Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Manhandled (1924): The Allan Dwan Dossier

June is Allan Dwan month here in New York, and it's been a long time coming. That's him up there, on the set of What a Widow!, wearing a suit and standing next to the reflector--somewhat in the background, as he's been for too long.

The great director--"The Last Pioneer," as Peter Bogdanovich's book put it--has been dead since 1981. In the years since, he's occupied a somewhat thankless position among celebrated filmmakers. Dwan is a name recognized by most cinephiles worth their salt, but the movies he made don't have the kind of household currency enjoyed by Ford, Hawks, or any number of his contemporaries.

Brooklyn-based filmmaker Gina Telaroli and film writer and editor David Phelps are here now with their project, Allan Dwan: A Dossier, a huge labor of love. It's a massive 460-page e-book (either downloadable or readable online, take your pick) that, as Gina explains in her announcement at MUBI, "contains work in 5 languages, by 39 writers, and features 41 new pieces, along with five that we're republishing thanks to some very generous authors." It is being published in collaboration with the splendid folks at LUMIÈRE.

This is the original-language version of the dossier; a full English translation will be available in a few weeks. It is available absolutely free to anyone who clicks; that is, you see, the entire idea.

In the meantime, starting tomorrow, June 5, at the Museum of Modern Art, there is a full-rigged, 35-film Allan Dwan retrospective screening all month. The Siren has a number she's planning to see. Like a lot of people, the Siren has big viewing gaps where Dwan is concerned. Gina recommends: Chances (1931), One Mile From Heaven (1937), Brewster's Millions (1945), Woman They Almost Lynched (1953), The Restless Breed (1957), and the very rare Fighting Odds (1917), East Side, West Side (1927), David Harum (1915), Stage Struck (1925), and Zaza (1923).

The Siren also has a recommendation for the MOMA series: the film she wrote up for the dossier, Manhandled. She picked that one to write about because she'd always wanted to see it, and it's marvelous. But the Siren is breathing some rarefied air with the company she's keeping via this dossier, an incredible array of film writers including Chris Fujiwara, R. Emmett Sweeney, Michael Lieberman, Zach Campbell, Serge Bozon, C. Mason Wells, Daniel Kasman and Dave Kehr; you should most definitely read everything that's been posted in English, and move on to the translations when they're online.

What follows is an excerpt from the Siren's essay, where she discusses the opening of Manhandled, which finds the shopgirl heroine Tessie enduring a subway ride as awful as any in film history. Tessie was played by the immortal Gloria Swanson. She often said Dwan was her favorite director,  and she unhesitatingly described him as a genius.

You can read the essay in full on page 111 of the dossier. At the end of the Siren's write-up, you will find a sad, but important coda about this movie; wouldn't you just know it, the Siren inadvertently chose a film that came with its own film-preservation mystery. As the years rush on, the fight to preserve artists like Dwan only gets harder, and more important.

Swaying with them against her will, Tessie does the dance of the New Yorker trying to avoid too much body contact, no matter how cramped the quarters. She drops her purse, and the men who are bookending her stoop to help her retrieve its contents. But when they reach back up for the straps, she's still got her arms looped through theirs, and for a moment she's suspended in air. Once she's back on her feet and smacking away at her gum, the movement of the car and the crowd dislodges Tessie's impossible hat, an overlarge squashy cloche adorned with what look like marbles—although they're probably supposed to be grapes—swinging from one side like the tassel on a fez. The hat falls to the ground, she does a deep-knee bend to retrieve it, and when she finally comes back up, the hat has lost its grapes.

And, for one marvelously subtle half-minute, the mood shifts. Tessie's face crumples as she looks at that hat, bereft of its ridiculous ornament. It’s clear, instantly, that the fruit was her favorite part, probably the reason she bought it, just as surely as Swanson’s expression shows that she can't afford to replace it.

Then her face regains its old hardness, she pulls the denuded hat back over her hopelessly mussed bob, and the hellish ride continues, complete with a masher all but licking his lips at her from his seat. When she tries to get off at her station, Dwan switches to an overhead shot. Perched in the rafters, poor Tessie tries to disembark and gets pushed back into the car, over and over. She can't manage to leave walking upright; she eventually has to bend over and scurry under a railing. Small as Tessie is, the subway—meaning of course New York itself—has all but brought her to her knees.


Christopher Small said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Phelps said...

The 560 was my mistake—it's indeed 460, though if you use some illusionistic math, there will be 100 pages of additional material to English speakers in the next version.

Thanks so much Farran! The great news is that although MoMA hasn't announced it yet, there will be many more Dwans (including the late greats) in July as well. It's the kind of retro that is not only unprecedented but will probably never happen again.

Christopher Small said...

Oh, sorry about that. Congratulations on the essay though, Farran!

DavidEhrenstein said...

Dwan's End

DavidEhrenstein said...

Hommage to Dwan's End

Vanwall said...

"But the Siren is breathing some rarefied air with the company she's keeping via this dossier, an incredible array of film writers..." - You're pretty rarefied yourself, Oh, Siren; it's they who are in good company. Congrats!

barrylane said...

I am looking for Dwan's 1919 Soldiers Of Fortune...Any idea's ?

Peter Nellhaus said...

I recall a time when The Sands of Iwo Jima had some kind of "household currency" when I was much younger. Of course, neither myself nor my peers would have been able to name the director.

For those of us far from Manhattan, there are a few Dwan films to catch on Netflix Instant, including Brewster's Millions.

Casey said...

Thanks for making the Dwan Dossier available. I'm not a big fan of Dwan's work, but I've actually seen very little of it. I loved The Iron Mask. Hated Heidi. A couple weeks ago I caught the beginning of Slightly Scarlet, and what I saw was very cool. I'll have to read through the dossier and see what's recommended. I'm very jealous of the fact that MOMA's doing a huge retrospective. When I was younger, LACMA often screened extended series on people like Griffith, Murnau and Wyler. Those days are long gone.

The Siren said...

Thanks, everyone! Barrylane, I am afraid I don't know how to get ahold of Soldier of Fortune; but the upside to the renewed interest in Dwan is that it may shake loose some of the harder-to-find items.

Peter, I hadn't thought about Sands of Iwo Jima, a movie I also like a lot; but you're right, it is a film that people don't instantly identify with its director.

Casey, I am trying to see Slightly Scarlet, which looks yummy to me. Joe McElhaney's piece on it in the dossier is really well done. Pity Rhonda Fleming won't be here for it, so far as I know. Last year I overheard a well-known critic discussing the fact that she is in good shape for her age; she could probably tell us something about working for Dwan. She spent her post-movie career doing very laudable work for charity, especially women's cancer.

barrylane said...

Thanks for the thought and respnse.

mikeg said...

Have just started reading this fabulous dossier!

Might I add:
There is a 90 page analysis of many Dwan films on my web site:

This is being continuously expanded, as films become newly available.