Confession Time! What is the Worst Silent Movie You’ve Ever Seen?

I’m working on updating my list of my most-disliked silent films and if I have to suffer then you do too. Spill your guts! Which silent movies do you absolutely despise?

Obviously, this is going to be based on personal opinion and there are no wrong answers. You like what you like and you hate what you hate.

Was the acting bad? The story horrid? Does the director give you a headache? Do tell! In addition to getting things off your chest, you’ll be warning people of similar taste away from a turkey, so this is really a public service.

Brute Island. I saw it once. Once was enough.

As of right now, the worst silent movie I have ever seen is Brute Island. Its story is vile, its direction is confusing and its morals are so out of whack that it is almost funny. Brrr!

The header image is, of course, the infamous 1925 Wizard of Oz, which I don’t consider to be the worst silent ever made but plenty of other people detest the thing and surely you wouldn’t begrudge me a little of that sweet clickbait.

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58 Replies to “Confession Time! What is the Worst Silent Movie You’ve Ever Seen?”

  1. Anything with Larry Semon will fit the bill. Not only unfunny, but an atrocious, sloppy, undisciplined filmmaker. If we have to pick a film, THE PERFECT FOOL will do. If his films were lost forever, that would be OK.

  2. I have yet to see a truly bad silent film, as I rely on your reviews to steer me in the right direction and away from the duds.

  3. That’s a tough one…the most painful silent experiences I’ve had have been anonymous slapstick comedies released on cut-rate public domain compilation DVDs, and the poor quality of the video and music is as much a factor as the lame antics of the nameless stars.
    I’d be happy enough to live my life without sitting through “The Birth of a Nation” again, also.

  4. Definitely Wizard of Oz. It alternates between boring and “what the HECK?!” And I absolutely hate how Spencer Bell was treated.

    The one saving grace of this version is that it introduced the three farmhand characters. They weren’t in the books or in any prior adaptation. The 1939 version took the Oz counterpart idea further than Semon did, but he genuinely made a contribution to the story as we know it.

  5. I’ve had to fortune of viewing mostly only good silent movies so far. The only one I’ve seen so far that I really, truly wasn’t impressed with even a bit, was Sidney Olcott’s The Claw, which I was interested in viewing only because Arthur Edmund Carewe was in it, and I really love his acting.

    I really couldn’t tell who I was supposed to be rooting for. In the end, I found out I was actually rooting for the villain the whole time. What!? The hero spends most of the movie whining that the female lead doesn’t love him, even though he treats her badly and lacks charm. All of the bad things in this movie happen to the villain, never to the heroes, and the villain’s only crime was having an extramarital affair! The punishment he receives is way too brutal for such a small crime! Gosh, I just really don’t like this movie.

  6. I know it’s a classic and all that, but I hate and despise ‘Greed.’ I read its source novel, ‘McTeague,’ in less time than it took to agonize through the film. One can only wonder how Von Stroheim filled those other hours that were mercifully cut from the running time.
    Always have wondered what became of the gruesome looking star, Gibson Gowland. As for ZaSu Pitts, a fine actress, did they have to put her in that hideous wig?

    1. Heresy! One of the worst crimes against humanity was cutting anything out of ‘Greed.’ Cutting Dale Fuller’s part was enough of a crime in itself. I hope to get to Heaven someday so I can finally see the entire, uncut ‘Greed.’

  7. My least-favorite silent film viewing experience is probably Haxan, but possibly because I went in with the wrong mindset – I was expecting a more conventional horror movie and what I got was a bizarre documentary/horror/fetish(?) flick. 20 minutes in I had no idea what was going on, so I gave up.

  8. As much as I am a Mary Pickford girl at heart, her formula can get really stale after a while. I’m speaking specifically of Heart O’ The Hills, where her character at one point dons what I think are KKK robes?? (the intertitles call it ‘taking the law into their own hands’) and getting on horseback with others to intimidate a wealthy man trying to buy out their town. There’s also a six year time skip towards the end, so while her character has her hair pinned up to show she’s grown up, the movie recasts her cute childhood love interest with a bizarre looking man twice her size.

    Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is another victim, mainly because the plot just drags after a while.

  9. TBH, I’ve been quite lucky so far with the silents I’ve watched. Maybe that’s because I decided at the last moment not to watch Wizard of Oz but deleted it when I recorded it. To date I have not heard one person say anything positive about it.

    1. I’ve heard from a few fans who honestly like it and like Semon too and, hey, more power to them. And then there are the defenders who don’t actually like the film but have their panties in a twist because people are calling out the racism. That’s… quite a hill to die on. But yeah, I can’t recommend it mostly because I find it so horribly unfunny. As Terry Jones said, there’s a special kind of anger that’s directed at an unfunny comedy.

  10. Hi Fritzi. I have seen some bad silent movies but I think I put them out of my mind. I can usually find something worthwhile in any movie. The only movie I ever walked out of in the theater was a talkie, Burn! by Gillo Pontecorvo, with Marlon Brando. Despite the score by Morricone, I just couldn’t take it.

    1. My claim to fame is surviving both Waterworld and Wing Commander in the theater! Nerves of steel here! The silent movie I couldn’t finish was the Fox Kiddies Aladdin. The way the children were presented with adult romantic situations just turned my stomach. It wasn’t graphic, just deeply inappropriate.

  11. I have an obscure selection: The Last Attraction (1929), a Soviet film about a Red agent who hides among a traveling circus troop to avoid capture by the White army. Sounds promising, but compared with what the Russian filmmakers achieved earlier in that decade, I found the plot to be hackneyed, the direction leaden, and the characters to be cartoonish. Very pedestrian and disappointing. I guess the Soviet film industry at that point had begun to succumb to the iron rule of socialist realism.

    1. It’s always worse when the film has good bones but doesn’t live up to the potential of its concept. I’d watch a Red hiding from the Whites (or vice versa) in a circus any day of the week. What a pity.

  12. The one silent film I really disliked, not counting something easy like The Wizard of Oz, is Sherlock Holmes (1922). I got spoiled by Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes, so I preferred my Holmes as adaptations of the stories, not loose interpretations, like Holmes fighting Nazis for Queen Victoria. John Barrymore looked the part, but the movie sucks. A truncated version of a play that is based on the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, which already has a much better film version from 1916. Sherlock Holmes (1922) is a copy of a copy of a copy with some pages missing.

  13. As someone who considers The Wizard Of Oz (1939) as their all-time favorite movie, I was actually excited to watch its alleged original. I had recorded it so I could watch it with my mother- another Oz fan; it proved to be such a disastrous experience because Larry Semon is dreadfully unfunny and truthfully a horrible filmmaker. I know that sounds mean-spirited to write, but I’m still angry that I wasted a portion of my life that I’ll never get back. It also temporarily destroyed the budding silent movie fan inside me for awhile, but thankfully your site and some actual silent comedies came to my rescue. My mom thankfully has no recollection of the travesty against cinema; I envy her forgetfulness. Thank you for dulling the pain with your truly awesome review! πŸ™‚

  14. Common ground….I agree on one point with the commenter who differed with me about ‘Greed.’ I, too, envision Heaven as a never-ending film festival where we can revisit our favorite flicks, meet the actors and filmmakers, and finally see the 90 percent of silent film output that has been declared lost…
    Glory Hallelujah!

  15. I am fortunate in that I have enjoyed most every silent movie I have seen. The one I did not is also one of the most famous–Birth of the Nation. I never want to see that movie again.

