The man who made 500 movies - Page 2

The SF Silent Film Festival honors prolific director William Beaudine with a screening of 1926's 'The Canadian'

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No Brooklyn gorillas here: scenes from rural drama The Canadian.

The Canadian itself was an example of his ability to roll with the punches. Sent east by Paramount to make a football picture, he arrived in New York only to find he was now directing a rural drama instead. Improbably based on a W. Somerset Maugham play, it starred Thomas Meighan as an Alberta farmer who marries his neighbor's sister — a sort of grudge match, as she (Mona Palma) is a European society snob just recently forced here by dwindling family fortunes, and who proposes marriage herself largely to spite the brother and sister-in-law she's managed to offend.

Sometimes compared today to Victor Sjöström's 1928 The Wind with Lillian Gish, The Canadian is much less extreme in its style, melodrama, and emotions. (Its heroine doesn't nearly go mad, for one thing.) The taming-of the-snoot gist is routine, but played out with charming naturalism and restraint. A somewhat difficult, weather-challenged location shoot near Calgary paid off in admiring reviews and good business, although by then Beaudine was already well into other projects, the most immediate being SF-set Frisco Sally Levy (1927).

Beaudine nimbly transitioned into "talkies," freelancing rather than tying himself down. Yet perversely his adaptability, and knack for getting the most out of a budget, got him typed as a B-pic director rather than promoted to the front ranks. Wiped out in the 1929 stock market crash, he accepted what turned out to be a very successful stint abroad directing some of the top English comedians (notably Will Hays in 1936's deliciously titled Windbag the Sailor). But those films weren't seen in the U.S. When he returned home, Beaudine was — for reasons still murky — shut out at every Hollywood major, despite a long track record and being widely liked by coworkers.

His remaining three decades were a testimony to dogged workaholicism, versatility, and solid craftsmanship under sometimes trying circumstances. He worked for all the low-budget "Poverty Row" studios, as well as companies targeting "Negro-only" cinemas, and Protestant church circuits. He chalked up umpteen bottom-half-of-the-bill features in popular series, including dozens starring those aging adolescent cutups the Bowery Boys. He also directed infamous "sex hygiene" film Mom and Dad (1945), which for years played grindhouses and tent shows while fending off as many legal challenges as Deep Throat (1972) years later. Moving into television, he cranked out episodes of everything from The Mickey Mouse Club and Lassie to The Green Hornet — becoming surely the sole person ever to direct both Mary Pickford and Bruce Lee.

This year's Silent Film Fest contains many more treasures, from two with the "It Girl" Clara Bow (1926's Mantrap, 1927's Wings) to films by Ernst Lubitsch, Josef von Sternberg, Georg Wilhelm Pabst, and Buster Keaton; from China, Russia, and Sweden; and with irrepressible cartoon id Felix the Cat. If you loved The Artist, check out The Mark of Zorro (1920) — its leaping, grinning star Douglas Fairbanks was the unmistakable model for Jean Dujardin's Oscar-winning turn. *

SAN FRANCISCO SILENT FILM FESTIVAL

Thu/12-Sun/15, free-$42

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

www.silentfilm.org