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October 18, 2018

You Never Know Women


William Wellman - 1926
Kino Classics BD Region A

One of those bits of coincidence that makes film history fun - one of the two leading men in You Never Know Women is Lowell Sherman. Six years later, Sherman starred in What Price Hollywood?, the film generally acknowledged to be unofficially remade in 1937 by William Wellman as A Star is Born.

You Never Know Women is one of those films that is appreciated best when viewed as part of the era when it was produced as well as how it fits as part of of Wellman's career. The story takes place when wealthy guys rode around in chauffeured limousines, wearing top hats and sporting canes. A woman, Vera, is walking near a construction site when she is about to be beaned by an errant beam. An observant member of the construction crew rescues Vera in the nick of time, only to be shoved aside by Eugene, who tells the worker he knows how to handle the now unconscious Vera. Waking up in Eugene's arms, Vera mistakenly thanks Eugene for getting her out of harm's way, but is independent enough to turn down his offer of a ride. In his limo, Eugene follows Vera long enough to discover that she works in a theater.

What is billed as a dance company is actually a circus act starring Vera and her performing partner, Ivan. The performers are introduced in a lateral traveling shot of each performer removing a mask, only to reveal clown make-up underneath. The performances include some very frenetic leaping, twirling and contortions. Eugene joins the audience, audibly commenting on the ridiculousness of Ivan's knife throwing act, with Vera on the receiving end of those flying blades. Eugene tries to convince Vera that his wealth and class will rescue her from the itinerant life of show biz, much to the distress of Ivan, whose feelings towards Vera have not be expressed to her.

Here's where William Wellman, Jr.'s commentary proves invaluable. With much of his silent work lost, what is known about William Wellman's early filmmaking career is anecdotal. After making several westerns, and reportedly manhandling William Fox, Wellman's career showed scant promise. Paramount's B. P. Schulberg assigned You Never Know Women to Wellman after seeing the 1925 Columbia production, When Husbands Flirt, written by Dorothy Arzner. It was the critical and commercial success of You Never Know Women that allowed Wellman to direct Wings.

The blu-ray is taken from the 4K restoration of the film, including tinted scenes. Wellman, Jr. quotes from several reviews from 1926 with several writers noting the influence of German films on the visual style. What is particularly noticeable are several point of view shots, especially two with the moving camera - one from the point of view of a clown on top of some tall, inflatable contraption wobbling on the stage, and the second, with Vera flying above the audience as a human butterfly. There is also a very nice visual moment where we see two men entering the theater at night, seen only as shadows against a wall.

Donald Sosin's music track works quite well here, with the occasional balalaika for that Russian flavoring, and clarinet solos that are almost synchronized to accompany the playing by the clown, Toberchik, portrayed by El Brendel. The blu-ray also includes a booklet with an essay by Gina Telaroli. If the last name seems familiar, star Florence Vidor was the ex-wife of director King Vidor. Judging from the posters for the film, she was a big star in the latter part of the silent era, her career ending soon after the sound era began.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 18, 2018 08:00 AM