Menzies is the subject of an extensive retrospective at the Giornate this year, and he truly established the role of a production designed in a film. More often than not, he was more than a simple art director and even more than a production designed by today’s standards.
His sets alone are a delight. I tend to identify his style with glamour, grandeur, class but also a great sensibility for more simple settings.
In the feature that screened after the short Glorious Vamps, The Tempest (1928) by Sam Taylor, he played a huge role in the film getting made at all, as the project went through a number of directors (one of whom was Lewis Milestone) before Harold Lloyd gag man Taylor was chosen for the role. The choice of Taylor is so unusual for a John Barrymore vehicle that it makes one think whether or not Menzies guided him through it. Perhaps it is a little unfair to undermine Taylor’s work on this film.
The catalog mentions that Menzies made the sets for The Eagle, possibly my favourite Rudolph Valentino vehicle. In reality, Tempest, set in Russia during the rise to power of the communists, is a weaker companion to Niblo’s film. But it’s still worth watching also thanks to a great John Barrymore performance, but even the pug-nosed Louis Wolheim. On the first entry of my Giornate diary, I referred to Greta Garbo’s face being a cinematic spectacle or realism. The same goes for Wolheim’s, with his oddly shaped head and his pug-nose.