E.A. Dupont’s film Piccadilly (1929) is best remembered for the performance by Anna May Wong as a vamping dancer, Shosho, who becomes the star of the Piccadily Club and the obsession of Valentine Wilmot (Jameson Thomas), the owner of the club.
When a dispute between club owner Wilmot comes to a head with his main entertainment attraction, dancer Victor Smiles (Cyril Ritchard) who leaves for New York’s Broadway Wilmot is forced to accept that his lover, dancer Mabel Greenfield (Gilda Gray), is not strong enough to continue to fill the house each night. Struck by the unforgetable magnetism of Shosho (Anna May Wong), a recently-fired dishwasher, Wilmot gambles the whole business on her inexplicably fascinating dancing style but not until he has made a number of exploitive concessions to her including the choice of costumes and the members of her accompanying band, which places Shosho’s jealous associate Jimmy (King Ho Chang) close at hand.
With his gamble a raging success, Wilmot finds himself drawn to Shosho and alienating the affections of Mabel out with the old and in with the new. Drawn into the low-life world that Shosho remains part of, Wilmot begins a downward spiral with seduction and jealousy rampant among Wilmot, Shosho, Mabel and Jimmy that culminates in Wilmot being accused of a horrible crime. After a lengthy courtroom sequence, all ends with tragic consequences for two of the main characters. Guess who?
Alfred Hitchcock alumni Jameson Thomas, Cyril Ritchard, Harry Terry (as the bar owner against interracial dancing), and John Longden (the traveler in the sound prologue) appear in the film. Thomas does a fine job as Wilmot, but we revile Ritchard as an actor, and he’s a joke here as a dancer. Gilda Gray (the poorman’s Marlene Dietrich) fares a little better on both counts, helped by several well-conceived camera shots. But neither Ritchard nor Gray are helped by the silly choreography of the opening dance number, and the sequence is saved from total absurdity by the brief appearance of Charles Laughton as a finicky diner.
The film is stylishly directed by E.A. Dupont, with several sweeping and energetic camera moves through full sets to spice up the presentation of the story. His engaging camera setups and attention to action moving into and out of the frame raises the film far above the average cinematic fare of the late 1920s. Carl Bennett
The Milestone Collection
2005 DVD edition
Piccadilly (1929), color-tinted black & white and black & white, 108 minutes, not rated.
Milestone Film & Video, distributed by Image Entertainment, ID2141MLSDVD, UPC 0-14381-21412-3.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 1, 6 Mbps average video bit rate, 224 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 18 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $29.99.
DVD release date: 1 March 2005.
Country of origin: USA
This edition a licensed version of the BFI edition below has been mastered from restored 35mm elements, which retain many of the minor flaws present in the source material utilized for the BFI restoration of the film: moderate speckling and dust, slight emulsion damage and transient scratches. We assume that the predominantly amber color-tinting duplicates that of the surviving materials. The cumulative results of the restoration, which we have viewed both on DVD and by projected film print, are very-good to excellent.
This edition features a new small-orchestral music score composed by Neil Brand with noirish tinges accenting the overall jazzish nature of the music, which at times feels too modern and upbeat for the tone of the film. The disc’s bonus material includes the prologue from the sound version of the film with Jameson Thomas and John Longden in a dramatic introduction (5 minutes), a commentary by Brand (over scenes from the film) on composing the score for Piccadilly (20 Minutes), exerpts from a panel discussion “Dangerous to Know: The Career and Legacy of Anna May Wong” held during the 2004 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (22 minutes), a photo gallery including Anna May Wong portraits (26 photos, including repeated images), Piccadilly stills (93 photos, including repeated images) and a Piccadilly press materials gallery (10 images), plus DVD-ROM features including Five Authors in Search of Anna May Wong.
We recommend this edition of Piccadilly for Anna May Wong fans and silent film enthusiasts alike.
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2004 DVD edition
Piccadilly (1929), color-tinted black & white and black & white, 108 minutes, BBFC Classification PG.
BFI Video Publishing, BFIVD579, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 PAL, one single-sided?, dual-layered? DVD disc, Region 2, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles?, no foreign language subtitles?, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, £15.99.
DVD release date: 28 June 2004.
Country of origin: England
We have reviewed the American version of this edition above. We would expect that the film itself would be identical in presentation to the edition above. This BFI edition based on their recent restoration includes the prologue from the sound version of the film with Jameson Thomas and John Longden.
This edition features a new small-orchestral music score composed by Neil Brand with noirish tinges accenting the overall jazzish feel of the music, and biographies of E.A. Dupont and Anna May Wong.
North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 2PAL DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2011 DVD edition
Piccadilly (1929), color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 104 minutes, not rated.
Grapevine Video, no catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD-R disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $14.95.
DVD release date: September 2011.
Country of origin: USA
This edition has likely been mastered from a 16mm reduction print.
The presentation features music score compiled from preexisting recordings.
Piccadilly (1929), color-tinted black & white, 110 minutes, not rated.
Sunrise Silents, PAMW-N (NTSC) or PAMW-P (PAL), no UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC and PAL, one single-sided, single-layered DVD-R disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $21.95.
DVD release date: October? 2004.
Country of origin: USA
We do not know whether this edition from public-domain home video company Sunrise Silents has been transferred from 35mm or 16mm print materials, but we suspect that the source print was 16mm.
The film is likely accompanied by a music score performed on MIDI-driven synthesizers.
SUNRISE SILENTS has discontinued business and this edition is OUT-OF-PRINT.