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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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#21 LawrenceA

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Posted 31 August 2017 - 02:20 PM

Moana (1926) - Another ethnographic documentary from Robert Flaherty, this time focusing on Polynesian islanders, specifically the island of Savai'i in the Samoans. Most of the film depicts the gathering and hunting of foodstuffs, be it trapping a wild boar, fishing, catching a large sea tortoise, pulling up taro root, and in one famous scene, watching a young boy climb a perilously tall tree to gather coconuts. Everything leads up to a rite of passage ceremony involving dancing and tattooing.

 

Flaherty and his wife lived among the islanders for two years gathering footage. As in other films by the director, Flaherty staged some scenes, although ironically it was during a review of this film that the word "documentary" was first used to refer to movies. The version I watched was the beautiful 2014 restoration supervised by Flaherty's daughter Monica. It's known as Moana with Sound, as Monica went back to the islands and recorded ambient nature sounds as well as the chit-chat of natives in their own, non-subtitled, tongue, as well as some of their singing. This new soundtrack was placed over the silent footage from '26. After watching it, I would think the original film would be a bit less enjoyable without the sound. This movie was a hit on the exploitation circuit, where they played up the topless native girls.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#22 LawrenceA

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Posted 30 August 2017 - 10:22 PM

Midnight Faces (1926) - Terrible early Old Dark House mystery comedy from the long-forgotten Goodwill Productions company. Francis X. Bushman Jr. stars Lynn Claymore, a nice young fellow who has inherited a large mansion in Florida swamp country. He arrives to take up residence with his attorney Richard (Jack Perrin), and his racist-caricature black manservant Trohelius Snapp (Martin Turner). Of course it isn't long before a group of strangers show up, strange things start happening, people start disappearing, and a caped figure begins lurking in the shadows. Also featuring Kathryn McGuire, Edward Peil Sr., Charles Belcher, and Nora Cecil. 

 

Cheap, dumb, and often idiotic, this is a complete waste of time for all but the most ardent of horror/mystery completists. The plot makes little sense, and although it's less than an hour long, that's still too much.   3/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#23 LawrenceA

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Posted 30 August 2017 - 08:18 PM

The Bells (1926) - Adaptation of the Leopold Lewis play which had already been filmed numerous times. Lionel Barrymore stars as an innkeeper and mill owner in a small Austrian town. He owes a lot of money to the detestable Frantz (Gustav von Seyffertitz), and his desperation leads him to make a terrible mistake, the consequences of which haunt him. Things aren't helped when a creepy sideshow mesmerist (Boris Karloff) comes to town, threatening to reveal the residents' darkest secrets. Also featuring Lola Todd, Eddie Phillips, Caroline Francis Cooke, Lorimer Johnston, and E. Alyn Warren in a dual role.

 

Barrymore gets to ham it up in a role made famous on stage by Henry Irving. Karloff has one of his first important parts here, made up to look like Dr. Caligari. I liked the ghostly effects used to highlight Barrymore's guilty conscience. The young couple's romance between Phillips and Todd feels tacked on to broaden the appeal.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#24 LawrenceA

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Posted 30 August 2017 - 05:28 PM

She (1925) - First film adaptation of H. Rider Haggard's novel was this British-German co-production. Betty Blythe stars as Ayesha, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, a seemingly immortal queen ruling over a secret, lost civilization in North Africa. She's sought out by young adventurer Leo Vincy (Carlyle Blackwell) and party after discovering writings by his long-deceased father describing his own run-in with Ayesha decades earlier. When Leo and his friends get to their destination, they may wish they'd never left home. Also featuring Mary Odette, Heinrich George, Tom Reynolds, Jerrold Robertshaw, Marjorie Statler, and Alexander Butler.

 

There are some nice sets and costumes to see, but the story is silly and the characters paper-thin. Haggard himself wrote the florid title cards shortly before passing away. Director Leander De Cordova later became an actor in B-movies. I think the only film version of this story that I haven't seen is the most famous one, from 1935. 6/10

 

Source: YouTube, another terrible, smudgy print.

