The Best of 2017: Favorite Silent Films, Reviews, Performances and More!

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.

Aelita (1924)

Profoundly, gloriously strange and with science fiction design to kill for, Aelita is a mashup of a modern story and a Martian one.

Tiger Rose (1923)

This Canadian-set romance is such a blast thanks to its snappy pace, charismatic cast and on-location photography.

The Flying Ace (1926)

The only complete surviving Richard Norman feature film is also a ton of fun in the pulpy action tradition. Don’t miss it.

Blue Beard (1901)

Melies goes dark in this nightmarish fairy tale and I personally can’t get enough.

The Big Swallow (1901)

Closeups and cannibalism add spice to this imaginative British comedy short.

The Smiling Madame Beudet (1922)

Brilliant examination of a talented woman trapped in a marriage to a buffoon and the extreme measures she is driven to.

The Nose (1963)

Pinscreen animated version of Gogol’s gloriously strange short story, absolutely delightful.

Rescued by Rover (1905)

One of the first genius dog pictures, this film benefits from its charismatic canine star and its real English scenery.

South (1919)

Real footage from Ernest Shackleton’s attempt to cross the South Pole and his heroic efforts to bring his crew back alive.

Crazy Like a Fox (1926)

This has long been my favorite Charley Chase short, it’s laugh-out-loud funny in the splendid Hal Roach style.

Falling Leaves (1912)

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.

Habeas Corpus (1928)

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy go dark when they decide to become grave robbers. Great stuff!

The Black Pirate (1926)

Douglas Fairbanks tackled color and piracy and ended up with a mammoth hit. The film plays just as well to modern viewers.

The Last Warning (1929)

Paul Leni’s brilliant direction turns this murder mystery into an event. The perfect merging of German and American film.

Three Million Dollars (1911)

An amiable western rom-com shot outside San Diego, this film is a featherweight delight.

Straight Shooting (1917)

John Ford’s first feature includes plenty of, well, shooting and some lovely glowering from Harry Carey.

Limite (1931)

This independent Brazilian picture has been praised as one of the greatest movies ever made. All that praise is deserved.

Skinner’s Dress Suit (1926)

This examination of 1920s consumerism is all heart and sweetness. Reginald Denny and Laura La Plante are simply divine.

The Strong Man (1926)

 

Best Actress

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.

Best Actor

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.

Best Director

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.

Favorite Groundbreakers

Claws of Gold is not shy.

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.

Best Design

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Could I possibly have chosen anything besides Aelita? This film practically invented the sci-fi aesthetic.

Honorable Mention: Warning Shadows, The Last Warning, Blue Beard, Les Vampires, The Nose, Falling Leaves, Blackmail.

Top New Reviews

Blackmail (1929)

Calculated by page views.

  1. Blackmail
  2. Aelita
  3. Body and Soul
  4. Les Vampires
  5. Duck Soup

Top Oldie-but-Goodie Reviews

  1. A Trip to the Moon
  2. The Captive
  3. Ben-Hur
  4. The Gold Rush
  5. The Great Train Robbery

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!

8 Replies to “The Best of 2017: Favorite Silent Films, Reviews, Performances and More!”

  1. 2017 is the year I got back into silents, even got to see a screening of “The Monster” with live music. I don’t remember what all I’ve seen (been a bunch) but a recent one that has stuck with me is the 1923 version of “Salome.” Such an interesting and bizarre film.

  2. “Putting Pants on Philip”, a 1927 Laurel and Hardy short was my “find” of 2017.

    I had the good fortune to see the 2011 restoration (?) with a soundtrack by Robert Israel. It was amazing! He incorporated 18th and 19th century Scottish folk tunes and directly tied the selections’ lyrics to the action of the scene! For those folks familiar w/ the lyrics to such tunes, it makes the film even funnier.

    (No spoilers here!) Stan likes the ladies (to distraction!) and is just off the boat from Scotland in his kilt and sans ownership of any trousers. Ollie won’t have either the lady chasing or kilt of those on his shift. Hilarity ensues.

    Lots of fun, even without the Israel score, I’d watch it again in a heartbeat.
    Who doesn’t just love a man in a kilt, anyway?!

    Sadly, the 2011 version does not appear to be available for purchase. 🙁

  3. My top discovery for the year was easily the late (1930) Czech silent Tonka of the Gallows – it has a prepared soundtrack as many late silents did which includes a couple of brief passages of the title character singing but not in a way as to be obtrusive and ruin the flow of the film. Tonka is of the gallows because she volunteers to fulfill a condemned man’s last request of being permitted to spend his last night in the company of a woman, and that’s all I’ll say about the story. Here’s an amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Tonka-Sibenice-Gallows-Ita-Rina/dp/8024757761/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1512686310&sr=8-1&keywords=tonka+of+the+gallows

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