Who is your favorite silent era actor/director?

One thing I noticed while watching a month of Russian comedy was just how many famous directors started out as actors (Pudovkin, Barnet, Solntseva). And a good number of American directors later became 100% actors. And a few did both at the same time.

Frank Borzage, Lois Weber, William S. Hart… Who is your favorite double threat? (It’s okay if these talents bled into the talkie era.)

I am personally on a big Boris Barnet kick right now. The burly ex-boxer acted for a time but then mastered… the romantic comedy? Yes, indeed, The House on Trubnaya and The Girl with the Hat Box are two of my favorite films, full stop.

Share your favorites in the comments!

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25 Replies to “Who is your favorite silent era actor/director?”

  1. Chaplin, naturally 😉

    Great director, even greater actor, one of the best I’ve ever seen. The Gold Rush, City Lights, and The Great Dictator are my favorites 🙂

  2. Chaplin, von Stroheim, & Sjostrom all seem to me to deserve top mention. But Sjostrom’s finest acting was not in a silent: “Wild Strawberries.”

  3. I usually go for comedy first. While Chaplin, and Keaton are obvious, I’ll mention Charley Chase/Charles Parrott. He did both well, but seems he rarely did both at the same time. I’ll mention Ernst Lubitch also. Though his directing overshadowed his acting.

  4. Besides my longtime favorites Chaplin and Keaton, I’m putting in a plug for Von Stroheim. In one of my most recent re-watchings of ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ I was moved more than ever before by the poignancy of his portrayal of Max.

  5. I’m not as well versed in silent film as I would want to be. That being said I would have to go with Keaton and Sjostrom.

  6. Just discovered Barnet myself, and I have to agree that he is a massively underrated director. Loved The Girl with the Hat Box, Miss Mend and By the Bluest of Seas. I’ve got the Trubnaya DVD but haven’t watched it yet.

    But as to your question, I’m a Conrad Veidt fan to the bone. And I must admit a weakness for Clara Bow (although Russia-era Anna Sten is a close contender). As for directors, as boring as it may sound, I’ve got to go with Fritz Lang, he was a master of so many styles and genres, a demon director but boy the results. Another personal favourite, and this goes way back to the early days of film, is Spaniard Segundo de Chomon. His creative genius, in my opinion, outdid even Méliès’. He was just a few years too late to the party to get the recognition he deserved.

  7. Sorry for not asking on the right post, but i was wondering how you saw the 1925 Ben Hur ? I could find no copy on the internet. I live in Paris and our cinémathèque wont provide it neither.

    Thanks ! (And most of it thanks for sustaining such a great era !)

  8. Top 10 Silent directors in order:Keaton,Murnau,Von Stroheim,Dreyer,Lang,Eisenstein,Chaplin,Sjostrom,Von Sternberg,Lubitsch.

  9. My first vote goes to Erich Von Stroheim. In fact, I tend to prefer him as an actor over a director (for him being both, see The Lost Squadron).

    Another one that sort of counts was Harold Lloyd. He did give credit to his directors, but for all practical purposes he was the director of his films. The artistic vision was his.

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