LawrenceA

Recently Watched Silents

147 posts in this topic

The Old and the New (1929) - Soviet collectivist farming propaganda from directors Sergei Eisenstein and Grogoriy Aleksandrov. When peasant farm woman Marfa (Marfa Lapkina) is driven to the edge of ruin by the old way of farming, she decides to join other fed up agriculturalists and form a collective farm, working together for a better common future. But the enemies of progress are always at their heels: the fat capitalists, the false-hope Church, and a lazy bureaucracy.

 

We all know how the Soviet collectivist farming utopia really turned out, and when the lecturing sections of the film are at the forefront it's a tedious bore. But when the directors let their artistic instincts come into play, there's a lot to enjoy here. The visual compositions are often interesting and aesthetically pleasing, and I liked a scene where one farmer dreams of the skies raining milk and cream, and another scene with a new tractor hauling a train of wagons like some kind of centipede over the hills. The filmmakers also gathered a lot of interesting faces, and use a lot of close-ups. Beauty is not the order of the day, and it almost seems like some of Fellini's later period grotesqueries. I also don't recall a movie featuring so many people with roaches crawling on them. This won't be for many viewers, but for those who appreciate the value of technique and composition, this is recommended.   8/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) - German melodrama from director G.W. Pabst. Louise Brooks stars as Thymian, the teenage daughter of a well-to-do pharmacist (Josef Rovensky). When Thymian is taken advantage of by her father's sleazy assistant Meinert (Fritz Rasp), she becomes pregnant. After the baby is born and given up for adoption, Thymian is sent to a reform school, where the harsh treatment sends her on to an even darker, more troubled future. Also featuring Andre Roanne, Vera Powlowa, Franziska Kinz, and Arnold Korff.

 

The source material was a scandalous novel by Margarete Bohme, and the film seems to be going for moral shock and titillation. Rasp is terrific in his defining role as the shark-like predatory Meinert. This was Brooks and Pabst's second collaboration, after 1928's Pandora's Box. Both films have developed a following since their release, and Brooks has become something of an iconic cult figure. But it's mainly from her appearance, as her performances are rather a blank slate. Some viewers may project more depth or nuance onto her, but to me she's a pretty mannequin. I wish the copy I had seen was better, and a top-to-bottom restoration would add much to film's appeal, I think.   7/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

 

 

http://www.brattlefilm.org/2017/09/06/diary-of-a-lost-girl/?utm_source=Weekly+email+list&utm_campaign=8a4662fb8b-This_Week_Aug_4_10_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_4fd594c694-8a4662fb8b-38189452

 

Apparently a new print is available. At least for Diary of a Lost Girl.

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The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) - No, that's not deja vu. This is another, short American arthouse take on Poe's story from the same year. The Usher siblings host an unexpected guest as things deteriorate mentally for them. Featuring Herbert Stern, Hildegarde Watson, and Melville Webber.

 

Directors Webber and James Sibley Watson drop all pretense at a narrative in this 13-minute short, but it's crammed with excellent experimental imagery and effects. A lot of this looks ahead of its time, and the techniques would be put to greater use in future films, including Roger Corman's 1960 version.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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Their next famous film is even weirder. Already discussed A Lot In Sodom here: http://forums.tcm.com/index.php?/topic/114972-a-shortie-checklist-an-assortment-of-culinary-delights/?p=1483489

 

Watch it here: https://archive.org/details/Lot_in_Sodom_1933

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A Straightforward Boy (1929) - aka Tokkan kozo, a 15-minute comedy short from Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. A pair of bumbling kidnappers (Tatsuo Saito and Takeshi Sakamoto) get more than they bargained for when they pick a particularly troublesome young boy (Tomio Aoki) as their next victim.

 

This is very humorous, as the deadpan kid causes all kinds of irritating annoyance to the two criminals. One question I was left with concerns the hair style of Sakamoto: his head has several circles shaved in it. Was this a common style in Japan in the late 1920's? The movie is in rough shape, as are many of these early Ozu films. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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A Throw of Dice (1929) - German-Indian co-production from director Franz Osten. King Sohat (Himansu Rai) and King Ranjit (Charu Roy) both love games of chance, and they both fall for the same girl, a hermit's daughter named Sunita (Seeta Devi). They decide to duel for her over a game of chance, but when one is proven to have cheated, the other will not stand for it.

