The hit silent movie of the last few seasons, E.A. Dupont’s 1929 Piccadilly is both the chef d’oeuvre of the burgeoning Anna May Wong cult and a hitherto unknown addition to Dupont’s eccentric career. Recalling both his official German masterpiece Variety (1925) and first British film Moulin Rouge (1928), Piccadilly is another showbiz melodrama that similarly maneuvers a mobile camera around a splendid set to track a tawdry sexual triangle: The pomaded proprietor of Club Piccadilly (Jameson Thomas) dumps his star jazz baby (Gilda Gray) to pursue a younger performer, the lithe slum goddess Shosho (Anna May Wong), first seen entertaining her fellow scullions with a sensuous tabletop dance. Gray—famous for teaching the movies to shimmy—is the nominal star, and Charles Laughton has a cameo as a swinish club customer, but Piccadilly is stolen by Wong, a product of Hollywood High whose movie career was first boosted and then stymied by racial prejudice. Hair bobbed and banged in the manner of contemporary expatriate and sister femme fatale Louise Brooks, Wong exudes a kindred cool, appraising sexuality. Magnificently restored, alternately blue- and amber-tinted, Piccadilly is visually eloquent and often dazzling—evidence of silent cinema at its rudely aborted peak and Wong’s frustrated potential to have been among its greatest stars. Extras include a “talkie” prologue and a recent symposium on Wong.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 1, 2005