Every year the London Film Festival presents a mix of archival screenings from restorations of well-loved films to those which seem to be unknown to the film canon and present a rich surprise to the audience, and this 1929 film falls firmly into the latter camp. Apparently it was only rediscovered in the last few decades and has now finally been restored, one of a small number of star Colleen Moore’s films to survive (the sad story being that though she herself had had the forethought to submit them to an archive for preservation, that archive had managed to lose them all in the intervening decades). Moore, however, it turns out, is a delightful screen presence with the kind of perky smiling jeu d’esprit that reminds me of Betty Balfour over in the UK during the same period. In any case, a film that starts off almost immediately with a Charleston dancing contest will always have my attention. The plot, such as it is, takes the form of a romantic comedy. Moore plays the aptly-named Pert, a party girl who falls for a dapper chap (Neil Hamilton) who keeps her up late; when she’s late for work at her shop the next day, she’s summoned to the office of the new personnel manager, who turns out to be none other than that same chap, Peabody Jr, son of the store’s owner. Things develop from there in the way of such films, but the delights are to be had in Moore’s effervescent performance and in the jaunty swing of the party scenes (soundtracked by a surviving Vitaphone disc, which aside from the jazzy period tunes includes a few sound-based jokes, notably one where a group of intoxicated men ‘sing’ outside Pert’s home; despite this, the film remains in the form of a traditional silent, with intertitles for speech). There’s also a rather liberated sensibility to Pert’s characterisation, who may live with her strict father and caring mother, but who is also pretty clear about what she wants from life (to have a good time, to dance as much as she can) and about the double-edged sword of male attention (there’s a great speech where she she notes that men expect women to dress and act with a certain licentiousness, and then damn them for doing so). In short, it’s a late delight from the silent era of cinema and an enduringly good-natured romantic comedy, and Colleen Moore deserves all the fame of her contemporaries Clara Bow and Louise Brooks.
Director William A. Seiter; Writer Paul Perez; Cinematographer Sidney Hickox; Starring Colleen Moore, Neil Hamilton; Length 84 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank (NFT2), London, Sunday 19 October 2014.