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Recently Watched Silents

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Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection (1920-1923) - A three-disc Blu Ray set featuring 18 of Keaton's best short films. The titles include One WeekThe Scarecrow (both 1920), The High SignNeighborsThe Haunted HouseHard LuckThe GoatThe Play House, and The Boat (all 1921), The PalefaceCopsMy Wife's RelationsThe BlacksmithThe Frozen NorthDay Dreams, and The Electric House (all 1922),  The Balloonatic, and The Love Nest (both 1923). Most of the films are in pristine condition, although a couple looked a bit rough, and there was a section or two missing from some. The films themselves are all terrific, with none less than a 7/10 rating, while most are 8/10. Of the great silent comedy stars, I've always thought Chaplin was the artist, and Lloyd had the most heart, but Keaton was the funniest. This set is highly recommended for fans of either the star or the genre. Plus, it was only $7 from a mail-order catalog, which you can't really beat for a multi-disc Blu Ray set!

 

Source: Kino Blu Ray

 

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The School for Scandal (1923) - Costume period piece based on the play by Richard Sheridan. Lady Teazle (Queenie Thomas) is a member of the title group, a gathering of society figures that trade in salacious gossip. But her involvement with Joseph Surface (Basil Rathbone) teaches her that gossip is best kept to oneself. Also featuring Frank Stanmore, John Stuart, and Sidney Paxton.

 

This very early film in Rathbone's career (his third) is thought lost. But a ten-minute, edited version sold for reel-to-reel home viewing still exists, and it's all we have to base an opinion on. The costumes seem detailed and well executed. It is difficult, however, to judge a property that seems so dependent on dialogue translated to a silent film. But I'm just glad to be able to see any of it.  6/10

 

Source: YouTube

 

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Lady of the Night (1925) - Romantic drama from director Monta Bell. A judge (Fred Esmelton) sentences a man (Lew Harvey) to 20 years in prison. Cut to 18 years later, and the judge's daughter Florence (Norma Shearer) is graduating from finishing school, a privileged young lady ready for society. Meanwhile, across town, the convict's daughter Molly (also Norma Shearer) is getting released from reformatory school, with no prospects for a future. Molly and her friends quickly turn to prostitution, with Molly "taken care of" by Chunky Dunn (George K. Arthur). Molly meets handsome inventor Dave (Malcolm McGregor), and quickly falls for him and his possibility of a brighter future. But Dave meets Florence while seeking backing for one of his inventions, and falls for the more reputable girl. Also featuring Dale Fuller, Gwen Lee, and Betty Morrissey.

 

I think this may be my favorite performance by Shearer. While she's the usual wet-blanket as the goodie two-shoes Florence, she's alive, vibrant and real as the hard-bitten Molly. The plot and secondary characters are largely forgettable, with the exception of Molly's friends. 19-year-old Joan Crawford sort of makes her screen debut as Shearer's body double whenever her two characters share the screen. Crawford can fleetingly be seen made-up as the Molly character during one brief moment when Florence and Molly embrace, as well.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube, in 6 parts

 

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The Circle (1925) - Creaky, stagebound drama from director Frank Borzage, based on a play by W. Somerset Maugham. Eleanor Boardman stars as Elizabeth Cheney, recently married to Arnold (Creighton Hale) but secretly in love with the handsome Teddy (Malcolm McGregor), Arnold's best friend. Everyone is anxiously awaiting the arrival of guests: Arnold's mother Kitty (Eugenie Besserer) and her second husband Hughie (George Fawcett). The trouble is, Kitty ran away with Hughie years ago, leaving Arnold's father Clive (Alec B. Francis) devastated. How will everyone react when they're all together again, and will Elizabeth follow in the footsteps of Kitty and run away with the best man?

