Note: This is an encore from January 2020.
Since TCM is featuring Mary Astor, here’s a brief post on her lost movie “New Year’s Eve.” (A tip of the hat to Lou Lumenick, who tweeted about the movie on — New Year’s Eve.) I also uploaded a version of this post to IMDB, in case you see it there.
Fox originally announced the film under the title “Strong Arm,” based on the story “$100” by Richard Connell, published in the August 1928 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine. The film was supposed to star Lois Moran and George O’Brien in the leads, under the direction of J.G. Blystone. Fox initially planned the movie as a talkie, but released it as “New Year’s Eve,” a silent directed by Henry Lehrman with sound effects and music, designated “sound on film.”
“New Year’s Eve,” which takes place over 24 hours, is about Marjorie Ware (Mary Astor). She’s broke and out of a job, despairing over the health of her younger brother, played by Freddie Frederick, who is languishing at home. Marjorie runs into rich gambler Larry Harmon (Earle Foxe) and – important for later – rejects his overtures. She later finds a wallet with 10 $100 bills belonging to Edward Warren (Charles Morton). He rewards Marjorie with a $100 bill that has “Happy New Year” written on it. (This is also important later).
With her windfall, Marjorie goes to a store to buy a belated Christmas present for her brother, but Steve (Arthur Stone) pickpockets the money. The toys have already been sent to Mary’s home and paid for by the landlady (Helen Ware). Marjorie comes home without the money, and the landlady evicts her.
Now desperate, Marjorie goes to the apartment of Larry, whom she spurned earlier, to borrow money. Steve also goes to Larry’s apartment, seeking revenge for a fight. Steve kills Larry.
Edward, who has followed, finds Mary with Larry’s body. Before they can leave, the butler discovers them – and the body – and calls police. And somewhere along the line Edward sees Steve with the stolen $100 bill.
Mary Astor and Freddie Frederick, Messenger Inquirer, Oct. 13, 1929.
From here, things become complicated, as two reviews give different endings. One wonders whether the movie was re-cut or whether one or both critics left before the end of the film, which received awful notices from the few publications that bothered to review it.
A publicity still from “New Year’s Eve” in “Motion Picture.”
According to “Exhibitors Herald World” (March 16, 1929), Edward is held for Larry’s murder, but Marjorie finds Steve, who admits he is the killer. Released from jail, Edward is reunited with Marjorie and presumably there’s a happy ending.
“Motion Picture News” (May 4, 1929) says Steve dies while trying to slide down a rope from the roof. Various gamblers try to take Edward for a ride, but Marjorie, finding Steve’s body, stops them.
“Motion Picture” (July 1929) panned the film, saying:
Another of those so-and-so pictures which makes you wonder just why it was written. A few points that were good, but mostly crowded with situations which you forget before you have left the theater. Too bad to waste the beauty of Mary Astor!
“New Year’s Eve” was never reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, New York Times or any major newspaper that I can find. It seems to have disappeared after 1930, presumably because there was no spoken dialogue. For now, it endures in a few publicity stills, a footnote to Astor’s career.
Henry “Pathe” Lehrman was a prolific silent film director. He directed and appeared “Kid Auto Races” which really made Chaplin a star as the tramp. He later founded L-KO Comedies. He was also the boyfriend of Virginia Rappe, who died tragically in San Francisco and has been demonized as has Elizabeth Short for events beyond them.