Chicago


1h 59m 1928

Brief Synopsis

Based on a true crime story, the movie is about a wild jazz-loving and boozing wife Roxie Hart who kills her boyfriend in cold blood after he leaves her, and how she finagles her way out being convicted. Remade once as a movie, and as a Broadway musical.

Film Details

Release Date
Mar 4, 1928
Premiere Information
New York showing: 23 Dec 1927
Production Company
De Mille Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Pathé Exchange, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Chicago by Maurine Watkins, produced by Sam H. Harris (New York, 30 Dec 1926).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 59m
Sound
Silent
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.33 : 1
Film Length
9,145ft (9 reels)

Synopsis

Chicago Cigarstand owner Amos Hart, the husband of self-centered Roxie, thinks she is the most wonderful girl in the world. Unknown to the easy-going Amos, Roxie has been having an affair with one of his customers, automobile salesman Casley. After Casley becomes disenchanted with Roxie and her spendthrift ways, he tells her they are through, then rougly throws her to the floor when she pleads with him not to leave her. As he walks out the door of the Hart's apartment, Roxie picks up Amos's gun and shoots at Casley, killing him when a bullet pentrates the door. Panicked, Roxie calls Amos and tells him that she shot a burglar. When the police arrive, Amos tries to protect Roxie, even though he has found one of Roxie's garters in Casley's pocket, and signs a confession saying that he kileld Casley. When the district attorney separates the couple, though, he tricks Roxie by lying that Amos has placed the blame on her, causing her to incriminate her self in an angry outburst. As the police take Roxie away, a reporter assures her that with her looks she can get away with murder and promises to help publicize her case. Soon all of Chicago is reading about the glamorous Roxie, much to her delight. The long-suffering Amos soon hires famed attorney Billy Flynn to defend her but when he can only raise $2,500 of Flynn's $5,000 fee, Amos sneaks into Flynn's house and steals a large amount of cash from Flynn's secret hiding place. Although he gets away following an encounter with Flynn's butler, a cheap pocket watch that he bought to replace a gold watch he had to pawn to raise money for Roxie's defence, is accidentally left behind. Flynn is suspicious when Amos pays the rest of his fee the next day but cannot prove that Amos is the thief. As Roxie's trial begins, her case has become the talk of Chicago, attracting hundreds of spectators to the counthouse. Under Flynn's tutelage, Roxie feigns innocence and virtue, all the while attracting the eyes of the all male jury with her blond curls and raised skirts. Despite the frustrated district attorney's attempts to have the case determined on the evidence, Flynn's impassioned pleas and Roxie's dramatics convince the jury to acquit her. When the verdict is reached, Roxie basks in the attention, until another woman grabs the reporters' attention when she shoots a man in the courthouse. When Roxie and Amose return home, they are greeted by two police detectives who have been looking for Flynn's stolen money. Unknown to Amos, Katie, a sweet-natured maid in their building has found the money in a broken flower pot and hidden it. When the detectives then demand to see the pocket watch that Amos bought, the same model as the one the thief left at Flynn's, Katie overhears them and enters the apartment with a similar watch which she bought with coupons Amos had given her a short time before. With no evidence linking Amos to the crime, the detectives leave, after which Katie gives him the money she found. After Katie leaves, Roxie tries to take the money but Amos finally puts his foot down and throws the money into the burning fireplace, saying that it is unclean money used by Flynn to keep guilty men from the gallows. When the money is completely burned, Amos then throws Roxie out of the apartment, after which he destroys many of her things, including her framed picture. On the rainy street, Roxie is sobered by seeing a newspaper bearing a headline about her acquital being stepped on by passersby until it finally is swept into a gutter. She walks off alone in the rain, just as Katie goes to Amos and lovingly begins to tidy up his apartment.

Film Details

Release Date
Mar 4, 1928
Premiere Information
New York showing: 23 Dec 1927
Production Company
De Mille Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Pathé Exchange, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Chicago by Maurine Watkins, produced by Sam H. Harris (New York, 30 Dec 1926).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 59m
Sound
Silent
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.33 : 1
Film Length
9,145ft (9 reels)

Articles

Chicago, the original 1927 Silent Film Comes to DVD - Flicker Alley & The Blackhawk Films Collection present CHICAGO, the original 1927 silent film adaptation of the hit Broadway play.


