They wouldn't fool you...
The movie camera never lies -- or so they say. A house with a front door thirty miles from the living-room on which it opened, nevertheless provides one of the most interesting production secrets of Christopher Bean.
The home of the doctor (enacted by Barrymore) played an important part in the drama and great care was necessary to make it real and convincing.
It was to be a rambling house with rooms for a large family and perhaps a couple of spare rooms for hospitable purposes.
A "property" structure was considered unsuitable and a search had to be made for a ready-made building that was "in character" for the part.
...Well, not much
Eventually the exact type of home required was found at Norwalk, thirty miles from the Metro-Goldwyn Studios at Culver City.
Here all the "location shots" were made. On several occasions Barrymore, Miss Dressler and other members of the cast were filmed entering the front door of the house.
But the living-room on the other side of the door was on a studio set where the interiors were made. Separate "entrances" bridged the gap.
A "money spinner"
Christopher Bean, incidentally must have proved a wonderful money-spinner for its French author, Rene Fanchois.
It must be the most "adapted" play of the year. Sidney Howard the famous Broadway playwright, translated it, adapted it to a New England setting and put it on New York.
In Fanchois' original version the jealous elder daughter of the family concerned was the heroine, but Howard, while retaining the basic idea, made Abby, the maid, the central character.
Emlyn Williams, one of our most brilliant actor dramatists also chose to make Abby the heroine when he came to adapt the piece for London audiences -- this time as a story of an English family and with a British setting. Edith Evans, incidentally, played the part with a Welsh accent.
The play has been a tremendous hit and has made "big money" in both capitals as well as in Paris.
Painting as Star
I wonder how many people who have seen the new M.-G.-M. talkie have admired the painting of "Abby" which has one of the most important parts in the picture.
It was painted from an old, faded photo of Marie Dressler, taken long before even her musical comedy successes in New York.
The picture precipitates the entire dramatic climax of the story and it had to be accurate because it is constantly on view.
An artist took the photograph and the script of the play. He made a painting exactly following the descriptions in the lines spoken by the players, then used the old photo as a guide in painting the face. The illusion was perfect.
"To play a character on the screen one has not only to learn the nature of that character, but find its actual soul."
That is the formula that Lionel Barrymore invariably uses when he is given a role to play and that is what he did in the case of the characterisation of the old country doctor in Christopher Bean.
He delves into the psychology of the character he is to portray until he really feels that he knows him intimately - that he is a vital living creature, not just a figment of imagination. It was in this way that he has so successfully depicted the varied emotions of the doctor, who, urged by greed, becomes a dishonest and cunning schemer, but becomes his old, honest self again when he realises the. depth of one woman's faith.
Believing in the Character
"The thing to ask oneself," says Barrymore, "is, first, if what the character is to do and feel is possible. It has to be worked out so that the actor can believe it himself.
"Then he can make his audience do so too. To do that one must take into consideration every little quirk in the character. When you know what you are telling, the business of telling it becomes fairly simple. The lines, the inflections, the business of the part - all these things are means by which the story of the character is convincing and worth the telling."
A Proud Boast
By the way, Lionel Barrymore pays a graceful tribute to Marie Dressler. He says it was a rare treat to act with her because she is not only a great artiste but a great personality.
"To have shared an entire play with her," he says, "is something I shall always boast about, just as I boast of my friendship in years gone by for John L. Sullivan. Such things are more than mere memories. They are events of a lifetime."
In all the bustle and hubbub of the film studio there sometimes comes a happy reunion of old friends perhaps separated for some time.
This happened to Marie Dressler whilst working on this picture.
A quiet little man walked on to the set to be received by such a boisterous greeting of which only Marie is capable.
He was Jack Pearl, who is famous on the radio in New York as "Baron Munchausen," and he had come to make his screen debut in Meet the Baron.
Jack Pearl, some years ago, was one of the cast of the last stage show in which Marie Dressler appeared, a Shubert Winter Garden Revue in New York.
Marie is like that - she never forgets a friend.
Jean Hersholt, who is quite one of the most dependable of character actors, had been back holidaying in his native Denmark and this picture marks his first role since he returned. He has often proved to be the backbone of a picture of indifferent quality and here he fits into the construction of the plot with all his accustomed polish and naturalness.
Jean Hersholt, by the way, has appeared twice before with Marie Dressler, in Dinner at Eight and Emma.