What was your most disappointing silent film experience?

You’ve been looking forward to this silent film forever, you can’t wait to see it. At last, you get an opportunity and… meh. Or, worse, feh.

Mine was Surrender. I love director Edward S. Sloman’s His People. I was excited to see Ivan Mosjoukine in his only American film. I… tolerate Mary Philbin. But the film was all about… romantic genocide?

Granted, I knew the basic synopsis before starting out but I had no idea it would be that bad. The picture’s woes are sometimes blamed on Carl Laemmle wanting to turn Mosjoukine into Valentino but the real issue was his insistence on using a story that was dated and ill-suited to film back then.

I go on (and on and on) about this in my full-length review but now it’s your turn. Which silent film disappointed you the most?

One fan’s meat is another’s poison so there are bound to be some beloved titles deemed disappointing, which is perfectly okay. This is all a matter of opinion and personal experience. There are no wrong answers.

***

Like what you’re reading? Please consider sponsoring me on Patreon. All patrons will get early previews of upcoming features, exclusive polls and other goodies.

27 Replies to “What was your most disappointing silent film experience?”

  1. For me, it was The Sheik. I absolutely HATED his treatment of her, and I find it a bit frightening that female audience members fell in love with him watching this.

  2. Well, it’s a toss up between Wings and Intolerance. Didn’t think a picture featuring exciting WW1 dog fights could have a storyline that dragged on and on at a slow pace (for me at least), but I found it so. First saw Wings at the Nuart in Santa Monica during a tribute to silents- felt as if I was the only one in the audience that wished for a solid reel or two of just dogfights with the story more or less excised. As for Intolerance, had a big problem with the disjointed nature of watching what felt like separate films scissored together (and rather haphazardly at that). The overarching theme of intolerance throughout the ages didn’t really help me out, no matter how much I kept reminding myself, “Ok, settle down, this is ONE film, not a gaggle of four of them!”

    Honorable Mention in the disappointing silent film experience dept. goes to A Woman of Affairs. Enjoyed the novel (The Green Hat), was bored by the movie. Sorry Garbo fans, I’m afraid I’m not really one so that does tend to color all my Garbo film viewing.

    No doubt there are many here at MS that loved all these films. Perhaps on another re-watch I could develop more enthusiasm for them…except I never have done. Of course, YMMV.

  3. As a Sherlock Holmes fan, it pains me to identify among my greatest silent disappointments the two Sherlock Holmes features based on the famous Gillette play: the recently restored 1916 Gillette version itself, & the 1922 John Barrymore version premiered some years ago on TCM.

    I don’t of course dispute the historical importance of either, but I found both of them tedious & stagey. This is perhaps not surprising?–movies based on a stage play are stagey? Still, you asked for disappointment & that is what I felt. Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater on the Air adaptation of the play is much more lively, & Welles captures the acerbic, waspish Holmes better than anyone, even the wonderful Jeremy Brett.

    There are some interesting cinematic transitions in the 1916 version, & it’s great to see the legendary Gillette himself. But it frankly needed the “Griffith touch.” It’s harder to account for the flaccidity of the Barrymore, coming along about six years later. Strangely–& I also write as something of a Barrymore fan–this film seems even flatter than its predecessor.

  4. Lon Chaney in THE PENALTY. Yeah, the legless gimmick is really cool, but the story is dull and takes forever to unfold. On top of which the score by Michael Polher on the Kino DVD makes the film even longer and more unpleasant — some of the worst sounding stuff ever synchronized to a film. But nothing changes the fact that they have crammed 20 minutes of story into a 93- minute film. I had to apologize to my film students (I couldn’t get a copy of the Chaney film I wanted to show, THE UNKNOWN).

  5. Kino had a one-night-only showing of PANDORA’S BOX where I live. I’d never seen it before and was terribly disappointed by it. Louise Brooks was as beautiful as everyone ever said, but I thought the movie was very overrated.

  6. I don’t have too many disappointing experiences with Silent film, or any other film. I’m pretty forgiving for the most part. However, I was recently disappointed in Lois Weber’s The Dumb Girl of Portici. it was visually uninteresting and floridly acted. Pavlova was not seen to good effect. I think Philips Smalley probably had greater input in this than Lois Weber. I loved Shoes (watched it three times in close succession). These beautiful, small, socially significant stories are what I expect from Weber.

  7. In terms of classical silents, probably the Tiger Lillies highly distracting and enjoyment-destroying soundtrack to Varieté.

    I also enjoy many of the more modern silent films (The Artist 2011, Juha 1999, Blancanieves 2013 and near-silents such as La Antena 2007 and Tuvalu 1999) however, sadly (for me anyhow), the Australian film Dr Plonk 2007 turned out to be a comedy of constant ass-kicking and very little else. The single smile that it raised for me was when I saw what the dog had used the time machine to bring back from the future.

  8. The Phantom of the Opera, with Lon Chaney, was disappointing because we don’t get to see much of the titular character!

  9. Actually, the biggest letdown for me was “Nosferatu.” I had grown up hearing that “all copies were destroyed” (apparently never actually true but this was before the Internet and video revolution), and so thought it was thrilling when it was announced that it would be shown on TV. I found it a total snoozer at the time. Years later, I’ve gained some appreciation for it, but it’s far from my favorite of Murnau’s work.

    1. Agreed. Nosferatu was my first silent, and the first half of the movie thrilled me to bits, it was so scary and different! Then they completely lost me after the main character leaves the castle. I have a feeling that the story would’ve been a thousand times better if they had just not tried to copy Dracula so incredibly hard, because it makes no sense.

  10. Mine was Nazimova’s Salome. Camille is my favorite silent, I love Alla and Natacha to death, I love art films, and I’d never heard of the Salome story before, I saw a pretty-looking lobby card for the film, so I was expecting big things.

