Starring: Marion Davies, Billy Haines
Plot: Marion plays Southern belle Peggy Pepper, an aspiring actress who storms Hollywood accompanied by her father, determined to become a movie star. She’s hired by Comet Studio, only to discover that Comet makes low-brow comedies, the kind of comedies where people squirt each other with seltzer and inept cops tumble over each other racing to the rescue. Of course, Comet is intended as a take-off of Mack Sennett’s Keystone, but the true nature of the satire becomes clear as the story unfolds. As Peggy Pepper rises in the movie star hierarchy, she leaves Comet for the more prestigious High Art Studio, assuming the name “Patricia Peppoire” as more befitting her new station in life as a serious actress. At some point it may occur to the viewer (as it surely did to viewers in 1928) that Davies’ rival Gloria Swanson started out in Keystone comedies before rising to prominence in serious dramas for Cecil B. DeMille. As Miss Peppoire takes herself more and more seriously, giving the high-hat treatment to former colleagues such as lowly comic Billy Boone, Davies’ performance takes on an element of wicked parody seemingly aimed squarely at Swanson herself. This is especially notable during an interview sequence, when Miss Peppoire’s spokesman spouts pretentious nonsense while the star delivers a spot-on impersonation of Swanson.
A great lampoon on Hollywood and its pretensions and another superb production from King Vidor (The Big Parade, The Crowd, The Citadel, The Champ, War and Peace, Northwest Passage, Our Daily Bread). Vidor’s movies are always well directed, but this is one of his really great ones. Remembered as one of the only occasions Marion Davies was allowed to play comedy by sugar-daddy and executive producer William Randolph Hearst (a.k.a Citizen Kane), also known as her best movie. The role of her dad Colonel Pepper is played by actor/director Dell Henderson, a veteran of Griffith’s Biograph dramas whoÂcoincidentally?Âresembled Hearst. In any event, she plays comedy wonderfully – which makes it a shame that Hearst thought that to be a “serious actress” meant costume dramas.
This is one of the two films of Billy Haines’ 54-film career that is available on video. He is now all but forgotten but in 1930 he was voted the most popular of all male film stars. His career in silents looked as though it would convert to talkies but as Hollywood’s first openly gay star, he refused to hide his life before the Hays Code purging of the early thirties and Louis B. Mayer ended his career in retribution.
Davies & Haines are a wonderful team, and the guest shots from the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, John Gilbert, Elinor Glyn, Norma Talmadge, Mae Murray, Rod LaRocque, Leatrice Joy, Dorothy Sebastian, Estelle Taylor, Louella Parsons, Renee Adoree, Aileen Pringle, and Marion Davies (you have to see it) are a hoot. Cameo value is also added by Vidor himself, who pokes fun at himself as a director of war movies when he appears doing just that in the final sequence, and as a director of “high art.” At one point Peggy and Billy are at the movies having just seen their latest movie, which is to be followed by Vidor’s production “Bardley’s the Magnificent” (a real Vidor film from 2 years before). Peggy wants to stay and watch it but Billy says in not so many words: what would you want to watch such pretensious rubbish for?
This film is truly a must-have for any serious film buff or for anyone interested in the still-maligned Marion Davies.