Before jazz baby murderess Roxie Hart strutted her stuff in the 2002 movie musical Chicago, on Broadway in the 1975 Bob Fosse-directed musical or even in the 1942 film comedy Roxie Hart directed by William Wellman, this roaring twenties wild child was the terrifically tawdry main character of a 1926 Broadway comedy by Maurine Dallas Watkins and a 1927 silent film produced by Cecil B. DeMille.

Phyllis Haver, a former Mack Sennet Bathing Beauty turned twenties sex symbol, is Roxie, a brassy, bleached blond jazz baby married to an adoring, hard-working husband while making time with a wealthy lover (Eugene Palette, the thirties comic character actor who, in the silent era, was generally relegated to heavies). She's too expensive for his blood but she doesn't take getting jilted lightly and plugs him. The sequence is a model of silent movie artistry, opening with the playfully lurid naughtiness of their affair and her teasing flirtations while dressed in a negligee and robe (the kind of sexual suggestion that thrived in the pre-code era), veering into brutality when he roughly pushes her aside and then building to the explosive fury of the murder, which blasts through the film via the ingenious and evocative visual suggestion of a shattered mirror. The hole and cobweb shatter across the glass becomes both the symbol of the killing and a reminder of the act hanging over Roxie.

The familiar musical version of the story plays Amos into a schlub and a sap, the slow-witted innocent used and dumped by Roxie. Here he's a straight shooter who dotes on Roxie and stands by her loyally even as the revelation of her mercenary nature shatters all of his illusions. Victor Varconi, an all-American type in the Joel McCrea mode, is the only real hero of the piece, and if he's initially blinded to her tawdry nature by his unconditional love, he has no illusions after watching her play up to the media, basking in the notoriety and playing the victim on the stand as she acts out a parody of a D.W. Griffith heroine.

Roxie isn't alone in her mercenary moves. The D.A. sees a big, splashy case that will make his name. The reporters see a chance to crank a lowly lover's spat murder into front page headlines: "Chicago's Most Beautiful Murderess," they pitch to Roxie, and she plays along for the tawdry glamour of the attention. Her attorney, celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn (Robert Edeson), is simply in it for the money. The victim (no innocent himself) is forgotten while everyone turns the crime into an ongoing soap opera played out in the papers. Everyone except Amos, who nonetheless gets caught up in various shenanigans including a robbery that, while adding a little dramatic excitement and tension, feels oddly out of place here and was dropped from subsequent versions of the story. The film satirizes practically every character onscreen but Amos, who is given a scuffed dignity and respectful treatment that keeps him from slipping into the role of victim.

Equal parts salacious sex comedy, broad social satire and snappy indictment of tabloid reporting and the public fascinated by such sideshow attractions, this production harkens back to the sophisticated sex comedies that DeMille specialized in from the late teens to the early twenties. Apart from the sheer salaciousness of Roxie and her wanton ways, the film turns the jailhouse scenes, where Roxie is the reigning the cellblock celebrity, into a burlesque spectacle of leggy beauties in garter and lingerie, with girl fights in place of musical numbers. In place of the charming con-man of a celebrity shyster that the musical makes of Flynn is a veritable gangster who uses his influence to extort clients and criminals. Even the jurors are corruptible, too obsessed with Roxie's leggy beauty and coy flirtations to concern themselves with such details as evidence or justice.

The original Chicago is tremendously entertaining, with all sex and corruption of the best of the pre-code sound films and the cinematic gracefulness of the peak of the silent era. DeMille's regular crew-including cinematographer J. Peverell Marley, art director (and future director in his own right) Mitchell Leisen and costume designer Adrian-gives the film the polish of his best productions. But by 1927 DeMille was known for historical epics and, most recently, the Biblical pageant The King of Kings. For all the box-office potential of the project, he didn't want his high-minded epic tainted by his involvement in something so cheerfully salacious. Frank Urson, a DeMille company veteran who had both directed DeMille productions and served as assistant director on DeMille's epics, including The King of Kings, is the credited director. DeMille only takes a "Supervision by" credit but his fingerprints are all over the film and historian Robert S. Birchard notes that DeMille personally directed numerous scenes, including eleven days of retakes. He was certainly a director who knew how to marry sex and showmanship and they come together perfectly here: he allows the audience to revel in the decadence before properly condemning it all.

