Bebe Daniels stars as a hypochondriac heiress who is threatened with a move to a ranch in Texas. She flees to what she thinks is a convalescent home but finds herself trapped on an island with a gang of rum runners– led by a pre-fame William Powell. Bebe doesn’t realize the danger she is in until it is too late. Will she be able to save herself and her only ally, Richard Arlen? Continue reading “Feel My Pulse (1928) A Silent Film Review”
I was reading through 1927 issues of Photoplay magazine (as one does) and I came across a capsule review for the Marion Davies vehicle The Red Mill.
Here is the interesting part of the review:
Here is a fairly amusing comedy with the star giving a cheery performance of the Holland hoyden. Incidentally, the direction is the work of William Goodrich, who is no other than Fatty Arbuckle under his newer megaphone cognomen.
You see, I always had the impression that Arbuckle’s William Goodrich years were an open secret among Hollywood folks but not known to the general public. The scandal that destroyed his career was a doozy (although the poor man was almost surely innocent). However, here is a mainstream entertainment magazine trumpeting the new identity.
A director must be able to coax just the right performance out of actors and actresses. During the silent era, directors were even able to coach their cast while the cameras were rolling. In fact, the loss of this reassuring voice in the talkies is often cited by silent-era actors as a major reason why they did not enjoy working in sound as much.
However, that doesn’t mean that the direction was always ideal. Here is a gentle send-up of silent era directors.
Welcome to a new series! As you know, I have joined several blogging organizations in the past few months and have become acquainted with many fellow movie fans. I thought it would be fun to profile some of them. I am starting with the Classic Movie Blog Association but will probably branch out.
Rudolph Valentino’s early death at the height of his career was a tragedy. It also opened up a floodgate of what-if’s. Would he have survived the transition to sound? Would his career have fizzled even before that?
Me? I think he would have survived. Mr. Valentino had a talent for light comedy, when he was allowed, and he could sing. During the talkie transition, musicals were the absolute rage.
Here is Rudy serenading Agnes Ayres in The Sheik. And, as a special bonus, here is the 1923 recording of him singing the very song quoted in the intertitles, Kashmiri Song.
A lot of silent films are lost. Some put the percentage as high as 90%. However, it is impossible to say for sure since there is no exhaustive catalog of every single silent film print in the world. Sometimes, a missing film has simply been sitting in an archive in an unlabeled canister. Film preservation was not a priority in the early history of film and we are still suffering from the aftereffects of that neglect.
So, it would be impossible to give an exact number of lost films. If you want more details on how films are lost and how they can be found again, here is my introductory article on the subject.
Exaggerated silent film acting?
I’m actually uncomfortable using that word to describe silent film acting. You see, a few generations of people snickering at the silents has meant that, to most people, silent movie acting involves, well, this:
Never mind that this is Victorian stage melodrama acting and never mind that silent films were often spoofing this style.
Silent film actors engaged in the very challenging art of pantomime and the best ones could get their message across with astonishing accuracy. Yes, the emotions are portrayed more powerfully but that was due to the nature of the craft.
Of course, there were stage holdovers in the silents who insisted on overdoing it. And there were actors who were purposely camping it up. And, finally, there were indeed some bad actors in silent movies. Like today. You got movies? You probably have a few bad actors. That’s how life works. However, it would be unfair to judge the entire art by a few hams and turkeys.
How to get into silent films?
It can seem a bit daunting. Silent movies are very different from sound films and take more concentration to watch. I usually recommend starting with comedies from one of the masts like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaon, Harold Lloyd or Harry Langdon. If you want more details, I have a list of tips and recommendations for first-time watchers.
How to make a silent film.
Amateur filmmaking is not a modern hobby. It was a pretty popular hobby in the silent era and there were multiple books published on the subject. I actually collect them and have reviewed quite a few of them. Check out my book section for reviews.
