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Kyle Kersten was a true friend of TCM. One of the first and most active participants of the Message Boards, “Kyle in Hollywood” (aka, hlywdkjk) demonstrated a depth of knowledge and largesse of spirit that made him one of the most popular and respected voices in these forums. This thread is a living memorial to his life and love of movies, which remain with us still.

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Recently Watched Silents


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#1 LawrenceA

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Posted Today, 02:41 PM

#4 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

The Big Parade (1925) - Standard-setting war movie from MGM and director King Vidor. John Gilbert stars as James Apperson, the spoiled layabout son of a wealthy business leader. When America enters World War 1, James's father insists he enlist and learn some strength of character. He very reluctantly agrees, leaving behind a sweetheart (Claire Adams). In the Army, James makes unlikely friends with blue-collar high-rise worker Slim (Karl Dane) and street-smart bartender Bull (Tom O'Brien). The three try to make sure they all get through alive. James also meets French girl Melisande (Renee Adoree), complicating his lovelife. Also featuring Hobart Bosworth, Claire McDowell, Robert Ober, Rosita Marstini, and Julanne Johnston.

 

Brothers-in-arms, the hell of battle, the difficulty in readjusting to home life stateside; all of these future war movie cliches came together first here. Gilbert, sans mustache, gets to play a real character arc, from callow youth to hardened yet enlightened veteran. Dane and O'Brien are both terrific as his war buddies, and Adoree is adorable. Vidor shows the many facets of war, from the uncertain terror of waiting at night in your foxhole knowing that a bomb could drop at any moment, to the epic scale panorama of marching troops, tanks and bi-wing airplanes blazing from the skies above. One particularly nerve-wracking sequence sees the American soldiers slowly making their way through a dense forest as German snipers pick them off one by one. This movie was a real revelation to me when I saw it the first time many years ago, as it showed me that a silent film could be just as mature, sophisticated and compelling as those from the sound era.   9/10

 

Source: Warner Bros DVD, featuring audio commentary from historian Jeffrey Vance, and a short silent look at the MGM backlot circa 1925.

 

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#2 LawrenceA

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Posted Yesterday, 11:46 PM

#5 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari  (1919/1920) - German Expressionism taken to the extreme in this proto-horror art-film from director Robert Wiene. Werner Krauss is Dr. Caligari, a hypnotist and carnival showman who amazes audiences with Cesare the Somnambulist (Conrad Veidt), whom Caligari keeps in a box and who answers Caligari's every command. No sooner have they come to town and started their shows when a series of murders begins. Francis (Friedrich Feher) believes Caligari and Cesare to be the culprits, but the police don't believe him. Meanwhile, Francis's wife Jane (Lil Dagover) comes to the doctor's attention, and he sends Caligari to claim her. Also featuring Hans Heinrich von Twardowski and Rudolf Lettinger.

 

This is one of the most widely seen silent films due to its ubiquitous appearances on public domain VHS tapes and DVDs over the years. It's visually unsettling, with its hyper-stylized sets that often make no pretense at reality. The story is also unusual, as the entire thing is meant to evoke either a nightmare or insanity. Conrad Veidt and his iconic look in the film have been hugely influential across mediums, from films to music to television. I'm uncertain about the year for this film, as I've always seen it as 1919, but IMDb has it as 1920.   9/10

 

Source: Kino Blu Ray, featuring a very effective score, as well as a 50-minute documentary on the film's making and its impact. After first seeing this movie many decades ago on a cheap public domain VHS tape, to see it presented here, meticulously restored and in full HD Blu Ray glory, it is quite breathtaking. Many of the images are as crystal clear as anything from the present.

 

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#3 LawrenceA

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Posted Yesterday, 07:28 PM

#6 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

The General (1926) - Buster Keaton in the Civil War. Keaton plays a southern railroad engineer who is first in line to join the Confederate army when war is declared. Instead he's deemed too valuable to the south in his current capacity so his enrollment is rejected. However, when a contingent of Union spies steal a train, and southern girl Annabelle (Marion Mack) along with it, Buster sets out in his locomotive to stop them. Much acrobatic hilarity ensues. Also featuring Glen Cavender, Jim Farley, Frederick Vroom, and Charles Henry Smith.

