Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

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LouieD
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Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by LouieD » Thu Feb 28, 2008 12:31 pm

Just saw a couple of "My Little Margie" TV episodes and was wondering if Charles Farrell ever got any better as an actor during his career?

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Unread post by Ray Faiola » Thu Feb 28, 2008 1:12 pm

Actually, Farrell was perfect for MARGIE because his style was so completely external. The show is pure farce, not nearly as nuanced as LUCY.
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LouieD
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Unread post by LouieD » Thu Feb 28, 2008 2:02 pm

Ah, I don't think you answered my question.

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Unread post by FrankFay » Fri Feb 29, 2008 2:39 pm

Farrell had his moments. If you only saw him in OLD IRONSIDES you'd think he was quite good.
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Unread post by rudyfan » Fri Feb 29, 2008 2:59 pm

I enjoyed him in Fazil many Cinecons ago.
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Unread post by Frederica » Sat Mar 01, 2008 10:38 am

rudyfan wrote:I enjoyed him in Fazil many Cinecons ago.
I recently saw him in...ummmm...Borzage film with Janet Gaynor... although I was originally entranced with his manly good looks, that lasted for about 7 seconds before the pall of boredom overcame me. I kept thinking that George O'Brien would have brought so much more to the role without losing a jot of the manly good looks. So I clicked around looking to see if I'd ever seen Farrell in anything else; the only film he was in I know I've seen is Clash of the Wolves. I know it's not a crime to be out-personalitied by Rinty, many people were, but still. I don't even remember Farrell from Clash.

I led a deprived childhood and missed out on many of the television shows from the 50s (something I'm not in the least upset about, since they're mostly really strange) so never saw My Little Margie.

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Unread post by Mike Gebert » Sat Mar 01, 2008 10:50 am

He seems to have filled a 20s niche for a big strapping man who's a harmless puppy. It's very odd at this distance, though not entirely inexplicable; it's not like many of the silent era's female stars weren't pulling off a similarly infantilized girlish act, though to be exactly equivalent to Farrell, Mary Pickford would have had to have Jayne Mansfield's physique.
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Unread post by Jim Roots » Mon Mar 03, 2008 8:14 am

Mike Gebert wrote:He seems to have filled a 20s niche for a big strapping man who's a harmless puppy. It's very odd at this distance, though not entirely inexplicable; it's not like many of the silent era's female stars weren't pulling off a similarly infantilized girlish act, though to be exactly equivalent to Farrell, Mary Pickford would have had to have Jayne Mansfield's physique.
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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by wich2 » Wed May 30, 2018 11:59 am

In one of her bucolic Countrygirl films, Jim -

Image

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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by Keatonesque » Wed May 30, 2018 11:12 pm

Personally, I don't care at all for OLD IRONSIDES, but I was under the impression Farrell's work in the Borzage films was respected? I found his acting in LUCKY STAR a little too histrionic at times (like Gilbert), but overall, I believe he's fine.

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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by Ray Faiola » Fri Jun 01, 2018 3:52 am

No. And that includes radio.
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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by Dave Pitts » Fri Jun 01, 2018 9:14 am

Ditto the citation of Old Ironsides, his breakthrough film, and I'd add 7th Heaven, one of the big date movies of the 20s. Farrell had it -- or It-- in physicality: the lean, lanky build, the bashful, smiling face, the tousled head of hair. His hair probably sealed the deal with the female audience. Then, in '29, when his voice was heard -- OMG. The spell was broken. What is that first talkie? I can't remember the title, but once you hear Farrell talk, you realize he had no training as an actor.
Today, unless you're a buff immersed in the old stuff, it is hard to credit the naive boy/man persona as a box office winner. Actually, I find silent Harrison Ford worse in this regard, by a major factor. In a lot of his films, Ford is so effeminate as to be cringe-worthy. There are some early Barthelmess performances where the boyishness is overdone. On the opposite end of the spectrum are matinee idols like Eugene O'Brien -- there's an actor I would characterize as charmless and boring, one big middle-aged zero. Yet somehow the audience took to him, and Norma Talmadge in particular cast him in her pictures, somewhat in the way 30s actresses wanted George Brent as a dependable co-star (and not a scene stealer -- though I like Brent a lot better than fusty old O'Brien.)
Back to the question posed in the OP: I don't think so. By '35, Farrell's pictures were small potatoes. He simply couldn't bring the sexiness or the power of a strong leading man. I've seen very little of the Margie series, but Farrell is often the butt of the joke in the ones I've seen -- I vaguely remember one episode where he ends up pantless. He always seems to be fretting and wringing his hands.
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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by FrankFay » Fri Jun 01, 2018 1:32 pm