 

This would have been pretty stultifying even if there was sound, but without the dialogue to lean on, the film is a static exercise in facial expressions as people sit in one of two rooms. None of the performers stood out, and this is the third film I've watched McGregor in in a week's time, and he has yet to impress. Joan Crawford has one of her earliest roles as the young Kitty shown in flashback.   5/10

 

Source: YouTube, but the uploader recorded it from TCM

 

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Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926) - First feature-length movie from star Harry Langdon. He plays Harry Logan, a goofy young man who accidentally enters a walk-across-America contest that could earn him $25,000, which is what he happens to need to save the family shoe-making business. Harry's also smitten with Betty Burton (Joan Crawford), the daughter of the contest sponsor. Also featuring Alec B. Francis, Edward Davis, and Tom Murray.

 

This was the first Langdon work that I've seen, and I'm left with mixed feelings. His oddball persona differentiates him from his peers a bit, but there doesn't seem to be as much thought put into the scenarios the character stumbles into. As a result, the number of real laughs is much lower than in a Keaton, Chaplin, or Lloyd work of the period. Crawford looks pretty, and that's about all her role calls for.   6/10

 

Source: YouTube

 

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Beau Geste (1926) - First film adaptation of the novel by P.C. Wren. After a fabulous gem is reported stolen from his adoptive Aunt's care, Michael "Beau" Geste (Ronald Colman) takes the blame and leaves England, enlisting in the French Foreign Legion and getting stationed in North Africa. His two brothers, Digby (Neil Hamilton) and John (Ralph Forbes), also enlist in an effort to get Beau to return home. They fall under the command of the sadistic Sgt. Lejaune (Noah Beery Sr.), and the troops can't decide if they'd rather kill him or the approaching hostile Arab army. Also featuring William Powell, Victor McLaglen, Alice Joyce, Mary Brian, Norman Trevor, George Regas,Donald Stuart, and Bernard Siegel.

 

I've seen, and enjoyed, the 1939 version starring Gary Cooper, and now I know that that later version closely followed this original. Director and screenwriter Herbert Brenon does a tremendous job with the Legion sections of the film, and it's surprisingly violent. The sections showing the Gestes as kids goes on a bit long, though. The opening segment of the film is revisited later, with the events shown from a different angle. I wonder how often that narrative device had been used by this point, if at all. The cast stand out for me was William Powell as Boldini, a shifty thief and scoundrel (someone calls him a "jibbering jackal" at one point) who is also in the Legion.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube

 

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Flesh and the Devil (1926) - Romance epic that introduced John Gilbert to Greta Garbo, kindling one of the screen's greatest romances, and making Garbo into one of the world's biggest stars. Gilbert plays Leo von Harden, a German soldier who is best friends since childhood with fellow soldier Ulrich von Eltz (Lars Hanson). Leo meets Felicitas (Greta Garbo), the beautiful wife of Count von Rhaden (Marc McDermott), and Leo falls hard for her, leading to a duel that forces Leo to flee the country for several years. Upon his return, he learns that Felicitas is now married to his best friend Ulrich, a situation that leads to heartbreak and tragedy. Also featuring Barbara Kent, William Orlamond, Eugenie Besserer, George Fawcett, Marcelle Corday, and Frankie Darro.

 

This movie looks amazing, truly one of the most beautifully filmed of the silent era, and I applaud director Clarence Brown and cinematographer William Daniels for their tremendous work. The story is simple, but it is as it should be, archetypal in its universality, and fitting with the storybook imagery. Garbo has rarely been as lovely on screen, and you can see Gilbert fall in love with her on screen, in the film and in real life. I don't know that I would have liked this as much as a sound film, as the silent nature of it fed into the dream-like presentation. A really remarkable film, and one that I will rank among the very best of the silent period. Highly recommended.   9/10

 

Source: TCM

 

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La Boheme (1926) - Director King Vidor helms this adaptation of Henri Murger's look at artistic dreamers in 1830 Paris. Rodolphe (John Gilbert) is a wouldbe playwright struggling for that final bit of inspiration that will lead him to greatness. Mimi (Lillian Gish) is his upstairs neighbor, a seamstress and embroidery expert who works herself to the breaking point. Along with various painters, musicians and other poets, they all struggle to make ends meet until they finally have the success they all crave. Also featuring Renee Adoree, George Hassell, Roy D'Arcy, Karl Dane, Mathilde Comont, Gino Corrado, and Edward Everett Horton.

