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Silent Sunday Nights - July 2012
Remind Me


Kiki (1926) is the story of a feisty Parisian street girl and news peddler named Kiki, who falls for a revue manager, Victor, and lands a job as chorus girl. After getting this break, she proceeds to ruin the opening night performance and lose her job, but continues to use her wily charm to pursue Victor. This farcical romantic comedy was drawn from a stage play produced by David Belasco which itself was based on a 1920 novel by Andre Picard. The play was a huge success, running for 233 performances in 1921-22. First National Pictures producer Joseph Schenck paid Belasco the large sum of $75,000 for the film rights, which he saw as a great vehicle for his wife, Norma Talmadge.

Talmadge delighted audiences with her performance as Kiki, a rare venture into comedy for a star best known for serious dramas. Critics raved, with the Los Angeles Evening Herald declaring, "So thoroughly does she lose herself in the part...that it is but natural to wonder why Norma has not attempted comedy roles before." Clarence Brown, who directed Kiki, went so far as to call Talmadge "a natural-born comic.... the greatest pantomimist that ever drew breath."

Film historian Jeanine Basinger, in her book Silent Stars, wrote of Kiki: "At this stage of her career, Norma Talmadge shows a great deal of self-confidence, and she is a much more distinctive personality than in her earlier work, where she just seemed to be inserted into a role to flesh it out. Here she is the role, and she knows it. She has fun in this movie, demonstrating that Constance wasn't the only one in the family who could do physical comedy. She perfectly executes an extended sequence in which she pretends to be unconscious and stiff as a board. Her timing, as a doctor lifts her leg up and down and her arm flies up, is worthy of Mack Sennett."

Talmadge isn't the only show in Kiki, however. Ronald Colman turns in a fine performance as Victor, the revue manager, even delving into some slapstick himself. And Gertrude Astor practically steals the show in her scenes as Victor's vitriolic leading lady and mistress, Paulette. Colman had recently co-starred very successfully with Norma's sister Constance in two other pictures, and Norma specifically requested him for Kiki. He was loaned to First National from Goldwyn.

Talmadge made only three more silent movies after Kiki: Camille (1926), The Dove (1927), and The Woman Disputed (1928). After making two failed talkies, New York Nights (1929) and Du Barry, Woman of Passion (1930), she vanished from the screen. She died in 1957, at age 63. Colman moved on next to make Beau Geste (1926), his biggest silent success, and later, of course, made an extremely successful transition to sound. Kiki would be remade unsuccessfully in 1931 with Mary Pickford. But in 1926, the stars and material aligned to make Kiki the comedy hit of the year.

Producer: Norma Talmadge
Director: Clarence Brown
Screenplay: Hans Kraly; André Picard (play)
Cinematography: Oliver Marsh
Cast: Norma Talmadge (Kiki), Ronald Colman (Victor Renal), Gertrude Astor (Paulette), Marc McDermott (Baron Rapp), George K. Arthur (Adolphe), William Orlamond (Brule), Erwin Connelly (Joly), Frankie Darro (Pierre), Mack Swain (Pastryman).

by Jeremy Arnold

Jeanine Basinger, Silent Stars
Kevin Brownlow, The Parade's Gone By
Juliet Benita Colman, Ronald Colman: A Very Private Person
Sam Frank, Ronald Colman: A Bio-Bibliography
R. Dixon Smith, Ronald Colman, Gentleman of the Cinema