Chicago was thought to be lost until a print was found in Cecil B. DeMille's private collection. The print was in near perfect shape and subsequently restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in 2006. The print and transfer on this disc, produced by Jeffery Masino and David Shepard and mastered at 25 frames per second, is excellent: clean, sharp and free of damage. Rodney Sauer (guided by the original cue sheet) prepared the compilation score that he performs with the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, a lively small combo arrangement that serves the film well. (An essay by Sauer in the accompanying booklet helpfully goes into detail on his process and choices.)

Before she wrote the play Chicago, Maurine Dallas Watkins was a reporter on Chicago's police beat who turned her coverage of female killers into sensationalistic articles. She based her fictional Roxie Hart on the crimes and criminals she covered, in particular the case of Mrs. Beulah Annon, a young married woman of indeterminate scruples who shot her lover and told her husband that he was a burglar. Annon's story is outlined in the original visual essay Chicago: The Real-Life Roxie Hart, an eight-minute original piece that features stills and reprints of original newspaper articles and an audio dramatization of an edited version of her testimony from the court transcript. The two-disc set also features two archival documentaries: the hour-long The Golden Twenties from 1950, a moderately interesting production from newsreel veteran Louis de Rochement, and the 1985 The Flapper Story, a half hour survey of the very specific sexual revolution of the 1920s that is most interesting for the numerous interviews with middle-aged and retired women recalling their experiences with the new freedoms for young women in the era. There is also a booklet with essays on the real-life inspiration and background to the play and DeMille's involvement in the production.

To order Chicago, click here.

by Sean Axmaker
Chicago, The Original 1927 Silent Film Comes To Dvd - Flicker Alley & The Blackhawk Films Collection  Present Chicago, The Original 1927 Silent Film Adaptation Of The Hit Broadway Play.

Chicago, the original 1927 Silent Film Comes to DVD - Flicker Alley & The Blackhawk Films Collection present CHICAGO, the original 1927 silent film adaptation of the hit Broadway play.

