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Recently Watched Silents


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#41 drednm1

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 09:33 PM

Ducks & Drakes (1921) - Lightweight romantic comedy that works on the strength of the performers' charm. Mischievous young lady Teddy Simpson (Bebe Daniels) likes to spend money and act wild with her friends. She also has a game where she randomly dials phone numbers, and if a man answers, she flirts mercilessly with them. All of this, despite being engaged to Rob Winslow (Jack Holt). When Rob's had enough of Teddy's ways, he devises a plan to set her straight once and for all. Also featuring Mayme Kelso, Edward Martindel, W.E. Lawrence, and Wade Boteler.

 

This is minor fluff, but it's amusing, and well executed. Daniels is very good, and one can see how this helped establish her as a grown star after years of juvenile and teen roles. Holt, best known for Westerns, does a good job in city slicker's clothes. This was restored with the efforts of one of our message board regulars, and I can't thank him enough.   7/10

 

Source: TCM

 

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#42 LawrenceA

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 07:17 PM

The False Faces (1919) - Action-packed wartime spy caper from producer Thomas Ince and director Irvin Willat. Henry B. Walthall stars as Michael Lanyard, aka the Lone Wolf, a notorious master thief who went legit when War was declared in Europe. After Lanyard's sister and nephew are killed by German agent Ekstrom (Lon Chaney), Walthall joins the war effort as a spy, but with the primary motive of tracking down and killing Ekstrom. His road to vengeance leads him back across the sea to America and to a nest of the Kaiser's spies in New York. Also featuring Mary Anderson, Milton Ross, Thornton Edwards, William Bowman, and Ernest Pasque.

 

There are enough big action moments and suspenseful situations in this to make me think it could have been a condensed serial, but it's not. There are shoot-outs, fisticuffs, swapped identities, a sought-after MacGuffin, and, as the title implies, no one is who they claim to be. Walthall is really terrific here, and judged along with his other roles from the period that I've seen, makes a strong case for best actor of the 1910's. Chaney gets to be really dastardly, and also gets a few disguises of his own. The copy I watched had some serious brightness/darkness issues, rendering some of the intertitles illegible.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#43 LawrenceA

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 03:47 PM

Tarzan of the Apes (1918) - First screen adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' character. After a shipboard mutiny forces Lord and Lady Greystoke into the uncharted African Jungle, Lady Greystoke gives birth to a boy. The parents die soon after, and the boy (Gordon Griffith) is raised by a family of "apes". He learns to live and fight like them, but also learns how to read and right from escaped slave Binns (George B. French), who heads back to Europe. Binns eventually convinces enough people that young Greystoke is still alive, and brings an expedition back to find him years later. The boy has now grown into the man known as Tarzan (Elmo Lincoln), Lord of the Jungle. When he sets eyes on Jane Porter (Enid Markey), it's love at first sight, and he rescues her from a number of perils. Also featuring True Boardman, Kathleen Kirkham, Colin Kenny, Thomas Jefferson (!), and Bessie Toner.

 

Filmed in Louisiana, this proved a hit, despite only adapting the first half of Burroughs' novel. A quick sequel, The Romance of Tarzan, was released later the same year but has since been lost. Lincoln, who had played a scary guard in Griffith's Intolerance, makes for an equally scary looking Tarzan, big and beefy, wearing a headband and an over-the-shoulder fur onesie. His Tarzan "yell" consists of him raising his fists in the air and making an insane face. The "apes" in Tarzan's family are people in weird monkey suits, with a real chimp thrown in occasionally to make things even weirder. There's also a really bad gorilla suit, as well as a real lion which one source I have says was actually killed by Lincoln on screen. There's enough strange stuff here to keep the viewer's interest, along with a brief (under an hour) running time.  6/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#44 LawrenceA

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 01:59 PM

The Eyes of the Mummy (1918) - Effective German drama with exotic touches from director Ernst Lubitsch. Albert Wendland (Harry Liedtke) is a successful painter on holiday in Egypt when he finds lovely girl Ma (Pola Negri). She's been held captive by crazed local Radu (Emil Jannings), but Albert rescues her and takes her back to Europe with him, where her exotic dancing makes her a celebrity. Meanwhile, Radu is found dying in the desert by Prince Hohenfels (Max Laurence), who saves the Arab and takes him back to Europe, hiring him on as a servant. Radu remains obsessed with Ma, and will stop at nothing to take her back or keep her from living without him.

