Where The High- and Low-brow Meet



Kino Lorber, the same company which has brought such classics as Metropolis, Zaza, Outside the Law, Lights of Old Broadway, and The Golem has released a superb version of the 1928 comedy 13 Washington Square which stars Jean Hersholt (known best among silent film fans for his role in the legendary 1924 film Greed) and features the comedic talents of Zasu Pitts (who also worked alongside Hersholt in Greed but also made sound comedies for which she is well-known today). NBC Universal has undertaken a 4K restoration and paired it with a musical score by Tom Howe which is wonderfully suited to the action on-screen.

It’s the classic tale of boy meets girl, girl is from the “lower class,” boy’s mother is none too pleased, boy is resolved to marry girl, mother tries to bust up the relationship—and hilarity ensues. Mrs. De Peyster (played wonderfully by Alice Joyce) is that mother. George Lewis plays her son. Lewis is a boy-next-door type…romantic enough to be believable on the screen but this story isn’t a love story. It’s a story about a mother trying to keep her son from marrying ‘below his station’ and about a man known as Pyecroft (Hersholt) showing—ah—interest in Mrs. De Peyster’s paintings.

The commentary track, narrated brilliantly by film historian Nora Fiore, was chock full of interesting information and reflections of on-screen action. Fiore noted that so much of the film revolves around audible gags which, to me, is remarkable since it’s a silent film and sometimes the rules of sound don’t apply in them (I’m thinking of Back Pay, for example). In this film, it works without becoming tedious. Audiences of 1928 loved it as well. Movie critic Mordaunt Hall began his review this way:

The silence caused in big theatres by the animated images on a screen is frequently astonishing, and it is presumed to be a sign that the picture is holding the audience’s interest. Yesterday, during some of the passages of “13 Washington Square,” the new photoplay at the Roxy Theatre, some 6,000 persons sat as still as if they were all holding their breath; suddenly the majority of the spectators broke the stillness by hearty laughter. It was most impressive, especially if you entered while the picture was on.

The New York Times, January 30th, 1928.

13 Washington Square distinguishes itself with tight editing and willingness to deliver laughs alongside some suspense. The characters proved to be relatable, interesting, and fun. Fans of Zasu Pitts, Jean Hersholt, and silent comedy in general will want to add this to their collection.