Dave Pitts wrote: I find silent Harrison Ford worse in this regard, by a major factor. In a lot of his films, Ford is so effeminate as to be cringe-worthy. .
I concede your point, though I still like Ford. I think the best part I've seen him in is Wallace Reid's traveling companion in HAWTHORN OF THE USA: Reid is grinning and boisterous, Ford is cautious with eyes that say "What have you gotten us involved in THIS time?" He's like an early Tony Randall.

Regarding the effeminacy, there IS a bit in UP IN MABLE'S ROOM where he retrieves a slip (a piece of incriminating evidence) and without thinking of where he is he holds it up in front of himself & begins dancing a little.

In his only talkie he shows that he had a decent stage trained voice.
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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by earlytalkiebuffRob » Fri Jun 01, 2018 1:52 pm

I've not seen CITY GIRL (1928/30) in over forty years, but recall it as being excellent...

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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by Mitch Farish » Fri Jun 01, 2018 2:45 pm

I'd like to hear some love for Lucky Star. I'm not a fan of Farrell, but I think he got it together and turned in a very good performance, especially in the scene where he tries the crutches and falls, or when he realizes he's in love with Mary. That movie gets me every time. And yes, he's the one silent star whose voice really did flop in the talkies.

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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by boblipton » Fri Jun 01, 2018 3:00 pm

Mitch Farish wrote:I'd like to hear some love for Lucky Star. I'm not a fan of Farrell, but I think he got it together and turned in a very good performance, especially in the scene where he tries the crutches and falls, or when he realizes he's in love with Mary. That movie gets me every time. And yes, he's the one silent star whose voice really did flop in the talkies.
There's no point in arguing taste, Mitch, but I agree with you about Farrell's performance in this movie.

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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by Keatonesque » Fri Jun 01, 2018 3:42 pm

In my opinion, he does quite an excellent job in CITY GIRL too.

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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by Harold Aherne » Fri Jun 01, 2018 4:51 pm

Charles Farrell was enormously popular for a while in the early 30s, even after sound came in, but his box-office standing was rather dependent on Janet Gaynor. He was rated the #1 male box office attraction on the 1932 Quigley poll (#4 overall), coming ahead of Will Rogers, Wallace Beery, Clark Gable, and comedians such as Joe E. Brown, the Marx Brothers and Wheeler and Woolsey.

But in 1933, with the Gaynor-Farrell team temporarily split (they had one last pairing, 1934's Change of Heart), Gaynor continued to ride high while Farrell landed pretty hard. His showing in the 1933 and 1934 surveys is rather tepid, and he dropped off completely from 1935 on.

Still, even if Farrell needed Gaynor more than the other way around, audiences couldn't have hated his voice. If that had been the case, his films with Gaynor would've started flopping and the team would've been broken up earlier. It's sort of a reminder that just because certain voices do or don't click with viewers today, it's no guarantee that the original audiences felt the same way.

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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by Brooksie » Fri Jun 01, 2018 5:24 pm

In early 1936, he was amongst the influx of American actors who came to Australia to make movies under a short-lived local quota arrangement. The Flying Doctor (1936) was the result. Unfortunately I have not seen the film so I can't comment on its quality or Farrell's performance, but the story of its rediscovery is quite compelling. Long considered lost, an incomplete print was discovered when the site of a former film studio in Lane Cove, Sydney was excavated. A second, truncated print turned up in Britain, which happened to contain the footage missing from the other print. Miracles still happen!

