The Norma Talmadge Collection: KIKI (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
June 29, 2010 by Dennis Amith
Norma Talmadge was known for her melodramatic roles but in “Kiki”, she also shows us that she can also do physical comedy. Hilarious and fun, “Kiki” is a silent comedy worth watching and is also a wonderful inclusion for “The Norma Talmadge Collection”.
Images courtesy of © 2010 Kino International Corp. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: The Norma Talmadge Collection: Kiki
DURATION: 96 minutes
DVD INFORMATION: B&W, 1:33:1, NTSC
RATED: Not Rated
COMPANY: Kino International
Released Dated: March 2010
Directed by Clarence Brown
Written by Hanns Kraly
Based on a Play by Andre Picard
Produced by Oliver T. Marsh
Norma Talmadge as iki
Ronald Colman as Victor Renal
Gertrude Astor as Paulette
Marc McDermott as Baron Rapp
George K. Arthur as Adolphe
William Orlamond as Brule
Erwin Connelly as Joly
Frankie Darro as Pierre
From World War I until the Great Depression, the most famous sisters in the entertainment world were the Brooklyn-raised Talmadges: Norma, Natalie and Constance. Norma, the eldest, was a dramatic actress of great talent and restraint, and revered by a public that could identify with the brave, tragic heroine through a myriad of melodramas and tragedies. Appearing in vehicles with exceedingly high production values and helmed by some of Hollywood’s finest directors, Norma developed into one of the screen’s greatest actresses, and by 1920 had eclipsed Mary Pickford as the top worldwide female box-office attraction.
KIKI showcases Norma in a rare comedic performance. A high-spirited Parisian gamine is determined to become a chorus girl and win the heart of the Follies manager (Ronald Colman) — even if it means performing some rather unladylike stunts.
Set and photographed in New York City, WITHIN THE LAW follows a shopgirl who is unjustly accused of stealing, and then sent to jail. She plots revenge against her former employer, using “Rich Men’s” legal tricks, yet staying “within the law.”
— Joseph Yranski, film historian
Norma Talmadge, the actress who would become the major box office draw in the early 1920’s, even surpassing Mary Pickford in the box office at one time. Norma is the eldest sister of actress Constance and Natalie Talmadge and known for her film “Smilin’ Through” (1922) and “Secrets” (1924).
With Kino International paying their respect to both Norma and Constance with their own DVD collection, “The Norma Talmadge Collection” would include Norma’s 1926 comedy “Kiki” and her 1923 fim “Within the Law”.
Known to specialize in melodrama, Norma Talmadge hows us that she can also do comedy. And what best than to partner up with popular actor Ronald Colman (known for his comedies with Norma’s younger sister, Constance) .
In “KIKI”, Norma Talmadge plays the role of Kiki, a not so smart Parisian who has fallen for Victor Renal (played by Ronald Colman), the manager of the revue. Kiki is not very smart, doesn’t have much money and if anything, is more street smart but she can sing and dreams of becoming a chorus girl.
As for Renal, he is dating Paulette (played by Gertrude Astor) the lead performer at the theater and is a well-known socialite. But he doesn’t know that she is messing around with his good friend, Baron Rapp (played by Marc McDermott).
One day, Kiki decides to risk it all by trying out for a role as a chorus girl. Spending her rent money on a new dress, using another talent’s recommendation letter and pretending to be her in order to get the job and become closer to Victor. And eventually Kiki succeeds, but her time with Victor makes Paulette more and more jealous and now both women vie for Victor’s attention. Will Kiki be able to win Victor’s heart?
“KIKI” is presented in B&W (1:33:1) and the print is actually very good for a 1926 film. Although, some parts may have degradation at the sides, there is no nitrate problems on the main portions of the film. Also, I have to add that the cinematography for this film, especially with the various cuts and well-placed editing are well done. Overall, a well-done restoration by the Library of Congress, especially knowing that there are only three incomplete copies of this film. As for the picture quality, you will see occasional dust from the original print and interlacing.
AUDIO & INTERTITLES:
Music is performed by The Biograph Players. The music is actually well-done and the performers actually bring some depth to the music with the additional instruments and sounds. May it be a telephone ring to a thump, there are actually added sound effects to this film release.
As for intertitles, Kino International makes sure to let the viewer know that there are only three surviving and incomplete copies of this film (in English, French and in Czech). In sections where both the English and French edits survive, the two versions differ in storyline. The French titles are translated and adjusted to approximate the original storyline and thus the intertitles have different markings to show which were translated/adjusted and which were recreated from the original text. Titles reconstructed by freezing surviving original frames are not marked.
“The Norma Talmadge Collection” comes with the following special feature:
- Photo Gallery – Using your remote, viewers can scan through images from both “KIKI” and “Within the Law”.
With Norma Talmadge films, you tend to see Norma more in melodramatic type of roles, but this time, she ventures into physical comedy and she does a magnificent job.
Sure, Constance is known for her comedy roles, but where Constance uses her beauty and emotions for comedy, for “KIKI”, Norma Talmadge shows us that she is well-versatile and can do physical comedy. May it be dancing, may it be flying off stage through a harp or fighting with her female rival, she absolutely shines in this film.
If anything, “KIKI” is a film that has a lot of charm, plenty of humor and the collaboration between Norma Talmadge and Ronald Colman is fantastic!
But it’s one thing to talk about Norma’s wonderful performance and I’ve mentioned how I was impressed by the cinematography and the various cuts for the film but unfortunately the film is not perfect.
In the film, Kiki is a woman who puts everything on the line in order for her to be closer with Victor Renal. She literally stays at his place even though he is growing tired of her and her antics start to wear thin. We know that she has street smarts, we know that she put her rent and what was left of her livelihood to get closer to Victor but how far one woman would go, to make sure she stays at the home and is not thrown out, in a way I know the purpose was to show a feisty woman who is giving it her all but personally, I don’t know how Victor would permit such a thing, especially the amount of lies he has discovered about Kiki.
And thus, I think that is why I feel The Constance Talmadge Collection was much better story-wise as Constance and Ronald, despite whatever difficulties their characters had with each other, with “Kiki”, personally, the chemistry between he and Norma was not at the same level as it was with Constance and Ronald. You don’t get the sense that Victor is falling in love with Kiki and that it’s more one-sided.
If anything, “Kiki” was more like a comedic vehicle for Norma Talmadge and to show her talent. And once again, Norma Talmadge is fantastic in a comedy sense. But as a romantic comedy, for those looking for passion between the two main characters, the film was less about that and more about Norma’s physical comedy.
Overall, by no means should anyone take my criticism of the film’s plot that the film is bad because it’s not. It’s a film that has plenty of hilarious moments and the sheer amount of comedy in a silent film in conjuction with the various camera shots and how it was edited, I was quite impressed.
I know I still have yet to watch many of Norma Talmadge’s films but I will say that it was a good film and if I saw this first before the Constance Talmadge/Ronald Colman films, perhaps I may have enjoyed “Kiki” even more.
But still, a wonderful inclusion to “The Norma Talmadge Collection” and I hope that Kino International continues to release more of her films in the near future.
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