La Boheme – Romantic Drama – By Agnes Smith (MGM) – 1926

Motion Picture Magazine, May, 1926

The Picture Parade

By Laurence Reid and Agnes Smith

La Boheme – Romantic Drama

Still another picture has opened on Broadway which threatens to run until every woman in the city and most of the visiting sisters have paid the tribute of a few tears and sighs. For “La Boheme,” King Vidor’s newest production, reaches the screen at a moment when there’s a big need for a good, sad love story.

King Vidor Lillian Gish and filming team La Boheme
King Vidor Lillian Gish and filming team La Boheme

The picture was suggested, of course, by Henri Murger’s “Scenes de la Vie de Boheme” and the opera libretto which was derived there from. It was the first great love story of the Paris Latin Quarter. “Trilby” came later and “Louise,”” the third story of a veritable trilogy of Montmartre romances, is a granddaughter of Murger’s Mimi. Murger started the whole Latin Quarter fever and countless young foreigners and French provincials were inspired by the love story of Rodolphe and Mimi to climb Mont Parnasse.

Lillian Gish John Gilbert Gino Corrado (rear) La Boheme

And so La Boheme” comes to the screen overgrown by traditions and sentiments, and it is only by considering these overgrowths of the years that one can measure the achievements and deficiencies of Mr. Vidor’s production. However, it is not fair to check up the deficiencies to Mr. Vidor. His direction is all that could be wished for. The picture has lyric charm, pictorial beauty and fine feeling of sentiment. The deficiencies lie in the script and in the performance of Lillian Gish, as Mimi.

LA BOHEME, John Gilbert, Lillian Gish, 1926
LA BOHEME, John Gilbert, Lillian Gish, 1926

The script, prepared by Mme. Fred de Gressac, quite deliberately overlooks some of the best incidents of the story. All the coquetry of the meeting between Mimi and Rodolphe is carefully washed out and the joyous Mimi who so impulsively falls in love becomes merely a wretched little waif and a fit subject, not for a love affair, but for a settlement worker. Musette’s gorgeous entrance is changed to a commonplace introduction and the poignant episode of the muff is scarcely touched upon. It’s a cautious script, tailored for the limitations of Miss Gish, but not a colorful one. Lillian Gish’s Mimi is just what this confirmed old cynic thought it would be. It has moments of beauty and it has moments of pathos. And, altho a veteran of the screen, Miss Gish photographs like a child. But she is never, for a single second, a spirited and joyous Mimi.

LA BOHEME, John Gilbert, Lillian Gish, 1926 the dispute over the play
LA BOHEME, John Gilbert, Lillian Gish, 1926 the dispute over the play

Miss Gish’s Mimi is beaten from the start. In her love scenes, she cringes and shrinks—something that no girl should do on or off the screen. There is a fine distinction between positive virtue and negative virtue that she doesn’t seem to understand. Technically Miss Gish is a good actress, altho handicapped by mannerisms which give a monotony to all her performances. But her work is so studied and so careful that she gives you an impression of coldness even in her most moving scenes. In fact, in her one moment of abandon in “La Boheme”—a dance in the woods—the first-night audience openly snickered.

John Gilbert and Lillian Gish (La Boheme)4

But now let us go on to the real reason for the great popularity of “La Boheme.” It is the performance of John Gilbert. We are getting tired of praising Mr. Gilbert, but what can we do about it? He runs awav with the picture ; he makes the production. Here is acting so exuberant, so filled with human emotions, so gay, colorful and live, that it fairly burns up the celluloid. Mr. Gilbert is a perfect Rodolphe.

Another great performance is given by Renee Adoree as Musetta. Unfortunately Musetta is almost cut out of the picture. What a pity! In a few fleeting scenes, Miss Adoree does some memorable acting. If she had had more footage, we would have had one of the best portrayals of the year. The minor characters are played with spirit in the opera bouffe style. “La Boheme” will be immensely popular, thanks to Mr. Vidor’s fine direction and Mr. Gilbert’s great acting.

Miss Gish’s loyal followers will find much to admire in her work. And everyone will be satisfied, particularly the man at the box-office who sells the tickets. What a busy summer he has ahead of him!

Metro-Goldwyn.—A. S. ** (Agnes Smith)

Motion Picture Magazine May 1926 - La Boheme - L Reid A Smith
Motion Picture Magazine May 1926 – La Boheme – L Reid A Smith
Lillian Gish and John Gilbert in "La Boheme"
Lillian Gish and John Gilbert in “La Boheme”

The Unknown Hollywood I Know …

When Lillian Gish was a real vamp …

By Katherine Albert

Lillian Gish could, in the matter of getting what she wanted from men, give them all a fifty-yard handicap and win in a walk.Whether she knew her power or not I do not know. But she got what she wanted and all she had to do to secure the biggest salary from an executive, or a new cover for her dressing table from the prop boy, was to ask for it in her gentle voice. There was but one man who did not come under her spell. That was Jack Gilbert. He worked with her. Jack played the bounding, lusty Rudolph to Lillian’s wan Mimi in “La Boheme.” On the set these two personalities clashed like cymbals in a symphony orchestra. Jack is emotional. And he trusts his emotions entirely for his art’s sake. When he fails to listen to them he’s wrong. With rehearsals he had no patience. The first time he did a scene was always best. He chiseled out a character with a heavy mallet, he painted bold strokes upon the canvas of the silver screen. This is, of course, one of the reasons for his first failure in the talkies.

She loved to rehearse, and the thirty-sixth time she played a scene was thirty-six times better than the first—so craftily did she build her characters. So it is easy to see what an unhappy cinema union was Jack’s and Lillian’s. Jack was worn and cross by the fifth rehearsal, just as Lillian was beginning to get it. He would come off the set exhausted and throw himself prone upon his dressing-room couch. The picture was finished at last. It was previewed and, although it was a passionate love story, there was not a single kiss in it. This was Lillian’s wish. But a friend of hers, in whom she put much confidence, told her it was impossible to have an ethereal love between Rudolph and Mimi. There simply must be kisses! Grim and determined, Lillian walked on the set for retakes the next day. Grim and determined, she kissed the then great lover of the films. She kissed him again and again for the camera and left the set, still grim and determined, saying, “Ugh, I feel degraded.”

But I do not want you to get the impression that Lillian Gish was not human. In fact, that is one of the many misconceptions about her. Wither her sweetness nor the demure attitude she assumes is a pose. She is really that sort of person, a gentle, calm, ladylike creature, but withal a real person. It’s the look of her that sends people off into moronic ravings and makes those who come before her presence talk in platitudes.

John Gilbert and Lillian Gish (La Boheme)

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Known as ”the great lover of the silent screen,” John Gilbert was incensed and ran to Mayer’s office. “This is a love story … a love story! Does she realize that?”

“What are you talking about?” Mayer asked.

“Lillian refuses to kiss me.”

“What?” Mayer yelled.

“You heard me. She says the audience will believe our love more poignantly if we don’t even touch,” Gilbert said.

”Leave it to me,” said Mayer. Through a series of negotiations that would have strained a secretary of state, Mayer convinced Lillian that John Gilbert’s career might truly be hurt if he simply mooned around making eyes at Mimi. And after three days of love scenes, Vidor managed to coax the actress closer and closer to John’s embraces. He was achieving about one usable kiss every eight hours.

On the way home, Lillian complained to her chauffeur: ”Oh, dear, I’ve got to go through another day of kissing John Gilbert.” Protestations aside, Lillian must have been doing something right: John Gilbert proposed to her twice before they wrapped up filming. Lillian Gish never truly became a major box office star for Metro, but she added greatly to its prestige.

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