The Patsy (1928)

Feature Article Film Review

THE PATSY

Release Date: 22 April, 1928

Studio: MGM

Director: King Vidor

Starring: Marion Davies (Patricia Harrington), Orville Caldwell (Tony Anderson), Marie Dressler (Ma Harrington), Dell Henderson (Pa Harrington), Lawrence Gray (Billy), Jane Winton (Grace Harrington)

Scenario: Agnes Christine Johnson

Titles: Ralph Spence

Photography: John Sietz

Set Design: Cedric Gibbons

Wardrobe: Gilbert Clark

Synopsis

The Patsy (1928) is an adaptation of Barry Connor's 1925 stage play of the same name. King Vidor directed this picture, the first of three with Marion Davies. She plays Patricia Harrington, who is second fiddle to her beautiful sister Grace, portrayed by Jane Winton. Their domineering mother, the wonderful Marie Dressler, greatly favors Grace. Only the henpecked Pa Harrington, played by Dell Henderson, sees Pat's true worth. Grace is courted by Tony Anderson (Orville Caldwell), whom Pat also, and none-too-subtly, fancies.

The family attends a dinner and dance at the yacht club, where Grace catches the eye of the local playboy, Billy (Lawrence Grey). In a hilarious scene, he waits on their table and shows off for her. Grace responds favorably to his advances and leaves the dance with him. Tony is understandably upset, and Pat see her chance to make up to him. He drives her home, and she asks him for suggestions about improving her personality and making her more attractive to men. Tony gives her advice, blithely unaware that she is interested in using her new attractiveness on him. She tries to follow his advice, but only ends up convincing her mother and sister that she has gone stark raving mad.

One of her attempts at gaining personality leads her to read a self-help guide that teaches her witticisms like "Always remember— Nature gives us many of our features, but she lets us pick our teeth," and "After all, a caterpillar is nothing more than an upholstered worm." Tony begins to notice Pat, not because of her 'improved' personality, but because she is the only one who shows interest in his career, namely his architectural designs. At this point, finding Tony's interest is moving to Pat, Grace decides she wants him after all. In desperation, Pat goes to Billy's house to stage a scene where Billy is attacking her, so that Tony can rush to her rescue. Unfortunately, Billy is too hung over to notice her presence. She impersonates three of his favorite movie stars (Mae Murray, Lillian Gish and Pola Negri) in an attempt to rouse his interest. Instead, Billy thinks the Murray and Gish images are hallucinations, and the sight of Pola Negri, whom Marion portrays by sticking a knife in her teeth and later waving it around, causes him to run around the room in terror and collapse on the piano.

Finally, she locks herself in Billy's room, calls Tony, and then begins screaming for help. Billy jumps up and tries to save her by battering down the door, and when Tony arrives, he thinks Billy is after her and knocks the poor, confused man out. However, instead of being kind to Pat, he berates her for getting into this situation in the first place, implying only a woman of low morals would go to Billy's house. Naturally, Pat is crushed, and it looks like all of her hopes are ended. However, her father finally asserts himself and tells off his wife and Grace for treating Pat so cruelly. He then marches out of the house, declaring he will never return. However, father and Tony return, and the couples are reconciled.

Discussion

The Patsy is an enjoyable movie, and proof that Marion Davies was a very good silent comedienne. Most of the funny moments in the movie belong to her, and she pulls them off with a great deal of aplomb. The impersonations were her specialty, and she is very convincing at all three roles, especially as Lillian Gish.

Marie Dressler and Dell Henderson, as the parents, have good scenes both with Marion and each other. One of their scenes together, as they dress for the family outing to the yacht club dinner, is particularly humorous. Marie and Dell have to use the same mirror to dress in, and he is constantly pushed out of her way. Her attempts to squeeze into a low cut gown provide an audience with a good deal of laughter.

Lawrence Gray has two very fine scenes in the film, his highlight being an amusing impersonation of a waiter. He nimbly juggles plates, silverware and food, until he finally drops a steak into the low cut bosom of Marie Dressler's gown. His confused and terrified drunk is also quite funny and rather pathetic. Jane Winton and Orville Caldwell are fine in their relatively straight roles.

The film did well upon release and received critical praise, even outside the Hearst press.

Reviews

New York Times: "A Jolly Cinderella", by Mordaunt Hall. April 23, 1928.

Mordaunt Hall found this modern version of the story of the drudge who rises to the heights a pleasant diversion for a rainy afternoon. The original audience of The Patsy (echoed by the audience at a recent screening at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival) was "frequently thrown into gales of laughter by the performances of the players and the frequently clever captions". Marion Davies "not only holds her own in the matter of vivacity and appearance, but she also elicits more fun than one would suppose could be generated from even a modern conception of the undying role. She is ably assisted by the adroit direction of King Vidor, and the competent acting of the supporting cast." Although Hall highlights the contribution of each of the cast members, he particularly emphasizes Dell Henderson's performance. "There were several occasions when the natural expression on his countenance or a scintilla of a change in his eyes, told enough to create loud merriment among the spectators."

Variety: The Patsy. April 25, 1928.

The reviewer from Variety states that the stage play has been converted into "a dandy laugh picture." Marion Davies "does some really great comedy work. The imitations are great and reveal Miss Davies as a skillful mimic. Audience broke into applause on the Gish interpretation. Corking fun stuff." He recommends "the soft-pedaling of the customary Hearst hokum publicity to see if the picture and the star cannot stand up and get by without the bolstering." This reviewer also notes the laugh-producing effect of the clever subtitles, and he states that "about half are taken directly from the stage dialogue, for which the playwright does not receive screen credit."