I’ve always wondered where the film canon resides—what are the visiting hours? Then I fancy it as a columbarium: Haunted perhaps but no soul in the walls.
Among floating images of time-honored bronze urns in well-appointed niches, I can easily picture "classic" faces like Garbo’s and Cary Grant’s. Astaire and Rogers gliding down some endless gallery where time, politics and choreographic imperfection have all been banished, a case of deeply inoffensive ars gratia artis.
However, there's no place within the rhapsodized canonical order to ensconce a Frankie Darro, leading his own junior army of unemployed masses in William A. Wellman's Wild Boys of the Road (1933). As a countervailing force to American optimism and the Crash, Darro’s physiognomy says, essentially, that 1933 is a banner year for breadlines. Scowling mastiff. Lipless malevolence tapering from a massive square cranium to an angular jaw framing a surly, petulant mouth. Eyes like suspicious ink spots. In The Mayor of Hell (minted the same nadir year as Wild Boys), Darro bumps-off a reform school warden; and, naturally, no citizen with moral conscience fails to give an ovation (!). Yet so far the canon remains mute—unimpressed.
Special thanks to David Cairns
Part of our on-going series Depression Lessons.