2005 Melbourne International Film Festival : Piccadilly (1929)
28th July 2005
Director: D.E.A. Dupont
Tagline: Love, trust, rivalry, betrayal and dancing
Set in the Piccadilly Club in London during the roaring twenties, this movie follows the story of club owner Valentine Wilmot (Jameson Thomas) and how he discovers the exotic Shoho (Ana May Wong) dancing in the scullery one night and decides to put her on to replace one of his dancers who has left.
What he doesn’t reckon on is his other top dancer, Mabel (Gilda Gray) who becomes extremely jealous of Shoho and suspects that she is trying to steal Valentine away from her. Of course, a bitter rivalry develops and things can only turn out badly, especially when Shoho’s long-suffering friend, Jim, wants her all for himself.
Although the other characters get more screen-time, Shoho is the real star of this movie. From the moment we first see her dancing on the table with her laddered stockings, wearing a beret and a sexy short dress, you know that she is going to walk all over the other characters. It was really great to see how she manipulated the situation to get what she wanted and managed to express such a range of emotions with just her eyes.
The costumes were all really great, especially the ones the dancers wore and Shoho’s black silk cheongsam was one of the best. All the men seemed to be wearing dinner suits all the time so they got the bad end of the deal here.
As it was the main setting for the film, the nightclub was a really good set and seemed really authentic. My favourite scene wasn’t actually in the nightclub, but one sequence that took place in a saloon near the Limehouse where Shoho lived. It just seemed so energetic and was packed with people.
Just describing the movie is really only telling you half of what went on, the best thing about the screening was the live score by Ernesto Corpus on the Melbourne Town Hall Grand Organ. While I was mostly watching the movie, I did look down to see him playing from time to time and he was very animated in some sections.
I thought the music suited the film perfectly, with no really overblown pieces that you would notice if they were out of place. It actually sounded like there were several different instruments in some scenes and not just the organ. My favourite music was the piece that accompanied the opening scenes and the establishing shots in the nightclub.
Overall I enjoyed the movie, even though some of the things in it seemed a bit corny (swooning, not showing punches or kisses for example.) Some of it actually seems very contemporary, as seeing people eating with chopsticks and actual Chinese people must have been seeing someone from Mars in 1929.
If you are a fan of films from the earlier part of the 20 th century, then I would recommend this movie and also if you like dancing. This film has been restored in the past few years, so there should be a good copy available on DVD if you want to track it down.