Duncan Sisters Score Brilliant Triumph at Gala Egyptian Premiere
'TOPSY AND EVA' RIOT OF LAUGHS, BOTH IN FILM AND PROLOGUE
By Louella G. Parsons
THE efferverscent personality of the incomparable Duncans permeated the atmosphere of Grauman's Egyptian Theater last night. Long before the curtain rose on a scene of picturesque old Southland, there was an electric air of expectancy. Rosetta and Vivian were presenting their first motion picture, "Topsy and Eva," to their severest critics, the Hollywood film colony. Moreover, they were being starred in the prologue, and the Duncan following would travel miles to hear those "two gals" sing.
Rosetta's blackface Topsy and Vivian's angel face Eva are an old story, so far as the stage is concerned, but the motion picture is for the sisters a new and untried experiment. I felt reasonably sure when Sid Grauman elected to play "Topsy and Eva" at his theater it had merit, but I did not dream that a female Charlie Chaplin in black-face was to make her debut. Rosetta Duncan is a discovery. Her pantomime, her transition from nonsense to pathos, is something that has been needed in the comedy field.
Vivian, with her fluffy blonde hair, is likewise good in her way. Although the comedy is all Rosetta's, Vivian photographs unusally well, and is what the producers would call camera material.
I am getting the cart ahead of the horse. I should really have gone into a detailed description of the prologue before I so much as mentioned the Duncans' work in the movie.
To tell the truth, I was so delighted with Rosetta's Al Jolson stuff, that I had to get it out of my system. Rosetta is to the screen what Al Jolson is to the stage, a black-face artist without an equal.
The Duncans and Sid Grauman are a great trio. The Duncans furnish the sparkling comedy and Sid offers the Graumanesque touch, now recognized as the Tiffany of showmanship. Certainly he took advantage of the way-down-south motive by giving us a generous measure of plantation life. There were the jubilee singers, tuneful and melodious; southern belles in their quaint costumes. Even the Mississippi flowed gently in the background.
SONGS ALL GOOD
Rosetta and Vivian just had to sing "Rememb'ring" along with the new numbers especially composed for this occasion. The audience not only expected it, but demanded it. Then there was that old favorite, "She Fell Down On Her Cadenza." The applause that greeted this effort must make the girls realize that no matter how many new songs they have, they must always keep a few old-time favorites in their repetoire.
Of the new songs, I like "I'm Glad My Mammy Don't Know Where I'm At." But any of their songs are good. It's not so much what the Duncans sing, as they way they sing. Their comedy is unfailing. Their burlesque on Aimee would make the saddest man in the world forget his troubles. It is riotously funny. As for their potpourri burlesqueing grand opera, I must hear it again.
The prologue, mind you, lasted an hour and ten minutes. An evening's entertainment in itself. Larry Cabellos' dance presentation and "The Rounders" were especially pleasing. Marguerite Ricard, a girl with a voice, deserves special mention for her solo work. Al and Ray Samuels, Eleanor Bingham, Claire Van Nostrand, Esther Campbell, Norm Rathert and the Duncans were called out again and again, showing that sprightliness in these prologues is the better part of real success.
"Topsy and Eva" is so short, at least it seemed to me, that one does not feel the lengthy prologue in this case is stealing precious time from the celluloid entertainment. Too often we jealously object to too much attention being given to the prologue.
Who but the Duncans would have thought of taking Harriet Beecher Stowe's serious propaganda against slavery and making a comedy out of "Uncle Tom's Cabin"? The curious part is, the poignant note of pathos here and there is almost akin to hilarious fun. Catherine Chisholm Cushing is credited with the authorship of "Topsy and Eva," but the movie idea, I feel safe in saying, emanates from that wise little head of Topsy Duncan.
It is remarkable that a production built of such flimsy material carries the interest through to the end. This is due entirely to the Duncans, whose charm and vivacity would support a much less frail scenario structure. The slapstick touches, I think, we can credit to Del Lord. There are a number that can be favorably compared to any slapstick comedy yet produced—then, there are a few that are not so funny. But even these are saved by Topsy, who never fails to get a laugh out of any situation.
David Wark Griffith was called in to add a little drama. I am willing to wager his part in "Topsy and Eva" was the great love between the ethereal Eva and her colored slavey. There are unmistakable Griffith bits here and there that have saved the picture from too much horseplay.
The titles by Dudley Early are good. They please this reviewer because they are not unnecessarily wisecracking, a thing that always ruins a comedy.
There just couldn't be a version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" without Simon Legree. He is present in the person of Gibson Gowland, ferocious and cruel enough to satisfy anyone. Henry Victor makes an aristocratic and kindly Mr. St. Clare. Myrtle Ferguson is pleasing in the part of Aunt Ophelia, while Nils Asher and Marjorie Daw furnish the love interest in roles that are not particularly big, but they do register. Noble Johnson's Uncle Tom seemed to me to be far too elegant and young. However, this Uncle Tom is only a background.
"Topsy and Eva" does one thing for us. It makes us eager to see the Duncans in other comedies—and I have an idea that Joseph Schenck, who is releasing their first through United Artists, will see that this wish is gratified. Everyone in filmland was there last night—all of them properly introduced by Hollywood's master of ceremonies, Fred Niblo.