Tag Archives: Phillips Holmes

Thinking Aloud About Film: Her Man (Tay Garnett, 1930)

A ‘pre-Code’ film set in Havana, probably so lots of drinking could take place during Prohibition,  and based on the Frankie and Johnny song about a prostitute who falls in love with a sailor and kills her pimp(see below). The roving camera in HER MAN challenges many of the pre-conceptions of cinema at the beginning of the sound period. Costs of the Havana footage were split with W. S. Van Dyke’s CUBAN LOVE SONG, with Havana street-scenes of the period remaining a major attraction. In the podcast we discuss the mobile camera, the subject-matter in relation to the Code, how music is mainly restricted to the diegetic, the opening titles, the connection of the comic gags to Garnett’s training with Hal Roach, and the performances of Phillips Holmes, Helen Twelvetrees and Marjorie Rambeau. Many thanks to the Film Foundation for once more offering an opportunity to see such a great restoration.

The podcast may be listened to here:

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546


An interesting article on how the film ‘cracks the Code’: https://www.film-foundation.org/her-man

The article Richard references  is from Film International and may be read here:

The Fim Foundation’s support materials may be seen here:

The New York Times article José mentions may be read here

This Louis Armstrong singing the song:

A version of the film may be seen here:

José Arroyo

Broken Lullaby (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932)

Last night’s viewing was the new Indicator release of Lubitsch’s BROKEN LULLABY, which I found intensely moving.

The opening sequence is extraordinary: a victory parade in Paris on the first anniversary of the Armistice, swords glistening in a row in Church, shiny boots marching, the Parade again, now seen between the legs of an amputee, a detour through a hospital to show veterans howling in pain, the church services finishes and as all the forces officials leave, there’s a young man remaining, Paul Renard (Phillips Holmes) praying in anguish, the camera dollies to a figure of Christ, more of the young boy suffering, then the priest comes out of the confessional, the camera quickly dollies to the priest, and the young man runs to him to confess he’s killed a man. This all culminates in a close-up of the French veteran dissolving into the face of the man he killed, a boy just like him.

Totally melodramatic and totally thrilling mise-en-scène (see above). After this the young man sets off to a small village in Germany to apologise to the other boy’s family, the Holderlins, expiate his guilt and find a reason for living, which he does in the most difficult way possible: by falling in love with Elsa (Nancy Carroll) the fiancée of the man he’s killed.  The film deals with prejudice, guilt, remorse, the way small communities support but also discipline and punish, the futility of war. The vehicle is melodrama and Lubitsch wrings every ounce of feeling from the mode without sacrificing complexity, whilst also getting a few laughs along the way.

The only creaks are the dated style of performing: Phillips Holmes looks beautiful and intense but overdoes the gestures; Nancy Carroll who can be so lively and magnetic is here overly subdued whilst also over-gilding the lily in her big moments; as to Lionel Barrymore as the father, I’m fascinated by him; he’s so imitable, I dislike all his loveable curmudgeon schtick, and yet here he is playing all his old tricks and being extremely effective with them. The great Zasu Pitt brings spark as the Honderlin maid, and the famous Lubitsch touch is still in evidence (see below).

François Ozon remade this as FRANZ and changed the ‘who knows what when’ form to put more emphasis on the fiancée in the second half of the film. I remember liking it then but now can’t remember much else. The script is by the great Samson Raphaelson and is  based on Marcel Ronstadt’s novella and subsequent play, THE MAN I KILLED, part of a cycle of international interwar anti-war works that include JOURNEY’S END and ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT.

Josè Arroyo