Lost Film Files #21: London After Midnight (1927)

London After Midnight Lon Chaney
Now let’s not get carried away… (via Tumblr)

London After Midnight (1927)

Status: Missing and presumed lost. The only known copy was destroyed in the 1967 MGM vault fire.

One of the most sought-after lost silent films, Lon Chaney and Tod Browning combined forces once again to create a tale of murder and… vampires?

Marceline Day and co. move into a house with a history: the last tenant committed suicide. But was it suicide or… murder? And then Miss Day spots what look like vampires! Oh my! What is afoot in the old dark house?

Photoplay thought that the film was excellent, though the creepy bits worked better than the normal bits:

Lon Chaney has the stellar role in this mystery drama and the disguise he uses while ferreting out the murder is as gruesome as any he has ever worn. The story attempts to prove that a murderer, when hypnotized, will enact again every detail of his crime. The suspense is marvelously sustained. Chaney plays a dual role, and, when conventionally clad, is a little less convincing than usual. In the other role, perfect.


Variety found the whole affair to be decidedly meh:

Will add nothing to Chaney’s prestige as a trouper, nor increase the star’s box office value. With Chaney’s name in lights, however, this picture, any picture with Chaney, means a strong box office draw. Young, Browning and Chaney have made a good combination in the past but the story on which this production is based is not of the quality that results in broken house records.

London After Midnight does have one advantage over other lost films: It’s absence is noted and lamented. Because of this, TCM aired a 2002 reconstruction of the film. While nothing can compare to the real film, this reconstruction gave audiences a taste of what they were missing.

Ahem. Boo! (via Doctor Macro)
Ahem. Boo! (via Doctor Macro)

Director Tod Browning remade the film in 1935 as The Mark of the Vampire with Bela Lugosi (of course) as the is-he-or-isn’t-he bloodsucker. This version is widely available on DVD and currently may be streamed from Warner Archive’s instant service.

The interest in London After Midnight is easy to understand. Lon Chaney is one of the few dramatic silent film stars who still enjoys mainstream popularity. And his tragic death in 1930 meant that he just missed the release of some of the greatest horror classics: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy… Seeing him play a horror creature as iconic as a vampire (spoiler: it’s all just a disguise to trap a murderer) would be a rare treat. Plus, is not this makeup awesome?

Ooooo, creepy! (via Silent Hollywood)
Ooooo, creepy! (via Silent Hollywood)

So, enjoy the reconstruction and the remake and hope that someone has a print stashed in their secret lair.

This post was part of the Chaney Blogathon, hosted by The Last Drive In and myself.

Questions from the Google: No, I will not do your homework for you

Milton Sills and I take a dim view of cheaters. (via slate.com)

Sometimes during school year, I get search engine queries that are less about silent films and more about “oh no! my report is due tomorrow and I haven’t even read the book/seen the movie/researched the topic!”

Let me just mention one thing before we begin: I have helped students with projects and have answered their questions or directed them to resources. I’m glad to do it. What I object to are queries that are probably intended for the Copy/Paste/Turn In/Pray the Teacher Doesn’t Check For Plagiarism types.

Here are some of the more egregious examples:

Describe Jimmy Valentine with the information from the story. Use these words and expressions and your own ideas.

See what happens when you plagiarize term papers? (via criminalbrief.com)

Oh boy.

Do you know how long the original story of Jimmy Valentine is? Eight and a half tiny pages. If you can’t manage to read that, you have a lot more problems than failing a class.

I certainly hope this student’s instructor was using Turnitin or some similar service.

How does Byke try to kill Snorkey?

I dare you to read those names without laughing! It actually refers to the 1867 play Under the Gaslight, which is best remembered for coining the tied-to-the-tracks cliche. In this case, Byke ties Snorkey to the tracks (mwahahaha) but the hapless fellow is saved by a brave young lady.

What are the themes of the Great Train Robbery 1903?

Robbery. Oh, and trains. Great ones.

Why does Don Jose join the smuggler band of gypsies?

I think I will let Charlie Chaplin tell the story.

First, there was this:

Hey there, big boy.
Hey there, big boy.

Then this:

Some 'splaining to do.
Some ‘splaining to do.

And this:



I killed him. Whoopsy.
I killed him. Whoopsy.

And, finally, this:

A dumped smuggler.
A dumped smuggler.


