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Enchantment (1921) Premieres Sunday


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Enchantment was released October 30, 1921. It was the eleventh film starring Marion Davies and the seventh Davies film produced by Cosmopolitan Pictures, the production company set up by William Randolph Hearst.

 

This was the first of four films Davies would star in with Forrest Stanley,  the first of six Davies films directed by Robert G. Vignola, and the first of 12 Davies films designed by Joseph Urban. Enchantment is widely regarded to be the first American film to boast Urban’s “European Modern,” a forerunner of Art Deco.

 

Urban had an interesting career. He was artistic director of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York and also artistic director for Florenz Ziegfeld’s famous Follies. Hearst brought Urban to films specifically to design the sets for Davies’ movies, which at the time were filmed in a Second Avenue studio on the Harlem River. Urban’s sets for Enchantment helped it win Photoplay magazine’s best picture of the month award in February 1922.

 

The plot of Enchantment concerns the belle of the Long Island smart set, Ethel Hoyt (Davies), who boasts that she can control men through her looks and personality. She leads around a group of young men who are at her beck and call to go to a party or to the local tea room at the drop of a hat. Ethel is very full of herself, much to the exasperation of her parents. After watching a production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” the father hits on an idea to hire the leading actor (Stanley) to direct a local pageant of “The Sleeping Beauty” in which Ethel will star. The idea is to browbeat Ethel into submission in the same manner Kate is “tamed” in the Shakespeare play. Of course the actor falls in love with Ethel while she takes an instant dislike to him because she cannot control him as she can the “male flappers” that hover around her. We can guess the ending of this story.

 

The major scenes are played out in Ethel’s house, the tea room, and another Long Island estate where the play is put on. In all instances, Urban’s sleek and chic interior design provides just the right setting for this modern love story. Ethel’s house is devoid of all the fussy trappings of 19th century design that still dominated American homes in the early 1920s. The tea room boasts beautiful art-deco-type pendant lights. The Long Island mansion set shows the direction interior design would be going in the next decade. The spacious, arched rooms are sparsely decorated and without all those heavy draperies and fringed things so common in mansion sets in other films. Urban’s experience in designing for grand opera is also on display in the lavish sets for the Sleeping Beauty sequence.

 

The relationship between Urban and Hearst was not an easy one even though Urban ultimately made 25 films for Hearst. While Hearst was not a hands-on producer, he kept a watchful eye (sometimes literally) on Davies’ films. Urban not only designed the sets for these films, he often designed the costumes, lighting, and make-up. After an especially fractious time working on Humoresque, which starred Alma Rubens, Urban and Hearst continued their uneasy alliance with the production of Enchantment.

 

Hearst did not oversee daily film production but demanded to see the daily rushes. From this vantage point, Hearst freely made comments and suggestions on everything from casting to set design. Things came to a head when in May of 1921 Hearst proposed a number of retakes on Enchantment. The exhausted and overworked Urban flatly refused. Afraid to lose his “second in command,” Hearst backed down, wrote a conciliatory letter, and offered a vacation to Urban and his daughter aboard the Oneida, Hearst’s 205-foot yacht.1 This battle was won by Urban.

 

The New York Times noted that in Enchantment, “All those who wish to enthrall the denied populace with visions of the fairyland of money and elegance should study Mr. Urban’s work in this picture. The people of the story are supposed to be both wealthy and refined, and the rooms they are seen in are such rooms as wealthy and refined people might really occupy comfortably. And the settings are alive. They invite the inspection of the eye and satisfy its most particular demand. It is a pleasure to look at them.” 2

 

Photoplay called the film an “[e]xquisite offering. Story is not particularly strong but if you want to rest your eyes for an hour, and let your mind forget black and white everyday realities – see this Marion Davies production. Miss Davies proves one of our most adorable heroines. She more than proves her place among the stars.”3

 

In his biography of Davies, Lawrence Guiles claims “Enchantment was Marion’s bid to rival Swanson” without any further comment or comparison.4 Did he mean in manner or in clothing? Indeed Ethel is not the usual Davies heroine. When not playing historical characters, Davies often played lovable underdogs, but here she plays a rather rigid character determined to have her own way. This sort of female may often have been played by Swanson, but in the clothing department Swanson was still queen. In Enchantment Davies’ outfits are far from the haute couture numbers associated with Swanson. There’s a more obvious connection: in her final silent film, Show People, Davies plays an imperious movie star often said to be modeled on Swanson.

 

Of the previous 10 films Davies made, only Getting Mary Married (1919) is available on DVD. The Restless Sex (1920) may exist in complete form in an archive. All the others are either considered lost or exist in incomplete form. Enchantment then is an important film because it shows us a young Marion Davies early in her film career (she’d only been in films since 1917), before her fist mega-hit, When Knighthood Was in Flower (1922), and before her move to Hollywood to join the studio that would become MGM.

 

As Photoplay noted, in Enchantment, Marion Davies “more than proves her place among the stars.”

 

 

1 Nasaw, David. The Chief p 307. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.

2 New York Times, November 14, 1921.

3 Guiles, Lawrence, Marion Davies p 379.

4 Guiles, p 104.

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Enchantment (1921) kicks off TCM's November Star of the Month salute to silent stars and will feature an array of greats like Marion Davies, Gloria Swanson, John Gilbert, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, Norma Talmadge, Constance Talmadge, Ramon Novarro, and Norma Shearer.

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I'm definitely looking forward to Marion Davies in ENCHANTMENT and the salute to silent screen stars in general this month.

I wish TCM was also showing THE RED MILL with Marion Davies and Ignatz the mouse   

 

I'm also looking forward to SADIE THOMPSON with Gloria Swanson.

It will be interesting to see how they deal with the missing final reel.

 

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