that has lots of fascinating info about his life as an actor.

One of the most interesting tidbits I dug up was that he was "adopted" by First National Pictures in honor of his success in Tol'able David. They held a big dinner and "adoption papers" were signed!

Prolific author David Menefee has published a biography of Barthlemess which is well worth picking up -- it has info I haven't found anywhere else.

I don't think The Last Flight is underappreciated anymore. It is a favorite of many film buffs and I have seen a number of positive posts about it, especially when it was released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

Regarding his screen persona, the quality I find most appealing is his sensitivity. I don't mean that he's a wilting flower, I mean that he expresses with subtlety and a kind of masculine delicacy the emotions of his characters, through a mix of beautifully controlled body language that is a hallmark of the silent era, and facial expressiveness. Whether he's lover or a fighter (and he could do both), he always communicates the person -- the mind and the feelings -- under the skin. It's hard to pick a favorite performance but from the silent era my two favorites are Broken Blossoms (heartbreaking) and Tol'able David (hard to believe he's NOT a teenager!). Talkie era... Heroes for Sale, I think, but I also really like his performance in Son of the Gods, as the Chinese man who passes for white (and it turns out he actually IS white). This is not something that really translates well today and probably was ludicrous back then too but Barthelmess is as convincing as one could possibly be in such a role -- the scene where his fiancee whips him when she finds out he's Chinese is still shocking.

Besides the Lost Patrol, Barthelmess also played WWI pilots or aviators in several other movies, like The Dawn Patrol and Central Airport. An article in Film Comment some years back called him the great exponent (or something like that) of the lost generation film, subgenre aviation. I have that article around here somewhere, I will dig it up.

P.S. I could swear I have a copy of The Noose but I haven't watched it -- or even looked for it -- in years. Now I'll have to hunt it down. Or maybe I won't find it and I'll realize it was a false memory. :)

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Re: Richard Barthelmess

Postby moira finnie » November 30th, 2011, 5:37 pm

I also have a copy of an extensive interview he gave to a film history professor that has lots of fascinating info about his life as an actor.

Paula--Is there any way that you could share that interview with us? When was it done? Who was the prof? Thanks!
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Re: Richard Barthelmess

Postby drednm » November 30th, 2011, 9:48 pm

I believe The Noose has been considered a lost film for decades... Check your attic!

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Re: Richard Barthelmess

Postby charliechaplinfan » December 1st, 2011, 6:56 am

There is a book available about him, it sounds like it was a labour of love and has had mixed reviews on Amazon.com. Has anyone seen it? It's unavailable in our libraries and quite expensive to buy given it's mixed reviews.
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Re: Richard Barthelmess

Postby drednm » December 1st, 2011, 7:26 am

The book is not an extensive biography, but a series of biographical pieces built around photos. I liked it.

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Re: Richard Barthelmess

Postby intothenitrate » December 1st, 2011, 7:36 am

I just recently obtained a copy of The Dawn Patrol a.k.a. Flight Command from my "bootlegger." Having watched the remake with Errol Flynn a number of times, it was interesting to circle back and see what Barthelmess did with the leading role. He's sort of the "same guy/different situation"--non-demonstrative, yet still deeply caught up in the emotional import of a scene.

Thanks for the link to LaSalle's book, Moira. I think he nails RB's appeal very well. He wrote, "He didn't seem like an actor but like a person you might know, and trust." Other actors have that to a certain degree, but Barthelmess is singular with it..at least for me.

I'd like to check out some of the other titles you all have written about. One that wasn't mentioned that I happen to have is Cabin in the Cotton. It features a very young, blond, Bette Davis in a supporting role--the spoiled daughter of the landed gentry. RB plays the son of share-croppers who receives an education and ends up acting as an intermediary between the land owners and the "peckerwoods." Again, he's "that guy" caught up in a tough, complicated situation. He speaks with a mild southern accent, carefully modulated so as not to be stereotypical. A social comment film like this could have easily devolved into editorializing, with characters drawn a little too simply. But with RB in the middle of it, you can be sympathetic to both sides.
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Re: Richard Barthelmess

Postby drednm » December 1st, 2011, 9:52 am

I mentioned The Cabin in the Cotton in the original post. It's an odd film with Barthelmess almost revisiting Tol'able David. But it's a good story and Bette Davis is a hoot.

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Re: Richard Barthelmess

Postby pvitari » December 1st, 2011, 9:57 am

"I'd like to kiss you, but I just washed my hair." :)


TCM ran The Dawn Patrol some months ago and I have a good copy on my DVR so if anyone wants it, let me know. :)

By good copy, I mean, probably the best you're going to get right now. The picture is pretty soft.

Someone asked about this title and The Crowd Roars (Cagney film) at the Warner Archive facebook page, and this was the answer: "Both films need work, but eventual release is likely."

Yay! :)

I also have A Modern Hero on my DVR from the broadcast a little while back if anyone needs that.

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Re: Richard Barthelmess

Postby charliechaplinfan » December 2nd, 2011, 7:37 am

drednm wrote:The book is not an extensive biography, but a series of biographical pieces built around photos. I liked it.


Thanks, it sounds like the author was a devotee and it's a labour of love, it's great to see books about lesser known stars on the market instead of having book after book about the same few stars whose names endure a little better. I'll have to save my pennies for it.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Re: Richard Barthelmess

Postby drednm » December 2nd, 2011, 8:07 am

The photos are terrific... very nicely done.

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Re: Richard Barthelmess

Postby pvitari » December 5th, 2011, 12:33 pm

Warner Archive says "quite possibly" they will be releasing The Patent Leather Kid on DVD... no release date though.

Really looking forward to a DVD. I do have a very bad copy of this on an old VHS tape.

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Re: Richard Barthelmess

Postby drednm » December 5th, 2011, 2:18 pm

Yes. That was my question to them.... I have a copy old copies. I think one is even mute.... GOOD NEWS


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