 

Keaton does what he does best here, and never better, as the physical and visual gags pile up. They are often so funny that you forget how truly dangerous they were. Keaton trying to use a train-mounted cannon is one highlight, as is his flipping of a railroad tie off of the tracks as he's standing on the front-mounted "cow-catcher". This was very expensive at the time, and proved to be a box office disappointment, which is baffling to me, as I find it to be the best of Keaton's features, and I find Keaton to the best of the silent-era comedians.   9/10

 

Source: Kino DVD.

 

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#4 LawrenceA

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Posted Yesterday, 05:59 PM

#7 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

The Last Laugh (1924) - F.W. Murnau's haunting look at old age and obsolescence stars Emil Jannings as an elderly doorman at a fancy hotel. His abilities have been on the wane as his age has forced him to slow down, but he still takes great pride in his position and his fancy uniform. His entire existence is shattered when he gets fired, and he begins a slow descent into madness. Also featuring Maly Delschaft, Max Hiller, Emilie Kurz, and Hans Unterkircher. 

 

Murnau is playing with broad strokes here, not even bothering to name his main character beyond his position. The director's publicized disdain for intertitles is once again on display as less than a dozen appear in the entire film. The visual aesthetic is remarkable, though, with wonderful interplay between shadow and light creating mood and atmosphere. The use of stylized sets adds an ethereal ambiance, and there are several noteworthy effects used. Some have viewed the ending as tacked on and disingenuous, negating everything that came before. I disagree, although if the film had left it out it would have made for a truly devastating experience. As it is, the resolution can be taken as wishful thinking on the part of the main character, or a positive ending to a downbeat story, which would have been welcome in Germany at the time.   9/10

 

Source: Kino DVD, a two-disc set containing two versions of the movie, one the restored original German, the other the export version with a different score.

 

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#5 LawrenceA

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Posted Yesterday, 03:01 PM

#8 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

Die Nibelungen (1924) - Director Fritz Lang's 288 minute fantasy epic, adapted by Thea von Harbou from the poem. The film is split into two parts.

 

Siegfried - The first section tells the tale of the great hero Siegfried (Paul Richter) who, after forging a mighty sword, slays a dragon and bathes in its blood, granting him virtual invincibility. He later encounters a race of treasure-hoarding dwarfs before heading to the kingdom of the Burgundians in hopes of marrying the beautiful Princess Kriemhild (Margarete Schon). The marriage will only be consented to if Siegfried will first help Kriemhild's brother, King Gunther (Theodor Loos) win the hand of Brunhild (Hanna Ralph), the fierce Queen of Iceland.

 

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Kriemhild's Revenge[SPOILERS] After Siegfried is slain via the treachery of King Gunther at the end of part one, his now-widow Kriemhild swears vengeance against her own family and people. She accepts the marriage proposal of the brutish King Etzel of the Huns (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) and bears him a son in exchange for Etzel's promise to enact Kriemhild's plan for revenge.

 

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The effects here are often primitive, and perhaps even laughable to most modern audiences, but I like them nonetheless. The first half features all of the fantasy elements, and they are intriguing in their early film incarnations. The two female leads, Schon as Kriemhild and Ralph as Brunhild, aren't exactly beauties by modern standards, and they both often resemble men in drag, but that adds to the visual uniqueness of the production. The second half more closely resembles a costume war epic, with many sword battles and the like. Schon is intense and much more interesting as the vengeful Kriemhild, while Klein-Rogge, in heavy makeup, is a strange Hun. This is quite an intimidating undertaking with its 5-hour running time, although those with the patience to watch it will be rewarded.   9/10

 

Source: Kino DVD, on two discs, each devoted to one half of the film. There are also behind-the-scenes photos.

 

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#6 LawrenceA

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Posted 20 August 2017 - 09:55 PM

#9 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

Sunrise (1927) - F.W. Murnau's American film debut was this stylized romantic drama for Fox. George O'Brien is The Man, a country farmer married to The Wife (Janet Gaynor). Their life seemed idyllic, but The Man grew bored and began an affair with The Woman From the City (Margaret Livingston), who convinces The Man to murder his wife so that they can be together. When The Man is rowing The Wife across the lake for a visit to The City, he begins to make his move, but his conscience won't allow him to follow through. This begins a journey for The Man and The Wife in the City, where they learn to love each other again. Also featuring Bodil Rosing, J. Farrell MacDonald, Ralph Sipperly, and Jane Winton.

