13 Washington Square (1928) Poster

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6/10
The Novel is Better
Maliejandra22 October 2019
Old money Mrs. DePeyster (Alice Joyce) is dismayed when her son Jack (George J. Lewis) brings home a grocer's daughter and wants to marry her. In an attempt to thwart the relationship, she switches places with her cousin and hides out in a boarding house with her maid (Zasu Pitts), but accidentally gets entangled with a crook named Pyecroft (Jean Hersholt) who intends to rob her house. They converge on 13 Washington Square but have to continuously invent lies to cover their tracks.

Early in 1927, Universal purchased the rights for the stage play NO. 13 WASHINGTON SQUARE from Brandt & Brandt. It was a highly anticipated and well-known property. May Irwin played Mrs. DePeyster on Broadway in 1915. (Film enthusiasts know Irwin from her famous appearance in the 1896 Edison film dubbed "THE KISS" in which she is kissed by John C. Rice.) Leroy Scott wrote the novel in 1914 for Houghton-Mifflin and he advised the filmmakers on the adaptation to the screen. It is easy to see why there were so many renditions of the story. Its many deceptive characters and cases of mistaken identity are perfect for the stage and screen, and although the plot is old-fashioned, it goes down easy. Possibly to differentiate it from the novel, the film version of the story attempted to add a mystery element which does not come off as successfully as the comedy.

Upon completion of BUCK PRIVATES, also featuring Pitts, director Melville Brown took on this project. It was shot at Universal City in California.

Joyce enjoyed a long career in films beginning in 1910. She was noted for her reserved maturity which often put her in roles of women older than herself, including this one which she performed at age 38. When sound came to film, this became the rule and she found herself receiving less screen time in minor character parts.

This is the second of four films Hersholt and Lewis made together, and Lewis remembered him fondly. "Hersholt was a fine actor, and very easy to work with. I remember he was always very thoughtful of the other cast members." His participation in forming the Motion Picture Relief Fund inspired the Academy to create the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

"Harry Hoyt's adaptation was very adroitly done and a new twist was given the story by fooling the characters and not the audience... Zasu Pitts contributed a great deal to the picture with her superb comedy," wrote critic Donald Beaton for "The Film Spectator." She is probably the most well-known of the cast members today. "Photoplay"'s reviewer agreed, calling for honors for Pitts but regretting that "Jean Hersholt's part does not demand acting at all commensurate with his ability."

P.G. Vaughan of the Sun Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri said, the movie "starts strong and sort of fizzles out before the end." Indeed fans of the novel will be disappointed by how much the film strays from the source material.

Overall, reviewers seemed to agree that the film was enjoyable but mediocre, except J.S. Walker in Grand Prairie, Texas who said, "If anyone ever figures out the reason for making this, please write me."
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8/10
Zasu Pitts comedy relief makes the movie.
multak-680-48180029 July 2019
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this on the big screen at the Broncho Billie Silent Film Fest and was pleasantly surprised. I confess I went to see it for Zasu, and she did not disappoint.

***Some minor spoilers about the beginning of the movie setting up the situation*** This is intended to be a comedy-melodrama, poking fun at the genera. It starts out heavy, with a social-aware society mom who forbids her son from dating a common daughter of a grocer.. "We will be taken off of the Social Register" . Mom is planning on enjoying an ocean voyage with her son and keep him away from that girl. The fun begins when the son defys his mam and stays behind to marry his girl. Mom finds out about this plan and leaves the boat with her maid (Zasu).

The society press catch wind of the family rift and the defiant marriage, so they hang outside the mansion waiting for the family to return. Both the son and later the mom return and decide to sneak in and not use the room lights to alert the press. Neither the mom & maid nor the son & his fiance know that each other is in the house creating havoc.

Zasu Pitts steals the show with her scrambling of the English language: "If we don't get air soon, well sophisticate!", and her handling of physical "haunted house" reactions.

The melodrama may seem heavy, but it is a spoof of melodramas and this just adds to the humor.

