What was the first silent movie you ever watched?

We all have to start somewhere and so I want to ask: what was the first silent movie you ever watched?

While I had seen cartoons in the silent film tradition (the Pink Panther, Much Ado About Nutting), redrawn Mutt and Jeff animation and even the Mel Brooks film Silent Movie, my first proper silent-movie-made-during-the-silent-era-with-title-cards-and-everything was Sparrows.

Alas, due to a crummy, warped VHS copy (thanks, Blockbuster) and my own lack of acclimation to silent era storytelling, I absolutely hated it. (Don’t worry, I did a proper rewatch later.) My second silent film, City Lights, is what really turned me into a fan and a one-two-three punch of Sessue Hayakawa, Conrad Veidt and Milton Sills made me a devotee of silent drama. (The Cheat, The Beloved Rogue and The Sea Hawk.)

So, what about you? What was your first silent film experience? And did you like it? Please share!

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43 Replies to “What was the first silent movie you ever watched?”

  1. The first silent I saw was “Wings” with Clara Bow. Haven’t seen it for awhile but I think Gary Cooper had a small role in it.

  2. The Phantom of the Opera. I was a young child and watched it on TV with my father. I was absolutely terrified during the unmasking scene.

  3. Charlie Chaplin shorts: THE RINK, THE TRAMP, MAKING A LIVING, and HIS FAVORITE PASTIME.
    His feature THE GOLD RUSH.

    Terrible VHS copies except for THE RINK, which had a wonderful score. GOLD RUSH had an organ score which was the same 4 pieces in rotation, with no regard for what happened onscreen.

    But it was magical. I must’ve been 7 or 8 years old. Nana wanted me to know who Chaplin was. She was not a film snob, but she wanted me to understand WHY the Maria character on Sesame Street was funny and what silent film was about since they lampooned it in THE THREE AMIGOS.

  4. The very first silent film I ever watched was Chaplin’s The Fireman. It’s considered one of his lesser Mutuals, but it did the trick 😉

  5. Started with one of the best – ‘Modern Times,’ then several other Chaplins that showed up on a local TV channel, a few years before the film festivals introduced me to Keaton, ‘Seventh Heaven,’ ‘Wings,’ and many other treasures.

  6. I remember watching The Gold Rush many,many years ago, but the one I count as first is Phantom of the Opera and it remains one of my favourites to this day.
    I would even watch the talkie version, if they found the rest of the three discs.

  7. Phantom of the Opera – I was probably 10, and scared out of my mind, even though it was a VHS of a horrible print with no tinting or music. But I loved it, and immediately wanted more!

  8. I wish I knew the answer to your lovely question, Fritzi. Since I’ve been watching TCM for decades, I’m sure long ago I watched a silent there–probably the first one I ever saw. No memory, though, of which one. One of my earliest “silent” purchases was in 2005 of the seven-disc HAROLD LLOYD COMEDY COLLECTION. The first listed NETFLIX rentals of silents were Barrymore’s DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE and BELOVED ROGUE and Keaton’s OUR HOSPITALITY. Interesting experience to go through all of one’s old NETFLIX rentals and Amazon purchases. I think your first silents, Fritzi, SPARROWS and CITY LIGHTS are beautiful places to start.

  9. In my 20’s I saw live with theater organ the Hunchback of Notre Dame. After seeing that I could not figure out why anyone would want to watch a silent film. Years later, while at home one afternoon, Beyond the Rocks came on TCM. I enjoyed it. I cannot say that it was a “Wow” moment though. Unlike most people I just did not have that bright light moment on seeing my first silent film that hooked me. But, Beyond the Rocks was good enough that I decided to watch another. I think it was Caligari. Then there was another. At some point in the process I was hooked. I tend to enjoy the dramas (tragedies) more than I do the comedies.