 

The most famous bit of this one is the very ending, but I won't risk spoiling things, only to say that it's milked for all that it's worth. Gilbert looks even more like John Barrymore here, with his tousled hair and piercing eyes. Gish is her usual waifish, saintly self, although she was reportedly anything but offscreen during the making of this, her personal "love letter" to her European fans. I thought the film to be merely decent, with nothing beyond the ending to really recommend it.   7/10

 

Source: TCM

 

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The Magician (1926) - Strange horror tale from unlikely director Rex Ingram and less likely source novelist W. Somerset Maugham. Doctor Oliver Haddo (Paul Wegener) is a surgeon, hypnotist and magician interested in creating life from nothingness. He finds an obscure ritual that requires the blood of a virgin, so he sets his sights on Margaret Dauncey (Alice Terry), a sculptress who recently underwent surgery. Haddo's overbearing attention doesn't sit well with either Margaret or her boyfriend Arthur (Ivan Petrovich). Also featuring Firmin Gemier, Gladys Hamer, Henry Wilson, and Hubert Stowitts.

 

This is an odd story, a mix of Svengali, Frankenstein and other mad scientist tales to come. James Whale later remarked that the lab scenes near the end of this inspired his own thoughts on Frankenstein 5 years later. Wegener mugs like mad as the evil Haddo, while Terry looks understandably worried. There's one stand-out sequence when Haddo shows Margaret a lurid glimpse at a hellish landscape with cavorting satyrs that's pretty memorable.   7/10

 

Source: TCM

 

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A Page of Madness (1926) - aka Kurutta ippeji, an avant-garde art film from director Teinosuke Kinugasa. A man (Masuo Inoue) works as a janitor at a mental asylum in order to be near his wife (Yoshie Nakagawa), who is a patient. The man's daughter (Ayako Iijima) is to be married soon, and questions of attendance are making things difficult for the man. 

 

This meager narrative provides the framework for a lot of flash-cut editing, strobing visual tricks, and experimental cinema. This isn't interested in a traditional story (at least, not the existing version, which is said to be missing nearly a third of its original footage), but rather in depicting madness and inner turmoil in a visual fashion. Even the usual silent film intertitles are absent, rendering the film a purely visual experience. The score that was used on the version I watched seemed like it was suited for a late 1960s acid party. The original release was said to have had a narrator and traditional Japanese music accompaniment. What I saw was still an interesting viewing, much of it closer to experimental films from the 1960s than what I'm used to seeing from the 1920s.   7/10

 

Source: TCM

 

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The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926) - Western romance and heroics from director Henry King. Irrigation engineer Willard Holmes (Ronald Colman) is hired to build a water system for a parched Southwestern community. Barbara Worth (Vilma Banky), the adopted daughter of ranch boss Jefferson Worth (Charles Lane), falls for the debonair outsider, much to the annoyance of Worth Ranch foreman Abe Lee (Gary Cooper). This romantic rivalry leads to hardship and danger, all of which serves to empower local baron Greenfield (E.J. Ratcliffe). Also featuring Paul McAllister, Clyde Cook, Erwin Connelly, Ed Brady, and Fred Esmelton.

 

It is odd seeing Colman in a western setting, but he handles himself well enough in the milieu. Cooper, in his first starring role, is green but has undeniable screen presence. Banky is lovely and satisfactory. The most memorable sequence is the big finale river flood, and it's well executed.  7/10

 

Source: TCM

 

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College (1927) - Lesser effort from Buster Keaton, this time saddled with producer-mandated director James W. Horne. Buster plays a bookish high school graduate (!) who decides to concentrate on athletics in college so as to impress his hoped-for sweetheart (Anne Cornwall). To that end, he tries out baseball, track and field, and rowing. Also featuring Harold Goodwin, Snitz Edwards, Florence Turner, and Sam Crawford.

 

Keaton was forced into this film as an attempt to make up for the financial losses of his previous film The General. It's obvious that his heart isn't in it, although there are a few funny moments, including a terrific finale.   7/10

 

Source: Kino DVD, with bonus features including an introduction by Lobster Films head Serge Bromberg (in French), a vintage introduction by Lillian Gish from the 1971 TV series The Silent Years, a tour of filming locations, The Scribe (1966), Buster's final work, and Run, Girl, Run (1928) a sports-themed comedy short featuring Carole Lombard.

