It has been almost two years since my list of my top ten obscure silent films was published. Everyone seemed to enjoy it so I’m back with another ten underrated and underappreciated silent films that I think you’ll like.
I have already chosen my top ten silent films overall and some of them are indeed obscure. However, this list is going to be limited just to the films that are comparatively unknown and deserve more recognition. Once again, I will be limiting this list to films I have already reviewed on the site.
Here are my rules:
- These films cannot be staples of any top ten lists (in other words, no Battleship Potemkin or Nosferatu)
If a film is already on my top ten overall list, it is not eligible for this list
I will attempt to include films that have had home media release so that readers can also enjoy these buried treasures (I don’t include links to streaming services because they change their offerings so often and rights are not always international)
My site is weighted heavily toward crowdpleasers and mainstream Hollywood offerings. The list will reflect this.
My picks are listed in alphabetical order. Let’s get started!
The Captive (1915)
Blanche Sweet and Cecil B. DeMille joined forces for the second and final time to make this POW romance. She’s a Montenegrin farmer, House Peters is a Turkish officer who has been handed over to her as a laborer. The screenplay by Jeanie Macpherson is bonkers, a bit kinky and completely irresistible. I had a total blast with this film and I hope it becomes a bit more famous now that it is on home video.
Read my review here. I also cover the myth that DeMille had a guy killed to make his movie more realistic.
The Curse of Quon Gwon (1916)
At twenty-one, Marion Wong wrote, produced, directed and starred in her own independent film. It’s historically important as the first known Chinese-American feature film but The Curse of Quon Gwon is also a solid family melodrama. With a cast mostly made up of friends and relatives, Wong crafts a tale of a new bride imperiled by her in-laws. Great stuff!
Read my review here. I also bust the myth that Wong MUST have had help from a man to make this film.
The Enchanted Cottage (1924)
While it’s overshadowed by its talkie remake, the silent original is where it’s at for me! Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy are perfectly cast as the shabby, damaged lovers transformed by affection and the direction is delicately ethereal. I don’t go in for mush so if I’m saying this love story is wonderful, you can be sure that the production is particularly fine.
Read my review here. I also cover the remake. Which I hated. Don’t @ me.
The Fighting Eagle (1927)
Here’s a rarity of rarities: a swashbuckler with strong female characters who drive the plot and never sink into damsel mode! It’s true! Based on the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this film is ostensibly about Rod La Rocque’s Etienne Gerard but the real movers and shakers are Napoleonic superspy Phyllis Haver and her opposite number, Sally Rand. The picture has a slow start but stick with it, you will be rewarded.
Flirting with Fate (1916)
It’s a perennially popular plot: our hero hires a hitman to kill him but then changes his mind. Douglas Fairbanks is as charming as ever in this dark comedy but the real star of the show is George Beranger as the hitman hired to off Mr. Fairbanks. Another slow starter but this is one of Fairbanks’ finest early films.
The Flying Ace (1926)
The only surviving feature of Richard Norman’s film company, this picture is notable for its all-black cast and its lack of actual flying scenes. I think a bit too much is made of the non-flying (the picture was made on a shoestring) as the charming cast, smart use of Florida locations and the fast-paced plot more than make up for any budgetary restrictions. I had a grand time watching it and I think you will too.
The Railway of Death (1912)
Jean Durand’s western is a deranged bit of entertainment, a live-action Coyote vs. Roadrunner film with real guns. Shot in France with a French cast, this can be viewed as a baguette western, I suppose. The blending of French settings and an American plot creates a zany tone and Durand’s experience as a comedy director assures a zippy pace. I guarantee you have never seen anything like it.
The Nose (1963)
Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker’s adaptation of Gogol’s famous short story is absolute perfection! Using their trademark pinscreen animation, the duo capture the surreal world of czarist Russia, in which a young civil servant discovers that his nose has escaped and now holds a higher position than he! It’s weird and wonderful, a must-see.
Tiger Rose (1923)
This was a complete (and pleasant) surprise. It’s a Canadian wilderness melodrama starring Lenore Ulric but the real standout for me was Forrest Stanley’s ruthless super-Mountie. The plot is nothing to write home about but the cast and characters are splendid and the Yosemite locations add to the grandeur.
Young April (1926)
Joseph Schildkraut and Bessie Love are as cute as bugs and/or buttons in this little Ruritanian rom-com. And papa Rudolph Schildkraut is on hand as Joseph’s dear old dad, the king. The characters have wonderful chemistry and I love that the central story revolves around NO ONE wanting to be monarch.
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