Comedy / Crime / Drama

IMDb Rating 7.3 10 443

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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by evanston_dad 8 / 10

Before Bob Fosse, There Was This

I suspect that Mr. Rob Marshall watched this 1927 silent before making his recent screen adaptation of the smash-hit Broadway musical. The non-musical scenes in his version look an awful lot like this exceptional film.

Phyllis Haver provides a marvelously witty and sexy characterization as Roxie Hart, that ultimate gold digger who shoots her lover for jilting her and then becomes a media sensation. Haver puts all sorts of unique touches on the role, and her scenes during the murder trial are small gems of comic acting. The handsome Victor Varconi, looking for all the world like Liam Neeson, has a much larger role as Amos, Roxie's long-suffering husband, than any subsequent version would give that character. He's still a bit of a sap, but he's a much sharper sap than later incarnations would allow. This original version focuses much more on the domestic relationship between these two -- the roles of Billy Flynn and Mama Morton, treated so colorfully in the musical, are much diminished here, and the character of Velma Kelly is absent altogether.

The recent stage revival and movie have blunted the impact of this story's critique on the modern media and the public's responsibility in enabling our media to peddle trash. It's surprising that a film that came out nearly 80 years ago makes the same point just as candidly; one can only imagine how forceful this message must have seemed at the time.

Grade: A

Reviewed by kidboots 10 / 10

Phyllis Haver, as Roxie Hart, Has Role of a Lifetime!!

In 1924 all America was gripped by the Chicago trial of Beulah Anann for a "crime of passion' - murdering her lover, Harry Kalstedt, then apparently playing "Hula Lou" on the phonograph for about 4 hours before she decided to tell anyone about it. A couple of years later it was turned into a movie and gave Phyllis Haver, formally known as a supporting comedienne, the role of her life. The film was based on the hit play "Chicago" of the year before, Beulah became Roxie Hart and it opened out the play considerably, with some additions based on the original murder and some concocted by Hollywood screenwriters. Completely remastered and with a hummable musical score this may have been Pathe's most prestigious film - all about "a little girl who was all wrong in the big city"!!

Amos Hart (Victor Varconi) is just besotted with his flapper wife Roxie who yearns only for wealth, only maid of all work, Katie, appreciates Amos's kindness. Roxie has a "sugar daddy" (Eugene Palette) who desperately wants to give Roxie the air but she cuts him off first - shooting him through the door. Disillusioned Amos sizes up the situation but still takes the blame for the murder - however the D.A. is convinced Roxie is guilty as hell!! With the help of a publicity chasing news hound (T. Roy Barnes) who builds her up as "Chicago's Most Beautiful Murderess" and convinces her that in a few days women will be naming their babies after her - the celebrity of Roxie Hart kicks in!!

There is a hilarious fight in the woman's prison between Roxie and "Black Narcissus" with cries of "Peroxide" and "false hair!!" and they all get entangled in the prison gym equipment with May Robson acting as referee. Kind hearted Amos has to find the money to pay for the top lawyer he wants to hire and in desperation robs the lawyer but soon realises that the money is the proceeds from a recent bank robbery.

The lawyer earns his money but it is an uphill battle - "when I say virtuous look as though you know what virtuous means"!!! Roxie is found not guilty in a very funny performance in which she has the all male jury eating out of her hand and looks set to bask in her notoriety for a long time to come but when "Two Gun Rosie" slays her lover in court Roxie realises that celebrity is fickle and as disposable as yesterday's newspaper. (I thought I saw pretty Sally Eilers as one of the goggle eyed flappers in the courtroom scene). The movie finishes on a depressing note for Roxie who, even though cleared of murder, by Hollywood standards was not allowed to get off scot free for her crimes. Even Amos is left pondering what might have been at the movie's ambiguous ending.

Reviewers praised Haver to the skies for her performance - "astoundingly fine" and "makes this comedy most entertaining". She then appeared in D.W. Griffith's "The Battle of the Sexes" and a minor Lon Chaney movie "Thunder" but then it was all over for her. In 1929 she married a millionaire, William Seeman, and cited "an Act of God" clause to get out of her contract. "A millionaire wants to marry me and if that ain't an "Act of God" I don't know what is"!!!

Reviewed by F Gwynplaine MacIntyre 5 / 10

Some razzle, but not much dazzle

Yes, the 1927 silent film 'Chicago' is the same story that became the big-budget Oscar-winning musical of 2002. (There was a remake in between, 'Roxie Hart': starring Ginger Rogers.) Apart from the obvious difference that one 'Chicago' is silent and the other is a musical, both films tell exactly the same story. The major difference is that murderess Velma is a minor character in the silent version. Also, in the silent version, Roxie's husband is presented more sympathetically rather than as a fall guy.

When I saw the 2002 'Chicago', set in the Jazz Age 1920s, I was annoyed by a couple of musical numbers in which the dancers were wearing blatantly modern disco-era outfits, which would never have been tolerated in 1927. Yet, ironically, the 2002 'Chicago' does a much better job than the 1927 original in evoking the 1920s period settings. The silent-film 'Chicago' is conceived as a MODERN story, set in the jazz-baby present day, and so it makes little effort to evoke its own period. Much of this movie takes place in cramped studio sets which are supposed to be dingy walk-up flats or courtrooms, but which fail to convince.

If you've seen the recent 'Chicago', then you already know the plot of this 1927 movie, including all the surprises and plot twists. During Roxie's trial for homicide, the prosecutor (Warner Richmond) has a larger and more sympathetic role than in the musical remake. Fans of Eugene Pallette will be impressed with him here, but disappointed by how little he has to do. Phyllis Haver is excellent in the lead role, and sexier than Rene Zellweger. (Though not nearly as sexy as Catherine Zeta-Jones.)

This 'Chicago' was produced in 1927, the first year of the Academy Awards. I wonder what the people connected with this movie would have thought if someone had told them that this story would win the Oscar for Best Picture... but not until 75 years later.

I'm a silent-film fan. When a silent film is remade as a talkie, I often enjoy the silent version much more than the remake. In this case, I don't. I'll rate the 2002 'Chicago' 10 out of 10, very much deserving its Academy Award for Best Picture. I'll rate this 1927 'Chicago' only 5 out of 10. I recommend it as a curiosity, but it inevitably suffers in comparison with the musical version. Quite apart from all those razzle-dazzle dance numbers, the 2002 version actually told the STORY better.

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