Tone of the author Anthony Hope in The Prisoner of Zenda?

Anthony Hope himself. (via Wikipedia)

Well, his stiff collar, waistcoat and wool coat make it impossible to know for sure but he looks pretty fit and toned to me. There seem to be no shirtless pictures of Mr. Hope floating around the internet so I will withhold judgement until they surface. Oh, and I am not sure if this picture was taken when he was writing Zenda.

Five must-own silent movies from Warner Archive


For those of you who don’t know, Warner Archive is in the business of releasing older, obscure and cult films on DVD-R. What does this mean? Films that may not have been popular enough to enjoy a pressed DVD release can be purchased legally by the general public. Hurrah! And the silent films have the excellent musical scores that they deserve. Hurrah again!

Here are five films released on DVD-R that I consider essential viewing.

Show People

(via tcm.com)

Marion Davies charms in this showbiz comedy. The art of moviemaking is well and truly spoofed.

Why is it essential? For the chance to see Davies show off those famous– but rarely seen– comedy chops. To enjoy the many, many, many superstar cameos.


West of Zanzibar

(via silverdisc.com)

Lon Chaney and Tod Browning give us the creeps in this sick little jungle melodrama.

Why is it essential? Lon Chaney’s stunning performance. The sticky jungle atmosphere. For one more trip into the twisted (silent) mind of Tod Browning.


The Sea Hawk

(via mrqe.com)

Milton Sills drops the whole Elizabethan gentleman thing in favor of good old-fashioned Barbary piracy.

Why is it essential? The magnificent-yet-battered full-size ships. The grimy action. The manly-man adventure. (Contrast that to the plasticky sheen of 50’s and 60’s mega-epics.)


Desert Nights

(via rottentomatoes.com)

John Gilbert’s farewell to the silents is also a tidy little desert proto-noir. Diamond thieves vs a cunning hero.

Why is it essential? To see Gilbert as more than just a lover boy. For the suspenseful plot and psychological drama that ensues.


Wild Oranges

(via overstock.com)

King Vidor directs this southern gothic suspense flick. Decaying homes, decaying minds. Oh, and Sennett funnyman Ford Sterling in a supporting role.

Why is it essential? To see a young Vidor work successfully with challenging material. For the dark premise and darker events.


(My selections seem to be on the gloomy end of the spectrum but I hope you enjoy!)

Questions from the Google: On the Boyds and the bees

(via dorothysebastian.com)

William Boyd and his films have been cropping up in my search queries lately so I figured I had enough material to write a whole post on the topic.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Boyd, he was the hero to a whole generation of children: Hopalong Cassidy! And I make no secret about my appreciation for his silent work.

Here are some of the queries I have received:

William Boyd in silent films? Early films of William Boyd?

Biography of William Stage Boyd

In which movies was the theme of the Volga boatmen used? Was William Boyd in The Volga Boatman?

Did William Boyd work exclusively for Paramount Pictures?

So, take out your cap guns and your black hats because we are going to be taking a look at William Boyd.

(via Time Magazine)

William Boyd in silent films? Early films of William Boyd?

Yes, William Boyd was indeed in silent films. In fact, you can catch glimpses of him in some early Cecil B. DeMille titles like Why Change Your Wife? and The Affairs of Anatol. He also had bit parts in some Rudolph Valentino vehicles such as Moran of the Lady Letty and The Young Rajah.

(via Doctor Macro)

After spending much of his early career at Paramount, Boyd followed DeMille when the director jumped ship for his own production company. DeMille had taken a liking to Boyd and gave him his big break, a two-fisted minister in The Road to Yesterday. That was followed up by the biggest hit of Boyd’s silent career, The Volga Boatman.

Boyd continued to work for DeMille Pictures, starring in such nautical fare as Eve’s Leaves and The Yankee Clipper. He also starred in D.W. Griffith’s last silent, Lady of the Pavements. He successfully jumped over to sound and was Carole Lombard’s leading man in High Voltage, one of her early starring roles.

Biography of William “Stage” Boyd

William Stage Boyd
The other William Boyd

The name William Boyd is and was quite common in the entertainment industry. William “Stage” Boyd took his middle name to emphasize his stage experience and to differentiate himself from the William Boyd who was making a name for himself as a leading man.

