Cast & Crew
George K. Arthur
Kiki, a Parisian gamine who lives by her wits, graduates from newspaper seller to chorus girl, then is fired from the theater when she quarrels with Paulette, the star and sweetheart of Monsieur Renal, the manager. Renal relents when Kiki begs for help and takes her to dinner, to the discomfiture of Paulette, who intrudes on the party with Baron Rapp, who is secretly wooing Paulette. She tries to humiliate Kiki, but Renal out of sympathy takes her to his home and there becomes intrigued with her beauty. Kiki continues to feud with Paulette, who conspires with the baron to lure the girl away from Renal. Following a hair-pulling match with Paulette, Kiki feigns catalepsy. Renal's sympathy turns to love; and when she "wakes up," and kisses him, he proposes marriage.
George K. Arthur
Kiki (1926) - Kiki
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
Kiki (1926) - Kiki
Kiki/Within the Law - KIKI & WITHIN THE LAW - A Silent Double Feature Spotlighting Norma Talmadge
Certainly she's the energy center of Kiki, which must have seemed a bit creaky, even in 1926. In it, she plays a Parisian gamine, jumping up and down with the sheer excitement of selling newspapers on a street corner. Drawn by the sound of a rehearsal piano to a theater preparing the new edition of its Folies, she sneaks inside, and connives her way into the chorus, falling in love with its suave, worldly impresario, Colman. Although an onstage fiasco soon ensues, she follows this coup by invading his elegant digs, upsetting his butler and mistress, respectively, but not him. Colman, fresh from Ernst Lubitsch's Lady Windermere's Fan (1926), simply remains in sophisticated mode, smile a good-natured what-have-I-got-myself-into? smile and lets Talmadge do most of the work.
She does so not only resourcefully, but with a silent actress' fully developed awareness of how to use her face, especially in close-ups. Talmadge expertly punctuates her character's spunky extroversion by using her big dark eyes as vehicles for emotion -- and also to slyly check the effect of Kiki's string of various ruses. She's convincingly tough in a cat fight with the mistress (expertly calibrated by Gertrude Astor), the choreographed scrimmages with the discombobulated butler (George K. Arthur) and the inevitable roué (Marc McDermott), lurking around backstage to threaten the purity beneath Kiki's coarse but eventually irresistible vitality. Talmadge has her hands full (at the age of 33) convincing us she's a kid. That she somehow pulls it off, makes it seem fun, and doesn't get upstaged by William Cameron Menzies' stunning art deco sets, attests to an undeniable fizz flying off the screen. (It's perhaps worth mentioning that when Pickford, aged 39, tried a musical version of the same vehicle in 1931, it flopped.)
Within the Law (1923), like Kiki, a restoration from the invaluable Library of Congress, lies right in Talmadge's wheelhouse. Here she's a working girl railroaded to prison for a theft she didn't commit. Released three years later, she wants payback. Wised up by her prison stretch, she forms a blackmail ring with a fellow ex-inmate (Eileen Percy), extracting money from amorous, well-heeled older men via a string of breach of promise suits, kept barely legal by her precaution of hiring a top-line lawyer. Her conquests include the boss's son (Joseph Kilgour, in Frank Merriwell mode). But while she feels herself falling in love with him (of course, he loves her), she's determined to make the old man feel pain, not only from having her as a daughter-in-law, but by enabling the sympathetic crook (a simpatico turn by Lew Cody) who plucked her out of the river after a suicide attempt rob the rich man's mansion.
Originating as a 1912 stage play by Bayard Vieller, it's a dusty, but study melodrama (filmed twice before as a silent -- in 1916 with Muriel Starr in Australia and in 1917 with Alice Joyce and twice as a sound film in 1930 with a sizzling Joan Crawford and a title change to "Paid" and in 1939 with Ruth Hussey). Talmadge carries its dated mechanics - including a credibility-shattering amount of police staffing -- by underplaying, beginning with the dignified suffering of the wronged shopgirl, sustained by her refined bearing as the shady but legal manipulator. There's a cumulative authority in her choice to play what could have been a tear-jerker and handkerchief-wringer with restraint. It was an astute decision, bolstered by the decision to have Percy, as her partner in crime, Aggie Lynch, wear equally fashionable clothes, but project a coarseness against which Talmadge's poise and dignity glow with a ladylike resoluteness. When Aggie takes a wad of chewing gum from her mouth and sticks it on the back of a chair in a nightclub, we know that Talmadge's Mary Turner would never chew gum in the first place.
She even saves the film from its ultimate betrayal of its initially courageous message namely, that the law works harder to serve the interests of the rich and powerful. No Edmond Dantes crying, "Revenge is mine!" at the end of The Count of Monte Cristo here. Gone is the merest whiff of class warfare or underclass bitterness as the message takes an if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em turn. Still, Talmadge makes us believe she had 'em, provides ample evidence that she had it (with applogies to Elinor Glyn and "It" girl Clara Bow), and whets our appetite for more.
For more information about Kiki & Within the Law, visit Kino International. To order Kiki & Within the Law, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jay Carr