 

This was a recommendation on YouTube, and I watched it on a lark. I was surprised that it had such a pedigree, with Lubitsch directing and Negri and Jannings starring. They're both entertaining, with Negri's dancing a kitschy treat and Jannings mad-eyed mugging enlivening the proceedings. While this is listed as a horror film, it's not, although there's a bit about a cursed tomb in the beginning that goes nowhere. Still, I found this entertaining enough, and at just under an hour, not a great demand on my time.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#45 LawrenceA

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 11:23 PM

The Scarlet Car (1917) - Another brief film with Lon Chaney. Franklin Farnum gets top billing as Billy Winthrop, a smalltown guy who decides to get his act together and win the girl he loves, Beatrice Forbes (Edith Johnson). Beatrice's father, bank teller Paul Revere Forbes (Chaney), has gone missing along with 35 grand in cash. Billy knows that while old man Forbes was a simpleton, he wasn't a thief, so he sets out to find the real culprits and the whereabouts of Forbes. Also featuring Sam De Grasse, Al W. Filson, Howard Crampton, and William Lloyd.

 

This runs just under 40 minutes, and Chaney isn't in nearly enough of it. He does get to use a makeup design, though, playing an old, doddering man with white hair and a beard. Farnum is passable as the hero, but there's not much else to the proceedings to recommend.   5/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#46 LawrenceA

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 10:29 PM

The Oubliette (1914) - Another short Universal movie featuring Chaney. This is the third installment in The Adventures of Francois Villon, and in this story, Villon (Murdock MacQuarrie), the 15th century French poet and rogue, gets into trouble for bushwhacking some monks and stealing their gold before killing a knight and taking his identity. He runs into a shady nobleman (Lon Chaney), and eventually ends up in prison, where King Louis XI (Doc Crane) sets him free after knighting him. Also featuring Pauline Bush, Chester Withey, Millard K. Wilson, Frank Lanning, and Agnes Vernon.

 

Running a lean 30 minutes, this still packs a lot of activity into its brief time. MacQuarrie is pretty amusing as the seemingly amoral Villon, and I'm still not sure if I was supposed to be rooting for him or against him. Chaney's part, unfortunately, is a waste.   6/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#47 LawrenceA

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 09:46 PM

By the Sun's Rays (1914) - Earliest existing film featuring Lon Chaney, although he had already appeared in 26 films by then. When gold shipments keep getting stolen by bandits who seemingly have inside info about the deliveries, Detective John Murdock (Murdock MacQuarrie) is sent undercover to set things right. Could it have something to do with shady office clerk Lawler (Lon Chaney)? Also featuring Agnes Vernon, Seymour Hastings, and Dick Rosson.

 

This 11-minute Western short is similar to many being turned out at the time, with nothing very remarkable about it outside of Chaney's presence. He has enough time onscreen to look nefarious and manhandle the female lead, and then it's over.   5/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#48 LawrenceA

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 07:21 PM

Seven Keys to Baldpate (1917) - First of several film adaptations of Earl Derr Biggers novel. Popular novelist George Washington Magee (George M. Cohan) accepts a bet to write an entire book in 24 hours. To find the peace and quiet to do so, he's given access to the Baldpate Inn, which is closed for the season. He's told that he's been given the sole key to the place, but as he sets out to get to work, one after another person enters the place, each up to some nefarious shenanigans. Also featuring Anna Q. Nilsson, Hedda Hopper, Corene Uzzell, Joseph W. Smiley, Armand Cortes, Warren Cook, Purnell Pratt, Frank Losee, and Eric Hudson as Pete the Hermit.