 

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Downhill (1927) - aka When Boys Leave Home, an early dramatic feature from Alfred Hitchcock, based on a play by star Ivor Novello. He plays Roddy Berwick, the big man on campus at a prestigious private school. He enjoys rugby and spending time with his best chum Tim Wakely (Robin Irvine). Tim has a dalliance with a girl of "low morals", and when she becomes pregnant, she spitefully blames Roddy, who out of loyalty to his buddy Tim accepts the blame is expelled from school. This sets him on a path "downhill" away from his promising future, towards a wretched existence as a bit actor and male prostitute. Also featuring Isabel Jeans, Ian Hunter, Sybil Rhoda, and Norman McKinnel.

 

This is rather corny and overlong, although those interested in Novello, a huge star of stage and screen in the UK in first half of the 20th century, will most likely get more out of it. Hitchcock shows off a few camera tricks and artistic shots, like a lingering scene of Novello descending an escalator into the Underground rail as a symbol of his societal descent. I also thought it rare to see a male prostitute in a film of this era, even though female pros seem to figure into every other silent film.   6/10

 

Source: TCM

 

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Mr. Wu (1927) - Melodrama set in China features Lon Chaney as the Mandarin Wu, local ruler and wealthy landowner. His daughter Nang Ping (Renee Adoree) falls for visiting Englishman Basil (Ralph Forbes), and when the young couple go "too far", the consequences are tragic and deadly. Also featuring Louise Dresser, Holmes Herbert, Gertrude Olmstead, and Anna May Wong.

 

"Yellowface", casting European or American whites as East Asians, has been a practice as long as there's been cinema, and it proved to be much longer lived, only falling out of favor in the mid 1980s or so, as opposed to "blackface" caricatures that were considered offensive much earlier. In most of these old "yellowface" movies, Chinese culture is shown to be inscrutable, harsh, and almost completely alien. Such is the driving force of this story, with it's many unassailable rules and regulations governing social interaction. Chaney had reached the peak of his stardom at this point, with his name twice the size of the film title on the opening card. He gets to stretch his acting and makeup muscles again, playing both the Chinese Mandarin Wu and his elderly father. He's terrific as usual, as is Dresser as the mother of Basil. Wong is wasted, and would have been better cast as the daughter. This is worth seeing, but it lacks the bizarre charms of Chaney's Browning collaborations.   7/10

 

Source: TCM

 

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Mockery (1927) - More Lon Chaney, this time directed by Benjamin Christensen. Chaney plays a slow-witted peasant named Sergei during the Russian Revolution who rescues Countess Tatiana (Barbara Bedford) from soldiers. He escorts her to safety, suffering terrible injury in his efforts. Once back to her estate, she offers Sergei employment as a menial servant. He grows resentful of her newly condescending attitude, leading to tragedy and death (those two Chaney hallmarks). Also featuring Ricardo Cortez, Mack Swain, Emily Fitzroy, Charles Puffy, and Johnny Mack Brown in an uncredited bit as a solider.

 

Chaney delivers another excellent performance, but the plot is too slight, and the other characters too cruel or inconsequential to care about, making the ending that much more of a disappointment. Still, as a Chaney completist I was happy to finally see this one.   6/10

 

Source: TCM

 

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Napoleon (1927) - Stunning masterpiece from French director Abel Gance, remarkable even in it's current, truncated form. The film details the early life of Napoleon Bonaparte (Albert Dieudonne), from his unpleasant childhood in boarding school to his early military life during the French Revolution and the subsequent Reign of Terror, through to his first military victories and marriage to Josephine (Gina Manes). Also featuring Annabella, Vladimir Roudenko, Edmond Van Daele, Alexandre Koubitzky, Antonin Artaud, and Abel Gance as Saint-Just.