      1. Couldn’t agree more: worst silent film experience of my life was having to sit through Birth of a Nation.

        As we walked out of the old Vagabond Theatre in Echo Park after the movie someone in our group asked, “but why in the world would you hate it? It’s a masterwork.” This was answered in, shall we say, an unfortunate (and somewhat loud) way by yours truly πŸ˜‰

  16. I had such fun reading the comments ! I’ve lost track of how many “bad” silents I’ve seen over the years, but one of the worst was something I saw about 20 or so years ago – a German film starring William Dieterle (before he turned to directing). I can’t recall the title but it was a monstrous melodrama disguised as something of a serial, meaning he and the heroine kept getting into fraught situations to keep them apart. The first one or two times were acceptable but it kept going and going and going – every time I thought it was the last one and the “happily ever after” end was coming, no, another outrageous plot turn happened. I fell asleep midway through, woke up and watched a little more, then left because I had to catch a plane. Really, that is the truth ! I have no idea how it ended.

  17. Hi, Lots of interesting comments on this subject. I really love the ‘The Last Attraction’. It’s one of my favourite Russian silents so very surprised with it being mentioned. ‘The Wizard of Oz’ though bad is not the worst I’ve seen. Though I do like Harry Langdon, I would pick ‘The Chaser’. I could not find it funny at all! A close second is ‘The Merry Widow’. I know this film is much loved but all I could see was the strong Misogynistic and predatory nature of the two male leads putting me off the film completely.

  18. I love Douglas Fairbanks movies…I love Robin Hood movies… So why is it that I can’t stand Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin Hood movie? It takes him over an hour to actually start being Robin Hood. It’s called “Robin Hood,” not “Robin Hood but Really the Knight Guy that He Was Before He Was Robin Hood.” I think this one suffers from expectations that were too high. If I didn’t expect it to be good, I probably would have liked it more. Sure, some movies are worse (the aforementioned Wizard of Oz, for example), but this one is at the top of my bad list because it should have been so much more.
    Oh, and to throw in one more, Chaplin’s The Kid is soooo sweet it gives me cavities. Plus that angel sequence near the end…ugh.

  19. Fairbanks’ films suffer from step printing – all silents do when they are treated that way, but his especially because he worked very hard to create a lighter-than-air appearance onscreen and step printing just ties weights to his feet. Plus it artificially adds runtime to the films that they don’t need – the Kino DVD of Robin Hood runs ten minutes or so longer than the film’s cue sheets suggested.

    1. But the overall structure of his Robin Hood is pretty flawed. Half the movie passes before we ever get to Sherwood Forest, a similar complaint was issued against the Russell Crow Robin Hood a few years back. Origin stories can simply be tedious.

  20. Since I didn’t have the unpleasant experience of watching Brute Island, I’ll go with The Wizard of Oz. That duck vomiting will never leave my mind.
    Thankfully, with silents, my experience was 99% positive!
    Kisses!

  21. Interesting that I should see this post, since I just finished watching Doomsday with Florence Visor and Gary Cooper. While reasonably well acted, the whole theme of the film, where Cooper demands a wife that will serve him (and she gives in!) makes my skin crawl. I know the world has changed a lot since 1928, but I doubt even back then women were that subservient. At least I hope not…

    Also have to put in a vote for The Kid, which had some very funny parts, but turned up the pathos level to ridiculous extremes. Scenes like when he compares the kid’s mother to Jesus carrying the cross is one of the main reasons I don’t like Chaplin.

  22. A bit late to the party but I had to chime in! Carry On, Sergeant! is a Canadian silent released in 1928, intended to be a great national epic war film, Canada’s version of The Big Parade, and kick off the Canadian film industry.

    It failed miserably. So miserably it KILLED Canadian feature film making for decades.

    Thanks to Library and Archives Canada you can watch it online ( https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DP7ypaVzfs0 ) and it’s not difficult to see why. Weak, meandering, tensionless plot (which apparently was not even written in advance), bad acting, filmmaking that looks at least a decade older, terrible effects (despite a half million dollar budget), repeated gags that weren’t funny the first time, and just pure and utter boringness… not even funny or wtf bad, just lazy, inept bad. I would have loved to discover it was actually a hidden gem unappreciated in its time, but alas. Very possibly the worst film I’ve ever seen.

    At least Canadian silent filmmaking has Back to God’s Country!

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