If you are a Zasu Pitts fan,this is a "Must See".
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2/10
Extremely petty larceny
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre6 November 2003
'13 Washington Square' is a real address in a very prestigious residential neighbourhood of New York City, so I'm surprised to see it as the title of a fictional film. (Henry James's novel 'Washington Square' didn't cite a specific address in its title.) The choice of the number 13 in this fictional address is even more surprising, as that triskaidecimal number is usually reserved for horror films and spooky subjects (such as Lon Chaney Jnr's abortive TV series '13 Demon Street'). '13 Washington Square' makes sporadic attempts to evoke a spooky-old-house atmosphere, but this isn't really a suspense film (and certainly not a horror film), so the '13' in the title - and the occasional attempts at emulating 'The Cat and the Canary' - are really very misleading, with no value even as red herrings.

Character actor Jean Hersholt was famously one of the most kind-hearted and public-spirited figures in Hollywood, for whom the Humanitarian Award is named. Ironically, this warm-hearted man was usually cast in heartless villain roles, until late in his career when he gained fame (on radio and in low-budget movies) as the wise and helpful Doctor Christian. A similar career arc befell Basil Rathbone, who spent most of his career playing villains until he gained fame (on radio and in some mostly low-budget movies) as the wise and helpful Sherlock Holmes.

In '13 Washington Square', as a slight change of pace, Hersholt plays a villain who is at least outwardly a virtuous man. 'Deacon' Pyecroft wears the clerical dog-collar and mild demeanour of a meek clergyman, but the truth about Pyecroft is that he's a confidence trickster and jewel-thief. (The gimmick of crook-as-priest was done better in several better movies ... in fact, Hersholt had just played a nearly identical role a few months earlier, in 'Alias the Deacon', which is a far better movie than this.) Pyecroft has set his biretta (wrong religion!) for the jewels of Mrs De Peyster, a wealthy socialite who lives at 13 Washington Square, but who conveniently has just boarded an ocean liner bound for Europe. (Leaving her jewels home, apparently.)

Not only is Pyecroft a con artist and a yeggman, but he's also a cat burglar. This is a case of over-yegging the pudding, because the plot line calls for Pyecroft to break into houses by climbing in through upstairs windows. We see some unconvincing footage of an agile stuntman doubling for the very unathletic Jean Hersholt when Pyecroft lets himself into the De Peyster digs. Don't mind me, scriptwriter, but wouldn't Pyecroft's cat-burglar antics contradict his 'deacon' disguise? Anyone who sees a 'priest' climbing in through the upstairs window is going to be suspicious...

Mrs De Peyster (no first name in the intertitles) is about to set sail for Europe when she receives a radio cablegram informing her that her respectable son Jack is about to marry prole shopgirl Mary Morgan. Shock! Horror! She disembarks at once and heads homewards, determined to break up the engagement. Meanwhile, in Washington Square, Jack and Mary need a clergyman to perform the service... when Pyecroft conveniently shows up in his deacon disguise. Various objects (including the De Peyster jewellery and the marriage licence) go missing, only to turn up in the wrong place.

This movie's multiple subplots never gel. The film is basically a farce, with some 'suspense' sequences that aren't suspenseful enough. ZaSu Pitts, a performer whom I find extremely wearying in large doses, does her usual flutterbudget routine here as the De Peysters' housekeeper, and she's lumbered with some very implausible dialogue in the title cards. She speaks several 'funny' lines that aren't funny at all, but which are genuinely painful to read on screen. Lots of doors slamming, shadows creeping down obliquely-lit hallways, hands reaching through doorways. Not so much Scooby-Doo as Scooby-Don't.

The photography, editing and art direction are quite impressive, but they seem to be trying to convince us that this is a horror movie. '13 Washington Square' straddles several genres without really belonging to any of them: it comes nearer to being a comedy than anything else, but several sequences are laughable for the wrong reasons. I'll rate this mess 2 points out of 10.
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