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EXIT SMILING(director/writer: Sam Taylor; screenwriters: Marc Connelly/Joseph Farnham/Tim Whelan; cinematographer: Andre Barlatier; editor: Daniel J. Gray; music: Linda Martinez; cast: Beatrice Lille (Violet), Jack Pickford (Jimmy Marsh), Doris Lloyd (Olga), DeWitt Jennings (Orlando Wainwright), D’Arcy Corrigan (Macomber), Franklin Pangborn (Cecil Lovelace), Louise Lorraine (Phyllis Tichnor), Harry Myers (Jesse Watson), Tenen Holtz (Tod Powell); Runtime: 74; MPAA Rating: NR; MGM; 1926-silent)
“The film’s most enjoyable performance goes hands down to the great character actor Franklin Pangborn.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It marks the film debut and the only silent film played by the legendary Canadian theatrical actress/comedienne Bea Lillie. She appeared in only seven films. Here she plays the plain-looking bad but ambitious actress Violet, who works as the wardrobe mistress for a traveling theater company putting on a production of “Flaming Women” but has ambitions to play the leading lady. The current star of the troupe is Olga (Doris Lloyd). It’s flatly directed by Sam Taylor (“My Best Gal”/”Coquette”/”The Cat’s Paw”) and written by Marc Connelly, Joseph Farnham and Tim Whelan.

At the East Farnham railroad stop the dejected bank teller Jimmy Marsh (Jack Pickford, Mary’s wastrel younger brother) boards the same train as the troupe. He’s a fugitive from justice after being framed by Jesse Watson (Harry Myers), vice president and cashier, who gets roadhouse bootlegger Tod Powell (Tenen Holtz) to forge Jimmy’s signature on a gambling note. Watson embezzled $5,000 to pay off a gambling debt to Powell. Thereby Jesse gets Jimmy fired and he becomes wanted as an embezzler. Jesse is also a rival in seeking the hand of Phyllis (Louise Lorraine), the pretty daughter of the bank president. She tells dad she believes Jimmy’s innocent, and loves him.

The first person on the train Jimmy meets is Violet (Bea Lillie), who is rehearsing the vamp(ire) part hoping to be the lead some day. When an actor gets fired, Violet maneuvers to get Jimmy to take his place and coaches him in the tricks of the trade. When the show plays in Jimmy’s hometown, Violet replaces him and dons male attire. She overhears backstage while performing that the law is moving in to arrest Jimmy and learns that Powell threatens to tell the authorities unless Watson gives him the money he owes. When Watson goes to give him the money, Bea dressed as a vamp delays him and Powell rats him out. Once Jimmy finds out he’s clear, he quits the show and goes back to Phyllis. In the bittersweet ending, he doesn’t realize what Violet did for him or that he left her heartbroken.

The film’s most enjoyable performance goes hands down to the great character actor Franklin Pangborn, whose flamboyant queen role where he plays the actor Cecil Lovelace was a scream.

The film was a box office flop. It had the effect of reducing Bea to only supporting roles from now on. Bea in her autobiography said of Exit Smiling “I thought it was mostly a piece of cheese.” I think her assessment is right on the money.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”