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07 October 2015

A Brief Personal Note: We Film Buffs Are Simple Creatures At Heart

It doesn't take much to amuse some people's children, as my grandmother used to say. I've recently had the best time seeing a movie I've always wanted to see. I remember so many similar comments when Turner Classic Movies went live -- "I've been waiting see this movie for twenty years!"
This is no reason for anyone else to get excited about the movie I was waiting to see; it was The Man Who Talked Too Much, a sturdy, well-made Warner Brothers programmer, the second remake of the gangster-lawyer melodrama The Mouthpiece. This version stars George Brent, Virginia Bruce, Richard Barthelmess, a very young Brenda Marshall, and a cast of Warners stalwarts as assorted criminals and legal eagles. It's an excellent story and very well-done. Seeing one of these long-awaited films doesn't always turn out so well, so I was very pleased!

I wanted to see it for one reason -- it was one of the last films of Richard Barthelmess, one of my favorite actors, before he left Hollywood forever for wartime service and then retirement. I wanted to see for myself if his success in Only Angels Have Wings could have been carried forward. In this movie he plays a mob boss -- the kind of smooth gangster who has crooked accountants and lawyers on call,  a fancy flat in the city and a nice house in the country. He plays this with an air of arrogance that is most convincing -- he throws his weight around subtly, but with an intrinsic menace.
So, in my opinion, Barthelmess could well have carried on his movie career, if he'd cared about it, which, after WW2, at the age of 50, after a career which began in his teens, I don't think he did. He was very comfortably off, having invested wisely, and had plenty of other interests, from sailing to Weimaraner dogs.

It always saddens me to think that some of the wonderful performers I've loved never knew that their work would be known to future generations -- Errol Flynn, for example, died before his reputation rebounded, and could have had no idea that he would still be known today. Happily, Richard Barthelmess lived to see his work appreciated, due largely to the efforts of Iris Barry at the Museum of Modern Art. He took part in a tribute to D.W. Griffith and was apparently happy to receive recognition of his work as a film pioneer. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a George Eastman award in 1957. He passed away in 1963 at his home in Southampton.

The George Eastman Awards, 1957
Back: Richard Barthelmess, Maurice Chevalier, Ramon Novarro 
Front: Lillian Gish, Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, Janet Gaynor

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