 

Murnau and crew once again create an artificial yet compelling storybook world of cinematic wonderment. The camerawork is deceptively complicated and innovative, while the forced perspective sets and miniature work is still visually pleasing. The story is archetypal, and the last act is moving in its emotional weight. At the first Oscars this won an award only from that year, Best Picture - Unique and Artistic Production, as well as winning for Best Cinematography and Best Actress (Gaynor, one of 3 films cited). It also garnered a nomination for Best Art Direction.   9/10

 

Source: Fox Blu Ray/DVD, featuring two versions of the film: one the original version with Fox Movietone score and sound effects, the other the exported fully silent version. There's also audio commentary and some outtakes.

 

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#7 LawrenceA

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Posted 20 August 2017 - 03:05 PM

#10 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

Battleship Potemkin (1925) - Soviet propaganda masterpiece from Sergei Eisenstein. The movie depicts a sailors mutiny on board the titular Russian vessel in the Black Sea. After shipboard conditions deteriorate, the sailors overthrow the ship's officers (and a clergyman), setting sail for Odessa for provisions. They are greeted as heroes by the people, but a contingent of Cossack soldiers begins to massacre the celebration. The cast includes Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barskiy, Grigoriy Aleksandrov, and Ivan Bobrov.

 

More than any other film on this list, Potemkin is included for its style rather than its substance. The story of the mutiny is thin, and there is little to no character development. The strength of this movie lies in its technique, specifically the editing, although shot framing is also innovative and compelling. The rapid-cut montage editing makes this the closest to a modern film of any of its era, aesthetically speaking. Quickly cutting from a closeup on a sailor's face to a shot of his clenched fist, then quickly to a closeup of a scared officer's face, then the feet of the sailor as he charges forward, and finally a medium shot of the two colliding, creates a visceral charge unlike anything else in movies at the time. The justly famous "Odessa steps" sequence, wherein panicked townsfolk scramble down a huge set of stairs as soldiers march toward them, firing their rifles into the crowd, is still an exhilarating bit of filmmaking. One prestigious European film society named this the greatest film ever made, period. I wouldn't go that far, but it still maintains its power to affect an audience near a hundred years later.   9/10

 

Source: Kino DVD, a 2-disc set featuring the movie with either English or Russian intertitles, as well as a making-of documentary.

 

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#8 LawrenceA

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Posted 20 August 2017 - 01:24 PM

#11 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922) - Swedish-Danish co-production from director Benjamin Christensen. The movie is a blend of documentary and narrative, describing the various forms of witchcraft, devil-worship and other dark supernatural activites. Their depiction in art through the centuries, as well as re-enactments of witch trials, witches' Sabbaths, and even convent hysteria are shown. The cast includes Maren Pedersen, Clara Pontoppidan, Elith Pio, Oscar Stribolt, Tota Treje, John Andersen, and Christensen himself as the Devil.

 

There's a sly, winking wit running through the proceedings, and while the film is filled with bizarre, horrifying, and even profane imagery, there's a sense that none of it is being taken too seriously. Most of the demonic forms are designed to resemble those from old paintings or wood-cuts. The version I watched was the original Swedish version running 105 minutes, but there's a shorter, 76 minute version entitled "Witchcraft Through the Ages" featuring narration by William S. Burroughs that was released in 1968. This has proven to be highly influential on the horror genre, and it still contains some shocking moments.   9/10

 

Source: Criterion DVD, featuring both versions of the movie, as well as commentary by historian Casper Tybjerg, and a circa-1941 introduction to the film from Christensen.

 

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#9 LawrenceA

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Posted 19 August 2017 - 10:20 PM

#12 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

Faust (1926) - German fantasy/horror/morality play from director F.W. Murnau, and based on the play by Goethe. Emil Jannings has the role of his life as Mephisto aka the Devil, who tempts elderly alchemist Faust (Gosta Ekman) with youth in exchange for his soul. Faust agrees, so that he can pursue the love of the beautiful Gretchen (Camilla Horn), but as with all deals with the Devil, things go poorly. Also featuring Frida Richard, William Dieterle, Yvette Guilbert, Eric Barclay, Hanna Ralph, and Werner Fuetterer.

