Charles Brabin vu par Philippe Garnier
A look back at the work and career (1912-1934) of an American director "whose life and work were a virtual replica of film history until the mid-1930s," in the words of Philippe Garnier, who presented four films at the Lumière festival 2012 and who issued his new text, “We’ll shoot it in the morning”: The life and work of Charles Brabin, on the occasion.
Director of silent films, then talkies, a star of the MGM studio in the 1930s, this "Liverpool roastbeef" who knew nothing about the underworld, nevertheless created The Beast of the City (1932) - screened last Tuesday at the film launch of the featured director. According to writer WR Burnette, who had worked on the majority of Brabin’s films during that period, The Beast of the City was one of the best gangster movies ever shot in Hollywood.
History has been unkind to this man with the slight resemblance to Abraham Lincoln (tall with bushy eyebrows), relegating him to the "bottom of the list of cinema history" and reminding us of epic failures such as the shooting of Ben-Hur, the superproduction for which he was ejected in 1925, says Garnier. But if Brabin "was aware of his disastrous track record," based on poor screenplays chosen by MGM, says the film historian, “Brabin deserves to be rediscovered for a ‘delightful film’ like Sporting Blood (1931), where Clark Gable appeared for the first time, for the ‘breathless spectacle’ of The Valley of the Giants (1927), or for ‘the portrayal of a chilling prosaic of corruption’ in The Beast of the City (1932).”
Hollywood connoisseur and author of several scholarly books with unlikely titles – Honni soit qui Malibu... (Shame on that Malibu)- Philippe Garnier does not hide his affection for Brabin and his "typically fantastic stories, difficult to translate to film." The director was often singled out for his "lethargic work methods,” and the “solid contract" at MGM, allowed him to create a few notable films for the studio, alternating with the adaptation of uninteresting plays. Brabin and the love of his life, Theda Bara (the star of Fox), were also prominent members of the Hollywood jet set of the 1930s, giving lavish receptions at their villa in Beverly Hills, where this butcher's son, emigrated from Liverpool, and this Midwest tailor girl, saw themselves as "impostors."
by Rebecca Frasquet
Passera pas Ben-Hur, vie et oeuvre de Charles Brabin
Available for purchase at the Institut Lumière (9.50 Euros)
and available for purchase on the internet
Download a free copy of “We’ll shoot it in the morning”: The life and work of Charles Brabin
Philippe Garnier is also the author of a booklet included in a beautiful boxed set edition of Charles Laughton’s classic, The Night of the Hunter, released by Wild Side, which includes the documentary, Charles Laughton Directs The Night of the Hunter by Robert Gitt (2002), screened during the festival. For nearly thirty years, Garnier wrote an unclassifiable culture column entitled The ear of a deaf man, in the daily newspaper, La Libération, written from his home in Los Angeles.