 

Gance seems to have taken note of every cinematic technique of the previous 30 years of the medium, combining them all into a breathtaking, exhaustive epic that transcends the time of it's making while being wholly of it, as well. This could not exist with such strength as anything but a silent film, I feel, as the reliance on visual stimulus forced Gance into finding new and exciting ways to express emotion and mood. His early use of montage editing and super-imposition of imagery is stellar. The use of handheld cameras adds to the immediacy of the revolutionary scenes, conveying a newsreel touch that seems far advanced from other films of its day. The sets and costumes are very impressive, as is the cast of thousands. Dieudonne resembles Olivier's Richard III more than any other screen Napoleon that I've seen, but it works, and I wonder if his is the image I'll conjure in the future when thinking of the French military genius. 

 

This movie has a storied existence, with multiple running times and edits throughout the decades. Gance's original version is said to have run over 9 hours, but subsequent edits ran as short as 115 minutes (the 1929 US release). Noted British film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow has made it his life's work to try and restore the movie as closely as possible to Gance's original vision. The version that I watched was the recently released BFI version, supervised by Brownlow, and it ran 333 minutes, or about 5 and a half hours. 

 

This is the greatest silent film that I have yet seen, and one of the great achievements in world cinema. This is one of the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die. It's a Must-See.    10/10

 

Source: archive.org

 

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Old San Francisco (1927) - Lurid, weird, racist melodrama from a story a by Darryl F. Zanuck and directed by Alan Crosland. In 1906 San Francisco, Don Hernandez de Vasquez (Josef Swickard) is the only remaining Spanish ranch owner. He hopes to bequeath it to his daughter Dolores (Dolores Costello) when she eventually marries, but lawyer Michael Brandon (Anders Randolf) wants the land on behalf of client Chris Buckwell (Warner Oland). Buckwell is wealthy and feared, and he's especially cruel to the residents of Chinatown. Buckwell's dark secret is that he's actually half-Chinese himself, and he keeps his dwarf little brother Chang Loo (Angelo Rossitto) locked up in a cage like an animal. Buckwell will stop at nothing to get the Vasquez ranch, and Dolores accepts the help of Brandon's nephew Terrence (Charles Emmett Mack) to try and thwart him. Also featuring Anna May Wong, Lawson Butt, Walter McGrail, Otto Matieson, John Miljan, and Sojin Kamiyama.

 

There are no Chinese slurs or denigrations left unsaid in this one, which is a bit odd when the Chinese are largely shown to be sympathetic, and the villain is the guy who pretends to be white. Oland tries out the Asian look here that would serve him so well over the next decade as Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan. Charles E. Mack, a rising star in silent films, died in a car crash at age 26 shortly before this was released. Costello was lovely and believable. Looking at the title and the year of the setting, one knows how this one is going to end.   6/10

 

Source: TCM

 

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The Show (1927) - Tod Browning, who directed many of the most bizarre films of the silent era, comes through again with this look at carnival performers. **** Robin (John Gilbert) is the handsome barker and showman at a minor Budapest sideshow carnival. He's caught the eye of Salome (Renee Adoree), the dancing girl whose "dance of the seven veils" serves as the show highlight. The show magician, known as the Greek (Lionel Barrymore) is jealous and longs for Salome's affections, so he plots Robin's demise. Meanwhile, Salome cares for a blind old man (Edward Connelly) who longs for word from his missing soldier son. Also featuring Gertrude Short, Andy MacLennan, Betty Boyd, Polly Moran, Zalla Zarana, and Edna Tichenor as Arachnida the Human-Spider.

 

This presages Browning's 1932 masterpiece Freaks, but it lacks the real-life physical "oddities" of that film. In fact, this sideshow is all fake-outs, with sleight-of-hand and tricks of perspective standing in for deformities. Gilbert is different here than in the last few movies that I've seen him in, more unpredictable and even sadistic. The love triangle is full of perverse undertones, while the other lovely ladies of the sideshow are a highlight. The newly commissioned music used in the version I saw sounded like a Danny Elfman/Tim Burton score, which would please all involved, I think.   7/10

 

Source: TCM

 

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Underworld (1927) - Prototypical gangster picture from Paramount, director Josef von Sternberg, and screenwriter Ben Hecht. George Bancroft stars as Bull Weed, a big, intimidating gang boss. After former-lawyer-turned-drunken-bum Rolls-Royce (Clive Brook) witnesses Bull pulling off a bank heist, the gangster brings the drunk back to his hideout, where he takes a shine to him. Bull gives Rolls a job, cleaning him up and having him act as a butler for Bull's moll, Feathers (Evelyn Brent). But the inevitable attraction starts to form between Rolls and Feathers, and Bull is bound to find out eventually. Also featuring Fred Kohler, Helen Lynch, Larry Semon, Jerry Mandy, and Alfred Allen. 

