Kino on Video presents
"Look! If ever I saw IT, that's IT!"- Monty (William Austin)
Stars: Clara Bow, Antonio Moreno, William Austin
Other Stars: Priscilla Bonner, Jacqueline Gadsdon, Julia Swayne Gordon, Elinor Glyn, Gary Cooper
Director: Clarence Badger
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:10m:41s
Release Date: 2001-02-20
Genre: romantic comedy
DVD ReviewClara Bow, although an extremely talented actress in her day, is today remembered primarily as the "IT" Girl, which is the result of this film and a concomitant publicity stunt. As such, she became the symbol of the Roaring Twenties woman, the flapper who knows what she wants and isn't afraid to go after it. The film that started this sobriquet is a delightful little romantic comedy which is highly entertaining nearly 75 years later.
Betty Lou (Bow) is a shopgirl in Waltham's Department Store, supposedly the largest in the world. The head of the Walthams has gone fishing and left his son Cyrus (Antonio Moreno) in charge. When Cyrus makes an inspection tour of the store, Betty Lou falls hard for him and begins scheming how to end up with him. She's not above using his friend, Monty (William Austin), who develops a thing for her, to get close to Cyrus. Complications ensue when a group of Christian reformers descend upon Betty Lou's roommate, Molly (Priscilla Bonner), and threaten to take Molly's baby away because the mother isn't able to work. Betty Lou steps forward and tells them that she is the mother, and that she's working, in an effort to fend them off. Naturally, this gets back to Cyrus, via Monty, leading Betty Lou to have to take more desperate steps.
We don't even see Bow until after there has been a discussion of "IT". Elinor Glyn was a fading romance novelist who wrote a story about "IT", and she was paid a princely sum of money and given an appearance in the film in order to declare Clara the "IT" Girl. "IT" was subject to different definitions depending on the circumstance, but in its essence it was an unself-conscious appeal to the opposite sex, which did not necessarily need to be physical. Glyn really wasn't necessary to declare Bow the "IT" Girl; anyone seeing her on the screen could have told you that she had "IT" in abundance. Her portrayal of Betty Lou combines equal parts spunk, sauciness and sentimentality, making for a highly appealing character despite the fact that Bow wasn't particularly pretty or sexy herself. She could make herself appealing regardless, part of her formidable acting repertoire. Bow was absolutely perfect for silent films; her moon-face was so plastic and controlled that she could easily convey half a dozen different emotions in the space of a second just by the way she held her head.
Also notable is William Austin, playing Monty, the comic foil to Cyrus. If you imagine John Waters doing an imitation of Monty Python's upper class twit, you'll have a good idea of how he comes across. His timing is superb and his expressions often hilarious, particularly as he examines himself in a mirror to determine whether he has "IT". Moreno doesn't have much interesting to do as Cyrus (though he supposedly was supposed to have "IT" as well). Note a young Gary Cooper as the newspaper reporter who observes the battle between Betty Lou and the reformers. He doesn't get to do much besides pay attention and take notes, but there he is.
Some interesting camera work is visible. The montage of the day Betty Lou and Cyrus spend at an amusement park is imaginatively shot with interesting perspectives and camera movements. On several occasions, Bow is seen running up the steps to her flat, but each time the camera gives a subtly different air to the scene depending on the circumstances. When she is joyful about her coming evening at the Ritz, it playfully bobs up the stairs with her. When she is rushing to Molly's defense, the camera takes a very direct route after her.
One of the oddities about this picture is how highly self-referential it is. Not only is it based on a story by Elinor Glyn, but Monty is shown reading that very story in the early scenes, and it is discussed over dinner, where Mme. Glyn herself makes an appearance to comment upon it. True to the definition of "IT", however, Betty Lou never remarks upon "IT" or even seems to be aware of its existence.
Although at its core "IT" is a fairly light piece of fluff, it's done quite well indeed. As romantic comedies go, this is one of the best of them.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: unfortunately, the image is apparently taken from an old transfer. The edges are quite soft and the picture is lacking in detail. Although there are good black levels, there is sometimes excessive contrast which washes out the whites. Overall, the source print is in good condition. Most of the intertitles appear to be original, which is all too seldom the case with silent films.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: The audio is a 1978 piano accompaniment by William P. Perry. The music is quite accomplished and fits the film extremely well. It does, however, have a fair amount of hiss and a slightly tinny sound. The latter two qualities are initially a little jolting, but before long are quite forgotten.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Extras Review: The sole extra is a documentary produced in 1999 by Hugh Hefner and Turner Classic Movies, Clara Bow: Discovering the IT Girl. This sympathetic documentary, narrated by Courtney Love, covers Bow's early life, career as one of the biggest silent stars, her terrified reaction to sound and resulting seclusion. Scattered throughout are a great many film clips from about 20 of Bow's films, including a number of her sound films. These make it clear that Bow was excellent in not just this one film, but in dozens before and after. At the end, I wanted to see much more Clara Bow on DVD. Highly effective and well done.
Extras Grade: A+
Final CommentsA quite entertaining romantic comedy that hasn't aged too badly at all, paired with a superb documentary on Clara Bow's life and travails. Highly recommended.
Mark Zimmer 2001-02-26