Monday, June 29, 2015

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2015: Part Time Wife, Leo McCarey, 1930

A small, completely charming remarriage comedy that feels in many respects like a dry run for The Awful Truth. Even (or rather: especially) the dog looks much more rugged and has only one single trick up his sleeve: doing absolutely nothing.

The dog (who has great scenes, to be sure; some of them are rather shocking) is so lethargic that the film needs a human orphan to support him. And while I'd argue that McCarey did right to pass on this role (=the non-biological child as matchmaker) in The Awful Truth, the boy (Tommy Clifford) has at least one beautiful scene in Part Time Wife. He comes into the film as the caddy of the seperated husband (Edmund Lowe). After his first rather unsuccessful strokes Lowe gets angry at the cheeky boy and sends him away. A long shot witnesses Clifford slowly moving away from Lowe and from the camera. Lowe decides to call him back, but he needs several attempts to find the right tone of voice (not too angry, not too begging, especially not too confident). But finally the boy stops, turns slowly around, paws the ground like a horse - and comes back.

The best thing about the scene is McCarey's refusal to cut to a close-up of the boy, his decision to let it play out through Lowe's voice and Clifford's gesture only. The assumption that this refusal might have something to do with early talkie staging conventions doesn't negate McCarey's genius. Rather, it exemplifies his perfect mastery of sound cinema (which, of course, also comes into bloom fully in The Awful Truth, which at times almost feels like a treatise on, or rather a vindication of noise).

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