Picture-Play Magazine (June 1926)
The Screen in Review
By Sally Benson
There is no question that “La Boheme” has everything to make it happy. It has King Vidor as director, John Gilbert, Renee Adoree, George Hassell, Roy d’Arcy, Karl Dane, Frank Currier, and Edward Everett Horton. And it has that great big heart throb, Lillian Gish. You would hardly think, then, that the fragile, blonde Miss Gish could weigh heavily on her end of that imposing seesaw. But she does. She takes the lilting sadness of “La Boheme,” and plays “Hearts and Flowers” instead.
I know that Miss Gish is supposed to have arrived. I know that she is considered a great actress. Joseph Hergesheimer and others have said so. She has flown in the face of tradition and played Mimi with her own blond hair. Heretofore. Mimi has been a brunette. Now it doesn’t matter in the least what color one’s hair may be, provided the actress herself isn’t always a blonde in spirit. I do not refer to those fine, dashing Lillian Russell blondes, but I do object to the beaten, quivering, whipped blondness of old-time ballads. “Consumption has no pity for blue eyes and golden hair,” as the old song says; and at the first glimpse of Miss Gish—cold, pale, shivering, and self-sacrificing—I knew she was gone from the start.
As Dickens said, “Marley was dead to begin with.” The story is an old one, and a charming one. Rodolphe, a starving young playwright, and Mimi, a more starving little seamstress, live next to each other in a cold, badly furnished pension in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Mimi is about to be evicted for not having paid her rent when Rodolphc and his gay friends come to her rescue. She is adopted by them, and things seem to be going a little better. Then Mimi finds out that she is seriously ill, and rather than stand in Rodolphc ‘s way to success, she runs away. He does write a successful play, and on the night of his success, Mimi crawls back to him to die.
Not much of a story for a picture, you will admit, but Mr. Vidor has done wonders with it. He has caught a little bit of Paris and put it in his studio. John Gilbert makes a romantic young Frenchman. He is careful with his gestures, his walk’, his expressions, and he has really tried to enter into things.
Miss Gish alone just wouldn’t play. A little French dressmaker may be a sensitive, hurt child, and capture the romantic fancy of an ardent young man, but she should have just the faintest showing of coquetry and one or two slight vanities. Miss Gish is as subdued and fidgety as a New England schoolma’am. Her shoes are heelless, her bonnets Quakerish. She is still the little white flower of D. W. Griffith’s “Broken Blossoms.” I cried throughout a greater portion of this picture, in spite of my harsh comments. And I knew, as I sobbed, that my emotions were being worked on deliberately.
The film is very well monopolized by Miss Gish and Mr. Gilbert. Renee Adoree is barely visible. There is a fleeting glimpse of Karl Dane. Now that I have written this, I feel a little as though a not-very-well-liked acquaintance had gone out and committed suicide—even though I didn’t like him very much, I might have been nicer to him, and spoken more kindly of him. Now it’s too late.