Piccadilly (1929): Anna May Wong’s Last Silent Film, Romantic Melodrama Co-Starring Gilda Gray

Anna May Wong’s last silent film, Piccadilly, directed by E. A. Dupont, is a romantic melodrama, largely set in a night club

Valentine Wilmot’s London nightclub and restaurant, Piccadilly Circus, is a great success due to his stars, dancing partners Mabel (Gilda Gray) and Vic (Cyril Ritchard).

One night, a dissatisfied customer (Charles Laughton in his screen debut) disrupts Mabel’s solo with his complaint about a dirty plate. When Wilmot finds Shosho (Anna May Wong) distracting the other dishwashers with her dancing, he fires her.

Vic tries to persuade Mabel to go to Hollywood with him, but she rebuffs him, as she is involved with Wilmot. Before Wilmot can fire him, Vic quits. As a result, the nightclub’s business drops sharply.

Wilmot hires Shosho to perform a Chinese dance, and brings her boyfriend Jim to play the music. An instant sensation, she gets a standing ovation after her first performance.

Mabel becomes jealous of the attraction between Shosho and Wilmot, and she breaks off with him. Mabel then pleads with her romantic rival to give Wilmot up, who’s too old for her, but she refuses.

Shosho sees a pistol in Mabel’s purse and grabs a dagger, causing Mabel to faint.  When newspapers report that Shosho has been murdered, Wilmot is charged with the crime.

During the trial, he admits to be the pistol’s owner, and Jim testifies that Wilmot was Shosho’s only visitor. Mabel can recall nothing after fainting until she found herself in the streets. Realizing that either Mabel or Jim must be lying, the judge summons Jim.  Jim shoots himself, and while dying, confesses to be Shosho’s killer.

In 2004, a restored version of Piccadilly was re-released by Milestone Films, with music scored by Neil Brand, replacing Harry Gordon’s original music-and-sound effects soundtrack.

End Note:

TCM showed the restored silent film on December 30, 2018.