Sunday, December 11, 2011

Coquette (1929)



Although Coquette is not a silent film I have been on a bit of a kick of the genre of late to which I fully blame TCM’s amazing miniseries Moguls and Movie Stars which I have been watching the past few days. I started off with maybe like twenty silent films saved from Youtube and now I think I have almost a hundred! I have never seen a Mary Pickford film before Coquette. You may be asking yourself why on earth then I would be starting with her first talking picture when she better known for her silent films…. I was curious to hear what she sounded like first.
            Norma Besant (Pickford) is a coquette; she lightly flirts with men to get what she wants. When the film begins it is the night of a country club dance. A friend of hers named Stanley comes to the house thinking he is taking Norma to the dance. But she tells him that a man named Michael is taking her instead. Stanley is crushed but he loves her too much to be really mad at her. Michael comes but he tells her he cannot go because he does not have the money to buy a dinner suit. They wind up not going and they sit in the dark talking. Her father, Dr. Besant, does not like Michael since he does not have a good reputation. Just that day he got into a fight with a man who called Norma a coquette. Dr. Besant does not want them to see each other ever again making them promise which they do for his sake. Michael promises her that for six months he is going to go away so he can work hard and earn money so they can marry.
            Three months later Michael comes back while Norma is at a dance. She follows him away from the dance to his cabin and stays with him the whole night. She stays out until four in the morning, her father thinks her brother was out until that time but her brother covers for her. Michael comes to the house looking for Norma but her father sees that he is back and is not happy at all. Michael tells the doctor of his plan to take Norma away that day so they can marry. When Michael leaves Dr. Besant storms out of the house with his pistol in his hands.
            Norma yells for her brother and Stanley to stop her father but by the time they get to him it is too late Michael is alive but fatally wounded. She gets to him in time but he dies in her arms. Norma is beyond distraught over Michael’s death wishing she could die too. Dr. Besant has given himself up to the police. His lawyer tries to convince Norma to say that Michael compromised her and forced her to go with him to his cabin which caused her father to become protective. She adamantly refuses.
            Three months later Norma has forgiven her father. She sees the impact her father’s absence on her younger brother when he talks about how much he misses him. She decides to lie to the court and tell them that Michael forced her to go with him after the dance. In court as she says all the lies her father can see the sacrifice she is making to have him released. He goes to his daughter and tells her not to lie and consoles her. Dr. Besant tells the judge that he is guilty on all accounts and that his daughter was trying to do the right thing. The doctor takes the gun he used to kill Michael and kills himself.
            This is a typical melodrama but it was not too bad to sit through. Mary Pickford was very good I had no issues with her acting but her voice did get on my nerves a bit after a while. Her southern belle accent is horrendous. She was playing a part that she was too old for (she was thirty-seven when she was probably supposed to be playing a teenager or at least someone in their early twenties) but that did not take away from the story she looked younger than she was. Pickford was wonderful in the scene where Michael dies and in the court scene. She won the Academy Award for her role in this film and those two scenes alone probably put her there… but I have to provoke the thought about who she was up against at the time  if they were any better and if her star power had anything to truly do with her winning. You definitely tell she was a silent star because of her over dramatic gestures and facial expressions.
            Apparently Coquette comes under a lot of criticism for some technical issues and the acting but you really have to look at this as an early sound film. Sound and new filming techniques were just beginning of course it is not going to be that great. I personally did not find too much wrong technically with the film except for a few scenes where the music was louder than the conversation and the lighting of Pickford and one actor was too dark but other than that I did not find too much wrong with it. The supporting actors besides the one who played Pickford’s father were terrible. They were all too loud or horrible acting out their dialogue.
            Coquette is not one of the greatest films ever made but I liked it. I noticed that the first time I watched Gloria Swanson in film it was in Sunset Blvd before I actually ever saw any of her silent films and I did the same thing with Mary Pickford. I do not mind that I did the same with Mary Pickford as I did with Gloria Swanson because I will be watching more of her silents than of her few talking films. Coquette is not available on DVD or on Youtube to view in either parts or in full I had to download the film to see it. After seeing Coquette I am looking forward to seeing Mary Pickford at her best in her silents.