Piccadilly

1929, Movie, NR, 108 mins

Review

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Unseen for many years, A. E. Dupont's silent rarity features the extraordinary Anna May Wong and includes early appearances by the then-unknown Charles Laughton as a persnickety club patron and leading-man-to-be Ray Milland in an extra role. In 1920s England, aging performer Mabel Greenfield (Gilda Gray) has finally secured everything she wants, including the patronage of her lover, Valentine Wilmot (Jameson Thomas), who owns the Piccadilly Club where she performs nightly. Mabel's crowd-pleasing dance partnership with younger man Victor Smiles (Cyril Ritchard) ensures a long run at the club, but Valentine fires him when Victor tries to persuade Mabel to accompany him to America. Valentine also fires dishwasher Shosho (Anna May Wong) after she causes a commotion in the club's scullery by entertaining her co-workers with an impromptu dance. On her own, Mabel can no longer attract jaded club-goers and Valentine, always looking for an edge, takes a gamble on the exotic Shosho, hoping a novelty act will attract attention. The self-possessed Shosho shows remarkably little gratitude, insisting that Valentine hire her lap dog, Jim (Kong Ho-Chang), as her accompanist and demanding an expensive costume before she'll go onstage. Shosho wows the Piccadilly's patrons and becomes an overnight sensation, and fading star Mabel begins to question Valentine's fidelity. Shosho betrays Jim by seducing Valentine; the discarded Mabel conceals Valentine’s revolver in her clutch bag and goes to Shosho's apartment for a confrontation with her younger rival. Mabel faints before she can even take out the gun, but when she awakens someone has killed Shosho and circumstantial evidence points to Valentine. As the notorious murder trial proceeds, Mabel must decide whether to tell the truth or perjure herself and allow Shosho's real killer to go free. Like Louise Brooks before her, Anna May Wong had to travel to Europe to find a star-making vehicle. Dupont's stunning evocation of London's roaring twenties would be of cinematic interest even without Wong; but her sultry presence makes this backstage melodrama a must-see. leave a comment --Robert Pardi

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