The end of 2017 is rapidly approaching so let’s share some of the good things we discovered about silent films this year.
I reviewed seventy-four silent films in 2017 bringing my total to 374 individual reviews. This is eleven more films than I reviewed in 2016, so I’m pretty happy about that. I also was generally happier with my selections this year than I was last year, as the length of my “favorites” list will probably indicate.
Favorite Silent Films
These are the silent films that I enjoyed the most AND reviewed in 2017. Some were new to me, some were not. They are listed in order of when the review was published. To read my review of the film, click on the title.
Profoundly, gloriously strange and with science fiction design to kill for, Aelita is a mashup of a modern story and a Martian one.
This Canadian-set romance is such a blast thanks to its snappy pace, charismatic cast and on-location photography.
The only complete surviving Richard Norman feature film is also a ton of fun in the pulpy action tradition. Don’t miss it.
Melies goes dark in this nightmarish fairy tale and I personally can’t get enough.
Closeups and cannibalism add spice to this imaginative British comedy short.
Brilliant examination of a talented woman trapped in a marriage to a buffoon and the extreme measures she is driven to.
Pinscreen animated version of Gogol’s gloriously strange short story, absolutely delightful.
One of the first genius dog pictures, this film benefits from its charismatic canine star and its real English scenery.
Real footage from Ernest Shackleton’s attempt to cross the South Pole and his heroic efforts to bring his crew back alive.
This has long been my favorite Charley Chase short, it’s laugh-out-loud funny in the splendid Hal Roach style.
Alice Guy’s lyrical film about a child dealing with her sister’s illness. Have your hankies ready.
Sold at Auction (1923)
Snub Pollard is a delight in this strange little comedy about an auctioneer’s assistant who sells the contents of the wrong house.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy go dark when they decide to become grave robbers. Great stuff!
Douglas Fairbanks tackled color and piracy and ended up with a mammoth hit. The film plays just as well to modern viewers.
Paul Leni’s brilliant direction turns this murder mystery into an event. The perfect merging of German and American film.
An amiable western rom-com shot outside San Diego, this film is a featherweight delight.
John Ford’s first feature includes plenty of, well, shooting and some lovely glowering from Harry Carey.
This independent Brazilian picture has been praised as one of the greatest movies ever made. All that praise is deserved.
This examination of 1920s consumerism is all heart and sweetness. Reginald Denny and Laura La Plante are simply divine.
Even though the serial itself is not my favorite, I have to give top honors to Musidora in Les Vampires. She thoroughly steals the show as the treacherous Irma Vep, which is not easy to do in a six hour plus movie.
Honorable Mention: Laura La Plante in Skinner’s Dress Suit, Clara Bow in IT, Germaine Dermoz in The Smiling Madame Beudet, Gertrude Astor in The Strong Man.
Harry Langdon’s performance in The Strong Man is a master class in comedy. He charms, tickles our funnybones and tugs at our heartstrings. Such layering deserves recognition.
Honorable Mention: Reginald Denny in Skinner’s Dress Suit, Harry Carey in Straight Shooting, Carlos Villatoro in The Ghost Train, Raymond Griffith in You’d Be Surprised and Hands Up, Paul Robeson in Body and Soul, Forrest Stanley in Tiger Rose.
I went back and forth between Paul Leni (The Last Warning) and Mario Peixoto (Limite) and simply could not come to a decision. Therefore, these two worthy gentlemen share the best director honor for the year. Both created stylish and thrilling films, one from within the Hollywood system and the other as a total independent. Both accomplishments deserve celebration.
Honorable Mention: Frank Capra for The Strong Man, Germaine Dulac for The Smiling Madame Beudet, Alice Guy for Falling Leaves, Yakov Protazanov for Aelita.
The filmmakers of Latin America. The sheer determination of these independent filmmakers is impressive and their imaginative, daring films continue to enchant audiences. From the confident artistry of Limite to the bold political stance of Claws of Gold, Latin American silent films are a treasure trove for any film buff.
We must also tip our hats to Oscar Micheaux, who created a film career for himself with determination and a lot of hard work. His films continue to astonish audiences and give us the perspective of a black American filmmaker during a time when mainstream Hollywood was completely ignoring African-American voices. (Not that Hollywood gets any prizes on that front in the modern era either.) I reviewed Body and Soul.
Honorable mention must also go to Cecil Hepworth for Rescued by Rover, an early international blockbuster and a great example of the charm of British silent film.
Could I possibly have chosen anything besides Aelita? This film practically invented the sci-fi aesthetic.
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Phew! Big list this year. I hope everybody else’s viewing was a successful. What were some of your favorite silent film discoveries this year? Be sure to share!