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Lights of Paris -- 1928


Lights of Paris  (1928)  6000 ft., 65 minutes SUPERLATIVE PICTURES.  Silent.  Black and white.

As of December 2010 the Internet Movie Database still includes Lights of Paris in Harold Bell Wright's filmography and they still list Harold Bell Wright as one of the three writers of this story. This is clearly a mistake. Harold Bell Wright had nothing to do with this movie or the story on which the movie was based. Following are the reasons we know he had nothing to do with this movie.

1. Review Credits -- The most complete and reliable contemporary review of this movie, the Film Daily review that appeared on Sunday, August 5, said the story was written by Pierre Hemp and adapted for the screen by Rene Jeanne. There is no mention of Harold Bell Wright.

2. Financial Records -- Lights of Paris is nowhere mentioned in Wright's financial records. Wright's accountant kept huge accounting books showing his royalties for everything he wrote, and even some things he didn't write, but received royalties for. Lights of Paris is not included in any accounting records.

3. Personal Correspondence -- Lights of Paris is nowhere mentioned in Wright's personal correspondence about his movies, which are extensive. In the library of the University of Arizona, Tucson, are boxes containing hundreds of pages of Wright's correspondence about both contracts for movies that were produced and for movies that were never produced. In all these records Lights of Paris is never mentioned.

4. Movie Contracts -- Lights of Paris in not mentioned in any of Wright's movie contracts.

5. Wrong Story, Language, Setting -- Wright wrote about things he was very familiar with. He usually wrote about locations and activities he had experienced for at least two years. That is why all his stories are about the western United States, the Ozarks, preachers, churches, artists, mountain people, cowboys, Indians, and deserts. With roughly three years of elementary education, Wright did not speak any French, and never traveled to France. It seems reasonable to doubt that Wright would have known how to write a story about the backstage life of French cabarets, night clubs, and stages. It seems highly unlikely anyone would have asked Wright to create such a story or that he would have agreed to the assignment if they had asked.

6. No bookings for this movie based on it being from a story by Harold Bell Wright. In 1928 the name Harold Bell Wright was still enough to draw audiences, even to very poor movies. The Shepherd of the Hills, for example, was also released in 1928 and was also panned by the critics. But out of 820 feature films released that year, it was the seventh highest money maker. It is very difficult to imagine that theater owners would have totally ignored a second film by the same author. And, of course, with no bookings for the movie, there are no movie posters, windows cards, etc. as there are for all other Wright-related movies. So there is no physical evidence that this movie was ever associated with Wright.

 

So Why is this Movie Sometimes Associated with Wright?

Answer: Because a critic for Variety magazine said the movie was "adapted from a story by H. B. Wright," and because Richard Bertrand Dimmitt, in  A Title Guide to the Talkies (New York: Scarecrow Press, 1965) said Lights of Paris" was produced by Swedish Talking Pictures and was based upon a story entitled "Fistic Cavalier" by Harold Bell Wright. (Again, copies of every story Wright wrote are in various libraries, usually in handwritten, typewritten and printed form. These files include nothing resembling "The Fistic Cavalier.")

So how do we know the Variety critic and Dimmitt were wrong? Because, as mentioned above, there is no evidence there were correct, and because they got almost everything else wrong.

1. Sloppy, Uninterested Critic -- Lights of Paris, a silent, black and white French movie, was shown Monday, July 30, 1928 in the Stanley Theater in New York City. There were at least two movie critics in the audience, one from the weekly Variety magazine and one from Film Daily, both publications for the film industry. The Variety review, which appeared Wednesday, August 1, said this movie was "adapted from a story by H. B. Wright." But the Film Daily review, which appeared Sunday, August 5, said the story was written by Pierre Hemp and adapted for the screen by Rene Jeanne. One of these critics was wrong. The Variety critic said, "other data, including the director, was not caught on slide--if given." But the Film Daily critic found all the credits. I take that to mean the Variety critic was not paying attention when the credit slide was displayed. He wasn't sure what was on the slide and what wasn't, or even if there was a slide. So where did he get his information? He doesn't say. And he was not concerned enough with getting it right to check published material. This is not a terribly convincing witness. And there are other inaccuracies. The critic doubts that the movie is French because the actors aren't French. But according to the Internet Movie Database biographical data, at least two of them were born in France and died in France. And the names of the production staff--Pierre Hemp and Rene Jeanne--suggest additional French connections. And Harold Bell Wright never went by H. B. Wright. Where did the critic get this information? He doesn't say.

