Lillian Gish Makes Her Bow in Version of a Molnar Play – Marion Davies’s Comedy
The New York Times, June 8, 1930
By Mordaunt Hall
LILLIAN GISH’S acting in her first talking film, “One Romantic Night,” a version of Molnar’s play, “The Swan,” is all the more impressive for her being heard. As in the case of other screen players with pleasing voices, audibility is a boon to Miss Gish, for it assists materially in the quality of the acting. There is more life to her work and it helps her to avoid those mannerisms that were particularly in evidence in her later silent films.
Speech in screen offerings often makes for less sameness in the work of the players and so results in a wider difference in characterization than was usually possible on the silent screen. Miss Gish, for instance, was really always Miss Gish under another name in most of her mute films. In this her first venture before the microphone, however, there is infinitely more charm and variety to her acting than in her best work in mere pantomimic roles. Words may not always make the player seem very different from what he or she was in another part, but they undoubtedly help, particularly when the comparison is not with another talking film, but with a silent specimen.
This “One Romantic Night” is a diverting affair, but what can be said in praise for Miss Gish’s acting cannot be said for that of Conrad Nagel or Rod La Rocque, partly because one is apt to bear in mind the sterling work on the stage of Basil Rathbone and Philip Merrivale in the same roles. The portrayals of both Mr. Nagel and Mr. La Rocque are hard, lacking spark or spontaneity, but possibly quite acceptable if one had not seen the play. Perhaps these two screen players might have succeeded much better had they the advantages of their stage colleagues, for there is no doubt that the acting of many players in talking films is hindered by the lack of continuity in the scenes, and also because often they do not have enough time for Iearning or rehearsing their parts. A stage player may improve in his role as time goes on, but the screen actor is called upon to give but one real performance. Then, too, some of the character players are extremely busy, and they go with little opportunity for real preparation from one film to another and sometimes are engaged in two productions simultaneously.
Marie Dressler, who elicited no end of laughter as the reprehensible Marty in the audible version of “Anna Christie,” creates plenty of fun as the old Princess Beatrice, the match-aking mother of Princess Alexandra (Miss Gish). It is the Princess Beatrice who, on perceiving that Prince Albert is not attentive to her daughter, encourages the young woman to flirt with Dr. Haller, as the tutor is known in this film. The incidents that follow give Miss Dressler a great opportunity, and while her acting is only relatively restrained, it is far more subdued than it has been in any of her other film roles.
It is interesting and unusual to note that while Miss Gish’s shadow is performing in this transcription of Molnar’s romantic comedy, she is to he seen in person at the Cort in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” It is rare indeed that a screen player is to be seen on the stage and the screen simultaneously.
Father Benedict, who in the original play was known as Father Hyacinth, is capably portrayed by O.P.Heggie but the character would have been more sympathetic had Mr. Heggie’s voice been a little softer.
At an early showing of this picture, which is still holding forth at the Rivoli, the sound reproduction was unnecessarily loud, which is another handicap to the final result of an audible screen player’s work.