In the meantime, here are a few tips that will make your silent film more accurate:
The ratio is not one line of dialogue to one intertitle
Silent movies expected their audiences to read lips. This was for a few reasons. First, many fillmakers felt that onscreen titles spoiled the flow and rhythm of a film and tried to minimize them. Others found audience lipreading was a way to include dialogue that would otherwise be censored.
A silent movie blogger on a radio show! Will this cause the world to explode? I had great fun but was forced to finally take a side in the great Chaplin vs. Keaton debate. Thanks to Dan Delgado for having my on the show!
The wonderful Marion Davies delights in Show People. This time, her character is showing off her acting skills by reading bad news in a letter. It takes a very good actress to pull off playing such a bad actress, I say.
This is basically how I look when I get my phone bill and discover that I have gone over my data plan. Or, I should say, how I used to look in the olden days when you needed a paper bill to monitor your usage.
I blog about a niche topic within a niche topic. Classic movie blogs are niche enough but I specialize in silent movies.
Want to know my favorite kind of comment?
“I have never seen/wasn’t interested in seeing/only have seen a few silent movies but I want to see this one.”
It makes me so happy to read this. But how do you get people to take that first look at your site? I am going to share some of the tricks that have worked for me. Some of them have already been covered in my post on increasing your blog’s traffic but I am going to revisit them with broadening blog audiences in mind.
How widely do you want to spread your blog?
That is the most important thing to consider is how far you are willing to spread your blog’s topics. If you blog about cooking, would it make sense to add sections on gardening, entertaining or travel? Only you know the answer to that.
Let’s cover some risks of stepping out of your niche:
You risk alienating your core fans: If your most devoted fans only want to read about cooking, suddenly adding a lot of semi-related posts will make them less likely to return.
You risk unfocusing your blog: If you add too many new topics or topics that are not closely related to your main theme, you risk losing focus on your blog. A new visitor must be able to immediately know what your blog is about. And if your blog is purposely eclectic, say so on the landing page.
Here are some rewards:
You might get readers who may never have visited your blog otherwise: Sure, you have loyal readers for your articles on French cheesemaking but adding reviews of supermarket cheeses will give you access to a much broader readership.
You might find yourself having fun: Writing a regular blog is a challenge, even for the most passionate. Thinking of ways to expand your topic can make your blog new to you once again.
Eclectic content and off-topic posts are fun to write and read. However, when you are expanding your content, never forget the original purpose of your blog. Venture out but don’t forget to come home again.
(Of course, there are cases of blogs changing their purpose entirely but that was a decision made by their creators, not the result of too many topics. And, again, some blogs are purposely eclectic.)
Adding new topics and features
What new topics and features? Again, it depends on your blog. In my case, I wanted to make silent movies more real and relevant to modern viewers who may not necessarily be film buffs. Figure out your target and then try to come up with ideas that will appeal to them.
You have a blog on classic English literature. You decide that you want more non-readers to take a look at your site. You decide to start reviewing modernized film versions of the classics.
You have a blog on fine cooking. You decide that you want to appeal to the busy mom/dad reader. You decide to start posting about quick and easy shortcuts that bring gourmet food to a busy household.
If you are regularly writing 1,000+ word posts, consider interspersing smaller, more digestible posts. Someone who is new to your blog may hesitate to commit to a 2,500 word review but will be more than happy to look at a 350 word feature. Plus, the challenge of having fewer words available is a great writing exercise.
Also consider varying your content. What do I mean? Well, if you are a passionate blogger, you are using the written word. Have you considered adding images to the mix? Movie stills, vintage illustrations, animated GIFs…
By the same token, if you are an image-centric blogger, maybe consider adding a small amount of written content to mix things up.
Videos are powerful and search engines love ’em. Just be sure that the video is either in the public domain or is otherwise authorized to be posted. Of course, your own videos would not have copyright issues, assuming you follow the rules of your video hosting service. (Here is the official word on Fair Use; the actual definition of it varies from site to site.)