I found him very likeable in the Gaynor-Farrell silents, but I must admit I also have trouble not seeing him as the poor man's George O'Brien.

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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by donwc1996 » Fri Jun 01, 2018 8:42 pm

I've been a fan of Charles Farrell for quite some time. From his 1st pairing with Janet Gaynor in the 1927 film Seventh Heaven, he found stardom and they continued to be the most popular screen couple into the early thirties. They made about 12 films together-some of which now seem to be LOST. I also liked him in Clash of the Wolves, City Girl, Fazil, Old Ironsides and Liliom. Probably his biggest success was running the Palm Springs Racquet Club!

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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by greta de groat » Fri Jun 01, 2018 11:57 pm

The sheer awfulness of his performance in Liliom is a wonder to behold.

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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by Keatonesque » Sat Jun 02, 2018 12:17 am

greta de groat wrote:The sheer awfulness of his performance in Liliom is a wonder to behold.

greta
If you mean in scenes like the one below, I must say I cannot really blame him, for certainly Rose Hobart is just as terrible, and there's not much one can do when the scene is allowed to drag on mercilessly in awkwardness. The problem here, in my view, isn't in the performances, but the script, which seems an abomination, not atypical for films of the 1929-31 period.


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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by FrankFay » Sat Jun 02, 2018 3:18 am

Still, on a purely visual level they're two astonishingly beautiful people- I mean on a Garbo and Gilbert level.
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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by Dave Pitts » Sat Jun 02, 2018 7:48 am

Wow -- I had banished Liliom from my memory, but that comment brought it back. Farrell is called upon to rant and rail in the picture, and he comes off as childish and shrill. Painful indeed. By contrast, Boyer in the French version is athletic, vital, and a pleasure to watch.

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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by R Michael Pyle » Sat Jun 02, 2018 10:45 am

Dave Pitts wrote:Wow -- I had banished Liliom from my memory, but that comment brought it back. Farrell is called upon to rant and rail in the picture, and he comes off as childish and shrill. Painful indeed. By contrast, Boyer in the French version is athletic, vital, and a pleasure to watch.
The exact word "shrill" is how I've always thought about Farrell's voice, a sound I've always been far more annoyed by than I care to think about. It IS a shame, because I've not necessarily found his acting to be second rate as some here imply or even say, but that voice drives me crazy. I also think Borzage's "Liliom" is just plain bad. When I can't take Lee Tracy, the picture's bad... The film that just about did it forever for me was "The Man Who Came Back" (1931), badly written, badly edited, horrible continuity and even story-line from the middle to the end(!), and that voice of Farrell. Then I saw "Midnight Menace" (1937), made in Britain and pre-war, but a fore-warning of the Nazis and coming war with Britain, and I actually liked Farrell. Go figure.

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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by Peg of the PreCodes » Sat Jun 02, 2018 4:09 pm

I actually liked Farrell in Aggie Appleby Maker of Men (1933), but his character--a Harold Lloyd-type mooncalf who needs to find his inner bull now--might have been tailored to his strengths. Between this and The Big Shakedown, I thought Farrell was a 98-pound weakling until I saw his silent films.

I agree with everyone who finds Liliom painful, and would add Sunnyside Up to this hall of shame. I can only surmise that Farrell was the Mickey Rooney (speaking of actors whose appearance and performances bewilder me) of the dawn of the talkies: doing such boffo box office that the studio kept him working until he wore out his welcome.

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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by Donald Binks » Sat Jun 02, 2018 4:45 pm

I first came across Mr. Farrell as a child when I saw him as a much older man in a series called "My Little Margie". He seemed affable enough.