2. Dimmit Got Everything Wrong: Dimmitt's book is not primary evidence. Dimmitt relied on earlier sources. He tells us he got his information about this movie from the Motion Picture Almanac of 1929. But neither that book nor the volumes for 1928 or 1930 include any mention of "Lights of Paris," Swedish Talking Pictures, or Harold Bell Wright., so it is impossible to verify Dimmitt's information -- which disagrees with all other sources. Furthermore, it is clear from Harrison's, a major movie theater owners' trade journal, that Lights of Paris was silent. Yet Dimmit tells us Lights of Paris was produced by Swedish Talking Pictures. Both the name of Dimmitt's book, A Title Guide to the Talkies, and the name of the production company suggest the movie had sound. It looks to me like Dimmit simply got everything wrong. He must have combined misinformation from the Variety critic with information for some other movie.

 

The Reviews

Reviews: I have seen two reviews of this movie: Variety, August 1, 1928, p.22,  and Film Daily (newspaper) August 5, 1928.  I will start with the Variety reviewer's credits exactly as stated: 

  • Variety Credits: "Superlative Pictures production: made and released abroad by ABA Corporation (in America by HI Mark Productions).  Adapted from a story by H. B. Wright. Other data including director not caught on slide--if given. Doris Costello, featured on billing. Among others in cast, Henry Krause, Dolly Davies, Robert Coleman, Jack Denton, Rudolph Maron."

  • The Film Daily Yearbook, 1929 (p.61) gives the following credits, which it says were submitted by the distributor: Lights of Paris (6000) [feet] Superlative Productions
      Distributor:     Hi Mark* [see below]
      Director:         Pierre Hemp
      Scenarist:        Rene Jeanne
      Editor:            Rene Jeanne
      Title Writers:   Rene Jeanne, Pierre Hemp
      Review Date:  8-5-28  [The review adds that the story was written by Pierre Hemp.]

The Variety critic expresses his opinion that the movie is only pretending to be French, "although made abroad," since the names of the actors didn't sound French [they were French]. "Nothing French about it except its locale, Paris. . . ."  I take this to mean it was filmed "on location" in Paris. Later in the review he says,  "a portion of this picture suggests that if the European native homes, people and customs were shown over here, they might be acceptable for interest, if nothing else, much as the Americans first attracted attention abroad."  Evidently he found the brief shots of the European homes, people, and customs more interesting than the rest of the movie and thinks if some theaters decide to show this movie, at least a few people will enjoy it just for the travelogue value.  

In any case, he laments,  "Nothing of marked merit in the entire picture."  

The story, he tells us, involves a young woman who left her mother's home to seek fame and fortune in the theater and cabaret. But she encounters elements of back-stage life that offend her. In the end, says the critic, "between the heavy and the other woman, the heroine ran out of the nite [sic] club, through the rain, bare headed, back to mother.  After the first night's performance she was cured."

The critic also notes that "a couple of raw bits are set forth, one especially of a Lesbian scene, but so well disguised evidently it got past the New York censors . . . ."  The other "raw" scene he describes as "a woman stepping into her bathing pool, back to the audience, but at that as a protection perhaps for the same censors, she looked to have on trunks." But the critic thinks the people who watch this film will be too naive to notice the bawdy scenes. "Very few in the picture houses this film will play can or will get the Lesbian bit, and just as well," he says.

The critic goes on to recommend to theater owners that in spite of this film's lack of merit, or maybe because of it, they might want to show it for one day, perhaps opposite "The Lights of New York," a "talker" which had been announced for release later that fall.  