 

e4ab7e5bb5854748327376313e4c0d2d--fantas


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#25 LawrenceA

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Posted 30 August 2017 - 01:36 PM

The Midnight Girl (1925) - Early American appearance for Bela Lugosi in this melodrama from the Chadwick Pictures Corporation. Lugosi stars as Nicholas Harmon, an opera impresario whose current singing star and girlfriend Nina (Dolores Cassinelli) is starting to have vocal troubles. Harmon's stepson Don (Gareth Hughes) disapproves of his stepfather's romances, but he himself is engaged to the gold-digging Natalie (Ruby Blaine). After Don and Nicholas have a falling out, Don heads out on his own, where he discovers recent Russian immigrant and budding opera talent Anna (Lila Lee). But what happens when both Don and Nicholas fall for Anna? Also featuring Charlotte Walker, John D. Walsh, Sidney Paxton, William Harvey, and Flora Finch.

 

This is pretty dull stuff, and another instance of music being an integral part of the story of a silent film. It's hard being impressed with Anna's opera skills when they're never heard. Lugosi, who was already in his early 40's, is dashing in an Adolphe Menjou sort of way, with a slightly curled mustache and goatee. The copy I watched was of very poor quality.   5/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#26 LawrenceA

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Posted 29 August 2017 - 11:38 PM

The Hands of Orlac (1924) - Director Robert Wiene and star Conrad Veidt reteam for this Austrian horror suspense drama. Veidt plays Paul Orlac, a famous concert pianist who gets severely injured in a train crash. Dr. Serral (Hans Homma) tries an experimental technique wherein he grafts the hands of a dead man onto Orlac's arms, and the surgery is a success, but afterward, when Orlac learns that the hands belonged to an executed murderer, he starts to lose his mind, believing that the hands are commanding him to kill again. Also featuring Alexandra Sorina, Fritz Strassny, Paul Askonas, Carmen Cartellieri, and Fritz Kortner.

 

Wiene continues to use Expressionistic techniques and visual schemes, but they are toned down, and used to accentuate the narrative rather than overwhelming the proceedings. The film marks an important step in the transition from purely arthouse Expressionism to the techniques used in the visual language of film noir. Veidt gives an intense, tortured performance, although Kortner pales in comparison to the later remake Mad Love and Peter Lorre's take on the character. Most sources list this as being roughly 90 minutes, but the version I watched was 113 minutes. I felt that could have been trimmed down a bit, as some scenes dragged. That being said, I enjoyed the film quite a bit, and the cinematography was beautiful.  7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#27 LawrenceA

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Posted 29 August 2017 - 08:07 PM

Dante's Inferno (1924) - Morality play from Fox studios and director Henry Otto. Mortimer Judd (Ralph Lewis) is a vicious slumlord and all-around terrible person. After receiving a copy of Alighieri's L'Inferno, he flips through it, envisioning scenes (footage from the 1911 film is used). Later he himself is damned to Hell for his sins and must be punished in the style of Dante's writings. Also featuring Winifred Landis, William Scott, Pauline Starke, Josef Swickard, Gloria Grey, and Bud Jamison in blackface as a comic butler.

 

The copy on YouTube only runs a mere 49 minutes, meaning at least 11 are missing, but since they are said to be more scenes of the 1911 footage, I guess I've seen those already, too. The story is simple enough, a more religious version of A Christmas Carol, where threats of damnation make a jerk change his ways. This was remade 11 years later with Spencer Tracy in the lead, and that one still used the same footage from 1911. I saw the 1935 version many years ago. The star of this version, Ralph Lewis, is one of those names and faces that I started noticing showing up a lot in these silent films, so I looked him up the other day, and was shocked to learn that he was killed in 1937 at age 65 after being hit by a car driven by Jack Warner's chauffeur!   5/10

 

Source: YouTube, with a warning that the upload I watched was perhaps of the poorest quality of any that I've seen on there, but there appears to be no other way to see the movie outside of a museum trip.