 

This was based on Cohan's hit stage play version, but he and director Hugh Ford do a decent job of spreading out the action to keep it from getting too stage bound. The play must have been dialogue heavy, as there are a lot more intertitles used than the usual. Cohan is very good, funny and lively. This seems to have been a precursor/inspiration for the "old dark house" sub-genre of horror-mystery-comedies. I enjoyed it.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#49 LawrenceA

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 05:03 PM

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916) - Very early effort from Universal Pictures and producer Carl Laemmle, an adaptation of the science fiction novel by Jules Verne. Professor Aronnax (Dan Hanlon) and his daughter (Edna Pendleton) join an expedition in search of the supposed killer sea monster causing havoc and mayhem on the high seas. On board they meet sailor and harpoon master Ned Land (Curtis Benton), but even his skill is insufficient to save them when the monster attacks and destroys their ship. The monster ends up being a metal submarine, the Nautilus, and its captain Nemo (Allen Holubar) orders the Professor, his child and Ned to be rescued. Nemo is on a quest for vengeance, and they may all perish in his pursuit of it. Meanwhile, an American soldier, Lieutenant Bond (Matt Moore), crash lands his hot air balloon on a mysterious island, and he and his comrades find the Child of Nature (Jane Gail), a young woman who seemingly lives on the island alone. Does she have some connection to Nemo? Also featuring Howard Crampton, William Welsh, and Wallis Clark.

 

The big selling point here was the underwater cinematography, the first of its kind and a real crowd-pleaser. As you may have surmised from my plot summation, the story is more than a little muddled, mixing aspects from more than one Verne story. At least Nemo is presented as an East Indian Muslim, which he rarely has been in film. Late in the movie, with his outfit and great white beard, Nemo resembles a starving mad Santa Claus. Still, this was a major film in its day, and another piece of history. It was reportedly so expensive to film that Universal almost went under as a company and had to stick to low budget fare for quite a few years.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#50 LawrenceA

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 12:36 PM

Cabiria (1914) - Italian historical epic from director Giovanni Pastrone that was a huge worldwide hit and began more than one cinematic trend. Circa 300 B.C., Cabiria (Carolina Catena), the young daughter of a wealthy Roman family, is thought lost after an eruption of Mt. Etna. Instead she was rescued by servant Croessa (Gina Marangoni) who takes her to Carthage where they fall into the evil hands of the Temple of Moloch. Luckily two Roman spies, Fulvius (Umberto Mozzato) and his musclebound slave Maciste (Bartolomeo Pagano), in Carthage to keep an eye on the activities of Hannibal (Emilio Vardannes), learn of the child and attempt to rescue her. Also featuring Dante Testa, Lidia Quaranta, Edoardo Davesnes, and Italia Almirante-Manzini.

 

This was said to have inspired Griffith to make Intolerance into the epic it became, and the sets here are truly awe inspiring, especially in comparison to other films of the time. The Temple of Moloch is one of the great screen images of the silent era. The supporting character of Maciste, played by Pagano, was a breakout hit, the first screen muscleman hero, and led to a series of over 20 movies with Pagano as the character, as well as dozens more in the 1960s with a variety of stars. The history on display is dubious, but how many movies have Romans, Carthaginians, Numidians, Phoenicians, and even a Greek running around in the same story? Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#51 LawrenceA

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Posted 24 August 2017 - 09:10 PM

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1913) - Another short adaptation of Stevenson's tale, this one from filmmakers Herbert Brenon and Carl Laemmle. Henry Jekyll (King Baggott) is a charitable doctor and scientist who develops a formula that unlocks man's subsumed regressive state, transforming him into the abusive Mister Hyde. Also featuring Jane Gail, Matt Snyder, Howard Crampton, and William Sorelle.

 

While this version is twice as long as the last, it's still only 26 minutes, so it doesn't have a lot of time for character or nuance. Baggott, who was considered the first male movie star, is a goofy delight as Hyde, hobbling around close to the ground when he isn't jumping all over the furniture. The copy I watched was rather poor quality, so I didn't get a really good look at his face, but it looked as if he had one really big buck tooth. Again, this was another piece of genre movie history, and I'm glad I saw it.   6/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#52 LawrenceA

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Posted 24 August 2017 - 08:26 PM

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1912) - Short (12 minutes) adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's story and scientist Doctor Jekyll (James Cruze) who concocts a formula that transforms him into the violent, regressed Mister Hyde. Jekyll is wooing the minister's daughter (Florence La Badie), but knows that it can't work out when he starts to change into Hyde even without imbibing the drug. Also featuring Marie Eline, and Jane Gail.

