Just about my favorite silent film is 1929's "Piccadilly". If you've never seen it, make a point of getting your hands on a copy. It's atmospheric, shimmering, and simmering. If you have seen it, I have no doubt that you haven't forgotten it. It stars Anna May Wong -- see, I just did it, and I'm not the only one. Here's the dvd box cover:
The fact of the matter is that Anna May Wong is not the star of this film. She's third billed. The first billed star is Gilda Gray.
Gilda Gray was the famous "Shimmy Dance Girl" and the star of vaudeville, The Ziegfeld Follies and film hits like "Aloma Of The South Seas". But 1929 was not a good year for her. For one thing, the stock market crash pretty much wiped her out and then Wong as 'Shosho' walked into and off with "Piccadilly". Gray is not bad but on the whole, she's just pretty much standard silent film fare.
Filmed in London the movie also features the very first film appearance of Charles Laughton. His screen time is short but he wrings every drop out of it as a disgruntled restaurant customer.
There is also an absolutely mesmerizing performance (in the first of only two films he ever made) by King Hou Chang as 'Jim', Shosho's brother(?)/lover(?)/friend(?).
As mysterious as the role Jim plays in Shosho's life, is the story of Chang himself. Who was he? Why did he only do two pictures? Where did he go? Research turns up nothing on him!
I digress. The point is, the movie is terrific, and it's terrific for three reasons: The directing, The cinematography (both of which leave one feeling alternately, hypnotized, woozy, and aroused!) and Anna May Wong.
Now, before we leave Ms. Wong, couple more things.
I suppose I'm like, the last one to know this but while in London, she began an affair with songwriter Eric Maschwitz, who followed her back to Hollywood where she ended things. The poor heartsick Maschwitz, wrote one of my all time favorite songs for her:
And, finally, is this a picture, or what!