 

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#28 LawrenceA

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Posted 29 August 2017 - 05:42 PM

Warning Shadows (1923) - German expressionism is once again on display in this strange drama from director Arthur Robison. A rich aristocrat (Fritz Kortner) invites some other dilettantes over for an evening of entertainment. The aristocrat sees the silhouette of what appears to be his lascivious wife (Ruth Wyher) being sexually groped by the trio of guests. This understandably upsets the aristocrat, and things aren't helped by his mischievous butler (Fritz Rasp) who feeds into his paranoia. When the night's entertainment shows up, he's a Shadowplayer (Alexander Granach), meaning he uses shadows and shadow puppets to tell tales. His performance causes everyone present to consider their actions. Also featuring Gustav von Wangenheim, Eugen Rex, Lilli Herder, Karl Platen, and Rudolf Klein-Rogge.

 

The highlights here are the numerous inventive ways shadows are used to tell the story, and Rasp as the evil butler. He's long been a favorite of mine among German character actors, and I loved seeing this early role for him. I'm not certain if all copies are like the one I watched, but mine lacked intertitles, making this a purely visual experience, and while it looked nice, it was often hard to follow.   6/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#29 LawrenceA

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Posted 29 August 2017 - 03:06 PM

The Shock (1923) - More Lon Chaney, and these are really starting to repeat themselves. Chaney once again plays a criminal, and a crippled one on crutches at that. He's Wilse Dilling, and he's a feared killer and dope peddler working out of San Francisco's Chinatown (again) for Queen Ann (Christine Mayo), the boss of the criminal underworld in the city. She sends Wilse out to a small country town to keep an eye out on a banker (William Welsh), but Wilse falls for the banker's pious daughter Gertrude (Virginia Valli). Will Wilse be able to carry out his sinister orders when the time comes, or has Gertrude's kind and religious way of life helped the career criminal turn his life around? Also featuring Jack Mower, Henry A. Barrows, Harry De Vere, John Beck, Walter Long, and Togo Yamamoto.

 

Chaney seems to have hit a creative rut here, as several aspects of his previous films are repeated and mixed together. The film sets up Wilse as being a real scary customer, one to be feared, but whenever things get tough in the film's second half, he just gets tossed around like, well, a cripple. The movie's deus ex machina finale is silly, as is the implausibly happy ending. On the plus side, Chaney is once again good at playing a multi-layered character, and he gets to show some subtle facial acting. Director Lambert Hillyer would stick around Universal into the sound era.   6/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#30 LawrenceA

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Posted 29 August 2017 - 12:32 PM

The Trap (1922) - Another Lon Chaney revenge story, this time from director Robert Thornby. Chaney plays French-Canadian miner Gaspard, an illiterate but good-natured fellow who hopes to strike it rich with his gold mine and marry his sweetheart Thalie (Dagmar Godowsky). Things go south when slick city-boy Benson (Alan Hale Sr.) comes to town, swindling Gaspard out of his mine and stealing his girl, too. Gaspard swears revenge and has Benson sent to prison after a set-up. Gaspard then kidnaps Benson's young son (Stanley Goethals) in order to engineer his final vengeance, a horrifying trap set for Benson upon his return. Also featuring Spottiswoode Aitken, Irene Rich, Herbert Standing, Frank Campeau, and Dick Sutherland.

 

I won't reveal the details of the end trap, but it's typically bizarre, like a lot of stuff in Chaney's movies. The whole thing only runs an hour, which seems about right. Chaney is good, although his French patois title cards get old. The copy I watched was in poor condition, so be forewarned.   6/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#31 LawrenceA

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Posted 29 August 2017 - 12:03 AM

Shadows (1922) - Melodrama that's a relic of its time from director Tom Forman. In the New England fishing village of Urkey, nice girl Sympathy Gibbs (Marguerite De La Motte) is married to no-good fisherman Dan Gibbs (Walter Long). After a massive storm hits the fishing fleet out at sea, Dan is declared dead, while Chinese cook Yen Sin (Lon Chaney) washes ashore, taking up residence in town and working as a laundryman despite his outcast status as a "heathen". New minister John Malden (Harrison Ford) moves to town and shortly after weds the widow Gibbs, but wouldn't you know it, Malden is contacted by her first husband Dan, who survived being swept out to sea and demands blackmail payments or else he will dishonor the preacher's wife and newborn daughter. Also featuring John St. Polis, Buddy Messinger, Priscilla Bonner, and Frances Raymond.

