"Lonesome" (1928)

a.k.a. "Solitude"

Produced by Universal
Directed by Paul Fejos
Based on a story by Mann Page
Produced in a silent version and a talking version using the Western Electric Sound System. It premired in New York City on September 30, 1928. The sound version was 6,785 feet in length, and the silent version was 6,193 feet.

The Story

A familar plot where boy meets girl and boy loses girl. The story takes place in a boarding house in New York City, and two lonely people, Jim and Mary, live in the same building, work in the same factory and do not know one another.

Jim works on a metal stamping machine press, and Mary is a telephone switchboard operator. Although surrounded by the hustle and bustle around them, they are two lonely people in a big city. On a Friday afternoon when the five o'clock whistle sounds they join their friends outside the plant, and they make excuses when their friends tell them what they have planned for the evening.

Jim and Mary both return to their lonely apartments in the boarding house, and they both hear a band advertising Coney Island on the street outside the building. Each decides to board a bus going to Coney Island.

On the bus Jim notices Mary, and when they arrive at Coney Island, Jim follows her around the amusement park and attempts to get her to notice him. He meets and loses her in the crowd, then, finding her again, he follows her to the beach.

After a whirlwind courtship, they both confide to one another that they are lonely, and Jim tells Mary that he is so lonely and alone that he cannot stand his own company. As they are chatting, she tells him that she has lost a wedding ring. He is heartbroken thinking that she is married. They eventually find the ring, and she tells him that the ring belonged to her mother, and he is once again elated.

Oblivious to the crowd around them, they chat away all afternoon. They are holding hands when they suddenly realize that it is dark, and they are alone on the beach. They return to the amusement park. A fortune teller tells Mary that a handsome young man is going to marry her and make her happy. On a ride through a dark tunnel, he tells her that she's the girl that he has been looking forward to meeting. At a dance hall they dance to the tune of "Always," and, after that, they are separated on a roller coaster. When a smoking wheel stops the roller coaster, Jim is arrested by a policeman as he attempts to go to Mary's assistance.

When Jim is released by the police, he returns to the amusement park. They both search in vain for one another, and when a storm breaks out, they return to their lonely apartments brokenhearted and devastated. Feeling lonely, Jim starts playing a record, and Mary, hearing "Always," starts banging on the wall in frustration.

What Makes It Good

This rarely screened silent-era gem is a classic "boy meets girl" tale, and the director, Paul Fejos, crams each frame with energy and movement, employing all kinds of expressive camera work and visual effects. In a montage depicting the hectic drudgery of Mary's working day, he superimposes a clock and several tiny faces chattering away as she frantically works the switchboard. The original release of the film glowed with hand-tinted color, and produced at the end of the silent era, two sound scenes were added later to cash in on the new craze.

The charming film represents the height of silent film artistry, and, besides being a delightful tale with a neat twist at the end, it is also a visually dazzling cinematic essay on urban alienation and an intoxicating ode to love.

The original sound version had a few talking sequences, and the Coney Island night scenes were tinted. The copy I screened was the sound version minus the talking sequences and not tinted.

Cast Barbara Kent, Glenn Tryon, Fay Holderness, Gus Partos, Eddie Phillips, and Andy Devine.

The Reviews

The reviews were mixed:

Variety reviewed the sound version and the review published on October 3, 1928, was rather lukewarm.
"A Universal ballyhooed 'Lonesome' is a fare-thee-well. It's first full-length talker, boldly alleging it to be 'the talking wonder picture.' It is nothing of the kind, save for two or three dialogue sequences on the beach between the leading pair, and in the magistrate's court with Jim sassing the court clerk. It's just ordinary and badly synchronized."

Photoplay - July, 1928
"Barbara Kent and Glenn Tryon in a good human interest story of young love in modern backgrounds. Lots of trick camera work, but, on the whole, worth your while."

.The New York Times - October 2, 1928
"Dr. Paul Fejos, producer of that unusual film 'The Last Moment,' is responsible for 'Lonesome,' the production with which Universal has re-opened the Colony Theater. This current attraction suggests an O. Henry story without that author's keen insight into human nature. . . It is agreeable and interesting, a relief in many respects from the cut and dried picture formula so frequently set forth as a narrative."

Harrison's Reports - June 16, 1928
"This is an unusual film. The plot is very simple, but the mood of the story is so vivid that a deep impression is left on one's mind, an impression that lasts long after one has seen the picture. It is the story of a young boy who felt lonesome because he has no friends and no sweetheart and of a girl who likewise felt lonesome because she had no friends to invite her out and no sweetheart. During a holiday, each goes to Coney Island to 'take in the sights' and to go swimming . . . "

Paul Fejos

Paul Fejos (1884-1963), born in Csongrßd, Austria-Hungary (now Hungary), was an actor, writer, director and producer in a career from the 1920's through the 1940's. He was educated in Budapest, entered films briefly as a student, and appeared in several Hungarian films before World War I. Following service in the Hungarian army he studied chemistry. He then joined an opera company in their scenery workshop and later became a director with the Mobil Film Company. With the failure of one of his films, he left Hungary in 1923 .

He went to Vienna to work with the renowned producer Max Reinhardt and later went to work with Fritz Lang in Berlin. Eventually, he came to the United States where he worked as an assistant chemist in the Rockefeller Institute for Chemistry. He continued his education and became a medical-bacteriologist.

