Film: 10788

Feature Drama | 1920 | Silent | B/W

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Synopsis:

The film critic Robert Keser writes about Piccadilly (1929)

"
Tracking through a bustling nightclub kitchen, back into the scullery, amidst steaming washtubs, the camera finds a woman in torn stockings dancing a slow shimmy on a tabletop: a slow upward pan reveals the alluring Anna May Wong in a Pabstian moment of erotic revelation. In the course of this drama, director E.A. DuPont devises several more such clock-stopping moments as the star poses behind an etched glass screen or stretches her body in a geometrically beaded gown.

When Wong makes her debut before the nightclub audience-- sporting an ersatz Thai get-up and fluttering her fingers this way and that---it is clear that she really can't dance at all, ironically making DuPont's contribution seem even more impressive . When this performance causes an unlikely sensation, rival dancer Gilda Gray gets so jealous that she faints in a heap of feathers. [Famed as the actual creator of the shimmy, Gray demonstrates it here with lots of vigorous jiggling.]

Paralleling her rise to dance stardom, Wong's wardrobe gets increasingly elegant, while the conflicts mount: quarreling over nightclub impresario Jameson Thomas [a nicely subtle performance], Gray argues "He's too old for you!" and Wong ripostes "You're too old for him." Both have a point. Eventually, with the help of some Limehouse ruffians, a gun, and a dagger, it all ends in a courtroom.

Apart from a brief appearance by Charles Laughton as a fastidious diner, DuPont pays no attention to the café society patrons of the Piccadilly Club. His interest lies with the performers---including skinny Cyril Ritchard as a hoofer---and in his own adventurous style: the camera seldom stops moving, once even circling 360 degrees, yet the end impression is not of indulgent artiness. DuPont points the camera down through the whirring blades of overhead fans, or into distorted mirrors---virtuoso effects but somehow serving vitality, a sense of events happening in the moment.


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