But Gilbert, stereotyped as a Great Lover of the silent screen, had already broken type in Bell's excellent Man, Woman and Sin (1927; Saturday, Oct. 19, at 2:30, 6, and 9:30 p.m. with Downstairs). Gilbert widens his eyes and stiffens his gait as a naive cub reporter with a heavy crush on his publisher's mistress. Late in the film we find him hiding in a haunted house, shrieking and clinging to Mother; no "Great Lover" emoting here. Legendary stage star Jeanne Eagles, meanwhile, takes complete command of the screen as the mistress, bemusedly incredulous at the gauche Gilbert and suitably full-throttled in the climactic last reel, which Bell films dynamically in a riot of off-angle, deep-focus, and extreme close-up shots.
Bell also shows a flair for imaginative filmmaking in 1927's After Midnight (Friday, Oct. 18, at 6:15 and 9:30 p.m.), as an aspiring cabby's big talk fills the screen with a fleet of the autos he'll someday own. There's a theme here; Bell evinces a lively interest in the class struggles of the upward-bound in movie after movie. In this, one good and one not-so-good sister find different and equally empty ways to earn $1,000 in U.S. bonds. As the good sister, Shearer is a remarkably classy and aristocratic cigarette girl, while chorine Gwen Lee is at once irritating, amusing, and sad as the not-so. (Shearer and Lee are also teamed in Upstage, the second feature Friday [8 p.m.], while Shearer appears in two roles in Lady of the Night, showing Sunday, Oct. 20 [4:30 and 7:45 p.m.]. Shearer's granddaughter will be present on both Friday and Sunday.)
Nineteen twenty-six's The Torrent (also on Sunday, 2:45, 6, and 9 p.m.) is rather less interesting than the silent Gilbert and Shearer films, souvenirs as they are of lost American dreams. It's a trite melo set in a backlot Spain, surrounding an impossibly young and fresh Greta Garbo with gesticulating character actors and the Viennese-born "Latin lover" Ricardo Cortez, an actor with all the sincerity of a Roberto Alomar apology. Cortez's innate bogusness is actually used well here, however, and Bell navigates the claptrap smoothly enough. Garbo fans will particularly enjoy seeing her try on various personas: The world-weary character she will immortalize takes shape right before your eyes.
"Directed by Monta Bell ..." runs Friday through Sunday at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St.; call 863-1087.