As part of its multi-film Howard Hawks retrospective, the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City will screen A Girl in Every Port. The 1928 film, by consensus the best of the director's silent efforts, is set to screen on Sunday, September 15, at 6:00 p.m. Renowned pianist Donald Sosin will accompany the film.
A Girl in Every Port is a buddy film which tells the story of two sailors (Victor McLaglen and Robert Armstrong) and their encounters with various women in various ports of call. Louise Brooks, under contract to Paramount, was loaned to Fox for the film. She plays the girl from Marseille, France. The other girls in other ports include Myrna Loy, Sally Rand, and Leila Hyams.
Brooks is cast as a vamp, a circus high-diver known as Marie (Mam’selle Godiva). After her act, McLaglen and Armstrong, each suitors, offer a towel - and more. 'Mlle Godiva' handles each with Lulu-like aplomb.
When A Girl in Every Port premiered in February of 1928 at the massive Roxy Theater in New York City, it played to a packed house. At the time, advertisements placed by Fox claimed the film set a “New House Record – and a World Record – with Daily Receipts on February 22nd of $29,463.” Considering admission was likely less than a dollar, that’s a lot of movie-goers in a single day – then or now.
Popular as well as critically applauded, the film received good reviews in New York’s many daily newspapers. The New York Times described it as "A rollicking comedy,” while the New York Telegram called it “a hit picture.” The Morning Telegraph pronounced it a “winner.”
Irene Thirer, writing in the Daily News, noted “Director Howard Hawks has injected several devilish touches in the piece, which surprisingly enough, got by the censors. His treatment of the snappy scenario is smooth and at all times interesting. Victor’s great, Armstrong’s certainly appreciable, and Louise Brooks is at her loveliest. The rest of the gals from other ports are good to look at, too.”
Reviewing the Roxy premiere, TIME magazine noted, “There are two rollicking sailors in this fractious and excellent comedy. . . . A Girl in Every Port is really What Price Glory? translated from arid and terrestrial irony to marine gaiety of the most salty and miscellaneous nature. Nobody could be more charming than Louise Brooks, that clinging and tender little barnacle from the docks of Marseilles. Director Howard Hawks and his entire cast, especially Robert Armstrong, deserve bouquets and kudos.”
Critics singled out Brooks, with some describing her as “pert.” Regina Cannon, writing in New York American, stated “Then comes THE woman. She is Louise Brooks, pert, fascinating young creature, who does high and fancy diving for a living. . . . Miss Brooks ‘takes’ our hero in somewhat the manner that Grant took Richmond. . . . Louise Brooks has a way of making a junior vamp and infantile scarlet lady seem most attractive.”
Nearly 90 years later, Brooks remains a magnet of meaning. Just recently, the New Yorker wrote-up the film all these years after its debut. Read the New Yorker piece by Richard Brody.
More info: A Girl in Every Port screens on Sunday, September 15, at 6:00 p.m as part of the Howard Hawks retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. Details on the Museum website.
Thomas Gladysz is an arts journalist and early film buff. In 1995, he founded the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the silent film star. Gladysz has contributed to books, organized exhibits, appeared on television and radio, and introduced the actress's films around the world.