 

Murnau uses all manner of special effects and camera trickery to create an artificial yet compelling stylized storybook-world. Many of the images here are among the greatest of the time, if not in all cinema. Jannings is hilarious, mugging and posing to tremendous effect. Both Ekman and Horn are sincere and engaging, while it's interesting to see future Hollywood director Dieterle back in his acting days, no doubt gaining inspiration for his later effort The Devil & Daniel Webster.   9/10

 

Source: Kino DVD, and a surprisingly awful print.

 

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#10 LawrenceA

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Posted 19 August 2017 - 08:13 PM

Great thread, I wish I had more time to get involved in it. Regarding Intolerance, I once remember reading a short interview that Morris Ankrum gave, saying he had a bit part in it. I can't remember where I saw the article, so I am trying to find it. It's possible, since Ankrum was a student at USC at the time, and may have done it as a lark.

 

Yeah, I was reading that there were a number of pre-fame people who played bit roles or were extras, including King Vidor, Frank Borzage, Donald Crisp, Tod Browning, and Erich von Stroheim, the last two of which, along with Woody Van Dyke, also served as assistant editors.



#11 LawrenceA

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Posted 19 August 2017 - 08:10 PM

#13 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (1922) - German crime drama epic that introduced the cinema's first super-villain, from director Fritz Lang, adapted by Thea von Harbou from the book by Norbert Jacques. Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) runs a criminal empire with tentacles in many areas: he manipulates events to predict the stock market, causing panics that he can profit from; he runs clandestine gambling casinos, and uses his powers of hypnosis and mind-control to cheat and win; and he oversees a highly lucrative counterfeiting operation. He operates under a variety of disguises and personas, with only a small inner circle even aware of his existence. His machinations eventually come to the notice of state prosecutor von Wenk (Bernhard Goetzke) who sets about to bring the arch-fiend to justice. Also featuring Aud Egede-Nissen, Gertrude Welcker, Alfred Abel, Paul Richter, Georg John, and Robert Forster-Larrinaga.

 

This four and a half hour colossus is split into two parts, and while it is long, it doesn't overstay its welcome. The first 20 minutes, detailing Mabuse's intricate method of causing mayhem at the stock exchange, is extremely well done. Klein-Rogge is magnificent in the title role, transformed into multiple characterizations as the elusive Mabuse obscures his movements through masquerades. Director Lang also employs a number of novel cinematic tricks to convey Mabuse's power, such as his hypnotic suggestions appearing as glowing words that torment his targets. While the film is clearly an indictment on Weimar-era German dissipation and decadence, the character of Mabuse is a bit thornier: Lang claims that he's meant to represent the type of amoral power-**** that was given rise in the period, and which would lead to Hitler's ascension; others have pointed out the anti-Semitic nature of Mabuse, as he seems to fit many of the anti-Jew conspiracies of the day. Whatever the case, Lang's film is a masterpiece of early cinematic crime fiction, and one whose inspiration continues to this day.   8/10

 

Source: Kino DVD, with the film split across two discs due to length, and also featuring a short making-of documentary.

 

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#12 scsu1975

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Posted 19 August 2017 - 08:09 PM

Great thread, I wish I had more time to get involved in it. Regarding Intolerance, I once remember reading a short interview that Morris Ankrum gave, saying he had a bit part in it. I can't remember where I saw the article, so I am trying to find it. It's possible, since Ankrum was a student at USC at the time, and may have done it as a lark.


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#13 LawrenceA

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Posted 19 August 2017 - 03:27 PM

#14 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

Intolerance (1916) - The oldest film on my top 20 favorites list is this proto-epic from D.W. Griffith. Four storylines are followed. The first is set in the modern world, where The Dear One (Mae Marsh) and her beloved The Boy (Bobby Harron) are struggling to survive. He loses his job due to union striking after a pay cut mandated so that the company boss can fund his sister's charity work. That same charity takes away the Dear One's child, citing neglect, as the Boy is sent to jail after resorting to crime.

