The Best of 2016: Favorite Silent Films, Reviews, Performances and More!

2016 has been a busy year and it’s time to go over the ups and downs of the last twelve months. This is my first year-in-review post and I will be covering happy topics first. I reviewed sixty-three silent films this year, bringing my total to 289 individual film reviews. Naturally, I have some favorites in the bunch and I’m sharing them now. Enjoy!

Favorite Silent Films

These are the silent films that I enjoyed the most AND reviewed in 2016. Quite a variety, I think you will agree. (They’re in completely random order, by the way.)

Under the Claw

under-the-claw-1912-image-16

Director Jean Durand’s French colonial melodrama is full of dastardly villainy, a plucky heroine and a very hungry leopard. Berthe Dagmar, who also served as animal trainer, gamely wrestles said leopard. I think our search for the champeen of silent movie bravery is over.

The Curse of Quon Gwon

curse-of-quon-gwon-image-11I knew the film was important because of its status as the earliest known Chinese-American feature. What I did not know was the level of polish and skill first-time director Marion Wong displayed. Truly a buried treasure.

Camille

camille-1921-image-55Most people who see this picture today come for Rudolph Valentino. I encourage viewers to take some time to notice Nazimova’s sensitive performance. There’s a reason why she was considered one of the finest screen actors of her day.

Onesime vs. Onesime

onesime-vs-onesime-1912-image-3Jean Durand’s surreal comedy about a man and his irritating clone is really something to see. Delightfully weird and more than a little dark, there’s nothing else like it.

The Cossack Whip

cossack-whipA melodrama of pre-revolution Russia, this is a twisted little melodrama about a peasant-turned-ballerina-turned-revolutionary. It’s a revenge tale directed with considerable flair by John Collins, whose career was cut short by the influenza epidemic.

Flirting with Fate

flirting-with-fate-1916-image-62Douglas Fairbanks plays a young fellow whose life is in shambles. He uses the last of his money to hire a hitman to bump him off– but then his life improves and he can’t call off the hit! A slow start but stick with it, it turns into a mad little comedy soon enough.

The Captive

captive-1915-demille-image-86A POW rom-com (yeah…) about a Turkish officer who is sent to work on Blanche Sweet’s farm. Cecil B. DeMille plays the scenario with a broad wink and Sweet is charming as the love interest and jailer of House Peters.

L’enfant du carnaval

lenfant-du-carnival-1921-image-44One of the early French productions of the Russian emigres who fled the revolution. This is a darling little comedy written by, directed and starring Ivan Mosjoukine. A playboy finds a baby on his doorstep, decides to give fatherhood a try and soon finds he has bitten off more than he can chew.

Performances and Other Odds and Ends

Remember, this is limited to films I reviewed in 2016.

Best Actress

camille-flirtThe women were on fire in 2016! I saw so many great performances that I am not sure I can do them all justice. This was a VERY tough decision but I am going to have to go with Nazimova in Camille. She was a dynamo who could also bring great delicacy to her roles, as she does here. Ignore the unhinged bile spewed her way by the more fanatic Valentino devotees and enjoy her talents.

Honorable Mention: Viola Dana in The Cossack Whip, Anna May Wong in The Toll of the Sea (great actress, lousy film), Nathalie Lissenko in Kean, Berthe Dagmar in Under the Claw, Blanche Sweet in The Captive, Norma Talmadge in The Devil’s Needle.

Best Actor

Mosjoukine with baby.
Mosjoukine with baby.

Things were a bit thinner on the men’s side of things this year. The competition wasn’t tough but Ivan Mosjoukine wins for L’enfant du carnaval. His party animal character has a heart of gold underneath and Mosjoukine conveys this fact beautifully.

Honorable Mention: Robert Warwick in The Heart of a Hero, Ernest Bourbon in Onesime vs. Onesime, Sessue Hayakawa in The Wrath of the Gods, William S. Hart in The Return of Draw Egan, Lon Chaney in The Unknown.

flirting-with-fate-kick-you-off

He wasn’t the main character and he doesn’t show up for much of the film but I simply must mention George Beranger’s delightful performance as a goofy (and violent!) hitman in Flirting with Fate. An utter delight, he steals the show easily.

Best Director

onesime-vs-onesime-split-twins

This was a toughie but I’m going to have to say that the honor goes to Jean Durand for Onesime vs. Onesime. His technique is not flashy but his anarchic pace and ability to coax madness from his cast wins him the prize. All of his Onesime comedies are delightful (and great credit goes to star Ernest Bourbon as well) but this one is a surreal riot.

Honorable Mention: Lois Weber (she very nearly won!) for Suspense, Ivan Mosjoukine for L’enfant du carnaval, Cecil B. DeMille for The Captive, Mabel Normand for Mabel at the Wheel, John Collins for The Cossack Whip.

Favorite Groundbreaker

curse-of-quon-gwon-image-47Marion Wong managed to write, produce and direct The Curse of Quon Gwon, the earliest known Chinese-American feature, at the age of twenty-one. That’s pretty impressive no matter how you slice it!

Best Design

blue-bird-silhouette-house

The Blue Bird wins this handily with its gorgeous costumes, delectable cinematography and candy-like tinting and toning. If only the story had matched its brilliance…

Honorable Mention: The Palace of the Arabian Nights, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Toll of the Sea.

Top Reviews

Now it’s time to see what my readers liked. Here are my most popular reviews, judged by traffic.

  1. The Curse of Quon Gwon (1919)
  2. Camille (1921)
  3. The Unknown (1927)
  4. The Cossacks (1928)
  5. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910)

And here are my top “oldie but goodie” reviews. (That is, not published in 2016.)

ben-hur-non-smoking

  1. Ben-Hur (1925)
  2. A Trip to the Moon (1902)
  3. The Gold Rush (1925)
  4. The Great Train Robbery (1903)
  5. The Indian Tomb (1921)

Thanks so much for reading!

The Modern Science Fiction Front

On the science fiction front, this year marked the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek and so I was able to combine two things a love by recasting Trek with silent movie stars.

I am also happy to say that I saw two iconic shows that I missed the first time around: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (the local channels didn’t carry it) and Farscape (I’ve never had cable and never will). I enjoyed both enormously, though I should mention that both shows pick up considerably after their first seasons.

As for Star Wars, I haven’t seen Rogue One yet (my invitation to the premiere seems to have been lost in the mail) but I hope to very soon.

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Well, that’s 2016 for me. What were your favorite entertainment discoveries this year?

4 Replies to “The Best of 2016: Favorite Silent Films, Reviews, Performances and More!”

  1. Let’s see, it’s been quite a year. I got to see “The Last Command,” “The Last Warning,” and “So This is Paris” in the theater, which was awesome, and also the Alloy Orchestra’s accompaniment to “Strike!” was amazing. On video, I also enjoyed “Curse of Qwon Gong” and “Flirting with Fate,” and got the chance to see what remains of “Homunuculs” and finished watching “Les Vampires.” The biggest project was working my way through the Alice Guy and Leonce Perret movies in the “Gaumont Treasures” collection.
    In terms of “newer” media, I think the standout will be “Fantastic Beasts,” although I’ve also been enjoying Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Strain” TV series. I was actually a tad disappointed by this year’s MST3k “Turkey Day” broadcast, compared to last year, but I’m still amped to see the new episodes when they arrive.

  2. I always wanted to see Nazimova in Camille and believe she was her own unique person who could do almost all. I would love to see more of Viola Dana but I am not a Blanche Sweet fan.

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