Manhandled [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (16th April 2018).
The Film

Thorndyke's department bargain basement shopgirl Tessie (Indiscreet's Gloria Swanson) lives a life of day-to-day drudgery and just wants to go out and have some fun. Her mechanic boyfriend Jim (Side Street's Tom Moore), however, is a workaholic and aspiring inventor who wants to save up so they can get married. When Thorndyke's playboy son Chip (The Bat's Arthur Housman) and novelist Paul Garretson (Beau Geste's Paul McAllister) witness Tessie sassing the floorwalker when he reprimands her, Garrettson sees her as the ideal model for the heroine of his next book. Chip invites her to a classy party given by sculptor Brandt (Queen Christina's Ian Keith), and social-climbing colleague Pinkie Moran (The Cat Creeps's Lilyan Tashman) encourages her to break her date with Jim. When she phones Jim and he tells her he has to work late, Tessie gets all dolled up and goes to the party unaware that Jim was actually planning to surprise her with tickets to a show. Attempting to be elegant and alluring, Tessie humiliates herself in front of the other guests but Pinkie turns it around by convincing her to do some of her impressions which amuse host Brandt who offers her three times her weekly wages to pose for him. Tessie comes home to find Jim who tells her that he wanted to celebrate before he went to Detroit where an invention of his has caught the interest of an auto manufacturer. Tessie shares her good news as well, but Jim warns her that she is playing with fire. Tessie takes up Brandt on his offer but he becomes frustrated with his work and blames her for his lack of inspiration. When he gets fresh, she tries to flee and is "rescued" by fashion designer Arno Riccardi (The Wizard of Oz's Frank Morgan) who makes her what seems like a safer offer: to pose as a Russian countess in his shop to attract rich American women enamored of the aristocracy. Although Riccardi makes his own half-hearted overtures towards Tessie, he also tries to warn her when Chip fills up her social calendar with events that give her the opportunity to show off her new outfits and hobnob with high society. When Jim returns from Detroit a wealthy man, will he still desire a woman who has been Manhandled.

"I am big. It's the pictures that got small," said Swanson's Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, and perhaps many audience members know only knew Swanson from that unforgettable character may have assumed that she spent much of the golden age of Hollywood playing dramatic roles like her character's comeback as Salome. While Swanson did essay some dramatic leads for which she earned a reputation as a "clothes horse," she also lampooned that reputation in a handful of comedies made with Allan Dwan (Driftwood) among their many romantic and dramatic collaborations at Paramount Pictures during the silent era. The woman once dismissed by Charlie Chaplin as lacking comic timing spikes a morality tale about the perils of being a working girl in the big city with some brilliantly staged and executed physical comedy that more than makes up for the character's inconsistent combination of naiveté and sass – Chip calls her "the little Bolshevik" – and her boyfriend's likening her being manhandled to the "pawed over" goods she sells in the bargain basement. The core of the dramatic side is well-established in Tessie's outlook which colors her perspective of the married neighbors in her tenement as being no better off than she and Jim are unmarried without money, and she sees the opportunities offered as model, "actress", and "escort" as her means of matching her boyfriend's own rise in prominence. Although the modern viewer may root for Tessie to realize that she is better off on her own than with someone who regard her as "used," the actual ending apparently met with standing ovations. Swanson is in no way limited by the lack of sound recording, able to convey a variety of emotion without "emoting" while simultaneously "playing dress-up" for different kinds of audiences within the film. Swanson's final collaboration with Dwan would also be a comedy, the even more nuanced and accomplished Stage Struck.

Video

Long unavailable legitimately, this Paramout silent comes to 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen Blu-ray in less-than-optimal form. The 2K master is a composite of 16mm elements from both the French company Lobster Films and the Indiana Uniersity Libraries Moving Image Archive as no 35mm materials are known to still exist. The image is sofer with larger grain than Kino Lorber's Blu-ray transfer of other Paramount silents, and the image is riddled with scratches throughout. Missing portions give way to considerably dupier inserts and the image has not been tinted.

Audio

No complaints about the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track since it is a new recording of a piano score by silent film accompanist Makia Matsumura.

Extras

The sole extra on the disc is an audio commentary by film historian Gaylyn Studlar, author of "This Mad Masquerade: Stardom and Masculinity in the Jazz Age", who contextualizes the film's narrative within the context of Hollywood's fascination with women's sexuality and the Production Code-enforced need to offer moral condemnation of it even in comedies. She also makes a case as to why "clothes horse" Swanson resonated with audiences, particularly women as she was a film fan who followed her idol Wallace Beery (Beggars of Life) to Hollywood and married him (the first of six husbands), and as the modern flapper alternative to "old fashioned girl" Mary Pickford. She also discusses the film's pointed commentary on consumerism, urban life, tenement living, working girls, and the poor during a period when lower class audiences sought escapism. A booklet by Peter Labuza goes a long way towards discussing the ways in which the film compares to other Swanson/Dwan comedies that are not as yet so readily accessible to the home viewer.

Overall

 


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