Unfortunately, the press did not make such distinctions and when “Stage” was caught in the midst of scandalous doings, the papers printed a picture of the wrong Boyd. Both Boyds suffered career damage as a result and William Boyd started to go by Bill Boyd to avoid further confusion. Stage Boyd died in 1935 from ailments related to his alcohol and drug abuse. The same year, William Boyd was hired to play the role that would define his career, Hopalong Cassidy.

Not a lot of information is available about Stage Boyd. If he is mentioned at all, it is usually in relation to William “Hoppy” Boyd. Sorry to leave you empty-handed but there it is.

In which movies was the theme of the Volga boatmen used? Was William Boyd in The Volga Boatman?

volga boatman

The Song of the Volga Boatman has been used in dozens, maybe hundreds of films. Even if you don’t know it by name, you will recognize it immediately.

It is sometimes used to create Russian flavor but is more commonly used comically to accent a character toiling. One of my favorite uses of this song is in the opening credits of the 1966 comedy The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, where it used as part of a medley of patriotic American and Russian songs.

And yes, William Boyd was indeed the star of The Volga Boatman. It’s a silly DeMille spectacle but quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, the only high-quality release it received in the USA was on VHS. (It was available as part of a bargain basement DeMille box set but that product has been pulled from the market.)

The Volga Boatman (film)
The Volga Boatman (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did William Boyd work exclusively for Paramount Pictures?

No. While he spent a large part of his career at the studio, he also signed on with RKO, DeMille Pictures, and United Artists, among others.

Silent Movie Favorites: Top 10 Silent Films (with numerous caveats)

Silent movies are so far removed from popular consciousness that it is sometimes difficult to know where to begin. Do you start with D.W. Griffith? Something European? Or one of those famous comedies? The obvious answer to to seek out the best by looking for a top 10 list.

The problem? I’m not a huge fan of these lists.


Not at all.

That’s probably odd because I am writing one but let me explain my reasons.

Top 10 lists are insanely popular online and there are quite a few top 10 silent movie lists. This is where I come in. Many of these lists are thoughtful and excellent. However, there are quite a few that are basically just the viewing assignment for Film History 101 and I have an issue with that.

Scaramouche 1923, starring Ramon Novarro, Alice Terry, Lewis Stone, directed by Rex Ingram, a silent movie review
I sniff at your generic lists!

First, a lot of the silent films ranked as “best” in generic film studies are practically guaranteed to put off newbies.

Second, it’s lazy. Dipping into the same pool of, say, 20 films for a top 10 list may be easy but it doesn’t really increase awareness of silent films.

Third, it’s just silly. Let me explain. If someone claimed to be a passionate reader who reads all the time, would you believe them if their list of favorite books perfectly matched their high school reading list? I think not. A true bookworm would certainly still love books from that list but they would have added other titles over the years that round out their taste. (Obviously, please disregard if you are still in high school.)

In short: Generic lists? Feh! I need to counteract this!

Here is my list. It may be a lot of things but it is not generic. These are films that I truly love and my taste tends to lean toward American-made crowd-pleasers. In general, I am trying to include films that are not only wonderful but also are wonderful in a way that could only be accomplished by a silent film. I also tried to choose only films that are either available on home video or are shown on TCM with some regularity.

Will you agree with this list? I hope not! Everyone has their own taste. I hope, though, that it will be an enjoyable read for silent film fans and an interesting to-watch list for newcomers.

(For a more fluid listing, check out my constantly-updated Top Ten Review page!)

10. Carmen (1915)

(via cinemaevida.blogspot.com)

Cecil B. DeMille’s rambunctious take on the classic opera. Lean, fast-paced and enthusiastically acted.

9. Tess of the Storm Country (1922)

(via Silent Hollywood)

Mary Pickford’s signature blend of spunk and pathos is on display. One of her favorite roles. One of mine too.

8. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Review, Conrad Veidt, Wener Krauss, Lil Dagover, silent german film

This film was made for discussing and everyone has their own interpretation. Its style is still influencing motion pictures.

7. The Strong Man (1926)

(via kanganof.com)

The combination of Frank Capra and Harry Langdon yielded this sweet tale of a man-child soldier and the girl he loves.

6. Hell’s Hinges (1916)

Hell's Hinges (1916) William S Hart silent movie review

William S. Hart wows in this apocalyptic western. Stark, merciless and fierce.