 

Chaney plays Chinese once again, and he creates a real character here, with a stooped walk, unique arm and neck movements, and a gaunt appearance. His character is the subject of much racist verbal abuse, and the film's incessant proselytizing gets old. The "scandal" that seems like such a life-destroyer for the preacher would just be a quickly forgotten odd story in the paper now. The ending really ladles on the schmaltz, so beware.   6/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#32 LawrenceA

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Posted 28 August 2017 - 10:37 PM

The Light In the Dark (1922) - aka The Light of Faith. Short religious drama from director Clarence Brown. Former society girl Bessie (Hope Hampton) is hiding out from her beau Warburton Ashe (E.K. Lincoln) in a shabby rooming house. When she falls ill, sketchy neighbor Tony (Lon Chaney) tries to nurse her back to health, but nothing seems to help. Luckily, there's a story in the paper about Ashe having returned from an English vacation after having found the Holy Grail (!!!), so Tony sets out to get it to heal Bessie. Also featuring Theresa Maxwell Conover, Dorothy Walters, Edgar Norton, Charles Mussett, and Dore Davidson as Jerusalem Mike.

 

This runs just over 30 minutes, and is as goofy and corny as it sounds. I wasn't expecting the Holy Grail twist, and a short flashback showing Sir Galahad on his quest is amusing. Chaney gets to play with audience expectations, as you expect him to be a creep but he ends up being a nice guy. This supposedly played in churches for many years.   6/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#33 LawrenceA

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Posted 28 August 2017 - 08:20 PM

The Headless Horseman (1922) - Adaptation of the Washington Irving story from director Edward D. Venturini. Will Rogers stars as Ichabod Crane, the new school teacher sent to the small upstate New York village of Sleepy Hollow. He has romantic designs for Katrina Van Tassel (Lois Meredith), but she's also pursued by the handsome and athletic Abraham Van Brunt (Ben Hendricks Jr.). Crane is also taken in by tales of the town's resident ghost, the Headless Horseman, who is said to roam the roads late at night. Also featuring Charles E. Graham, Mary Foy, Bernard A. Reinold, Downing Clarke, and Jerry Devine.

 

There's not much of note here. Rogers, a gifted wit and raconteur, has little to offer in a silent film. Most of the secondary characters blend into one another with matching builds and costumes. The supernatural elements are very minor, and run secondary to the romantic triangle, so this version is closer to a rom-com than a comedic thriller.   5/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#34 LawrenceA

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Posted 28 August 2017 - 04:52 PM

Flesh and Blood (1922) - Implausible, drawn out drama from director Irving Cummings. Disgraced lawyer David Webster (Lon Chaney) has been serving a lengthy prison term for a crime he didn't commit. With the assistance of Chinatown crime boss Li Fang (Noah Beery Sr.) whom he once defended as a client, Webster escapes in hopes of seeing his wife and daughter, as well as clearing his name. He's devastated to learn that his wife has died, and his now-grown daughter (Edith Roberts) doesn't even remember what he looks like and lives under a new name. This inspires Webster to go after Fletcher Burton (Ralph Lewis), the man who set him up, but things get complicated when Webster learns that his daughter is in love with Fletcher's son Ted (Jack Mulhall). Also featuring DeWitt Jennings, Togo Yamamoto, Kate Price, and Wilfred Lucas.