  10. Most likely mine was The Phantom of the Opera. I rented it on VHS from my local library when I was in middle school. It was a Kino VHS so it had decent picture quality, thank goodness. I was on a big classic horror kick (and still am) so naturally I wanted to explore silent horror. I don’t remember absolutely loving it but it certainly did stick with me, and I like it very much today. Either way it got me to explore more silent films!

  11. Münchhausen…in 1956…when I was 4 years old….with a Zeiss IKON MOVISCOP 8mm…. playing it endlessly forward and backward…(it’s a sound film from 1943; but we had no sound track on it)

  12. It would have to be silent comedy shorts that were shown on TV from 1957 in my country. Two early features I remember screening at home on 16mm in the mid-1970s was Way Down East(Gish, 1920) and Wings(Para 1927). I saw Birth of a Nation in the 1970s at Columbia College(opposite the old Chaplin Studios/Nth Hollywood?). Dr Caligari in London in early in 1971 and The Tong Man(1919, Seusse Hayakawa) in that period. Might have seen Caligari again later in 1970s at a theatre connected to the Ford Complex in Deaborn/MI. Then came laserdisc in about 1994 when I got a machine and got a number of silent in that format including the much requested MGM silent classic, The Wind & The Crowd which rumoured for Warner Archive in the near future. We’ll see. Of course, I now have many DVD and Blu Ray editions of silent and just got the Flicker Alley 1929 Richard Oswald Der Hund von Baskervilles=a credit to the restorers. On the way is The Haunted Castle. I have a number of Finnish silent classics thru a friend in Helsinki(I paid for retail editions). I also have 10 Japanese silent DVDs from Meme in Japan. So many more…..including a couple of rare Australian silent classics.

  13. Apart from a few Laurel and Hardy shorts (‘Two Tars’ definitely being one), my first silent movie was probably Metropolis (sadly the Giorgio Moroder version).

  14. A comedy with Ben Turpin, at a primary school where a parent organised a film night as a fund raiser. Possibly 65 years ago (BUT the film was not a new release!).

    16mm projector in a darkened schoolroom.

    A familiar scene to many of my generation, it’s a long time since I heard a Bell and Howell projector clattering away.

    Nothing then until 15 years later: Dreyer’s “The Passion of Jeanne of Arc” at a film society (with another workhorse B&H 16mm projector), and LP discs of quite modern symphonic music; which worked well.

  15. The Blacksmith, in the mid-late 90s, a time when a mainstream UK TV channel (it was Channel 4, I think) was willing to show a silent film as part of their afternoon programming. I loved the film at the time, and still do.

  16. I mentioned in a comment last year that my mother took me to see “The King of Kings” when it was re-released in the late 1940s. It was shown in the largest cinema in the area complete with organ rising from beneath the stage & a starry heaven rotating on the ceiling. This was my first silent experience but as a little kid I was more perplexed than anything else.

    My father was deep into 8mm home movies, but the only commercial film we had then was a highly entertaining Terrytune cartoon: Puddy the Pup “down in the deeps.” It was an 8mm Castle Films release with Castle Films title cards so I always thought of it as a silent film & I consider it my first “home video” silent experience. It dated from the mid 30s, however, so I suppose there must originally have been a sound track of sorts. If anyone can enlighten me on this, please do so.

  17. Keaton or Laurel & Hardy. Probably Keaton was first, but I was small and don’t remember for sure.

    The Passion of Joan of Arc was the film that triggered my conversion, but I had actually seen quite much before that – mostly comedy but also some Griffith, Lang and Murnau.

  18. Can’t be sure, but it was probably an episode of THE CHARLIE CHAPLIN COMEDY THEATRE, which comprised the Essanay and Mutual shorts and some Sennetts as well,

  19. In 1971, my now wife and I attended a performance of Chauncey Haines on his electric theater organ at Campbell Hall at UCSB. The film that night was the Thief of Bagdad (Doug Fairbanks, of course). We had no idea what to expect and were floored. That was the first of many standing ovations we gave Mr. Haines over the years. Included in these memories is Gaylord Carter (boy could he make an entrance, riding up on the console elevator in that white suit!).Attending a modern movie in a multiplex where the audience files out in silence at the end seems so sterile compared to these magnificent, shared experiences.

