US, 1929, 78 minutes, Black and white.
Helen Morgan, Joan Peers, Henry Wadsworth, Fuller Mellish Jnr.
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian.
Applause is an interesting example of early sound film techniques and entertainment. It was the work of stage director Rouben Mamoulian who was employed for this film and showed a creative use of camera. He was to make such inventive films in the '30s as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Queen Christina and the first Technicolour film, Becky Sharp. He was to make fewer film during the '40s and 50s e.g. the musical remake of Ninotchka, Silk Stockings. He had success in the '40s with Blood and Sand with Tyrone Power. The film is also a vehicle for torch singer Helen Morgan, who was to make few films - e.g. the 1934 Showboat. (Morgan was the subject of a Hollywood biography in The Helen Morgan Story with Paul Newman and featuring Ann Blyth as Helen Morgan.)
The plot is the familiar backstage story and the fading and decline of a star. There is also the innocent young girl caught up in the sleazy world of burlesque. While the tone is moralising (and in the religious sequences excessively so), the film was originally banned in many countries. The film is not engrossing entertainment but it certainly has interest and reflects the qualities and techniques of the films of the late '20s.
1. An interesting entertainment, film of historical interest? Sound techniques, camera techniques, editing? The acting styles with overtones of stage and silent films? The basic plot? Rouben Mamoulian and his imaginative inventiveness?
2. Black and white photography, locations, New York in the late '20s? The range of devices for impact: focus on the legs, overhead photography and angles, collages, dream sequences? The contrast of the tranquillity of convent life with New York? The songs and their sound and staging?
3. The film as a slice of life, the sleazy background of burlesque, the cynical tone of the decline of Kitty's career, her being exploited, April's innocence being exploited by off-Broadway? The blend of the cynical and the romantic with April and Tony? The reasons for the film being banned in several countries?
4. The background of burlesque and its popularity, the film-maker's affection for burlesque, the mocking of the burlesque audiences and the close-ups of the men watching, the mockery of the hefty dancers and their style? The dances, the songs, the women involved and their friendship and clashes backstage? The men and their leering? Kitty and her life in burlesque? Her hopes for a career? The birth of April? Sending April away? April's revulsion for the burlesque when she saw her mother, yet her willingness to sacrifice herself for her mother by being in the burlesque? Her final crisis?
5. The build-up to Kitty as star, the sudden birth of April? Her dancing, being in the chorus, comedy routines with Joe? Her later teaching April the techniques of burlesque? And yet her being willing to sacrifice her daughter's presence for so many years?
6. The passing of time, Kitty's ageing, April's schooling and its seclusion, the portrait of the nuns (like pious holy pictures)? Prayers, the use of the Ave Maria, heavenly gestures? Her leaving the convent and facing the world - her dreams and the use of noise for portraying New York, the crowd sequences in the subway? April's nightmare dreams and memories?
7. Kitty's decline, her living with Hitch - and his deceiving her with Peggy? Her living on her memories. her daughter, the blackmail by Hitch, the pressures on her, being in the show and being ousted? Hitch's hostility and push? His attacks on April and yet his kissing her? Kitty and the deals and her being abandoned by her friends?
8. The portrait of the fading star, her talks with her friends, her being laughed at in the theatre, her going off to stag parties? The inability to get another job? The contrast with her love for April, her plans and protection, taking her on tour? Her not wanting April to be in burlesque? Her welcoming Tony and her hopes for April? Her final talk with her? Her decision to kill herself, the pathos of her death and the close-ups of her poster? The impact of Helen Morgan and her acting style, presence, songs? A credible emotional sketch of a melodramatic character?
9. April and her innocence, her being taken to the show, her revulsion towards burlesque, Hitch's unwanted attentions? Being caught up in this world, the tour, her learning techniques? Her encounter with Tony walking the New York streets, the happiness of their talking together, the relationship, talking on the bridge? The tour of New York and his proposal? April's decision to break off, the harshness of the clash? Her grief in the subway and return? Her snobbery, sympathy? The contrast with the possibilities in Wisconsin?
10. April's return to the sleazy world, the leering men, Hitch and his use of her? Her mother's death? The happy ending with Tony coming to rescue her from all this?
11. The perennial interest of this sleazy show-biz story - success and failure, romance and rescue? The film's being dated but of historical interest?