 

While the film looks nice and moves along at a quick pace, it lacks the stylish touches one came to expect with later von Sternberg movies. Bancroft, the first real gangster-movie star, is good as the big 'n blustery Bull, while Brook brings the right amount of dissipated class, and Brent is pretty and multi-dimensional as the kept woman. These gangsters are more a "smash-and-grab" robbery outfit than the usual bootleggers. The movie also ends on what seems a false, anticlimactic note. Howard Hawks did some uncredited work on the script, which may account for the similarities to his and Hecht's later Scarface. Credited writer Hecht, meanwhile, who wanted to disown the picture before its release, went on to win the very first Best Screenplay Oscar for Underworld. This is one of the 101 Gangster Movies to See Before You Die.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube

 

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When a Man Loves (1927) - Lavish Warner Brothers costume romance from director Alan Crosland. John Barrymore stars as Fabien des Grieux, a young man on the verge of becoming a priest in 18th century Paris. His vows fall by the wayside when he glimpses the beautiful Manon Lescault (Dolores Costello), and the two begin an affair. But Manon's wastrel brother Andre (Warner Oland) agrees to "rent" his sister's affections to the wealthy Comte de Morfontaine (Sam De Grasse), as Andre's gambling has left him in debt. The distraught Fabien contemplates returning to the church, but can his heart live without Manon by his side? Also featuring Holmes Herbert, Stuart Holmes, Bertram Grassby, Tom Santschi, Eugenie Besserer, Noble Johnson, and Myrna Loy.

 

The sets and costumes are top-shelf, and the direction is solid if unobtrusive. The performances are adequate, and real-life couple Barrymore and Costello have chemistry. Although without dialogue, this was released with a score, to the delight and amazement of viewers/listeners. There are a few moments of surprising violence.   7/10

 

Source: TCM

 

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The Wedding March (1928) - Opulent romantic drama from Erich von Stroheim. He stars as Austrian nobleman Nickolas von Wildeliebe-Rauffenberg. His family wants him to marry Cecelia Schweisser (Zasu Pitts), the crippled daughter of a wealthy business magnate. But Nicki meets the beautiful Mitzi (Fay Wray), a farm girl and harp player of low birth. Mitzi is being pursued by the loutish butcher Schani (Matthew Betz), but her heart pines for the dashing Nicki. Can their love survive the pullback from society? Also featuring George Fawcett, Maude George, George Nichols, Dale Fuller, Hughie Mack, and Cesare Gravina.

 

Stroheim lavishes the screen with ornate costumes and settings that threaten to overwhelm the meager narrative. There's even a lengthy Technicolor segment showing a parade full of pomp and majesty. Wray is very good, sensual yet innocent at the same time. Pitts also manages to elicit pathos from a role that could easily have been a one-note villain. Stroheim encountered his usual post-production problems, and multiple editors were brought in to work on the film, including Josef von Sternberg. Some consider this a masterpiece, whereas I found it good, though not exceptionally so.   7/10

 

Source: TCM

 

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White Shadows in the South Seas (1928) - Tropical hokum made notable by location filming. Monte Blue stars as Doc Lloyd, a drunk living like a bum among the French Polynesian natives who are being exploited by white traders for the nearby valuable pearl beds. The mistreatment of the locals reaches a breaking point for Doc, and after a violent outburst, he ends up on another island, this one untouched by white man's hands. Here Doc cleans up his act, helping the natives with his medical savvy, and falling in love with native girl Fayaway (Raquel Torres). Also featuring Robert Anderson, and Renee Bush.