In 1928 he left science and made an avant-garde feature-length silent film that explored the causes of suicide. The low-budget film was well received and earned him a contract with Universal. One of Fejos' best-known films at Universal was "Lonesome." He returned to Europe during the early '30s and became a noted producer of scientific documentaries.

Glenn Tryon

Glenn Tryon (1894-1970) was born in Julietta, Ohio, educated at Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles, and appeared in tent shows and stock companies from the age of ten. He played juvenile leads in the Old Auditorium Stock Company in Spokane, Washington, and had appeared in over 200 plays when he was approached by comedy producer Hal Roach. Roach was casting about for a handsome but trouble-prone young man to replace Harold Lloyd, and he signed Tryon for the lead in the feature-length slapsstick comedy, "The Battling Orioles" in 1924.

Tryon remained at Roach as a two-reel comedy star where his ingratiating, but unmemorable, personality served as contrast for the more aggressive comic turns of supporting clowns Jimmy Finlayson and Oliver Hardy. He also starred in several moneymaking silent films, and the best was "Lonesome."

Tryon's first talkie was "Broadway" which was released in 1928 when "Lonesome" was released. His voice registered well as a selfish, synthetic hoofer with aspirations for the Big Time. But Tryon was one of many performers of this type in the early talkies that included James Cagney, and soon his star was eclipsed by others. He continued acting in B-pictures before switching over to screenwriting. A few years later he became a producer at Universal, specializing in comedies. He worked with Abbott and Costello, and he also presided over the lunacies of Olsen and Johnson's "Hellzapoppin'" in 1941.

For a brief period he was married to "Hellzapoppin'" leading lady Jane Frazee. In 1942, he moved back to Hal Roach as producer of a handful of 45-minute "streamliners," including the gloriously tasteless wartime farce "The Devil with Hitler." He occasionally was lured back before the cameras in the '40s before retiring from the screen.
A few of his two-reelers are available and a couple of his feature films - "Dames Ahoy," "Skinner Steps Out" and "Barnum Was Right."

Barbara Kent

Barbara Kent, born Barbara Klowtman, in Gadsby, Alberta, Canada, was born in 1909, and, as of 2002, she has been living in retirement for many years near Sun Valley, Idaho, and will not be interviewed regarding her screen career.

A graduate of Hollywood High School, the perky brunette won three beauty contests before she signed with Universal Studios after she was selected Miss Hollywood in 1925. Kent made her film bow as a western ingenue in "Prowlers of the Night" in 1926, and her first big role was in Harold Llyod's "Welcome Danger" after she had co-starred in a handful of Reginald Denny comedies. She played the "good" in heroine MGM's" Flesh and the Devil" starring Greta Garbo. She was menaced by villain Oliver Hardy in the western "No Man's Law," and although she made a smooth transition to talkies, co-starring with Harold Lloyd in "Welcome Danger" and "Feet First," her subsequent film roles were unremarkable. She had a leading role as Rose in Monogram's "Oliver Twist," and, after marrying a Hollywood agent, she retired from films for a year. She returned to Hollywood, and, receiving no exceptional roles, she retired completely from the screen in 1941.

Andy Devine

Andy Devine (1905-1977), was born Jeremiah Schwartz in Flagstaff, AZ, where his father ran a hotel. He briefly studied to become a Catholic priest, and he attended St. Mary and St .Benedict College, Arizona State Teachers College and Santa Clara University where he was a football star.

He had a couple of versions of his trademark ratchety voice. One was that it was the result of a childhood accident when he fell while carrying a curtain rod, pretending to play it like a trumpet. He fell down, and the rod jammed into the roof of his is mouth. Another version claims that he was walking through the woods, and, when he fell, a branch from a tree lodged in his mouth. Another version says that while a star football player at Santa Clara University, he got his gravel voice bench sitting and cheering at the games.

He decided to break into movies in 1926, and, as an extra, he worked alongside another hopeful, Walter Brennan, and got a break when he was cast in Universal's two-reel series "The Collegians." He had brief parts in a few other shorts, and he appeared in two feature films in 1928, "Red Lips" and "We Americans." When the talkies came, many of the popular stars did not make the transition due to their voices. Andy's raspy voice became his greatest asset. Until his retirement, the rotund actor was very much in demand for bucolic comedy roles. He appeared in memorable roles opposite many of the popular stars of the screen.

During the late 30's, he became a regular on Jack Benny's radio program, and during the late 1940s and early 1950s, he was a popular comedy sidekick in the western films of Roy Rogers. He had an important role in John Wayne's successful "Stagecoach," and he played a corrupt cop in Jack Webb's "Pete Kelly's Blues." Devine was very successful on television, and he was cast as Jingles Jones on the long-running western series "Wild Bill Hickock" and as host of the Saturday morning kid's program "Andy's Gang." In his later years, he was a very wealthy man due to his real estate investments and retired comfortably to his Van Nuys ranch. He gave up movie making in 1970 although he returned to provide voices for a few Disney cartoon features. He was active in civic and charitable affairs and served as honorary mayor of Van Nuys. The main street in Kingman, Arizona, is named Andy Devine Boulevard, and a museum honors his life and career.

He appeared in over 50 feature films and many shorts during his long career, and no other silent films seem to be available, although many of his sound films, including "Stagecoach," are circulating.

The World Film Encyclopedia by Clarence Winchester
All Movie Guide - http://www.allmovieguide.com
The Internet Movie Database - http://www.imdb.com
The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz
From Silents to Sound by Roy Liebman.

copyright 2003 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.

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