The Cock-Eyed World (1929) Is An Early-Talking Shell Burst
Picture Play was typical of fan magazines, being one of a bushel that ranged in cost from a dime to upwards of a quarter. Most content revolved round life of the stars and studios, while columnists gave action account of specials opening along the Main Stem. One that made history in summer 1929 was The Cock-Eyed World, which struck Fox’s Roxy like a comet and did “a new world’s peak intake for a motion picture” (Film Daily). This was money likes of which no one in the industry had seen before, attendance records fallen like ninepins off a perfect strike. Picture Play’s “The Bystander” wrote of how she joined lines for a week’s vain effort at seeing The Cock-Eyed World. She finally fainted of hunger and was taken to the Roxy’s “hospital quarters” (yes, they had such a facility, fully staffed). From there, she snuck off a recovery bed and into the auditorium, where at last the coveted smash was hers to enjoy. I report this extreme in hopes of being believed, inasmuch as I rely on account from a periodical that trafficked regular in hyperbole. Truth not to be doubted is massive hit that was The Cock-Eyed World, it stranger than fiction because few of even dedicated buffs know the film today, let alone have seen it. Opportunity is at hand to put that right, for The Cock-Eyed World streams at Amazon, Vudu, and You Tube, a Fox bouquet to what few are stalwart enough to give two hours and three or five dollars to experience this most fascinating of early talk relics. I’ve viewed twice, lost part of a first try to sleep, but emerge in full conviction that here is possibly the top-kick of peacetime service shows, a classic to be sought and savored.
How much in demand is general ribaldry smattered with dirty jokes? It must still pay, for look at glut of R-rated comedies among us. The Cock-Eyed World was a most inside peek to barracks yet made. And unlike What Price Glory?, to which it was a sequel, this one talked. In fact, The Cock-Eyed World may be the loudest feature that came out in 1929. There’s little contact with enemies because most of combat goes on between enlistees Flagg and Quirt, names we’d know as well as family members given backtrack of almost a century. There was no war on, but then again, as Victor McLaglen tells it, there’s always a war somewhere, with the
Director Raoul Walsh was ideal for The Cock-Eyed World, being a straight-ahead man whatever a changing world around him. He’d do a photo-finish on Flagg-Quirt attitude as late as Marines, Let’s Go! in the 60’s, a show so retro that an appalled Jack Kennedy said No! to Walsh helming PT 109, a to-come account of JFK’s war service over which he reserved some rights of approval. Walsh may have passed best-if-served-by status, but in 1929 and perfect timing that was The Cock-Eyed World, he held by far a truest wand to tell what a mass mob wanted. You had to know someone was doing something spectacularly right when theatres accustomed to closing by eleven were staying lit for two more shows after midnight to which every seat was filled (ask Milwaukee’s Strand Theatre management). Walsh stages much of The Cock-Eyed World like insides of a brothel. Lili Damita is the tropic noise who somehow has her dress hiked up in every scene played, her among “mamas” the troop preys on from Russian snows, back to New York with stops at Coney Island, then to Santiago where natives are killed off for no reason other than Flagg-Quirt being told by faceless authority to go and kill them off. For Walsh, it is the going and the whoring and the killing that are the stories worth telling --- all the rest can “shove off” as a blunt end title instructs us to do (yes, instead of “The End,” The Cock-Eyed World says “That’s All – Shove Off.” Is it a wonder people loved this film?)
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Flagg/McLaglen points to bombing planes at one point and shouts, “Up there is where the next war will be!,” his notice to us of coming air supremacy plus implements built to “kill, wound, maim, and destroy.” The Cock-Eyed World is a litany of bawdy conversation overheard and smutty jokes told against bacon-frying Movietone track of a primitive day, Fox’s process keen for synchronization, but noisy with impurities common to recording dialogue on film. That may actually have enhanced roughhewn romp this was. Everyone paying ways in, or ones collecting those admissions and trying to keep sound equipment off the fritz, knew sound for cock-eyed transition it was, and would remain so, until kinks were ironed out. In a meanwhile, The Cock-Eyed World was yards ahead of most early talkers, however leisurely we find it today. Exhibitor’s Herald World lauded the “bawdy humor” as something a public wanted, calling their embrace “a perfectly normal and healthy instinct,” not unlike “fancy stories” told “around a locker room.” The Cock-Eyed World should be better known and higher regarded for the priceless glimpse it gives of fighting men where wars were chased from port to port, slivers of history hardly a footnote now. The Cock-Eyed World isn’t available on DVD, but is well worth seek-out on streaming options.
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