 

To help disguise his appearance, Webster pretends to be a cripple, with one leg twisted around the other, forcing him to use crutches. And apparently that's enough to fool the detectives and beat cops who are all looking for him. Yeah, right. This, and the ridiculous ending, severely hamper the film's enjoyment. It's also weird when a silent movie uses music as an integral part of the story, as it is here when father and daughter recall a fondly remembered song of years gone by. Finally, although the movie runs a mere 75 minutes, the entire thing could have been told in half that time, and things seem unnecessarily drawn out to pad the time.   5/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#35 LawrenceA

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Posted 28 August 2017 - 01:28 PM

The Man from Beyond (1922) - Odd fantasy romance starring Harry Houdini. He plays Howard Hillary, who has been frozen aboard a ship in the arctic for a hundred years. Some explorers find him, thaw him out and wake him up, and try to reintroduce him to society. Howard is obsessively in love with Felicia (Jane Connelly), but she's been dead for a century. He becomes convinced that she has been reincarnated in the modern age, and he's determined to find her and reignite their love. He also gets entangled with people trying to swindle a fortune. Also featuring Arthur Maude, Albert Tavernier, Erwin Connelly, Frank Montgomery, Luis Alberni, Yale Benner, and Nita Naldi.

 

Frozen suspended animation and reincarnation are strange topics to blend together, but with Houdini's interest in fringe theories it makes more sense. This is the first of the great performer's films that I've seen, and it is rather flatly filmed by director Burton L. King. The big finale at Niagara Falls is good, though. Houdini had appeared in two other films and a serial before this, and would make one more film this same year, before his tragic death in 1926.  6/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#36 LawrenceA

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 07:26 PM

The Haunted Castle (1921) - Misleading title for a chamber drama, directed by F.W. Murnau. Count Oetsch (Lothar Mehnart) arrives uninvited to the castle of Lord von Vogelschrey (Arnold Korff) for a long weekend of hunting and socializing with a group of other high society types. Oetsch had been accused of murdering his brother, but was found not guilty. That dead brother's widow (Olga Tschechowa) has remarried, to the Baron Safferstatt (Paul Bildt), and the couple are also in attendance, making things awkward to say the least. The only thing keeping the Baroness from leaving is the imminent arrival of Father Faramund, a close friend and trusted spiritual adviser. Over the course of the weekend secrets are revealed and the guilty come to light. Also featuring Paul Hartmann, Victor Bluetner, Hermann Vallentin, and Julius Falkenstein as the Anxious Man.

 

My expectations were a bit high for this, based on the title and the director, and I was disappointed that this ended up not being a horror film at all. The acting is fairly typical, if at times overheated, and the story is a bit dull and drawn out, even with a brief ~70 minute running time. The castle set is nice, but there are none of the typical Murnau touches that make things stick in one's memory.   5/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#37 LawrenceA

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 05:43 PM

Outside the Law (1920) - Excellent crime drama from writer-director Tod Browning. Silky Moll (Priscilla Dean) is a renowned thief and the daughter of gang boss Silent Madden (Ralph Lewis). They're friends with Chinatown businessman and personal counselor Chang Lo (E. Alyn Warren), who has convinced them both to go legit and leave their life of crime. Rival gangster Black Mike Sylva (Lon Chaney) needs Silky Moll's skills for a jewel heist, so he concocts a frame-up on her dad that drives the angry young woman back into the life. However, fellow criminal Dapper Bill Ballard (Wheeler Oakman) gives Silky the lowdown, and the two of them steal the jewels for themselves. They go into hiding until things cool down, during which time they both reflect on the life they've lived and what their future holds. Chaney also plays Ah Wing, the Chinese servant of Chang Lo. Also featuring Stanley Goethals, Melbourne MacDowell, Wilton Taylor, and Anna May Wong.

 

There's a lot to applaud here, and also some to lament. On the positive side, both Dean and Oakman are terrific. They were a real couple at the time, and they have genuine chemistry. Dean, in particular, gives one of the most nuanced, multi-layered performances by an actress that I have seen from this period in film. One thing that helps is Browning's use of close-ups, allowing the performers to emote more naturally. Chaney is of course terrific, but this brings up the issues I have with the movie. The only version that survives is a re-release from several years after the original premiere, and a good chunk of footage had been edited out, namely the majority of the sub-plot featuring the Chinese characters Chang Lo and Ah Wing, and it's a real shame, too, since, although still being played by Caucasian actors in "yellow-face", the Chinese are treated with respect, and Confucian philosophy and its strength are keys to the plot. What remains of the film is very enjoyable, though, and the climax is a surprisingly violent, fast-edited powerhouse. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#38 LawrenceA