The Film Daily critic was no more impressed than the Variety critic.  His report:

"Superlative--S.R. [States Rights]  Length: 6000 ft.

HOPELESS FRENCH PRODUCTION IS AMATEURISH, HEAVY AND WILL NOT SUIT AMERICAN AUDIENCES.  DIRECTION AND CAST VERY ORDINARY.

Cast . . Dolly Davies walks through her part mechanically. Robert Coleman does the same. Doris Costello (not the American Dolores) and Henry Krauss the principal support.

Story and Production . . . . Drama of Parisian life. One of those lesser French productions that has little to recommend it to American exhibitors. Production is cheap, and that goes for the cast, direction and everything. It proves slow and heavy and drags along without building any real interest. It is the old story of the nice little girl who insists on going into show life against the advice of her sweetheart. The boy is working on an airplane invention, and of course there is a scoundrel who is doing his darndest to steal the plans. It works out into some rather wild meller with the plans stolen and then recovered. Meanwhile the gal has learned that the show life is not all glitter, and returns penitent to the arms of her sweetheart.

Director, Pierre Hemp, poor; Author, Pierre Hemp; Scenarist, Rene Jeanne; Editor, not credited; Titles, Rene Jeanne; Photography, Jose Picart, poor."

It should be noted here that Film Daily always took very seriously their role in documenting the exact credits for every movie they reviewed, and even those they didn't. For every movie they include both the author and the scenarist. The author is the person who wrote the book or story that the movie is based on. My American Heritage dictionary defines a scenarist as "a writer of screenplays." So according to Film Daily, "Lights of Paris" was based on a story written by the film's director, Pierre Hemp, and adapted for the screen by Rene Jeanne. Harold Bell Wright, or "H. B. Wright" was not involved. "Meller" is early Hollywood slang for melodrama.

Evidently "Lights of Paris" was silent. "Lights of New York" (1928) was described in Harrison's, a major movie theater owners' trade journal, as the very first movie in which "the characters are made to talk all the way through as if they were acting on the stage in the flesh."  In 1928, when every theater wanted to know which movies had sound and which did not, Variety put the note "(SOUND)" under the title of movies that had sound. They said nothing about "Lights of Paris" having sound. And the editors of the Film Daily Yearbook of 1929, which published data submitted by the distributors, were proud to announce that they included an "indication where dialogue, synchronization, or sound effects are employed."  (AD=All Dialog, PD=Part Dialog, S-SE=Synchronized, Sound Effects.) They included none of those symbols with the "Lights of Paris" data.  And, of course, the Film Daily says there were two title writers. Titles were used in silent movies to inform viewers what was going on. 

 

Was Harold Bell Wright Really Involved with 
"Lights of Paris?"

I am aware of two reasons to believe this movie was based on a story by Harold Bell Wright: the Variety critic said it was "adapted from a story by H. B. Wright."  And Dimmitt, who tells us "Lights of Paris" was produced by Swedish Talking Pictures in 1928, continues, "This screen production was based upon the story entitled: FISTIC CAVALIER by Harold Bell Wright." Dimmitt gives his source for this information as Motion Picture Almanac, 1929, New York: A Quigley Publication.  As mentioned above, this book contains no information about "Lights of Paris." The Internet Movie DataBase (www.imdb.com) used the Dimmitt information. And I assume Joyce Ann Kinkead, in The Man Who Went Away, (Little Balkans Review, Vol 2, No. 1, Fall, 1981) also relied upon Dimmitt, though she told me she does  not remember where she got the information.

But here are my reasons for doubting:

1.  The Film Daily reviewer said the story was written by Pierre Hemp.

2.  Wrong Contract -- In 1922 Wright signed a contract giving Sol Lesser the rights to make movies from his existing novels, which are named in the contract. "Lights of Paris" was not one of Wright's novels and was not named in the contract. Nor was "Fistic Cavalier" named as one of his stories. Sol Lesser sometimes resold his exclusive rights, as he did in the case of "The Winning of Barbara Worth," but he could not have sold the movie rights to this story because he did not own the rights to "other stories" at this time. So Wright would have had to write a new story and enter into a new contract, perhaps with a new client. There is no record that that happened. Nor is there any evidence of Wright creating other stories for movies before the 1930's, nor of any other contracts for movies before 1928.