 

Directed by Lucius Henderson, this is the oldest surviving film version, as both the 1908 American film and the 1910 Danish film are believed lost. This boils things down to the bare minimum, and you can't say that there's any real character development. The filming is also pedestrian and unremarkable. However, it was nice to see a bit of film history.   5/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#53 LawrenceA

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Posted 24 August 2017 - 07:53 PM

Dante's Inferno (1911) - aka L'Inferno. Reputedly the oldest surviving feature film, this Italian adaptation of the epic poem is a visual treat. The poet Dante (Salvatore Papa) is taken on a tour of the 9 circles of Hell by the poet Virgil (Arturo Pirovano), where he witnesses demons, lakes of fire, pitch, and ice, and even Lucifer himself. Also featuring Giuseppe de Liguoro, Pier Delle Vigne, and Augusto Milla.

 

This was a huge hit all over the world, and I can understand why, as it would appeal to both the religiously pious and audiences who liked bizarre and strange sights. There's a multitude of primitive effects here, like double exposure, forced perspective, and miniature work. There's also quite a bit of violence as the souls of the damned are tortured in various, often gruesome, ways, as well as copious nudity, as the majority of souls are also largely sans clothing.  7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#54 LawrenceA

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Posted 24 August 2017 - 04:57 PM

The Avenging Conscience (1914) - D.W. Griffith's twist on Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart". Henry B. Walthall stars as the Nephew, who has been raised and doted upon by his Uncle (Spottiswoode Aiken). But when the Nephew meets the Sweetheart (Blanche Sweet), the Uncle objects to their plans to get married. This leads the Nephew down a path toward murder and madness. Also featuring Ralph Lewis, Mae Marsh, Robert Harron, George Beranger, and George Siegmann as the Italian.

 

This is a pretty strange movie, with a lot of unexpected developments and odd imagery, including floating Jesus, Moses and the Ten Commanments, shirtless kids crawling out of a tree, a devil hanging out with animal-headed friends, Pan playing his flute, and Mae Marsh deciding that the best way to get a man is to wear a waitress outfit. Walthall is very entertaining, especially in the unhinged final quarter of the movie. The very last section is a cheat, but not totally unexpected. This didn't hold the cultural impact of The Birth of a Nation or display the kind of artistic ambition of Intolerance, but in many ways I found this more entertaining. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#55 LawrenceA

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Posted 24 August 2017 - 01:37 PM

The Student of Prague (1913) - Early German feature from directors Stellan Rye and Paul Wegener. The latter also stars as Balduin, the student of the title who is short of funds and so agrees to humor the strange offer from Scapinelli (John Gottowt) to sell his reflection for a large amount of gold. Balduin is stunned when, after signing the contract, his reflection steps out of a mirror and follows Scapinelli out the door. Balduin uses his new-found fortune to try and woo the Countess von Schwarzenberg (Grete Berger), but his mirror doppelganger causes much trouble and confusion. Also featuring Lyda Salmonova, Lothar Korner, and Fritz Weidemann.

 

This is fairly primitive stuff, with an immobile camera, stage framing, and zero close-ups or medium shots. There are a number of basic doubling effects used for when Balduin and his evil twin are on screen together that surely wowed audiences of the day. The sets and costumes are fine. I'm not sure this would be of much interest to anyone outside of film historians, though, as it lacks any sense of pacing or even character beyond the most arbitrary.   5/10

 

Source: YouTube, with shoddy English subtitles over the German intertitles.

 

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#56 LawrenceA

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Posted 22 August 2017 - 10:21 PM

#1 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

Metropolis (1927) - Fritz Lang's dystopian science fiction epic is my favorite film of the silent era. In a future society where the lower classes work dehumanizing jobs deep underground in order to facilitate the hedonistic lives of the upper-classes in the glittering city above, Freder (Gustav Frohlich), the lazy son of the city's Chief (Alfred Abel), meets Maria (Brigitte Helm), who tries to make life better for the wretches below ground. She's also fomenting a rebellion for better conditions, which concerns the Chief enough to seek out the mad scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), who creates a robot duplicate in order to infiltrate and sabotage the rebellion. Also featuring Heinrich George, Theodor Loos, and Fritz Rasp.

