Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The unbearable lightness of Eleanor

Eleanor Boardman, who spent most of her Hollywood career in the silents, is remembered chiefly for her role in King Vidor's The Crowd (1928), but I caught up with her in Vidor's Bardelys the Magnificent (1926), which Flicker Alley, bless 'em, feature in their upcoming (7/7/09) two-disc John Gilbert set. Bardelys is a swashbuckling costumer in which Gilbert romances Boardman, who, true to the genre, must resist at first, then succumb. In this film, the surrender takes place in a rowboat amongst some drooping willow branches that Vidor and his cinematographer make the most of. Gilbert, just back from his handsome lessons*, certainly makes the most of Boardman. This is probably acting, folks, but Eleanor's swoon of desire as Gilbert nuzzles her neck is disarmingly real.

*"handsome lessons" copped from Woody Allen (Bananas)

Was there chemistry here? After Bardelys was in the can, there was to be a double wedding: King Vidor and Eleanor Boardman and John Gilbert and Greta Garbo. But Garbo decamped, leaving just Vidor and his girlfriend to tie the knot. Maybe Gilbert had chased the wrong fox.

Eleanor's appeal--at least in this film--is difficult to define. She seems to come with no big star baggage and projects the quiet certitude of a real live girl. Even Olivia de Havilland, in her swashbuckle projects with Flynn, couldn't muster this. Yet, Eleanor is not the girl next door. Maybe she's more that college girl you wanted to date but who was a little too mature to fool around with the puerile likes of you.

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