3.  Wrong Story Subject -- Wright wrote about things he was very familiar with. He usually wrote about places and activities he had experienced for at least two years. That is why all his stories are about the western United States, the Ozarks, preachers, churches, artists, mountain people, cowboys, Indians, and deserts. It seems reasonable to doubt that Wright would have known how to write a story about the backstage life of French cabarets, night clubs, and stages. And it seems highly unlikely anyone would have asked Wright to create such a story or that he would have agreed to the assignment if they had asked.

4.  Sloppy, Uninterested Critic -- The Variety reviewer said, "other data, including the director, was not caught on slide--if given." The Film Daily critic found all the credits. I take that to mean the Variety critic was not paying a lot of attention when the credit "slide" was shown and was relying on his memory of what was on the slide. He wasn't sure what was on the slide and what wasn't, or even if there was a slide. And he was not concerned enough with getting it right to check published material. This is not a terribly convincing witness. And there are other inaccuracies. The critic doubts that the movie is French because the actors aren't French. But according to the Internet Movie Database biographical data, at least two of them were born in France and died in France. And the names of the production staff--Pierre Hemp and Rene Jeanne--suggest additional French connections.  

5.  No Harold Bell Wright bookings or audiences. In 1928 the name Harold Bell Wright was still enough to draw audiences, even to very poor movies. The Shepherd of the Hills, for example, was also released in 1928 and was also panned by the critics. But out of 820 feature films released that year, it was the seventh highest money maker. It is very difficult for me to imagine that theater owners would have totally ignored a second film by the same author.

I do not know for sure if "Lights of Paris" was or was not based on a story by Wright, but I ser5iously doubt it. One first-hand witness says the movie was based on a story by H. B. Wright and a later compiler agrees, but a second, and much more careful, witness reports that the story was written by someone else. Should positive evidence show up indicating Harold Bell Wright wrote the story for this movie, I will add it to my list.

*Hi Mark Nana-Phone Corporation (Hi Mark Production) had a full page ad in the 1929 Film Daily Yearbook.  Home Office: 220 West 42 Street, New York City.  "We supply sound and silent pictures of every variety," they announced.  "Accurate and prompt service to state rights distributors through our domestic department.  Careful and efficient service to the foreign distributors through our export department"  Another ad in the same publication featured the company next door at 218 42nd Street, General Talking Pictures.  Neither ad mentions "Light's of Paris" or a Swedish connection.

SUMMARY:  Lights of Paris, a silent, black and white French movie, was shown Monday, July 30, 1928 in the Stanley Theater in New York City. There were at least two movie critics in the audience, one from the weekly Variety magazine and one from Film Daily, both publications for the film industry. The Variety review, which appeared Wednesday, August 1, said this movie was "adapted from a story by H. B. Wright." But the Film Daily review, which appeared Sunday, August 5, said the story was written by Pierre Hemp and adapted for the screen by Rene Jeanne. In 1965 Richard Bertrand Dimmitt wrote A Title Guide to the Talkies (New York: Scarecrow Press, 1965) for the purpose of assisting librarians in helping patrons find the original stories from which movies were made. He tells the librarians "Lights of Paris" was produced by Swedish Talking Pictures and was based upon a story entitled "Fistic Cavalier" by Harold Bell Wright. Unfortunately, the reference he gives for this information is wrong and his credits do not agree with any other source I have seen. In 1981, Joyce Ann Kinkead, in The Man Who Went Away, (Little Balkans Review, Vol 2, No. 1, Fall, 1981), included "Lights of Paris" in her list of movies made from Harold Bell Wright stories. And currently, The Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) lists the Dimmitt information.

It is clear from the evidence outlined below that the Variety reviewer got it wrong and Dimmitt, Kinkead and the Internet Movie Database mistakenly repeated his error.

 

 


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Last updated 05/26/11