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THE PATSY, 1928
Movie Review

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THE PATSY,    MOVIE POSTERTHE PATSY, 1928
Movie Reviews

Directed by King Vidor
Starring: Marion Davies, Orville Caldwell, Marie Dressler, Lawrence Gray, Dell Henderson, Jane Winton
Review by Alex Udvary


SYNOPSIS:

In this silent film, a romantic young woman falls for her sister's fiance, then discovers her sister is cheating on him.

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REVIEW:

King Vidor's "The Patsy" (1928) is generally regarded as featuring one of Marion Davies' best performances, though Vidor's follow-up film with Davies, "Show People" (also 1928) isn't half bad either.

Davies was at first a dramatic actress, usually appearing in costume dramas. Her lover, media mogul Williams Randolph Hearst, thought it would be unfitting for her to do comedy. But once she did it audiences loved it. Some of her best performances were given in comedies. Here she is listed as the producer, perhaps giving her more freedom to explore the genre, though I'm sure it was really Hearst who put up the cash.

"The Patsy" has Davies play Patricia, the youngest daughter of Marie Dressler and Dell Henderson, both of whom are simply credited as "ma" and "pa". Dressler mistreats Patricia, instead doting over Grace (Jane Winton), who seems to have won the affection of Tony (Orville Caldwell). But it is Patricia who secretly loves him while her sister and mother are only using him to help them climb the social ladder.

At this point the film plays as a sort of variation on the "Cinderella" story. Patricia is the forgotten daughter who must cook the meals and wash the dishes while her mother and sister enjoy themselves. It is only her father who sticks up for her since he too is pushed around.

The set-up sounds funny and could lead itself to many comedic possibilities. It is the usual premise Harold Lloyd or Harry Langdon might find themselves in, only here we get the female perspective. But even that has been done before with the Mabel Normand comedy "The Extra Girl" (1923) and the Sam Taylor comedy "Exit Smiling" (1926) with Beatrice Lillie.

Davies handles the part just as good as either of those ladies and in my opinion does a better job than Normand, who was considered the female Chaplin of her day. What I like about Davies' performance is it is constantly funny. King Vidor doesn't put in any mushy, romantic scenes. The main objective of the performance seems to be to showcase Davies' prowls as a comediane. And "The Patsy" does show her versatility. One scene has her tying to seduce a man. When simply being herself doesn't work she impersonates different personalities; the movie star, the jealous lover and the homely girl. Her impersonation of the homely girl suggest Lillian Gish, showing her talent for mimicry.

But the role also has some good physical comedy as Patricia tries to wake up a drunk, who keeps falling down, going to sleep. Here she shows she can take a pratfall as good as any other comic.

"The Patsy" also has some good supporting characters, who have distinguished personalities. The best of the pack is Dressler. She was at one time a top box-office draw. Her career dates back to 1914 when she appeared in the film "Tillie's Punctured Romance" with a young Charlie Chaplin (making his film debut). She is probably best known however for appearing in the MGM all-star comedy "Dinner At Eight" (1933) with Jean Harlow and Wallace Berry. She even tried her hand at drama. She was in Greta Garbo's debut sound film, "Anna Christie" (1930).

I also like Jane Winton as the sister. She didn't seem to have much of a career, but I simply can't understand why. She was extremely beautiful. And as far as I can tell from her performance here could have been very good in light romances and comedies.

The director King Vidor, was one of the giants of silent cinema. Sadly I don't think many of today's viewers remember him as silent cinema is a long forgotten and neglected art form. He directed two of the greatest silent films of all time, the WW1 drama "The Big Parade" (1925) with John Gilbert, and one of my personal favorite films of all time "The Crowd" (1928), for which he received his first of five "Best Director" Oscar nominations. His other nominations included his directing for the overly sentimental boxing melodrama "The Champ" (1930) with Jackie Cooper and Wallace Berry and for "Hallelujah" (1929). Besides which he directed Barbara Stanwyck in "Stella Dallas" (1937).

But there is one thing about "The Patsy" which I don't like and it stops it from being a comedy masterpiece. The film goes from being a comedy told from Patricia's point of view to a film about male insecurity and masculinity. In order to get Tony to recognize her Patricia pretends she is in love with another man, hoping this will make Tony jealous. The father has enough of his wife's overbearing personality. They have a showdown by the end of the film. When Tony and Patricia finally do resolve their issues it is only because his male pride is hurt.

Now if the film wanted to go this path I suppose that is fine but the film doesn't allow enough time to make the transition. "The Patsy" is a short film, only an hour and 15 minutes. The switch happens during the last 20 minutes or so. Not enough time to develop these situations fully. I also felt the film didn't explore all the comedic possibilities it could have with Patricia making Tony jealous. It could have created some compromising situations for Patricia to get her way out of. What if Tony and Grace invited Patricia and her "boyfriend" out to dinner? What if Patricia's parents believed the story and wanted to meet the young man? For the film to end with a message about male pride seemed unnecessary and unsatisfying.

Still "The Patsy" is worth seeing for Davies wonderful performance in a film which doesn't deserve her talents since it doesn't make enough use for them, despite its best intentions. A better ending would have greatly improved the film also. Allowing more time for events to resolve themselves and allow characters to realize their feelings.

I'd recommend "The Patsy" though as a light hearted comedy which has some fine comedic moments for its star, Davies, who comes out looking the best.

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