The Girl with the Hat Box (Hyperkino Edition) DVD
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Directed by Boris Barnet
Produced in 1927
Main Language - Silent
Winsome naturalism blends with a healthy dose of slapstick in this jaunty, enjoyable comedy, says Graeme Hobbs. And the hyperkino format adds a wealth of supporting information too.
A film made to promote the sale of premium bonds for the State Peasant Loan really doesn't sound that promising, but with The Girl with the Hat Box, Boris Barnet's 1927 feature debut, he produced a jaunty caper that blends winsome naturalism with a healthy dose of slapstick, creating a film to which it is a pleasure to return.
The film tells the tale of the eponymous hatmaker Natasha (Anna Sten), a lovelorn railway cashier and homeless student Ilya. After Natasha offers the student the room that is fictitiously held in her name (so the owner can have more living space) at Madame Irene's, the Moscow hat shop to where she sells her creations, expediency turns to affection. Complicating things however (but perhaps not in the manner you might expect), is a lottery ticket with which Natasha was paid in lieu of wages.
With a ready and infectious smile, Anna Sten shines out as the sparky, spunky heroine (hoping that he had found the 'new Garbo', Samuel Goldwyn tempted her to Hollywood in 1932, only to release her from her contract after a few unsuccessful attempts to break her into the movies there), while Ivan Koval-Samborsky channels the great silent physical comedians in his portrayal of Ilya.
It's surprising just how physical and irreverent the humour is - Madame Irene's maid is more acrobat than housemaid, in the tearing about and scuffling at the climax Natasha's grandfather gets dumped in the snow, twice, and at one point the film censor's office even objected to the way that Ilya washed himself (with 'an air of hooliganism' they said). However, the film balances youthful zest with lyrical interludes and charming tenderness, as in a beautifully-judged scene in which Natasha and Ilya spend a chaste night in an almost bare room. Add to this a number of scenes filmed on the snowy Moscow streets, inventive framing and focussing and subtle comic repetition, and there is much to enjoy.
The film comes to us in its 1968 restoration (which explains some of the curious musical accompaniment), while typically comprehensive Hyperkino notes fill in the details on such things as coincidence between actors' and characters' names, workers' study faculties and even the significance of caps in the film.
Throughout it all, there is a feeling (familiar to anyone who has seen Barnet's By the Bluest of Seas) of reconciliation and a ready smile always winning out over comedy or tragedy.
Graeme Hobbs on 17th May 2012
Author of 297 reviews
A light and lyrical comedy, The Girl with the Hat Box sees Natasha and her grandfather living in a cottage near Moscow, making hats for Madame Irène. Madame and her husband have told the housing committee that Natasha rents a room from them; this fiddle just gives Madame's lazy husband a room for lounging in. The railroad clerk loves Natasha but she takes a shine to Ilya, a clumsy student who sleeps in the train station. To help Ilya, Natasha marries him and takes him to Madame's to live in the room the house committee thinks is hers. Meanwhile, Madame's husband pays Natasha with a lottery ticket he thinks is a loser, and when it comes up big, just as Ilya and Natasha are falling in love, everything gets a little complicated.
The film is presented as a 2-disc 'hyperkino edition'. Disc 1 contains the standard film in the best available print, with optional subtitles. Disc 2 contains the film, plus numerous scene-specific annotations, video clips and documents (in Russian and in English). These can be viewed on screen, contextualising the film and enhancing the viewer’s understanding. This innovative format works extremely well and is one of the most exciting developments in DVD for years. It is especially valuable for important works of world cinema whose historical contexts crave further exploration.
Length: 65 mins
Format: DVD B&W
Released: 11th May 2012
Cat No: HPK11
- 2 discs