Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Riley the Cop (1928)

Leisurely, minor comedy directed by John Ford, about a kindly and fun-loving old beat cop who is sent to Germany to extradite a neighborhood boy falsely accused of embezzlement after running off to Europe to be reunited with his sweetheart. Riley lives it up on his little whirlwind European adventure, taking in the beer halls, cabarets and nightclubs, even finding romance along the way, as he transports his innocent prisoner back to the States where things end expectedly well for everyone.

Ford stock company regular J. Farrell MacDonald has a nice starring turn in the title role, giving a warm, understated performance, ably supported by the fine comedienne Louise Fazenda as his love interest, along with such familiar faces as Billy Bevan, Dell Henderson, Otto Fries, and Rolfe Sedan in bit parts. Ford demonstrates his skill with comedy here, which feels much more relaxed and natural than the often heavy-handed cornball humor found in his dramatic features. His direction keeps the pace leisurely but never dragging during the course of the six-reel picture. There are a couple of moments that show the distinctive Ford style, particularly Riley's meeting with the boy in his jail cell, with its ethereal overhead beam of light shining down on the young man that brings to mind the final scenes in THE INFORMER seven years later. There is another visually inventive moment in which the camera focuses on the face of the girl's jealous suitor through the shop window, watching the young couple and capturing his changing expressions as we see their actions reflected in the glass.

Charles G. Clarke's cinematography shimmers, employing nice camera moves throughout, as well as some good uses of deep focus, particularly in the early scenes, to keep the background action and characters from getting lost in the frame. The art director is uncredited, which is a shame since the design is quite effective -- particularly the Munich beer gardens re-created on the Fox backlot, which demonstrate the results of the studio resources put in to even a relatively small film such as this.

As an obscure and perhaps undeservedly forgotten film from an important filmmaker, it is still a pleasantly entertaining light comedy.

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