Piccadilly (restored)
Ewald André Dupont, director

Review by Alyce Wilson

Piccadilly is a 1929 film starring Anna May Wong. The film has been restored, with live music performed by a keyboardist.

The movie was very much a product of its time. While I'd always heard good things about Anna May Wong, who was one of the first well-known Asian American actresses in Hollywood, I had never seen her perform.

Piccadilly's plot was very simple. Jameson Thomas plays Valentine Wilmot, who owns the Piccadilly Club in London.

He has been the sugar daddy of his featured dancer, Mabel Greenfield (played by Gilda Gray). When we first meet Mabel, she's flouncing around in feathers and sequins, clearly the queen of the club.

Mabel's dance partner, Victor Smiles (played by Cyril Ritchard), on the other hand, is too much in love with her for Valentine's comfort, so he fires him.

In the meantime, due to a complaint about a dirty dish, Valentine enters the scullery, where he sees for the first time Sho-Sho (played by Anna May Wong), dancing on a table for the admiring workers.

His first instinct is to fire her, but something about her sticks in his mind. So when he runs into her as they're leaving that night, he asks her to demonstrate her dancing for him, privately in his office. We don't follow them in and don't know exactly what happens, but the result is he offers her a job to dance in the club.

Instead of making her the opening act, he makes her the featured dancer. Of course, Mabel has a problem with this. As it becomes more and more clear that she's losing her sugar daddy, she tracks them down to Sho-Sho's apartment one night and, after Valentine leaves, confronts her and shoots her.

Of course, anyone who knows anything about the history of Asians in American film knows that a romance between an Asian and a Westerner frequently ends with similarly tragic consequences.

Suspicion falls on Valentine until a surprising twist in the trial sets him free.

The movie was a bit melodramatic in points, particularly when Mabel was on screen. She was a real drama queen. Anna May Wong was mesmerizing, with a range of emotions, especially in comparison to the haughty, overwrought Mabel and the stiff Valentine.

At times the audience laughed with the movie and at times they laughed at it. At points, there were moments where the filmmakers had clearly wanted us to laugh, such as when Anna May Wong refuses to try on a costume in front of Valentine but instead has her male friend Jim do it.

And of course, because of the earlier time period, some moments in the movie were unintentionally funny. The strange camera work during Mabel's extended dance sequence in the beginning, for example, where instead of using cuts, the camera swooped around from audience member to audience member to get their reaction.

The restored print, along with the live music, helped a modern audience to understand why, even in the middle of an otherwise mediocre movie, Anna May Wong was a sparkling star.