 

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The second story follows the later life of Jesus (Howard Gaye) leading up to his crucifixion.

 

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The third story details the events of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572 where Huguenot protestants were killed under orders of the Catholic royalty.

 

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The fourth story is set in ancient Babylon, and deals with a religious struggle between different sects that leads to their conquest by the Persians.

 

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The cast includes Constance Talmadge in 2 roles, Miriam Cooper, Sam De Grasse, Margery Wilson, Eugene Pallette, Josephine Crowell, W.E. Lawrence, Elmer Clifton, Alfred Paget, Seena Owen, Tully Marshall, Elmo Lincoln, George Siegmann, Carl Stockdale, Lillian Langdon, Bessie Love, and Lillian Gish as "the Eternal Motherhood".

 

Griffith's masterpiece is a marvel of narrative and structural complexity for the time, and the Babylon scenes are truly awe-inspiring in their scope and ambition. The story, in which instances of "intolerance" are illustrated throughout the ages, is a bit muddled and more than a little pretentious, but the visualization is second-to-none. It's been put forth that Griffith made this as a sort of apologia for the racial insensitivity of his previous mega-hit The Birth of a Nation, but Griffith scholars disagree, and say that Griffith was never ashamed by the racist nature of his last movie, and that the intolerance that he was speaking out against was that which had been directed at him over that film (shades of our current political climate). Regardless, this ended up being the most expensive film ever made up to that point, and was a major flop at the box office, from which Griffith never really recovered. The film now stands as a colossal achievement, and a precursor to historical epics to come. There are various versions in circulation, and the version I watched ran 197 minutes.   8/10

 

Source: Kino DVD.

 

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#14 LawrenceA

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 10:08 PM

#15 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

The Gold Rush (1925) - Charlie Chaplin's classic comedy about the Alaskan gold rush. Chaplin plays The Lone Prospector, who has traveled to the frigid north to hopefully strike it rich. He bumps into both Big Jim McKay (Mack Swain), who has just found a huge gold deposit, and Black Larsen (Tom Murray), a wanted criminal who is hiding out in the snowy countryside. While Larsen plots to get at Big Jim's gold, the Prospector and Big Jim make nice. When the Prospector goes to a nearby boom town, he meets saloon girl George (Georgia Hale), with whom he becomes smitten. 

 

Several of Chaplin's greatest bits are included here, including the eating of a shoe, the "dancing rolls", and the teetering cabin on a cliff sequence, a landmark in set design and choreography. Although I still feel that Chaplin's best work later, this is still an essential film in the genre of silent comedy. This was re-released in 1942 with a new score, added sound effects, and with some parts edited out, and strangely this version earned 2 Oscar nominations, for Best Sound, and Best Score, Musical or Comedy.  8/10

 

Source: Criterion DVD, another excellent two-disc edition: Disc one includes both the 1925 and 1942 versions of the film, with commentary by Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance. Disc two includes a documentary on the film's production, another documentary on the film's special effects, and a third documentary on the use of music in Chaplin's films. The insert also includes a written essay.

 

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#15 LawrenceA

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 07:57 PM

#16 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) - Horror classic from Universal Pictures, based on the book by Gaston Leroux. The Paris Opera House is preparing a new staging of Faust when a series of strange occurrences begin, which the more superstitious among the cast and crew blame on the Phantom, a ghost who said to haunt the place. However, the Phantom is real, a scarred former musician and composer named Erik (Lon Chaney), and he wants to make the understudy Christine (Mary Philbin) the star of the show. Christine's boyfriend, the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry), doesn't appreciate the Phantom's unwanted attentions, and seeks to stop the depraved soul from taking Christine away. Also featuring John St. Polis, Snitz Edwards, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Gibson Gowland, Virginia Pearson, and Carla Laemmle.

 

The first horror classic from Universal, this is the scariest version of the oft-filmed story. It may seem strange to make a story about the music world into a silent film, but it works. Chaney created his finest makeup work here, in my opinion, one that still sends chills up spines. He also manages to convey his character's emotions through it, which is no small task. Philbin is also fine as Christine. There are many versions of this silent around, with running times anywhere from 80 to 107 minutes, as well as some strictly in B & W, some that add the original tinting, and some that feature the early technicolor masquerade ball sequence, which remains a visual highlight.  8/10

 

Source: Kino DVD, a two-disc edition that offers various versions and edits, as well as audio commentary by historian Jon C. Mirsalis, an interview with composer Gabriel Thibedeau, and 2 1925 Paris travelogue shorts.