Then, donkey's years later I saw him in some of the silents he made with Janet Gaynor. These were usually handkerchief affairs so my appreciation of his acting skills would have been tempered by the fact that my eyes may have been moist. However, he seemed to have found the perfect leading lady in Miss Gaynor and the two played off each other extremely well.

Having later seen Mr. Farrell branch out into talkies, I would have to say that suddenly hearing him speak did not jar and it was a voice that was not too unexpected. The fact that he drifted by the wayside was not unusual in the late 1930's when many silent stars found top billing harder to achieve. One may cite here say, Ramon Navarro. It probably wasn't Mr. Farrell's lack of acting talent so much, but more to do with the public's taste - they had new talkie heroes and heroines to gloat over. This then combined with a studio's don't much care attitude permeating through to directors, did the rest.
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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by smokey15 » Sat Jun 02, 2018 5:12 pm

[quote="donwc1996"]I've been a fan of Charles Farrell for quite some time. From his 1st pairing with Janet Gaynor in the 1927 film Seventh Heaven, he found stardom and they continued to be the most popular screen couple into the early thirties. They made about 12 films together-some of which now seem to be LOST. I also liked him in Clash of the Wolves, City Girl, Fazil, Old Ironsides and Liliom. Probably his biggest success was running the Palm Springs Racquet Club![/quote]


Actually none of the 12 films Charles Farrell made with Janet Gaynor are lost. 7th Heaven, Street Angel, Lucky Star, Sunnyside Up, Delicious and Change of Heart have been shown on Turner Classic Movies. Happy Days and The Man Who Came back are available in the "bootleg market". UCLA restored Tess Of The Storm Country and The First Year and they have been shown at film festivals. MOMA has a pristine print of Merely Mary Ann in their collection. The only elusive film of theirs is High Society Blues. According to UCLA they do have High Society Blues in their archives but it's not readily known if it's complete or if it's been restored. But all 12 films are in existence.

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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by smokey15 » Sat Jun 02, 2018 5:21 pm

The Charles Farrell/Janet Gaynor team was my Mom's favorite movie couple. I remember her telling me how she enjoyed their films. When I first saw them in 7th Heaven and Street Angel I could see the chemistry and magnetism they had. They also made an attractive couple. He was very handsome and strong looking yet he had an air of tenderness and sensitivity. When I saw them for the first time in Sunnyside Up I was shocked. Her voice suited her but his voice was weak, tinny and somewhat effeminate. It didn't suit him at all. I am surprised that he continued as well as he did thru the early 1930's.

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Re: Did Charles Farrell's acting EVER get any better?

Unread post by earlytalkiebuffRob » Sun Jun 03, 2018 12:23 am

R Michael Pyle wrote:
Dave Pitts wrote:Wow -- I had banished Liliom from my memory, but that comment brought it back. Farrell is called upon to rant and rail in the picture, and he comes off as childish and shrill. Painful indeed. By contrast, Boyer in the French version is athletic, vital, and a pleasure to watch.
The exact word "shrill" is how I've always thought about Farrell's voice, a sound I've always been far more annoyed by than I care to think about. It IS a shame, because I've not necessarily found his acting to be second rate as some here imply or even say, but that voice drives me crazy. I also think Borzage's "Liliom" is just plain bad. When I can't take Lee Tracy, the picture's bad... The film that just about did it forever for me was "The Man Who Came Back" (1931), badly written, badly edited, horrible continuity and even story-line from the middle to the end(!), and that voice of Farrell. Then I saw "Midnight Menace" (1937), made in Britain and pre-war, but a fore-warning of the Nazis and coming war with Britain, and I actually liked Farrell. Go figure.
May I put in a good word for LILIOM, which I was particularly impressed with. Saying that I'd forgotten it was one of his, so would say the film comes over for me for the direction, atmosphere and its astonishing 'look'. As for THE MAN WHO CAME BACK, that is a little hard to judge fairly as the copy I watched was of inferior quality. Again more of interest to see what Raoul Walsh was getting up to in 1931, and admittedly some of it was rather silly and not too convincing.

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