  20. Possibly the earliest I would have seen were one or more Chaplin Essanay shorts or silent cartoons programmed for kids TV shows in the mid-1950s, but the first I made a point of watching was The Hunchback of Notre Dame shortened for Paul Killiam’s half-hour TV show “Silents, Please” airing on April 23, 1961. I was just on the verge of discovering film was something to take seriously, and to a budding high school actor, Chaney’s makeup was enthralling. It was the beginning of paying attention to “how they did it,” that is, technique, more than valuing a storyline. Don’t ask if I’ve progressed beyond that stage.

  21. its hard to remember but it was most likely Silent Sunday showing on TCM with legendary Robert Osbourne. Miss that guy

  22. First feature: William S. Hart in Tumbleweeds. It was the one with his sentimental introduction.

    First short: Liberty. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) showed Laurel and Hardy shorts with musician Horace Lapp accompanying. I wanted more!

  23. By the time I was 10 I knew who Chaplin was, but cannot remember the initial viewing. By the early 1970’s my local PBS channel was showing silents periodically, and I do remember seeing “Flesh and the Devil”, “The Scarlet Letter” and “Hunchback of Notre Dame” among others.

  24. I don’t remember for sure but since I’m an huge horror movie fan, I’m going to say either Phantom of the Opera or Nosferatu, though I am think it’s more than latter. Nosferatu would become one of my all time favorite movies and I’ve re-watched that film more than any other silent film. Phantom is another favorite as well and I got the chance to see that with a live audience and orchestra & organ last Halloween, which was quite the experience.

  25. When I was a kid in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, we watched 8mm silent movies projected on the wall of the living room from our Kodak home movie projector. We borrowed them from the public library on reels packed in tin boxes. Later, after we had developed a real taste for them, my dad ordered some “keepers” from Blackhawk or Castle – also 8mm and silent. We watched so many of them, beginning at such a young age, that I can’t say for sure what was my “first”. But I know that some particular well-loved favorites were Laurel & Hardy in “Big Business” and “Two Tars”, Mary Pickford in “Sparrows”, Chaplin in “The Immigrant”, the Gish sisters in “Orphans of the Storm”, and Keaton in “One Week” and “Cops”. (We had sheets and pillowcases with Laurel & Hardy on them, and we dressed up as Stan and Ollie once to make our own 8mm home movie. I guess they were our favorites!)

  26. He Who Gets Slapped with Lon Chaney. I was about 12 and I walked in to the room and my dad was watching it with the sound off. He said it was a silent movie and you don’t need sound. I sat and watched the movie and it was pretty good. I have been hooked since.

  27. Alas, I know not.
    As a youngling, in the very early 70’s, I turned on the tv and a Silent was on…

    It seemed as if a woman was helping a man evade the law across city rooftops… A skylight was involved as was some sort of drop. My vague recollection was that it didn’t end well for him. They didn’t give the name, at the end, and I was too young & dumb to look in the tv book. 🙁 But, I was HOOKED…. it was a riveting experience. Would love to know what it was and see it again!

    After that, I recall “Phantom of the Opera” on Creature Feature and in the late 70’s I helped the lady, whose children I babysat when I was in eighth grade, with her son’s fifth birthday party. At one point the dad gathered the kids, rolled out a film projector and showed an old Laurel and Hardy film.