Before jazz baby murderess Roxie Hart strutted her stuff in the 2002 movie musical Chicago, on Broadway in the 1975 Bob Fosse-directed musical or even in the 1942 film comedy Roxie Hart directed by William Wellman, this roaring twenties wild child was the terrifically tawdry main character of a 1926 Broadway comedy by Maurine Dallas Watkins and a 1927 silent film produced by Cecil B. DeMille. Phyllis Haver, a former Mack Sennet Bathing Beauty turned twenties sex symbol, is Roxie, a brassy, bleached blond jazz baby married to an adoring, hard-working husband while making time with a wealthy lover (Eugene Palette, the thirties comic character actor who, in the silent era, was generally relegated to heavies). She's too expensive for his blood but she doesn't take getting jilted lightly and plugs him. The sequence is a model of silent movie artistry, opening with the playfully lurid naughtiness of their affair and her teasing flirtations while dressed in a negligee and robe (the kind of sexual suggestion that thrived in the pre-code era), veering into brutality when he roughly pushes her aside and then building to the explosive fury of the murder, which blasts through the film via the ingenious and evocative visual suggestion of a shattered mirror. The hole and cobweb shatter across the glass becomes both the symbol of the killing and a reminder of the act hanging over Roxie. The familiar musical version of the story plays Amos into a schlub and a sap, the slow-witted innocent used and dumped by Roxie. Here he's a straight shooter who dotes on Roxie and stands by her loyally even as the revelation of her mercenary nature shatters all of his illusions. Victor Varconi, an all-American type in the Joel McCrea mode, is the only real hero of the piece, and if he's initially blinded to her tawdry nature by his unconditional love, he has no illusions after watching her play up to the media, basking in the notoriety and playing the victim on the stand as she acts out a parody of a D.W. Griffith heroine. Roxie isn't alone in her mercenary moves. The D.A. sees a big, splashy case that will make his name. The reporters see a chance to crank a lowly lover's spat murder into front page headlines: "Chicago's Most Beautiful Murderess," they pitch to Roxie, and she plays along for the tawdry glamour of the attention. Her attorney, celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn (Robert Edeson), is simply in it for the money. The victim (no innocent himself) is forgotten while everyone turns the crime into an ongoing soap opera played out in the papers. Everyone except Amos, who nonetheless gets caught up in various shenanigans including a robbery that, while adding a little dramatic excitement and tension, feels oddly out of place here and was dropped from subsequent versions of the story. The film satirizes practically every character onscreen but Amos, who is given a scuffed dignity and respectful treatment that keeps him from slipping into the role of victim. Equal parts salacious sex comedy, broad social satire and snappy indictment of tabloid reporting and the public fascinated by such sideshow attractions, this production harkens back to the sophisticated sex comedies that DeMille specialized in from the late teens to the early twenties. Apart from the sheer salaciousness of Roxie and her wanton ways, the film turns the jailhouse scenes, where Roxie is the reigning the cellblock celebrity, into a burlesque spectacle of leggy beauties in garter and lingerie, with girl fights in place of musical numbers. In place of the charming con-man of a celebrity shyster that the musical makes of Flynn is a veritable gangster who uses his influence to extort clients and criminals. Even the jurors are corruptible, too obsessed with Roxie's leggy beauty and coy flirtations to concern themselves with such details as evidence or justice. The original Chicago is tremendously entertaining, with all sex and corruption of the best of the pre-code sound films and the cinematic gracefulness of the peak of the silent era. DeMille's regular crew-including cinematographer J. Peverell Marley, art director (and future director in his own right) Mitchell Leisen and costume designer Adrian-gives the film the polish of his best productions. But by 1927 DeMille was known for historical epics and, most recently, the Biblical pageant The King of Kings. For all the box-office potential of the project, he didn't want his high-minded epic tainted by his involvement in something so cheerfully salacious. Frank Urson, a DeMille company veteran who had both directed DeMille productions and served as assistant director on DeMille's epics, including The King of Kings, is the credited director. DeMille only takes a "Supervision by" credit but his fingerprints are all over the film and historian Robert S. Birchard notes that DeMille personally directed numerous scenes, including eleven days of retakes. He was certainly a director who knew how to marry sex and showmanship and they come together perfectly here: he allows the audience to revel in the decadence before properly condemning it all. Chicago was thought to be lost until a print was found in Cecil B. DeMille's private collection. The print was in near perfect shape and subsequently restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in 2006. The print and transfer on this disc, produced by Jeffery Masino and David Shepard and mastered at 25 frames per second, is excellent: clean, sharp and free of damage. Rodney Sauer (guided by the original cue sheet) prepared the compilation score that he performs with the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, a lively small combo arrangement that serves the film well. (An essay by Sauer in the accompanying booklet helpfully goes into detail on his process and choices.) Before she wrote the play Chicago, Maurine Dallas Watkins was a reporter on Chicago's police beat who turned her coverage of female killers into sensationalistic articles. She based her fictional Roxie Hart on the crimes and criminals she covered, in particular the case of Mrs. Beulah Annon, a young married woman of indeterminate scruples who shot her lover and told her husband that he was a burglar. Annon's story is outlined in the original visual essay Chicago: The Real-Life Roxie Hart, an eight-minute original piece that features stills and reprints of original newspaper articles and an audio dramatization of an edited version of her testimony from the court transcript. The two-disc set also features two archival documentaries: the hour-long The Golden Twenties from 1950, a moderately interesting production from newsreel veteran Louis de Rochement, and the 1985 The Flapper Story, a half hour survey of the very specific sexual revolution of the 1920s that is most interesting for the numerous interviews with middle-aged and retired women recalling their experiences with the new freedoms for young women in the era. There is also a booklet with essays on the real-life inspiration and background to the play and DeMille's involvement in the production. To order Chicago, click here. by Sean Axmaker

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Maurine Watkins' play was also the basis for the 1942 Twentieth Century-Fox production, Roxie Hart, directed by Nunnally Johnson and starring Ginger Rogers and George Montgomery. For information on that film and other adaptations of Watkins' play, please consult the Roxie Hart entry below.