5. The Sea Hawk (1924)

The Sea Hawk 1924, Frank Lloyd, Milton Sills, Enid Bennett, Wallace Beery, A Silent Movie Review | Oliver makes good his escape

Buckles swash most splendidly in this nautical adventure. Milton Sills provides his manly mettle while Frnk Lloyd directs.

4. City Lights (1931)

city lights poster

Chaplin proves the power of the silent cinema in this intelligent dramedy.

3. Sunrise (1927)

(via terminalsigma.blogspot.com)
(via terminalsigma.blogspot.com)

German technical prowess and Hollywood star power combined to create something beautiful.

2. Judex (1916-1917)

judex still

Everything I like about silent movies in one wonderful package. Quirky, funny, sad, exciting… Irresistible!

1. The Wind (1928)


Raw emotional power and some rather fine acting. This could have only been made as a silent film.

Movies Silently Quarterly Report


Here’s what’s been going on in the third quarter of 2013.

I’m just the joining type

I added a new blog membership. I joined the Large Association of Movie Blogs, aka The LAMB. Baaaa.

I also held my first blogathon with a co-host. Lindsey of The Motion Pictures agreed to be my partner in crime for the Gish Sisters Blogathon.

I began to engage in vulgar commerce

I joined the WordPress WordAds program. It’s all very well to be noble and refuse to take advertising but I am not going to lie, it is nice to make money off the site.

I launched several new features

Silent Dark Knight Rises Silent Movie

I started creating posters for my silent reimaginings of sound films. I also began to cover how silents are portrayed in modern films.

I feel so international– Again!

I got to welcome Ireland and Brazil to the top ten! These are the nations that visited the site the most.


Here are my top 5 reviews for the quarter

Valentino is back on top!

1. The Sheik

2. Scaramouche

3. The Wind

4. The Cheat

5. The Doll

And the sad, sad bottom 5 reviews. Poor things!

1. Carmen

2. Miss Lulu Bett

3. The Thief of Bagdad

4. The Sea Lion

5. The Volga Boatman

My top 5 articles

1. Stolen Bravery

2. Is Fandor worth it?

3. How to start watching silent movies

4. A few mistakes bloggers make (and how you can avoid them)

5. Silent Movie Myth #4: Tied to the Railroad Tracks

That seems to be it. Thanks so much for reading!

In the Vaults #13: Castles for Two (1917)

Castles for Two 1917 Elliott Dexter Marie Doro silent movie
Castles for Two 1917 Elliott Dexter Marie Doro silent movie
Publicity still for Marie Doro (via Wiki Commons)

Castles for Two (1917)

Status: This is a first for me! An In the Vaults article about a film I have seen with my own eyes. Castles for Two was featured on the final day of Cinecon 49. This rare film has suffered some damage over the years but the audience was still able to follow the plot, for the most part. The only known print is held the Library of Congress.

Moving Picture World was pleased as punch with the film, praising Marie Doro in particular:

Castles for Two 1917 Elliott Dexter Marie Doro silent movie

There are Irish fairies and fays in “Castles for Two,” a five-reel photoplay produced by Jessy L. Lasky, with Marie Doro the featured player. Not that the entire story is a fairy tale, but much of it must be taken in the same credulous spirit necessary to the full enjoyment of “The Sleeping Beauty” and works of that nature. The plot is simple, and contains no surprises. There is an American heiress of great wealth, who becomes tired of spending money and decides to take a trip to Ireland, in search of the simple life. Her old nurse is a native of the land of Saint Patrick, and the girl has been brought up on tales of the “little people” that also inhabit the soil.

Once on the other side Patricia, the heiress, passes her secretary off as the lady of the dollars, puts on a peasant’s frock and goes looking in the woods for the fays. She finds them all right, also a cow, and takes refuge in a tree, from which she is rescued by a poverty-stricken young Irish lord, who is being urged on by his mother and three sisters to marry the American. Patricia pretends to be her own maid, and, as Lord O’Neil refuses to make love to the supposed heiress, the fairies reward him by letting the young man win the real dollar princess.

Castles for Two 1917 Elliott Dexter Marie Doro silent movie

The need of the proper cast to interpret such a story is fully met by Marie Doro and her fellow-players. Miss Doro has the looks and manner of an American princess, and also the touch of elfishness which goes a great way in helping one to believe that she really saw the Irish Robbin Goodfellow and his small brothers. Elliott Dexter is. rather stolid for an Irishman, but brightens up in his lovemaking scenes. O’Neill’s mother and sisters are well acted by Julia Jackson, Jane Wolff, Harriett Sorenson, and Lillian Leighton. Mayme Kelso is the secretary. Horace B. Carpenter and Billy Elmer are a pair of the regulation stage Irishmen that love a fight and hate a landlord with equal ardor. The production is of the Lasky standard brand.