 

Visually striking and filled with strange characters, Lang's film also uses Expressionistic flourishes to accentuate the otherworldly sense of this grim future. The image of the robotic Maria has become a pop culture icon, and sections of the film have been referenced or used in music videos, television shows, and countless other films. The film has undergone many restorations, with the latest in 2010 bringing the film up to a 148 minute running time, which still leaves about 5 minutes of the original cut unaccounted for.    10/10

 

Source: Kino Blu Ray, with a making-of documentary and a featurette about the latest restoration.

 

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#57 LawrenceA

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Posted 22 August 2017 - 07:05 PM

#2 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) - Director Carl Theodor Dreyer's stark, haunting depiction of the trial of Joan of Arc (Maria Falconetti), the 15th century teenage girl warrior who fought against the English invaders after claiming that God had personally commanded her to. She's eventually put on trial for heresy by the very church and royalty that she fought to defend. Also featuring Eugene Silvain, Andre Berley, Maurice Schutz, Jean d'Yd, Louis Ravet, Antonin Artaud, and Michel Simon.

 

Dreyer films most of the proceedings in sharp, unflinching close-ups. The actors' faces convey every emotion, every motive, every deception and truth, and none moreso than star Falconetti, who turns in one of the most transcendent performances ever put on film. Much like Nosferatu star Max Schreck, Maria Falconetti has seen a cult following in the decades since this film's release, partly due to her scarcity of film appearances, with this being her last. This latest rewatch for me featured the "Voices of Light" musical accompaniment, a powerful oratorio composed specifically for the movie. I can't recommend this version highly enough.  10/10

 

Source: Criterion DVD, with the "Voices of Light" score, an audio essay on the film by historian Casper Tybjerg, audio interview with Maria's daughter Helene Falconetti, and a written essay in the DVD insert.

 

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#58 LawrenceA

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Posted 22 August 2017 - 05:06 PM

#3 Favorite Movie of the Silent Era

 

Nosferatu (1922) - F.W. Murnau's unauthorized telling of Bram Stoker's Dracula, with character names and some events changed in a failed attempt to avoid legal problems. It's 1838, and Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) is sent from his hometown in the fictional coastal city of Wisborg to Transylvania. There he is to meet with the reclusive Count Orlok (Max Schreck) and facilitate the sale of a parcel of land in Wisborg to the Count. Upon arrival, Hutter learns that something is not quite right with the strange Orlok, who is in fact a vampire, or nosferatu as the locals call it. Orlok makes his way to Wisborg, leaving outbreaks of plague in his wake, and he sets his sights on Hutter's wife Ellen (Greta Schroder). Also featuring Alexander Granach, Georg H. Schnell, Ruth Landshoff, and John Gottowt.

 

Compared to other Murnau films such as The Last LaughFaust, or Sunrise, this fairly conventionally told, looking more like the real world than Murnau's typical stylized storybook production design. This helps accentuate the feeling of horror at the repulsive, rat-like Orlok as he scurries about the city streets and castle walls. Schreck makes for one of the most iconic film monsters of all time, so much so that urban legends built up around his performance, eventually leading to the fictional Shadow of the Vampire (2000) which asserted that Schreck actually was a vampire. For such a lasting impression, Orlok appears on screen rather infrequently, only 9 minutes out of the film's 96 minute running time. One moment that I particularly like is when the traveling Hutter is warned by an innkeeper not to stray outside at night because a werewolf is on the prowl, and the creature that's then shown skulking in the woods is a jackal! Despite the filmmakers' efforts, the estate of Stoker still sued them, and won, and an attempt was made to confiscate and destroy all copies of this film. Thankfully they failed, but it has been a long and arduous process getting the movie back into a restored version.   9/10

 

Source: Kino DVD, a 2-disc set including two versions, one with German intertitles, the other with English ones. There's also a 52-minute documentary on Murnau's life and the making of the film, as well as another short about the movie's restoration. Finally, there are clips from several other Murnau films.

 

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#59 LawrenceA

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Posted 22 August 2017 - 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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#60 LawrenceA

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Posted 21 August 2017 - 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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