“I’m Thirsty for Kisses” from “Why Be Good?” listed on EBay at $8.49.
A pulsating, dynamic salute to the jazz-mad, anything goes generation, the restored Colleen Moore feature, “Why Be Good?” features entertaining performances and gorgeous design set to a syncopated, synchronized symphony of hot jazz music and sound effects. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosted the United States premiere of the recently restored film at Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Bing Theatre, Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014.
Missing in action for decades, the film was located in an Italian archive and eventually repatriated by Warner Bros. Studio for restoration and addition of the original Vitaphone soundtrack, graciously provided by the Vitaphone Project’s Ron Hutchinson.
“Why Be Good?” stands as Moore’s last silent film, following the themes of her previously released movies “Synthetic Sin” and “Flaming Youth,” which portray the devil-may-care, frivolous attitudes of 1920s partying youth. As the Dec. 29, 1928, Exhibitors Herald called it, “It is a story of a modern young woman surrounded by the gin-drinking youngsters of this era who are targets for much unjust criticism.”
The story revolves around Moore’s perky, peppy Pert Kelly, a department store sales girl who shakes the shimmy and cuts a mean Charleston at nightclubs and contests. To paraphrase a line of the song “Black Bottom,” Moore’s Kelly is “The life of the party, one who goes every day.” Enjoying a madcap night at the Boiler Room nightclub, she meets cute with Neil Hamilton’s dashing department store heir, Wellington Peabody, and the couple set each other aflame. Can a girl who plays naughty at night still be nice?
Moore’s energetic performance of red-hot human dynamo Kelly steals the show, with her lively portrayal of the flirtatious flapper setting the screen afire. She also dances a mean Charleston and shimmy, a whirling dervish of flapperdom. Ray C. Brown, manager of Akron, Ohio’s Strand Theatre is quoted in Variety describing Moore as having “it, them and those.” Her passionate portrayal adds zest to the even-tempered performance of love interest, pensive playboy Neil Hamilton. Louis Natheaux oozes slimy self-regard as the oily sheik. Bodil Rosings gives a warm performance as Pert’s understanding mother. Masquers founder John Saintopolis plays her overbearing father. Mischa Auer can be quickly glimpsed dancing at the Boiler Room, with Grady Sutton and Andy Devine appearing in blink and miss them roles. Jean Harlow possibly makes a quick appearance sitting on a balcony as a drunk climbs a penthouse roof and contemplates street life below.
Originally called, “That’s a Bad Girl,” the renamed “Why Be Good?” features some double entendres and snappy, wisecracking titles by writer Paul Perez, slightly naughty and suggestive. Young urban sophisticates spend their time dancing, necking and making out, whether high-rent heirs or working-class Jacks and Jills. Even with its slightly risqué situations, a Rochester, N.Y. exhibitor thought it appropriate for those 12 and up.
The jazzy Vitaphone soore sets feet tapping to its energetic beat, featuring the stylings of 1920s jazz greats Phil Napoleon, Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, and Eddie Lang. The Jan. 26, 1929, Exhibitor’s Herald World called Vitaphone the biggest star of the film, thanks to its hot rhythms. The film’s theme song, “I’m Thirsty for Kisses and Hungry For Love” tantalizes with its energetic joie de vivre and lives up to a Warner Bros. trade ad, stating, “The wonderful Vitaphone jazz score will have them fox-trotting in the aisles!”
A still from “Why Be Good?” in the Exhibitors Herald.
Luscious costumes and dramatic sets capture the playful exuberance of the era. Slinky, form-fitting evening gowns and cocktail dresses sparkle with romantic possibilities, enhanced by dramatic cloches and accessories. Dramatic Art Deco sets feature strong vertical lines, elegant cut glass and streamlined fixtures.
Technical restoration mostly shines, though a few saw a freeze-framed image of the Boiler Room nightclub dissolve into movie footage, and others saw some jumpy duplicate frames in the last couple of reels, possibly to compensate for missing footage.
For a film that seems to positively ooze the carefree attitudes of the 1920s, New York City reviews at the time found it mostly blasé, repetitive, and hokum. Saturday night’s audience, however, lapped it up, enjoying the flirtatious performances and sensual music. “Why Be Good?” offered naughty but nice entertainment for those seeking representative examples of 1920s’ music, fashion, and attitudes.