271 Great Directors: Rouben Mamoulian

“Realism and naturalism are not for me. I think it’s too feeble an instrument.”


What Got This Director Here?
: His early streak of hits.

My Favorite Past Experience Was…: Love Me Tonight.

What Did I Watch: City Streets (his only unseen early work) and a Queen Christina rewatch to make sure I wasn’t underestimating it.

Where Does He Fit: I’m sorry for underestimating Queen Christina the first time out. How could I have missed that it’s a sincere Scarlet Empress, complete with deep seated gayness? A drastic oversimplification, perhaps, but Camille made me really cotton onto Garbo’s charms, especially when that infamous final shot of her staring into nothing comes around, or she monotones her way through the snow monologue yet suggests tremendous depths of feeling. The best kind of melodramatic trash, and now I have to wonder how Mamoulian fell off the director ranking so badly even with only one film to his name that has a real grip on the public consciousness.

garbo_queen_christina
City Streets had a big, Sylvia Sidney sized advantage coming into it anyway, but in this forerunner to You and Me’s ridiculousness in exposing that crime really does not pay, she does typically great work, and serves as the perfect prop even for a director who does odd, funny things like having cat statues for the shot-reverse shot pattern between a gangster and one of his underlings’ girlfriend when the former is talking about how he wants to kill her lover. That is Mamoulian’s aesthetic in here for you, a case of doing things just for the hell of it. Applause was the debut, this is a sophomore slump that is still pretty excellent (most of his lesser works come post-Christina even if there’s some decent stuff there). I have now seen half of the Mamoulian filmography and I’m sad that his career sort of faded out, but his talent in staging plays was no doubt compensation.

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Most Valuable Asset: Another early pioneer, this time in sound and shooting style. Early long take inventor.
Most Excited For: Silk Stockings?
Did They Deserve a Spot?: Sure, but sadly only LMT gets its due.

Coming Up Next: Hollywood craftsman Philip Kaufman.

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