 

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#16 LawrenceA

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 05:29 PM

#17 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

Safety Last! (1923) - Iconic comedy from Harold Lloyd and directors Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor. Lloyd plays a smalltown boy who goes to the big city to make his fortune so he can marry his sweetheart (Mildred Davis). He gets a job in a department store, but his prospects look dim, so he lies to his girl and tells her that he's the store manager. When she comes for a visit, things get complicated. Also featuring Bill Strother, Noah Young, Westcott Clarke, and Helen Gilmore.

 

This is the movie with the classic scene of Lloyd climbing a high-rise and dangling from the clock. That sequence is amazing, but there are countless other laughs and great moments spread throughout the brief 73 minute running time. One extended gag with Lloyd desperately trying to get to work on time is a personal favorite. Lloyd brings his usual characterization, a decent guy with quick wits and reflexes who tries to succeed in a world seemingly out to get him. I would also recommend Lloyd's The Freshman (1925), The Kid Brother (1927), and Speedy (1928).   8/10

 

Source: Criterion DVD, a magnificent 2-disc edition featuring an overabundance of extras. The first disc features the film with multiple music scores and audio commentary by critic Leonard Maltin and film historian Richard Correll; an introduction from Lloyd's granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd; and three Lloyd comedy shorts - Take a Chance (1918), Young Mr. Jazz (1919), and His Royal Slyness (1920), each with audio commentary from Correll and critic John Bengtson. The second disc features the feature-length documentary Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius (1989), narrated by Lindsay Anderson; another documentary that details the film's L.A. locations then and now; and an interview with new score composer Carl Davis. There's also a print essay included with the insert. 

 

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#17 LawrenceA

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 01:46 PM

#18 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

The Phantom Carriage (1921) - Swedish director Victor Sjostrom's supernatural morality play is made all the more effective with eerie special effects and a haunting score. Sjostrom also stars as David Holm, an abusive, drunken, lazy slob who has made life hell for those around him, particularly his poor wife (Hilda Borgstrom) and his two small children. After regaling some fellow drunks in a cemetery on New Year's Eve with the legend that the last person to die each year much act as the Grim Reaper for the following year, David passes out on a grave. He's soon awakened by the title conveyance, which is driven by David's friend Georges (Tore Svennberg), who was the last to die the previous year. Georges tells David that he has died, and must become the next driver of the phantom carriage. Georges then takes David on a journey through his past and present to examine the mistakes that he had made, especially his treatment of a saintly Salvation Army sister (Astrid Holm). Also featuring Concordia Selander, Lisa Lundholm, Einar Axelsson, and Nils Arehn.

 

The version I watched this time had a new, experimental electronic score from KTL which really heightened the mood of the film. Sjostrom's imagery is very interesting, and the ghostly effects are still compelling. The moral lesson of being a better person is simple enough, and the film really challenges you to care about David, who seems to make every bad decision possible. While this is often labeled as a horror film, it won't appeal to many horror fans, as the horrors here are of a spiritual nature, and there's no suspense to speak of. Still, it's cinematic influence has inspired countless fright films since.  8/10

 

Source: Criterion DVD, with a lot of extras, including: commentary by historian Casper Tybjerg; a vintage interview with director Ingmar Bergman; a new short exploring the connections and influences between Sjostrom's films and Bergman's; a written essay in the DVD insert; and a short bit of film showing the 1919 construction of the Rasunda movie studios in Sweden, with on-site visits by Sjostrom and Mauritz Stiller.

 

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#18 LawrenceA

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Posted 17 August 2017 - 11:23 PM

#19 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) - Buster Keaton's last film where he had some creative control over it, although he was saddled with director Charles Reisner. Keaton plays William Canfield Jr., the effete and educated son of hard-bitten paddleboat captain "Steamboat Bill" Canfield (Ernest Torrence). Bill Senior's boat has seen better days, and local big shot J.J. King (Tom McGuire) wants him out of competition with his own, new boat. Bill Junior's arrival is not warmly received by his grumpy old man, but King's daughter Kitty (Marion Byron) takes a shine to him. Also featuring Tom Lewis.