    ……..It was hard to look at. Like a dumpster fire, or a car wreck, or a crime scene. My eyeballs hurt just thinking about it. And the story was grating and unpleasant in my opinion. Needless to say, I was crushed, lol.

  11. Two winners for me:
    Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin Hood – How do you make Douglas Fairbanks plus Robin Hood equal boring? By making a 90-minute slog before he even becomes Robin Hood.

    Sunrise – Yes it’s pretty, but the whole concept is way too outlandish – a guy is going to murder his wife….MURDER his wife. Then they have a fun day in the city and suddenly he’s, “Awww, you’re not so bad after all!” That’s a heck of a swing for one day! He wasn’t going to divorce her, tell her to leave, or call her mean names, he was going to KILL her. I’m thinking once you’re that far gone in a relationship even the best day in the city isn’t bringing that back. It was already being called the greatest movie of all time before I saw it, so my expectations were pretty high.

  12. What immediately comes to mind are otherwise enjoyable films that are mind-blowing and mindless in their depiction of “other” groups of people, such as The Birth of a Nation – no verbal description can do the second half justice, The Shiek, and even Safety Last. I admit my pleasure with hearing Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” is tempered for the same reasons.

  13. Like many others, The Wizard of Oz. But “A Women of Paris” was boring, poorly acted, and horribly directed, and at times too serendipitous. I can’t help but think that because it’s Chaplin, people believe it to be good.

  14. Intolerance (seemed never-ending) and yeah, the 1916 Sherlock Holmes (the character seemed flat).

  15. The Perfect Clown (1925). I did not have any great expectations for this movie because it was Larry Semon. But I gave it a chance because i was going to see it in a theater. However, it still dissapointed despite my low expectations. Unfunny, boring, and dull

  16. Just a note to Kerr Lockhart, who found the music score made his watching of The Penalty even more unappealing. Try watching it my way – with the sound muted. People may think it’s weird, but as I commented in this forum before, I enjoy most silent films totally silent, because a lot of the music scores really annoy me and prove distracting.

  17. One that we share: that awful ‘Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp’ 1917 Chester M and Sidney Franklin, William Fox production.

    I’m always eager to see any treatment of the ‘Thousand Nights and One Night’ from good translations to Pasolini’s film, but this second item on the “Alice in Wonderland’ Fox DVD was truly awful, exploiting small kids in a titillating way.

    Disappointing because I’d hoped for an interesting bonus to the fun ‘Alice’ whose story is another I’m always eager to see any version of.

  18. I was looking forward to see “The Indian Tomb” but it turned out to be just boring and slow-moving. One part should have been enough. Not even Conrad Veidt could save this film from being a disappointment for me.

  19. I’d nominate the BFI DVD ‘Fairy Tales – Early Colour Stencil films from Pathé’. This is an absolute excellent collection of early French fantasy films, but they are accompanied by the most abysmal ‘music’ ever conceived – most of the scores are horrendous sound art pieces completely disregarding the action on the screen, rendering e.g. poor Méliès’s ‘Barbe-bleu’ (1901) and Anson Dyer’s ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ unwatchable.

    another disappointing experience was the screening of René Windig’s private collection of Felix the Cat films at the Holland Animation Film Festival in Utrecht, The Netherlands. The films were only accompanied by the rattling sound of the old movie projector, and as I had worked for days at the festival and already watched hundreds of animation films, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. The films themselves were excellent, and the audience burst with laughter, but I slept through most of this once in a lifetime experience. Needless to say I was very disappointed in myself…

  20. Lots of candidates for disappointing silents: Wings (1927), The Phantom Of The Opera (1925), Where Are My Children? (1916), Orphans Of The Storm (1921), West Of Zanzibar (1928), The Ring (1927), Spite Marriage (1929) and Un Chien Andalou (1929), to name a few.

    However, the biggest disappointment came when I was eleven and had just fallen in love with TCM. I had recorded The Wizard Of Oz (1925) when they aired it on Silent Sunday Nights because a) I had just fallen in love with silent cinema with Chaplin and Keaton, b) it was supposedly the original that my favorite movie of all time was based on and c) I wanted to watch other silent comedians besides the big three. My mom and I watched it, hoping for an enjoyable experience; saying that the movie underperformed would be an insult to injury. It remains one of my worst cinematic experiences of all time and it nearly killed watching/enjoying silent films for a while. For a while, I thought that all silent films were like that one; thankfully, I found out otherwise.

  21. Metropolis.

    Some gorgeous images, but the story and characters don’t work at all. I love M and Mabuse, but the fame of Metropolis is hard to understand.

  22. Robin Hood, Salome and It were let-downs for me. In fact, Wings is the only Clara Bow film I really took to.
    The problem with Phantom of the Opera is that we mainly get to see only the severely truncated re-release.

  23. I found “It” to be somewhat disappointing. I love Clara Bow, and the story was really quite appealing, but the constant stopping of the action to once again explain what “it” is was very irritating. We got the idea the first time you told us…

    “Birth of a Nation” was also a major disappointment to me. I knew already that the film was going to be controversial, and was prepared to be disgusted with the portrayals of African-Americans and the glorification of the KKK, but I was at least expecting an epic of sweeping proportions. What I got was a very static film, with hammy acting, cliched dialogue, and very little cinematic innovation (one medium shot of a mother’s arms reaching for her returning child does not a masterpiece make). For someone who supposedly invented film language, there is precious little use of it in this picture.

  24. “She” starring Betty Blythe. The copy looked like a rainstorm and the music was the same dirge-like song played over and over throughout the whole film even when it was very inappropriate.If this was restored it would probably be excellent but the only available version is not even worth watching. How do you get ahold of Ted Turner?

Comments are closed.