Having seen the film, my reaction to the performances is quite the opposite. Marie Doro’s elfishness is… odd, to say the least. Seeing a grown woman skip about and twitch her upper lip has lost its appeal, it seems. Miss Doro was a gorgeous woman but I think that she was perhaps better in still photographs.

Elliott Dexter’s more restrained performance has aged much better. The Moving Picture World reviewer complains that he is too stolid for an Irishman. Way to stereotype! What exactly was Dexter supposed to do to be more Irish? Actually, don’t tell me. I don’t think I want to know. I liked him just the way he was. (The film does resort to some fairly ham-fisted cliches in its portrayal of most of the Irish characters, with the peasantry being depicted without exception as dishonest drunks.)

I do agree, though, that the film gets considerably more fun once Doro and Dexter go a-wooing, particularly in the scenes where Doro is playing the chambermaid and messing with Dexter’s head. Both performers are clearly having a lot of fun with their roles and I wish the film had spent more time with them together.

In fact, Marie Doro and Elliott Dexter were even married for a time. Here is a little Photoplay feature on the home they shared. Nice digs, if I do say so myself.

Castles for Two 1917 Elliott Dexter Marie Doro silent movie

Here’s a bit of bonus trivia: The managers of the Peoples theater in Portland, Oregon censored the film after loud protests from the Hibernians over its unflattering depiction of Irish peasant life.

Watching old movies can be a balancing act and it is sometimes easy to dismiss all stereotypes as “the way things were.” While it is certainly true that these depictions were more accepted by the general public, it is important to remember that the victims of these unfavorable characterizations did not always suffer in silence.

Castles for Two 1917 Elliott Dexter Marie Doro silent movie

UPDATED | Selling out to The Man, or, how I stopped worrying and learned to love WordAds

People make their money different ways. Me? I’ll stick to advertising.

UPDATE: I am now a self-hosted site but I still recommend the service for those of you who are hosted by WordPress.com

NOTE: Ten days after publishing this article, I had a terrible shock. I had just published the announcement for my Lon Chaney Blogathon and had several browser tabs open. Then I heard it– an autoplay ad! Of all the types of ads on the internet, the autoplay video ad is the one I cannot tolerate. So, I went on a search and destroy mission. Was my face red when I saw that the offending ad was on MY site!

I was angry. I shook my fist and demanded answers. I also suspended WordAds on my site. Then I sent the URL of the autoplaying ad to the WordAds Twitter account.

(The stupid thing ran for TWO SOLID MINUTES!)

Anyway, the folks at WordAds contacted me and this is what they said:

Hi there. We just got word back from our ad partner, this was clearly a mistake on their behalf. We are extremely sensitive to auto-play. We work with a lot of partners, and finding one bad ad can be a daunting task. We’ve tracked the ad and this should not happen again.

This all occurred within 24 hours. So, all-in-all, I am pretty happy. Just wanted to share my experience!

Original Article

You may have noticed that my blog has ads. There’s a reason for that. I have signed up for the WordAds program from WordPress.com. It seems that a fair amount of bloggers are curious about the program so I thought I would share my experiences.

First, here’s a brief overview of WordAds.

What is it?

An advertising revenue sharing program that is open to some users of WordPress.com. This is significant since the WordPress.com terms of service forbid the use of other ad or affiliate services (for example, AdSense) on a WordPress.com hosted blog.

Ad revenue is paid out in $100 blocks. So, if you make $37 in ads, you will have to wait until your total reaches $100 before you are paid.

Who can use it?

Your blog must be hosted by WordPress.com, not a self-hosted WordPress.org site. So, if you pay money to GoDaddy or Bluehost or Host Gator or any other hosting service, you do not qualify for WordAds.

You must purchase a premium domain name (that is, you must be www.example.com, NOT www.example.wordpress.com).

Your blog must be “family safe” and must not engage in piracy or other nefarious acts.

There are minimums for number of visitors and user engagement. However, I have been unable to find any actual numbers for this. (Some sites have published what they claim to be the minimums but they are not accurate, at least from my experience.)