 

The German Osten made a number of films in India from the 1920's through the 1930's. The costumes, sets and scale are very impressive, with a literal cast of thousands of extras, and a menagerie of exotic animals such as elephants and tigers. The story is very basic, though, almost childishly so, but that may explain its appeal across cultural barriers. None other than Satyajit Ray said that no other film portrayed the splendor and beauty of India better than this movie, which is high praise indeed. I liked the visuals, but the story and characters proved a bit too simplistic to leave any more lasting impression. This is one of the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die.   7/10

 

Source: Kino DVD, a pristine print, and featuring a new score, and a lengthy interview with the composer.

 

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Where East Is East (1929) - More psycho-sexual weirdness from Tod Browning and MGM. Lon Chaney stars as Tiger Haynes, a wild animal trapper living and working in Indochina. The joy of his life is his daughter Toyo (Lupe Velez), and he's a bit upset to learn, upon returning from his latest hunting excursion, that she has found a boyfriend in Bobby Bailey (Lloyd Hughes). Tiger eventually warms to the nice young man, but things turn south when Toyo's mother Mademoiselle de Sylva (Estelle Taylor) shows up. She's a heartless vamp, and she immediately sets her sites on Bobby. Also featuring Louis Stern, Mademoiselle Kithnou, and Mrs. Wong Wing.

 

Chaney, sporting a claw-scarred face, is good in what would be his next-to-last silent film (the last, 1929's Thunder, is considered lost). I was very impressed by Lupe Velez. She's a name I've known for years, and I've seen a couple of her later films, but this was the first time I really paid attention to her. She's terrific here, and I see why she became a star. Hughes is a damp rag, but Taylor exudes some interesting exoticism, even if she seems like an afterthought whenever Velez is on screen. The ending, involving a guy in a bad gorilla costume, is vintage Browning perversity.   7/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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City Girl (1930) - Romantic drama from Fox and director F.W. Murnau. Minnesota farm boy Lem (Charles Ferrell) travels to the big city of Chicago for the first time to sell his family's annual wheat harvest. He meets tough-cookie waitress Kate (Mary Duncan) who dreams of a simpler life. The two fall for each other and get married, but they receive a less-than-warm reception back home from Lem's angry, tyrannical father (David Torrence). Kate is disappointed when Lem won't stand up to his father's violent ways, and things get more complicated when a work team arrives for the harvest, and the men start making advances on Kate. Also featuring Edith Yorke, Richard Alexander, Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, Tom McGuire, Patrick Rooney, Ed Brady, Roscoe Ates, Jack Pennick, and Anne Shirley (as Dawn O'Day).

 

Although less artistically flashy than many of Murnau's films, this is stronger narratively. While Murnau was said to be disappointed that producer William Fox insisted on the casting of Duncan in the female lead (Murnau wanted to cast Janet Gaynor), I have to say that I was very impressed with Duncan's performance, and I consider it the highlight of the film. Torrence is also good as the mean father, and I like that he's given a nuanced background, showing that his ill-temper is a result of his worries over making ends meet and paying the bills, a source of stress for most farmers. The only drawback for me with this movie was that the end tied everything up a little too neatly to be believable. But hey, it's Hollywood. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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I Flunked, But... (1930) - Japanese collegiate comedy from Shochiku and director Yasujiro Ozu. A group of young men in college are desperate to pass their final exams and graduate, so much so that they decide to try and cheat, with varying results. Featuring Tatsuo Saito, Kaoru Futaba, Kinoyu Tanaka, Tomio Aoki, and Chishu Ryu.

