Saturday, February 6, 2010

Richard Barthelmess...

A small tribute to a fine actor...

Richard Barthelmess... certainly not a household name these days but in his heyday during the silent period he was a huge star. Born in 1895, after graduating from Trinity College in Hartford CT. , he made his film debut in 1916.

A few years later he went to work for D.W. Griffith. His first important role was "The Yellow Man" in Griffith's 1919 silent masterpiece "Broken Blossoms". He gave a beautifully sensitive performance in that film and was now well on his way to super-stardom. I've only seen 3 Griffith pictures so far but this one is my fave.

Barthelmess flanked by the Gish sisters.... Lilian once said he had "The most beautiful face of any man who ever went before the cameras". He and Lilian were to star in another Griffith masterpiece in 1920. . .

A shot from the intense climax of Griffith's "Way Down East". That HAD to be a tough film to make for all involved! I think anyone who's seen it will agree, no method actor of today has ANYTHING on Lillian Gish!

When Barthelemess moved into the sound era he played tougher, more hard edged characters. He starred in Howard Hawks' first talking film "Dawn Patrol", a.k.a. "Flight Commander", a first-rate WWI picture that was remade almost scene-for-scene with Errol Flynn in 1938. In fact some of the arial battle footage from Hawks' film was reused for the Flynn version. The scene above is with co-star Neil Hamilton, best known for his much later role as Commissioner Gordon on the Batman TV series.

A scene from 1929's "Drag", an early talkie directed by Frank Lloyd. I dont even know if this film exists anymore. Barthelmess made another film with Howard Hawks in 1939, the classic "Only Angels Have Wings" with Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth and Thomas Mitchell. I could not find a single picture of Richard Barthelmess from that film in any of my books!

One of his better films of the talkie era, 1932's "Cabin in the Cotton" directed by Michael Curtiz and co-starring Bette Davis. This was an important film for Bette as it was her first good sexy-bitch role and of course she played it with gusto! Bette said one of her most famous lines in that one: "Ah'd like ta kiss ya but ah jes washed mah hayah". "Cabin in the Cotton" is pure Warner Bros entertainment...a fast moving, social drama with a great cast. Well-worth a look if you havent seen it already! Ditto for the 2 films Barthelmess made with William Wellman in 1933, "Central Airport" and "Heroes for Sale"

Richard got 2 oscar nominations during the silent era, one for "The Patent Leather Kid" in 1927 and another for "The Noose" in 1928. He only made 3 films in the early 1940's and then left Hollywood, served a brief stint in the Navy reserve during the war and then retired all together living the rest of his years off of his real-estate investments until his death in 1963.

Essential Richard Barthelmess:

"Broken Blossoms" - 1919
"Way Down East" - 1920
"Dawn Patrol" - 1930
"Cabin in the Cotton" - 1932
"Central Airport" - 1933
"Heroes for Sale" - 1933
"Only Angles Have Wings" - 1939
"The Spoilers" - 1942

Several of his early talking films have just been released by Warner Home video but I have yet to see some of them so I cant say if they are "essential" Richard Barthelmess or not. I'm looking forward to seeing them regardless!


Miss McCrocodile said...

If RB is in it, it's "essential".
He was amazing. Thanks for the blog and photos.

Margaret Benbow said...

Gish is right about his beautiful face, but when that era was past, to my mind he became an even more powerful actor--as in his role as the disgraced, aging flyer in Only Angels Have Wings. He went up against a youthful, gorgeous Cary Grant and held his own!

Kate Gabrielle said...

Fantastic post :) I agree with Miss McCrocodile, if he's in it, it's essential! I need to re-watch Cabin in the Cotton soon, haven't seen it in years!

Francy said...

Thanks for such a great post :-) I've never heard of him before, so I'll have to check out your recommendations. I agree that Lillian Gish was amazing though! She's one of my favorites from that era.

Artman2112 said...

great to see such enthusiasm for mr Barthelmess! He's been overlooked for far too long. Hopefully these new DVD releases will help change that a bit!