Lost Film Files #3: Puppets, Starring Milton Sills

Puppets (1926)

Status: Unknown

The plot concerns Nicki (Milton Sills), an violently temperamental Italian puppet master living in New York. He serves in World War One and loses his hearing due to shell-shock but is too proud to admit it. His wife (Gertrude Olmsted), believing him dead, has begun an affair with a draft-dodger. How will the fiery Nicki react to these setbacks? Well, there are knife fights, a fire and some tests of courage in the offing. Sounds great! Wish I could see it…

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Puppets was highly praised for its intense performances and atmosphere but critics generally agreed that the story ran out of steam in the finale. It sounds to me like the sort of role that usually went to Lon Chaney. You know, the broken-hearted theatrical fellow who is pushed too far and seeks revenge.

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However, since Milton Sills is in the lead, it seems that he gets the girl, something Chaney rarely accomplished. The setting is of particular interest since the available reviews consistently praise the Little Italy setting and the puppetry that goes with it.

Puppets-Milton-Sills-4The breathless publicity blurb from First National:

Under her husband’s very eyes they planned their elopement… For handsome, hot-blooded Nicki was deaf from shell-shock– and the Man was — HIS OWN BROTHER!

Here’s a situation unmatched in motion pictures …. And the climax is even more amazing — when vengeance hangs on a knife-thrust, and a coward guides the blade!

See “Puppets” for its powerful plot, for its picturesque setting — and for Milton Sills’ brilliant performance in the most dramatic role of his career.

A fan letter to Photoplay:

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“Another bouquet for Milton Sills. In “The Sea Hawk” he thrilled you, but in “Puppets” he plays upon your emotions. He is truly the greatest of stars in a great star part. Milton Sills in the most dramatic role of his career seems to “put across” better than any other star could that which fills the hearts of the audience with pity and sympathy. Place him upon the throne of moviedom and crown him king.”

The New York Times praised the puppetry and the first act but felt that the climax dragged.

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Milton Sills movies are not easy to find. Here is one more to add to the wishlist…

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