 

It was a toss-up for me between this film and Sherlock, Jr. (1924), but I decided on Steamboat Bill Jr. due to the tremendous finale, featuring what is perhaps Keaton's best-remembered visual gag (the housefront falling over him, with him passing safely through the window). But that's not the only part to recommend this movie, as there are numerous laughs and impressive stunts throughout the film. The plot may be paper thin, but they usually are in Keaton's films. This was very expensive, and proved to be a major flop, ending Keaton's creative control and signaling the beginning of the end of his career. However, it has gone on to critical and audience acclaim, and I regard it as Keaton's second best feature. 8/10

 

Source: Kino DVD, with options for alternate musical scores, as well as an introduction by the head of Lobster Films, who oversaw the latest restoration of the film.

 

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#19 LawrenceA

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Posted 17 August 2017 - 09:23 PM

#20 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

The Kid (1921) - First feature-length film from director-star Charlie Chaplin. He plays the Tramp, who stumbles upon an abandoned baby, which he reluctantly raises. Five years later, he and the boy (Jackie Coogan) live a hard-scrabble life, but they have each other. When the child welfare department decides to take the boy, the Tramp takes him on the run, but some things are not meant to be. Also featuring Edna Purviance, Carl Miller, Lita Grey, and Jackie Coogan Sr.

 

Chaplin's patented mix of slapstick humor, honest humanity, and shameless sentimentality are put on fine display here. The running time is slight (the version I watched was 53 minutes), but it seems just about right. The story is simple, the characters are basic and no more than necessary to tell the tale. Coogan was easily one of the best child actors in the history of film, extremely adorable without being precious, and immensely talented. Chaplin would continue to grow artistically, but this is the bridge from his early, Mack Sennett-era silliness and his later, multi-dimensional masterworks. 8/10

 

Source: Criterion DVD, featuring a wealth of extras, including audio commentary by Chaplin expert Charles Maland; vintage video interviews with Jackie Coogan and Lita Grey, and audio interviews with cinematographer Rollie Totheroh and distributor Mo Rothman; a "video essay" on Jackie Coogan's childhood stardom; a short program about the proper cranking speed for silent films; deleted scenes; a vintage newsreel about Chaplin; and Nice & Friendly, a Chaplin/Coogan short. There's also a print essay in the DVD insert.

 

80a0bc45202e863b0a249eec41d111c6--kid-mo

 

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#20 LawrenceA

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Posted 17 August 2017 - 07:19 PM

Wings (1927) - The first movie to win the Best Picture Oscar was this terrific WW1 aviation epic from Paramount Pictures and director William Wellman. Charles "Buddy" Rogers stars as Jack Powell, a small town guy who quickly joins up for the Air Corps when the US enters World War One. He's joined by David Armstrong (Richard Arlen), the town rich kid. Both Jack and David are in love with Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston), although Sylvia only feels the same about David. Top-billed Clara Bow is Mary Preston, Jack's girl-next-door who is secretly in love with him, so much so that she joins the ambulance corps in order to get sent overseas, too. Jack and David become close friends in the crucible of war, but life is often short for a fighter pilot. Also featuring Gary Cooper, Henry B. Walthall, El Brendell, Hedda Hopper, George Irving, and Roscoe Karns.

 

The aerial photography is truly incredible, and is the real highlight, although the ground warfare scenes are huge in scope and well-choreographed. The performances are all very good. Rogers and Arlen have a real bromance, and both exude star power. Cooper made quite a splash in an early, very small role. Bow is fun, but her scenes almost seem to be from a different movie. The version I watched had a new 5.1 surround score, plus sound effects by Ben Burtt, and rather than distract, these additions add to the film. The movie also won an Oscar for Best Engineering Effects, a precursor to the special effects award. While this doesn't quite rise to the epic heights of The Big Parade, this is very good, and makes a good companion piece with that film in their depiction of "the Great War". Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: Paramount DVD. The sole bonus feature is a good, 36-minute making-of documentary.

 

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