Test drive your content
I’ve mentioned before that I belonged to a small writers group and that it helped my writing a lot. Here’s why.
The group consisted of four women, not including me. We were all from different backgrounds and were different ages. We all wrote on different topics. Only one of the ladies had ever seen a silent film. What did this mean? I got to test out my reviews on an audience who did not know Wallace Reid from Sessue Hayakawa. If my references were too vague or too obviously intended for insiders, they would tell me so.
You see, as a fan of your subject, you may take for granted that your audience will understand your references and jokes. Am I advocating talking down to your readers? Heavens, no! What I am saying is that it helps me a lot to try to imagine a newcomer reading one of my posts. Would it be clear and fun to read? It should be.
While I no longer belong to a writers group, I think I benefited from my membership. In addition to helping with the basic craft of writing, it also helped me to see my work with fresh eyes.
Sessue Hayakawa deserves a lot of credit for moving film acting away from stagy gestures and toward more natural emotions. In this scene, he filled his mind with anger, acting with his eyes. He is electrifying, especially compared to his overacting co-stars. Even though The Cheat is (and was) an incredibly insensitive film, it is an amazing showcase for Mr. Hayakawa’s astonishing talent.
Jimmy Valentine (Robert Warwick) belongs to a gang of bank-robbers– his job is to crack safes and he is the best in the business. After a stint in Sing Sing, however, Jimmy sees the error of his ways and decides to live an honest life. However, his old nemesis Doyle (Robert Cummings), a surly detective, has a chance to haul Jimmy in on an old charge. Will Jimmy’s life of honesty go to waste? Or will he be able to bluff his way to freedom?
Status: Samuel Goldwyn donated a print of this film to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1956, it is the only known copy in existence. The film has been shown at festivals and special screenings but has never been released to the general public.
The film was praised for its original plot but it sounds fairly generic to me. Ronald Colman is a Spanish gypsy whose bride is abducted by a despotic duke. Wanting to exact vengeance, Colman steals the duke’s new bride, Vilma Banky. Three guesses as to how this one turns out.
However, what the plot lacks in originality, it seems to more than make up for in beauty and enthusiasm. Director George Fitzmaurice is best remembered for directing Miss Banky and Rudolph Valentino in Son of the Sheik, which was pretty similar material.
There’s a fine costume love story on view in “The Night of Love,” which presents Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky again in the best film they’ve appeared since “The Dark Angel.” Marked with fine photography, gorgeous settings and compact and stirring action it is certain to move any spectator, no matter how hard-boiled, to remark: “Here’s a picture!” It has been staged with a lavish hand but its expenditure is perfectly in keeping with its story of rich adventure in old Spain. This is one instance where the background doesn’t run away with the plot. There are such tales as this — and a few have served as themes to attract light opera lovers. What is sauce for the stage is also sauce for the screen. What really matters is that it tells its story with- out making heavy footprints around Robin Hood’s barn and tells it with moving scenes and gripping suspense. There is a lecherous duke who kidnaps a gypsy’s bride on her wedding night. She kills herself to escape him, whereupon the rogue of the open road vows vengeance. He exacts it by stealing the duke’s newest spouse and winning her love. That ‘s all there is to it, but before the ending arrives the spectator is in for a display of rich scenes and much excitement.
The Night of Love is full of beauty, emotional thrills, and good acting, and, praise be, it is a new story. Vilma Banky is ravishingly beautiful and Ronald Colman is the perfect gypsy hero. What a combination, those two. It’s a gypsy story of the seventeenth century, but do not let that stop you, for it grips you from the first foot of film until the last. It’s over all too soon. The tale is woven around the feudal right of the Duke of a Spanish province to hold all brides at his castle on their wedding day while the poor vassal groom gnashes his teeth in rage, and Montagu Love plays the Duke with such realism that you’re unhappy until the gypsy lover puts an end to his rascally life. George Fitzmaurice’s direction is exquisite. Don’t miss this.
