Illusion (1929)

Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers … Carlee Thorpe
Nancy Carroll … Claire Jernigan
June Collyer … Hilda Schmittlap
Kay Francis … Zelda Paxton
Regis Toomey … Eric
Knute Erickson … Mr. Jacob Schmittlap
Eugenie Besserer … Mrs. Jacob Schmittlap
Maude Turner Gordon … Queen of Dalmatia

Directed by Lothar Mendes.
Produced by B.P. Schulberg.
Based on the play by Arthur Cheney Train.
Dialogue by Lloyd Sheldon.
Camerawork by Harry Fischbeck.
Edited by George Nichols, Jr.

A Paramount Picture.
Released September 27, 1929.

About the film: Illusion seems to be the only film of Kay’s to have bitten the dust,” writes Scott O’Brien, “and not circulating among collectors. The film, with Buddy Rogers and Nancy Carroll, had a circus-vaudeville theme.”

Kay was originally announced to play a society vamp in The Genius, which seems to have mirrored the plot of her later film, A Notorious Affair (1930), with Basil Rathbone. Another project was Youth Has its Fling. Neither project materialized.

Paramount ads hyped Illusion as a lavish musical spectacle. Reviewers felt the film was less than stellar. Notable New York Times critic Mordaunt Hall described the film as “a dull offering…sadly lacking in imaginative direction.” Photoplay offered to mail the reader who could figure out Kay’s purpose in the film a prize.

According to Lynn Kear and John Rossman, Kay sounds “theatrical in her delivery.” Different sources claim different statuses of the film. Apparently the UCLA Film and Television Archive has a partial copy. Illusion was one of many 1929 films made in both silent and sound movies to allow viewings in theaters which had yet to cross over. Some writers have claimed the soundtrack exists, with some of the actual footage, but not the entire film. This makes sense since Kear and Rossman only commented on Kay’s vocal performance, which implies they might not have been able to view surviving scenes which contain Kay Francis.

Of her abilities in the film, Buddy Rogers later said in an interview, “Kay Francis was stunning. Tall, dark, lovely and very bright. She was an utterly charming lady. It’s a shame they didn’t give her a bigger role in Illusion. She was very capable and appealing, even if her part was a bit. She eventually showed Paramount and Hollywood what she could do—and how!”

Illusion was the first movie Kay made with Paul Lukas, who later worked with her in The Vice Squad (1931) and her mega-hit I Found Stella Parish (1935). Director Lothar Mendes worked with Kay on The Marriage Playground (1929), Paramount on Parade (1930), Ladies’ Man (1931), and Strangers in Love (1932).

Addendum: A print of Illusion turned up and was screen in the summer of 2015 in Rome, New York.


Vintage Reviews: 

By Mordaunt Hall.
Published: September 28, 1929 in the New York Times

Charles Rogers, that popular young screen performer, is to be seen at the Paramount in an audible pictorial transcription of Arthur Train’s story, “Illusion,” a production sadly lacking in imaginative direction and in which the dialogue is more often than not open to derision.

Lothar Mendes, the director, does not reveal much skill in the filming of his scenes, and as for the lines, they are more distressing than diverting. There is little that is convincing in the episodes, whether they are concerned with the stage act of Carlee Thorpe, who doesn’t do much of anything, or in the sight of four men taking aim at a girl with army rifles, loaded, as they suppose, with regulation ammunition.

Nancy Carroll gives quite a good performance, nevertheless one wonders in what theatre they could get four men to fire at a girl, even though one of the screen theatre’s spectators explains, after the act, that the illusionist is supposed to replace the real cartridges with graphite missiles. And, also, it might seem somewhat dangerous for anybody to stand up against such missiles, considering the short distance the girl is from the rifles.

Carlee Thorpe, the conjurer, fascinates a would-be society girl named Hilda Schmittlap, whose family is hindered in its social aspirations through the fact that Jacob Schmittlapp, the father, began life as a truck driver.

Carlee, impersonated by Mr. Rogers, plays bridge with the winsome Hilda Schmittlap, and becomes so charmed by her that he neglects the partner in his act. Then comes the hardly inspired idea of the Schmittlaps not knowing that Carlee is on the stage, or that he has a queer act. Claire Jernigan, Carlee’s partner, decides to leave him, understanding that the young man is in love with the Schmittlap girl. It seems at first that Claire is much better off, but to lend a bitter touch to her life with another similar performer, this individual browbeats the girl.

The dénouement is worked out with all the finesse with which a village blacksmith might accomplish it. A real bullet is in one of the rifles being fired at Claire, and the warning from a woman is too late to stop the pulling of the trigger. But fear not for Claire, for she is only slightly hurt in the arm, and soon the benighted Carlee tells her in the hospital the old, old story and Hilda is cast aside.

Another angle to this clumsy piece of fiction is that of having Hilda’s wayward brother quite interested in Claire. This idea, of course, helps to bring the silly Carlee to his senses.

Mr. Rogers is probably acceptable in the rôle. June Collyer and Nancy Carroll, however, do the best work. Regis Toomey, who portrays Hilda’s bibulous brother, gives a performance which reveals that under more natural circumstances he might do highly creditable work.

This picture was adapted by E. Lloyd Sheldon, a Harvard graduate, who obviously stoops to conquer his audiences. Whether he succeeds or not depends upon the type of spectators who happen to witness this dull offering.

Queer Happenings.

ILLUSION, with Charles Rogers, Nancy Carroll, June Collyer, Kay Francis, Regis Toomey, Knute Erickson, Eugenie Beaserer, Maude Turner Gordon, William Austin, Emelie Melville, Frances Raymond, Katherine Wallace, John E. Nash, Eddie Kane and others, based on a story by Arthur Train, directed by Lothar Mendes; Abe Lyman and his “Californians” in “Believe It or Not.” At the Paramount Theatre.




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