 

The Tahitian shores are nice to look at, and the underwater sequences are intriguing for the time. Director W.S. Van Dyke keeps things moving, but this works more as a travelogue than a compelling narrative. A scene where native fishermen wrestle with giant sea turtles is a highlight, even if you sympathize more with the turtles. This won an Oscar for Best Cinematography, but not until 1930.   6/10

 

Source: TCM

 

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A Woman of Affairs (1928) - Melodrama from director Clarence Brown that's a neutered version of the scandalous (for the time) stage play The Green Hat. Greta Garbo stars as Diana, the devil-may-care daughter of the wealthy Merrick clan. She can't wait to marry Neville (John Gilbert), whom she's loved since childhood, but Neville is reluctant since he doesn't have the money to support her in the manner to which she is accustomed. When he leaves to earn his fortune, Diana takes up with David (Johnny Mack Brown), the best friend of her alcoholic brother Jeffry (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). These romantic entanglements ensure a future of heartbreak and tragedy. Also featuring Lewis Stone, Hobart Bosworth, Dorothy Sebastian, and Anita Louise.

 

From what I can gather, the play dealt with venereal disease and homosexuality, things that couldn't be discussed with any frankness, even in a Pre-Code. So those elements of the story were altered, and what results is a handsome-looking if fairly routine and bland drama, enlivened by a few good performances. Garbo and Fairbanks Jr. are both terrific, while Gilbert seems oddly inert. Stone looks concerned on everyone's behalf, and Brown looks uncomfortable and like he'd rather be on a horse. The star power made this a hit, and it earned an Oscar nomination for Best Writing.  7/10

 

Source: TCM

 

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The Wizard of Oz (1925) - Silent adaptation of L. Frank Baum's children's fantasy books. 18-year-old Dorothy (Dorothy Dwan) lives on a Kansas farm, little knowing that she's actually the rightful Queen of the magical land of Oz, which is currently ruled by Prime Minister Kruel (Josef Swickard). After Kruel sends his minion Ambassador Wikked (Otto Lederer) to Kansas to try and steal the document that proves Dorothy is the queen, Dorothy and her friends are transported to Oz, where they meet the Wizard (Charles Murray) and the benevolent Prince Kynd (Bryant Washburn). Dorothy's friends are transformed into the Scarecrow (Larry Semon), the Tin Woodsman (Oliver Hardy), and the Cowardly Lion (Spencer Bell). Also featuring Mary Carr, Virginia Pearson, Frederick Ko Vert, and Jean Johnston.

 

This was adapted, produced and directed by silent screen comedy star Larry Semon, a household name at the time, but almost entirely forgotten today. It's nearly half of the running time before Dorothy and her gang get to Oz, with much of the first half of the movie taken up by substandard comedy bits on the Kansas farm. It was strange seeing Hardy as the Tin Woodsman, and sad to see the Cowardly Lion, who spends most of the film as a stereotypical black caricature named Snowball. Semon was too extravagant with his budgets, and soon after declared bankruptcy. 2 years later he was playing supporting roles, like in von Sternberg's 1927 Underworld, before dying in 1928 at age 39 of lung disease. The copy I watched was of poor quality, made worse by an annoying music track and a terrible woman narrator who reads the title cards.   5/10

 

Source: AmazonPrime

 

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The Outlaw and His Wife (1918) - Swedish film legend Victor Sjostrom directs and stars in this stark drama set in 19th century Iceland. Itinerant laborer Kari (Sjostrom) finds work on the large ranch of widow Halla (Edith Erastoff), and in time the two form a romantic attachment. But when old secrets are revealed, Kari and Halla have to flee into the countryside, where they live as outlaws wanted by the authorities. Also featuring John Ekman and Nils Arehn.

 

Sjostrom's film shows a maturity in style and technique beyond many of his peers at the time. The location photography is very good (northern Sweden stands in for Iceland), and the performances are more naturalistic, with the exception of some bits near the end when things get a bit overwrought. Still, this is an exceptional film, and audiences should be prepared for the distinct lack of sentimentality, with the film going to some dark places. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: FilmStruck

 

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