    All I recall, was a ladder, a second floor window… and I want to say they were dressed as painters -though perhaps not. My impression was that it was a Silent. though it may just not have had a soundtrack. All the kids were mesmerized.. I was too busy helping clear the table and didn’t get to actually watch it. lol

  28. Here in San Diego, in 1971 a local art-house cinema (now gone) had a Buster Keaton film festival showing his silent features and shorts. I was intrigued having seen him in commercials and in bit parts in films during the early to mid 1960’s. Shown first that night was The General, followed by a last minute substitution (those who booked silent films for showings during the 1970’s and 1980’s can relate) of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Although I enjoyed the Keaton film and still count it among my top 10 favorites of all films, it was the Chaplin film that grabbed me most, particularly its topical depiction of the Great Depression of the 1930’s as I was dealing with the scarcity of employment opportunities in the ongoing Recession in 1971. That evening was my introduction to Chaplin and silent films both of which I could not get enough of afterwords. I now have a vast collection of silent films in Super 8, VHS, DVD, and Blu Ray and have seen uncountable more. It was those two films in that evening that started me off.

  29. Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman. My path is a lot different than most people in that I wanted to see what Yankee Stadium looked like in the 20s but was so blown away by how great of a film this is and afterwards I looked to watch as many silents as I could between home video and TCM.

  30. As a child of the ’60s, I saw those “Fractured Flickers” TV shows, which probably turned a lot of people off silents for life. But at some point in my early teens, I saw some Chaplin, Keaton and Laurel and Hardy silent shorts, got an 8mm projector and began ordering my own copies from Blackhawk Films.

    At about the same time, the local public library showed some silent features, including Metropolis, The Lost World, and The Phantom of the Opera. And a nearby art house showed all of Chaplin’s features (I tried to see as many as I could). This all coincided with reading Walter Kerr’s “The Silent Clowns.” I was a fan for life!

  31. “The Crowd” with Eleanor Boardman. I happened upon this showing on a PBS station when I was home from school due to illness. This silent film did not have an uplifting plot but I loved being able to see the events unfold without too much chattering dialogue or effects to overload the storyline.

  32. As a budding film buff, silents intrigued me because they were so hard to see. The local TV stations then (in the ’70s) showed movies from the ’30s and ’40s every day, but no silents. You had to watch for occasional PBS showings. I would look at the stills in books like Griffith and Mayer’s “The Movies,” and wish I could see the actual films.

    I recall a PBS program of MGM silent features that aired circa 1974: several Chaneys and Garbos, plus The Big Parade, The Scarlet Letter, and The Crowd (this may be the showing that Virginia mentions above). I was mesmerized, and wanted to see more — but had to wait for TCM’s debut to see many other MGM silents.

  33. Back when I was in junior high in the ’70’s, we went on a class field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. One of the exhibits was a Yesterday’s Main Street, which had a nickelodeon theater. It was showing John Bunny’s “A Cure for Pokeritis”. I believe I went back and saw it 6 times that day, and I was hooked.

  34. I started watching silent movies when I was really little so I don’t remember my very first, but the one that got me hooked was The Unholy Three (I first saw that one when I was about 15). It started my love for silents and for Lon Chaney.

  35. Mine was Norma Shearer’s movie Lady of the Night (1925). I was in high school, just entering 11th grade (I began watching classic movies that summer) and Norma Shearer had become a favorite – A Free Soul was the first movie I saw her in and really liked her- so I wanted to watch whatever she was in. I eventually watched The Women and that was the first time I was introduced to Joan Crawford whom I instantly liked too and wanted to learn about. This lead me to the book The Divine Feud which I read. It discussed a feud of sorts between Norma and Joan that supposedly began because Joan played Norma’s double in a movie called Lady of the Night so I wanted to watch it out of curiosity. To my luck it aired on TCM about a week after I read about it in that book.

    I did like it. The story was interesting to be and I liked the challenge of watching a silent. I liked reading the dialogue and how it was a different, and in some ways more engaging than listening to dialogue. I was already used to black and white which took me a couple of movies to get into so I was surprised at how easily I “acclimated” to silents. I became interested in watching more. The second one I saw was The Unknown with Joan Crawford and Lon Chaney.

  36. Chaplin’s 1917 short Easy Street. Saw it in a college film class, and all of the students (for most of whom this was likely their first silent as well) were delighted and laughed all the way through its short running time and applauded at the end.

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