My Hall Of Fame
So often you will here the term “hidden gem” when someone is talking about a movie they have seen, but how often does that phrase actually apply? Very few movies today have actually been forgotten or don’t have some kind of underground following. If you are looking for the next “hidden gem”, you needn’t look any further than the 1928 romantic film, Lonesome. It is about as rare a film as you can find.
Set in New York, the movie tells the story of two people lost in the chaos of life in the big city. Mary (Barbara Kent) lives in a small hotel room where her entire life revolves around the mundane tasks such as sleeping, eating and working as a telephone operator. Jim (Glenn Tryon) also lives in a hotel, and although he is decidedly less organized about his life, he still is focused on the same seemingly unimportant tasks, such as his work at a factory as a press operator.
Today is a different day for these two because everyone is released from work early for a 4th of July celebration. As all the other workers leave their jobs, they are all paired up with their respective partners, but Mary and Jim are alone and they both end up back in their hotel rooms with nothing to do. Their lives are sad because they both yearn for someone with whom they have a common bond.
They both get the idea to head to the beach, and along the way finally get their first glimpse of each other. There is an obvious attraction, and they spend the afternoon falling in love. In the evening they become separated and must try to find each other again among the endless crowds that surround them.
Simply put, Lonesome is a brilliant film. It has everything that a great romance should have. It was made during the akward transition into talking pictures, so there are a couple of scenes with dialogue that feel out of place. However, the rest of the movie moves along nicely, with great camera movement and amazing technical aspects, that resemble many of the great filmmakers of the day.
Paul Mejos is not a commonly known director, but it won’t be long before his movies and directorial talents become more popular around the world. Born in Hungary in 1897, he knew from a young age that he wanted to direct on the stage. After much hesitation from his family, they came to the agreement that after he finished school, he would be allowed to pursue the career of his choice. In 1921, he received his M.D. from the Royal Hungarian Medical University of Budapest. At last, at the age of 24, he could begin directing.
After many moves and many jobs, Mejos ended up in Hollywood, in 1926. He made his directorial debut with an independent picture, The Last Moment (1928). When Charlie Chaplin saw the film he distributed it through United Artist, and in a wide release it got outstanding reviews. It was considered revolutionary, but unfortunately it is now considered to be a “lost film”. Lonesome was the movie that Mejos made next, and itself is an amazing accomplishment in filmmaking.
By 1931, Mejos had made a couple of other American movies, but had decided he was done making films the “Hollywood” way. He moved back to Europe and made movies there. Before long, he was filming what are essentially documentaries all over the world. He worked extensively in Madagascar and then in Peru, where he personally discovered 18 “lost” Inca cities. If that wasn’t enough, he moved back to the United States where he spent the remainder of his life being at the top of the field of anthropology.
Although Mejos spent his life in various fields, as time continues and his surviving films become more widely known, he is going to be remembered for his ingenuity and revolutionary filmmaking. Thanks to the beautiful restoration by the Criterion Collection, Lonesome is now available to anyone, and as most of us are seeing this movie for the first time, it is going to start getting the recognition that it deserves. It won’t be long before Lonesome begins appearing on some of the “must see” lists that create so much discussion today.
Along with Lonesome, the Criterion edition includes Paul Mejos’s The Last Performance (1929) and Broadway (1929). I look forward to enjoying these films as well.