Friday, January 8, 2010

And While We're At It, Three Looks At Richard Barthelmess

Richard Barthelmess was born in 1895 to a theatrical family and was working on the stage when a friend of his mother, film star Alla Nazimova, offered him a part in her next film, War Brides. He made twenty-two movies over the next three years, but it was his performance as the Chinese immigrant Cheng Huan in D.W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms that brought him his most lasting fame. He followed that up with two more classics, Way Down East and Tol'able David, the former for Griffith again, the latter at Barthelmess's own newly-formed production company, Inspiration Pictures.

He was nominated for an Oscar in 1929, the first year of the award's existence, losing to Emil Jannings.

Barthelmess continued to make movies during the sound era, including The Last Flight which I reviewed earlier this week, and The Cabin in the Cotton with Bette Davis (the one where she says "I'd like to kiss you, but I just washed my hair"), but by and large his acting technique was too stiff for sound pictures and the size and number of his parts quickly diminished. Probably his last great film role was as Bat MacPherson in Howard Hawks's Only Angels Have Wings.

Barthelmess made his last movie in 1942 then joined the Naval Reserve. After the war, he returned to Long Island, New York, where he died of cancer in 1963.


Anonymous said...

Great Post!
he's wonderful in Broken Blossoms he was very believable as "chinky".

Lillian Gish's thoughts on him were: "The most beautiful face of any man who went before the camera"

Tol'able David looks superb but its one of the many movies I can't hunt down same for the Cabin in the cotton.
Thanks :) people tend to forget Barthelmess as its not really a name that slips off the tongue.

Mythical Monkey said...

I got Tol'able David from our local library. If you're a fan of Barthelmess, I'd recommend it. It's a melodrama about a very earnest young man (boy, really) who is well liked but not taken seriously by his family or the girl he pines for.

In fact, if you're willing to watch it online, you can see it on YouTube here. I'm reasonably sure it's in the public domain ...

Or, if you really want to see it, you could also move here and get a library card. But I'd probably just watch it on YouTube.

Anonymous said...

yeah my library is usually quite good with having silent films, but not with this one.
I will watch it online.
I tried looking for it on the web film archives, but no cigar.
thanks for the link :)

Mz. Louise Brooks said...

If you can't summon the strength and courage to complete an essay,
a photograph would fill the void nicely.

As some of your other correspondents are wont to say: tick tock.

Thank you.

Mythical Monkey said...

Indeed, my dear Miss Brooks, I am working on one of those nutty four thousand word essays. But in honor of your timely beauty (since you are 103 and yet don't look a day over 25), I will break it into pieces and publish part one this afternoon.

It's nice to be wanted ...