 

The usual Ozu humanity is present, as is the universal themes at play. However, I have to say this offering from the great Japanese director failed to impress me as much as his other works that I've seen. The characters failed to jump out as individuals, and I had a bit of trouble following the proceedings. Still, it's interesting to see how the college life then and there differs from the here and now, and how much Western culture was already present in pre-WW2 Japan, such as pennants for Michigan state hanging in a dorm room, or posters for Hollywood movies.   6/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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People On Sunday (1930) - German precursor to the Italian neo-realism film. 5 non-professional actors star in this tale of a typical Sunday idyll in and around Berlin. We meet taxi driver Erwin Splettstober, wine salesman Wolfgang von Waltershausen, music store clerk Brigitte Borchert, film extra Christl Ehlers, and model Annie Schreyer, attractive young people who are looking to relax on a sunny Sunday. The first four travel out to the country for a frolic in and around a lake, during which romantic attachments are formed and lost. This is cut together with documentary footage of average German citizens enjoying their Sunday in various ways.

 

This hard-to-classify effort has a stellar line-up behind the scenes: Billy Wilder and Curt Siodmak worked on the screenplay, the direction was by Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer, and an uncredited Fred Zinnemann worked on various aspects of the movie, as well. The cinematography, although primitive and obvious in its trickery (I'm thinking of the often reflected light creating a sun-dappled effect on the actors' faces), has a modernity and immediacy seldom seen in films of the time. I think my favorite sequence of the film was a montage of close-up faces, of all shapes and sizes, of people around the lake. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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That Night's Wife (1930) - Slight change of pace for Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu with this crime drama from Shochiku. A man (Tokihiko Okada) commits a daring armed robbery before escaping into the night. But this isn't your average brazen criminal, but rather a desperate father with a small, terribly ill daughter (Mitsuko Ichimura) and a despondent wife (Emiko Yagumo) at her wit's end. Will motivations even matter, though, when the police come knocking, in the form of detective Kagawa (Togo Yamamoto). Also featuring Tatsuo Saito and Chishu Ryu.

 

Like all of Ozu's films, the scale is intimate, and the focus is on domestic relationships. However, this adds a criminal element to the equation, and it makes for some interesting character dynamics. There's also more maturity in Ozu's technique, evident during some proto-noir street scenes, using a lot of shadow to create tension. The end result is satisfactory, if a bit too slight, and the continued use of the silent film format was quickly making Japanese cinema seem anachronistic.   7/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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Walk Cheerfully (1930) - Japanese crime drama from Shochiku and director Yasujiro Ozu. Kenji (Minoru Takada) is a member of a small gang of petty criminals. His marginal existence is upended when he sees beautiful young secretary Yasue (Hiroko Kawasaki), a nice girl that makes Kenji want to change his ways. But will his old gang pals let him escape the life? Also featuring Satoko Date, Hisao Yoshitani, Teruo Mori, Utako Suzuki, Takeshi Sakamoto, and Nobuko Matsuzono.

 

Ozu starts to display his knack for finding the beauty in everyday household minutia, while also continuing to show his love of American culture, with more movie posters, and a scene with the gangsters listening to American songs on the record player. I liked Takada and Kawasaki in the leads, and Yoshitani as Kenji's slow-witted but affable friend. The overly moralistic tone of the final act was a bit too corny, though.   7/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

 

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City Girl (1930) - Romantic drama from Fox and director F.W. Murnau. Minnesota farm boy Lem (Charles Ferrell) travels to the big city of Chicago for the first time to sell his family's annual wheat harvest. He meets tough-cookie waitress Kate (Mary Duncan) who dreams of a simpler life. The two fall for each other and get married, but they receive a less-than-warm reception back home from Lem's angry, tyrannical father (David Torrence). Kate is disappointed when Lem won't stand up to his father's violent ways, and things get more complicated when a work team arrives for the harvest, and the men start making advances on Kate. Also featuring Edith Yorke, Richard Alexander, Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, Tom McGuire, Patrick Rooney, Ed Brady, Roscoe Ates, Jack Pennick, and Anne Shirley (as Dawn O'Day).

 

Although less artistically flashy than many of Murnau's films, this is stronger narratively. While Murnau was said to be disappointed that producer William Fox insisted on the casting of Duncan in the female lead (Murnau wanted to cast Janet Gaynor), I have to say that I was very impressed with Duncan's performance, and I consider it the highlight of the film. Torrence is also good as the mean father, and I like that he's given a nuanced background, showing that his ill-temper is a result of his worries over making ends meet and paying the bills, a source of stress for most farmers. The only drawback for me with this movie was that the end tied everything up a little too neatly to be believable. But hey, it's Hollywood. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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This one sounds like such a fascinating film.

