Rouben Mamoulian, who had been a fantastically successful theater director in New York, was wooed by Hollywood to make his first film, Applause, in 1929. This Pre-Code film won rave reviews from the urban critics for its audacious angles and then-unparalleled sleazy atmosphere (unfortunately, the film was only in theaters for a few weeks before the stock market crash turned audiences off downers for nearly a decade). But half of the credit for the success of Mamoulian’s cinematic debut needs to go to Helen Morgan’s ferociously unbridled, Greek-like tragic performance as the long-past-her-prime fat performer. Plot wise, Applause was little more than an early incarnation of the sinful maternal sacrifice films that would flourish during the Depression; Morgan’s full-tilt blitzkrieg of self-pity while left forgotten and alone in her apartment brings to mind the recent Ellen Burstyn’s Oscar-nominated tour-de-force in Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (both got to wear fright-wigs). Practically as flamboyant was Mamoulian’s camera, which prowled every which way to mirror the brassy mise-en-scene. Even more impressive was its (pre-Freaks) sympathetic portrayal of a shunned community in all its self-contained, lip-biting game-face pride.
- Paramount Pictures
- 79 min
- Rouben Mamoulian
- Garrett Fort
- Helen Morgan, Joan Peters, Fuller Mellish Jr., Henry Wadsworth
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