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 02:47 PM

Nomads of the North (1920) - Chaney goes Canadian in this uneven melodrama from director David Hartford. In a remote forest community named Fort O'God, the local company boss Duncan McDougall (Melbourne MacDowell) rules with an iron fist. His sleazeball son Bucky (Francis McDonald) has the hots for Nanette (Betty Blythe) who is apparently the only girl of marrying age in the area. She rebuffs Bucky's advances, though, just as she turns down a marriage proposal from nice-guy Mountie Mike O'Connor (Lewis Stone), because her heart belongs to long-missing trapper Raoul Challoner (Lon Chaney). When Bucky convinces Nanette that Raoul is dead, she agrees to marry him, but Raoul, along with his pet dog and pet bear, shows up in time to stop the wedding. This eventually leads to violence, and Raoul and Nanette head out into the vast Canadian wilderness to live as fugitives. O'Connor is assigned to track them down and arrest them. Also featuring Spottiswoode Aitken, Gordon Mullen, and Charles Smiley.

 

Part of this plays as overwrought melodrama, other parts as outdoor nature comedy, with long passages of Chaney's pets cavorting in the woods. Some of the pets' shenanigans would give the modern day ASPCA palpitations, but no overt animal cruelty is shown. Chaney gets to play a normal, romantic leading man, which is odd, and also a bit boring. Stone is square-jawed, and already sports all-white hair. I'm sure the outdoor footage was a treat for viewers at the time.  6/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#39 LawrenceA

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 11:25 PM

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1920) - No, not the John Barrymore version from the same year, but a rival, short version produced by Louis B. Mayer. Sheldon Lewis stars in the dual role of the good doctor who turns into a creepy thug after taking drugs. This one also likes to start fires. Also featuring Gladys Field, Alex Shannon, Harold Foshay, and Doris Mills Adams.

 

This only runs about 40 minutes, and many of the story beats stay the same, although some details have been changed, such as the location being moved to New York. Sheldon is a little creepy even as Jekyll, and his Hyde looks a bit like the one from King Baggott's version. I like how, despite how jumping-on-the-furniture crazy Hyde is, he always thinks to put on a hat.   5/10

 

Source: VHS.

 

Dr+Jekyll+and+Mr+Hyde+Sheldon+Lewis+1920

 

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#40 LawrenceA

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 10:56 PM

The Spiders (1919) - Earliest surviving film from director Fritz Lang is this serial-esque action epic told in two parts. In the first part, "The Golden Lake", man-of-action Kay Hoog (Carl de Vogt) heads for South America to look for a secret city of Incas living in temples much as they did centuries ago. They have a Harvard professor prisoner, and are also sitting atop a huge gold mine. Kay is challenged in his quest by the Spiders, a secret multi-national criminal organization. Their chief agent Lio Sha (Ressel Orla) has the hots for Hoog, but she won't let that get in her way of taking the gold for her gang. Kay makes cute with Inca priestess Naela (Lil Dagover), which really peeves Lio Sha. In the second part, "The Diamond Ship", Kay Hoog is once again racing against the Spiders, this time in search of the Buddha diamond, a fabulous gem that is foretold to be the great emancipator of Asia from the control of the West. Also featuring Georg John, Paul Biensfeldt, Harry Frank, and Gilda Langer.

 

There's a lot going here, with secret societies, hidden cities, cowboys, pirates, guys dressed like ninjas, a samurai, safecrackers in top hats and domino masks, human sacrifice, clairvoyants, hot air balloon rides, and much more. Despite the 137 minute running time, I was rarely bored, although the first half is much better than the second. It also ends rather abruptly, as this was originally intended to be quickly followed up by another 2-hour, 2-part installment in the war between Hoog and the Spiders, but that never got made. Instead, Lang was inspired to bring Mabuse to the screen, and the rest is history.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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