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Flunky, Work Hard! (1931) - This is the earliest surviving film from Japanese director Mikio Naruse, who would later go on to much acclaim for his sensitive portraits of women and women's issues. This short (29 minute) comedy follows bumbling insurance salesman and family man Okabe (Isamu Yamaguchi**). He lacks the success to provide the kind of home life his put-upon wife (Tomoko Naniwa) wishes for, and his son (Seiichi Kato) keeps getting into fist-fights with the neighbors' kids. If Okabe can get this one big sale through that he has his sights set on, then his family will have it much easier. Also featuring Tokio Seki, Hideo Sugawara, and Shizue Akiyama.

 

This is light and funny for the most part, with a turn toward dark tragedy in the last act. The cast are all fine, and there are some very interesting editing techniques used. If this had been filled out to feature length I would have liked it more.   7/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

**The cast and character listings for this are incomplete, and the names listed both as characters and performers could be incorrect. 

 

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The Lady and the Beard (1931) - Amusing Japanese comedy from director Yasujiro Ozu. Okajima (Tokihiko Okada) is a bearded, old-fashioned champion at kendo (a Japanese form of fencing), and he's idolized by the many younger fans of the sport. But Okajima's conservative ways make him virtually unemployable and a social outcast when not in the arena. He chances upon Hiroko (Hiroko Kawasaki), a nice girl being threatened by female mugger Furyou (Satoko Date). After rescuing Hiroko, Okajima begins to realize that he must change his lifestyle if he is to ever find love and contentment. Also featuring Choko Iida, Ichiro Tsukida, Toshiko Iizuka, and Takeshi Sakamoto.

 

This has the gentle humanity of Ozu's best films, even if the script is too uneven to rank among those. Okada is terrific as the complicated Okajima, at once frightening and buffoonish, and also relatable. Kawasaki is sweetly endearing, and Iizuka is fine as the sister of a fan who helps Okajima fit into the modern world. Date seems to be playing the same character she did in Ozu's Walk Cheerfully.   7/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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I watched my completed Kickstarter project Buried Treasure (1921) starring Marion Davies a young woman whose trances lead to the discovery of a past life and buried pirate treasure. Stories of reincarnation were not very common at the time (churches tended to frown on the idea) but this is an exciting and sumptuous film (design by legendary Joseph Urban) with Davies in a dual role. Co-stars Norman Kerry, Anders Randolf, Edith Shayne, and Earl Schenck. I re-sequenced the film from Library of Congress, tinted it, added a synopsis for the missing final reel and commissioned David Drazin for the new score. He arranged several of my original songs and wove them into his score. Here's my DVD cover.

 

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3 hours ago, drednm said:

I watched my completed Kickstarter project Buried Treasure (1921) starring Marion Davies

That one sounds very interesting. I look forward to seeing it one day.

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Apart from You (1933) - Japanese tearjerker from Shochiku and writer-director Mikio Naruse. Aging geisha Kikue (Mitsuko Yoshikawa) worries about her teenage son Yoshio (Akio Isono) who lately has been skipping school and hanging out with a gang of petty crooks. Kikue's young co-worker Terugiku (Sumiko Mizukubo) has romantic feelings for Yoshio, but she has to continue working as a geisha in order to support her family, and so that her younger sister won't be forced into the geisha life. Terugiku attempts to set Yoshio back on the straight and narrow, with tragic consequences. 

Naruse's penchant for exploring the hardships of working women comes to full focus here, with both Kikue and Terugiku prime examples of women suffering so that others may live better. Mizukubo gives a very good performance, but the brief 1-hour running time doesn't leave enough room to fully explore the older Kikue character. Still, this is a nice, emotional look at pre-WW2 Japanese society.  (7/10)

Source: FilmStruck.