Here’s hoping that the film is made more widely available soon!
This scene always kind of cracked me up. Agnes Ayres is not exactly clad for escape but then again, Rudolph Valentino isn’t really clad for pursuit. Knee breeches are just impractical in my opinion. Yes, I realize revolutions were fought and won in them but I dare say most gentlemen would prefer longer trousers. On the plus side, I totally love this impractical but stunning dress! Absolutely gorgeous.
On a side note, this scene reminded me of Norma Shearer lunging at the camera in the final scene of The Women.
I previously posted this in three parts. Here are all the story cards in one easy post.
Why bother to really watch a movie when you have all the tools on hand to pretend that you watched it! Here is the quick and easy guide to The Sheik, Valentino’s signature film (for better or for worse).
Him: You’re cute.
Her: I am culturally, morally and ethnically superior. (pulls gun)
Him: We can settle this debate in the desert– OF LOVE! (grabs her and carries her off to his tent)
Her: Unhand me, you brute! (starts crying)
Him: You shall be my bride, my little calzone!
Her: No, no, a thousand times no! (continues weeping)
Him: She’s upset? But why? Just for that, I’m picking out all her outfits for a week.
Her: Listen, Coco Chanel, I hate you and your stupid cigarette holder.
Him: But I can sing! La la la la la! And, my best friend is coming for a visit.
Her: That’s the last straw. I’m outta here. Oof! Or not.
Him: Hey, what’s the idea? If you had escaped, you would have gotten away!
Her: Just for that, I’m wearing my ugliest dress.
Him: Don’t be mad! I have a present for you! A gun! (gives her a gun)
Her: Golly, he’s not so bad after all.
Him: (to himself) Why isn’t it any fun to annoy her? I’m usually into that sort of thing.
Her: Help! Help! I’ve been kidnapped by someone less handsome than you!
Him: Unhand her, you brute! (gets bashed on head in the process)
Her: Thanks for saving me. Sorry they bashed you on the head and whatnot…
Him: And I’m not even an Arab really!
Her: Oh, you silly bunny! I knew the whole time you were Italian.
Boris Karloff is, of course, best known for his monstrous roles in films like Frankenstein and The Mummy. While his big break came in the talkies, Karloff was quite active in silent films as well. The Walking Dead came along after Karloff had found fame playing assorted creepy characters. While not his most famous film, it contains one of his best performances.
Why bother to really watch a movie when you have all the tools on hand to pretend that you watched it! Here is the quick and easy guide to Act I of The Sheik, Valentino’s signature film (for better or for worse).
Well, this has been on my chest for a while. Welcome to my new series. I am going to be reviewing talking pictures that are either about the silent era or that incorporate silent films into their story. I will review the film itself and then briefly discuss whether the film helped or harmed public perception of the silent era.
Well, you can’t accuse silent films of being all romance and honey, right? William Boyd has just saved Elinor Fair from being shot (he was supposed to do the shooting). She asks him why he saved her. He is not too happy with the situation so his answer is a bit brusk.
I mean, here he was, minding his own business, starting the Russian Revolution and now he’s stuck with some Czarist dame. See, the problem is that she is just too good at moisturizing and exfoliating and her skin was too nice to put a bullet hole through. It strikes me that perhaps the other Czarists should have considered some mud packs and body butters. It would have saved a whole lot of them from being shot.
(This is from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1926 hit The Volga Boatman.)
Mary Pickford is a naive city girl who journeys out to the redwoods to live with her uncle. What she doesn’t know is that her uncle is dead and a bandit (Elliott Dexter) has borrowed his identity as cover for his stagecoach robberies. The pair form an uneasy alliance. Mary has nowhere else to go and Elliott doesn’t dare let her leave since she can blow his cover. That romance in the title? Well, with a city girl and a bandit sharing digs, what do you think will happen? Continue reading “A Romance of the Redwoods (1917) A Silent Film Review”