Celebrating its 20th Anniversary, Paramount released a short, 55 minute feature highlighting the studios past, present, and future accomplishments. Today, considering how unavailable the films from Paramount are, it’s a rare find. I was fortunate enough to see a copy online for free which had decent quality. The first actual shot in the film is a barn, a barn which supposedly still existed in 1931 because the film shows footage of it. In this barn is where the origins of Paramount Studios began, a showcase of its humble beginnings.
The film goes begins to show clips from the very, very early films. Footage is shown of stars like Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Pola Negri, Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, Lon Chaney, and others. There’s excellent shots from many of their most memorable silent films, some of which I believe are now lost so House That Shadows Built contains the very brief segments of footage which is all that exists today.
In regard to Kay Francis, she is spotlighted as they show her picture when announcing their roster of great stars. Her name is shown on a marquee for two of her upcoming Paramount films: 1931’s 24 Hours & Girls About Town. This is basically it.
If you’re a fan who REALLY knows the Paramount film stars, you’ll be excited over the brief, dramatic footage of Ruth Chatterton in Stepdaughters of War, which was never completed. According to the film’s director, Dorothy Arzner, “There was a wonderful script called Stepdaughters of War. I’d worked on it for months with Chatterton, but she signed with Warners and it had to be called off. Warners offered her everything an actress could desire. Much later, we tried planning it with Dietrich. It was a big anti-war picture” (RC).
So the footage of Chatterton in here from Stepdaughters is the only known footage of the film known to survive. This is part of what makes House That Shadows Built unique.
Of course in the upcoming films section there are several listed productions that were never made, or were made at a much later date with a completely different cast. This includes: An Entirely Different Woman (Marlene Dietrich), Uncertain Woman (Claudette Colbert), The Round-Up (produced by Paramount 10 year later), A Farwell to Arms (Helen Hayes ended up in the released film, not Eleanor Boardman as advertised here), The Man With Red Hair, The Lives of Bengal Lancer (not made until 1935).
In regards to Kay Francis, viewing this film really puts it into perspective how unimportant she really was on the Paramount lot. She was popular with audiences, of course, but she doesn’t get the attention and hype here as some of the other female stars received. This may be in part because House that Shadows Built was released after Kay had signed with Warner Bros., and Paramount wasn’t too happy about losing her, despite the fact they had no real plans for her career to begin with.
Sources: (RC) Ruth Chatterton: Actress, Aviator, Author by Scott O’Brien, BearManor Media, 2013.
Screenshots from the film (the last two images are from Stepdaughters of War):