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Dragnet Girl (1933) - Excellent Japanese crime drama/romance from Shochiku and director Yasujiro Ozu. The story follows four characters: Tokiko (Kinuyo Tanaka), a gang moll who works a legit job as a secretary at a large firm so that she can get extra cash from the company's president's son, money that she uses to keep Joji (Joji Oka), a former boxer turned minor criminal gang boss. When young hothead Hiroshi (Koji Mitsui) joins the gang, his nice-girl sister Kazuko (Sumiko Mizukubo) implores Joji to help set her brother back on the right track. Joji starts to fall for Kazuko, which causes Tokiko a lot of grief and sets her on an unpredictable path. Also featuring Yumeko Aizome, Yoshio Takayama, Koji Kaga, and Yasuo Nanjo.

This is Ozu's most technically accomplished film to date, even if he is still making them in the silent format. His camerawork and use of evocative shadowing are notable. Tanaka gives a splendid performance as a complicated character making rash decisions that only make sense coming from someone who is desperately vulnerable. Ozu continues to place American movie posters in his settings, this time featuring some from The Champ and All Quiet On the Western Front. Sharp-eyed viewers may notice Ozu regular Chishu Ryu in a small bit as a cop. Recommended.   (8/10)

Source: FilmStruck.

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Every-Night Dreams (1933) - Japanese tearjerker drama from Shochiku and writer-director Mikio Naruse. Omitsu (Sumiko Kurishima) works as a hostess in a waterfront dive bar, a disreputable and low-paying job that she tolerates to give her young son a decent life. When the boy's deadbeat dad Mizuhara (Tatsuo Saito) shows up one day after years of absence, he swears that he's turned his life around and that he wants to be the husband and father that Omitsu and the boy hope for. However, harsh reality intercedes, and the duo must make some hard decisions. Also featuring Jun Arai, Mitsuko Yoshikawa, Choko Iida, and Takeshi Sakamoto.

These Shochiku dramas are beginning to get a little formulaic: a woman who suffers indignities to provide for her family; a basically decent man who makes bad decisions out of desperation; and children in jeopardy. That being said, this is still worth a look thanks to the good performances by the leads, and Naruse's cinematographic touches.  (7/10)

Source: FilmStruck.

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On 8/3/2017 at 11:39 PM, LawrenceA said:

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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This was one of my Kickstarter projects.

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Japanese Girls at the Harbor (1933) - Another Japanese tearjerker from Shochiku, this time from director Hiroshi Shimizu. Sunako (Michiko Oikawa) is a teenage girl in the port city of Yokohama. When she discovers that her older boyfriend is seeing another woman, Sunako commits a terrible act and leaves the city. After years of drifting about, she returns to Yokohama as a bar hostess and reconnects with her old boyfriend, who has married Sunako's former best friend in the interim. Heartbreak naturally ensues. Also featuring Yukiko Inoue, Ureo Egawa, Ranko Sawa, Yumeko Aizome, Tatsuo Saito, and Yasuo Nanjo.

Director Shimizu indulges in a number of camera tricks, like rapid tracking shots, fast-edit zoom ins, and having characters dissolve likes ghosts when leaving a scene. While many of these gimmicks are eye-catching, they don't do anything to add to the meager, routine plot. A distinct lack of characterization in the script makes discerning who's who a chore for the film's first half hour, which is bad in a 1-hour movie. The coastal scenery and some decent performances from Shochiku regulars save this from being a loss, though.  (6/10)

Source: FilmStruck.

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Woman of Tokyo (1933) - Short Japanese tearjerker from Shochiku and director Yasujiro Ozu. Chikako (Yoshiko Okada) dotes on her younger brother Ryoichi (Ureo Egawa), working a secretarial job to pay his way through college. But when Ryoichi's girlfriend Harue (Kinuyo Tanaka) tells him how his sister has been spending her nights, everyone's lives are changed forever. Also with Shin'yo Nara and Chishu Ryu.

The brief 46-minute running time doesn't leave enough room for any serious character development, just as Ozu's deliberate pacing means the plot will be the bare minimum. Still, what's here is effective, with strong performances and some interesting camerawork.  (6/10)

Source: FilmStruck.

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