Paid to Love (Howard Hawks / U.S., 1927):

Old World affairs and New World money, the comedy of foreign intrigue. The Mediterranean kingdom needs a loan, the American financer (J. Farrell Macdonald) on his way to meet the King (Thomas Jefferson) is stalled with car trouble. "You look dirty enough to be a mechanic," he tells the Crown Prince (George O’Brien) riding by on his jalopy, then afterward: "Here’s a real American dollar, go buy yourself a title." A ruler uninterested in marriage makes for a risky investment, a "female alarm clock" is needed, she (Virginia Valli) is found in a Parisian dive. (Her Apache fieriness is but a performance for tourists, the affable brute at the café ditches his crochet needles for an exotic knife whenever a busload of sightseers stops by.) In the year of Sunrise, a passing flirtation with pictorialism for Howard Hawks: The heroine staggers through stormy weather and into an isolated manor, the camera tracks by her side and then to the startled royal bachelor and then back to the slumped, drenched figure. (The low-angle panning POV that follows finds its completion three decades later in Rio Bravo.) A close study of Stroheim and Lubitsch is evident in the suggestive composition of a seduction (boot, dagger and spilled pearls), to say nothing of William Powell’s rendering of the playboy cousin, pencil-thin mustache impeccably stiff as he reacts to the sight of Valli doffing off her garments by pinching the tip of a banana. "The King and I would like all the details!" The triangle further solidifies in A Girl in Every Port, Arzner’s The Bride Wore Red is an often overlooked retelling. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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