How it works

You must request an invitation and wait for it to be processed. This can take several weeks. You will be informed by email if you are accepted.

You will see a new option in your settings menu.


Once you are approved, you must provide personal information for tax and payment purposes.


You will also be prompted to change to a theme that supports maximum placement of WordAds. Finally, you will be given the choice of showing the ads to all visitors or just to non-WordPress users. (You can buy a No Ads upgrade for $30 a year, if you wish to be completely free of advertising.)

That’s it! Your earnings are calculated monthly and you are paid once your total reaches $100.

My experience with WordAds

I blog about silent films because I love them but I am not going to lie: I would like very much to make a bit of money. Not a fortune but maybe enough to cover my hosting fees and even a DVD or two.

I applied to be a WordAds site in June and received my approval email in July. The setup was very easy, I was done in a few minutes. one thing concerned me, though. There was an alert saying that my theme was not optimized for WordAds, which might lower my earnings. I investigated the optimized themes but didn’t really see anything I liked better than my old Sight theme.

(For the record, what I like about Sight is the nice slider with big images and plenty of text, the infinite scroll feature, and the fact that the just first few sentences of my latest posts are listed without me having to insert a More tag.)

I kept checking the earnings tab and was pleasantly surprised when I saw earnings for June appear. I had applied in that month but had not expected the earnings to kick in until July, when I received notice of being approved.

The big question: How much?


Well, after two months, I have made nearly enough to cover my hosting for the year (domain registration, mapping and privacy is $26). Not too shabby considering that almost no work was involved. (Yes, I realize writing the blog is work but I’ve been doing that without being paid.)

How much will you earn? The math is a little different for everyone. My blog seems to be on the high end as far as money-per-impression goes. This probably has something to do with the fact that the vast majority of my readership is from more mature online advertising markets.

You’re not going to make millions of dollars right off the bat but the nice bit of cash is welcome. The average blog simply does not have enough traffic to generate huge ad revenue. It’s all about being realistic. Your blogging ads will probably not cover your car payment but they might be able to cover a few lattes. That’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

The ads are aimed at a general audience, rather than being tailored to your blog content. This is probably a good thing in my case as I blog about an extremely niche topic (silent films) but I can see a food blogger wanting to have food-related ads for their blog.

Other than money, common complaints against WordAds are that the ads are not separate enough from content and that they cheapen the brand of the blog. I personally think the ads look like ads and should not confuse anyone. As for cheapening one’s brand… Well, I think that’s getting just a bit precious. I mean, if you sign up for online ads, don’t be shocked if your site gets online ads that look like online ads. If you hate them that much, you can always cross WordPress’s palm with silver to have them removed. (By default, WordPress shows ads to all non-WordPress visitors to your site, whether you are using WordAds or not.)

In short, don’t be Carlo! Or, contrary-wise, if you want to be Carlo, don’t sign up for online ads.



Minimal setup, you should be done in 5 minutes or less.

A way to make money from a WordPress.com blog.

Relatively few ads per page (at least in my case).


Not too many templates are WordAds optimized.

It may take a while to be paid.

Your blog is involved in vulgar commerce. Ugh!

Overall, I am pretty pleased with my WordAds experience and plan to continue with the program.

Questions from the Google: A Potpourri of Odd and Unusual Queries

In this series, I take search engine queries that led people to my site and try to answer them as best as I can.

While my previous entries had themes to them, this time I will be answering queries that were either odd enough to be intriguing or insulting enough to be infuriating. I hope you enjoy!

Marion Davies in the Great Gatsby?


Secretary homely and married

Like this?
Like this?

I don’t think I can help on this one but I am absolutely dying to know what caused someone to search the internet for it.

Hopalong Cassidy television show, silent or talkie?

Silent, of course! All the best television shows were silent. Everyone knows that.

Bessie Love first silent movie star?


Movies about lost boy who meets girl.

Basically every movie ever made.

Classic feminine movies.

I’m female and when I’m not watching silent movies, I’m watching this:

yojimboSo, I guess “Japanese sword movies” would be the answer.

Ah, the most feminine of classic movies!

Silent movies that have breastfeeding.

Wow! I actually know the answer! Tol’able David.

How did Hopalong Cassidy get shot?

With a gun.

How did they do the eye movements in Ella Cinders?

A very famous sequence. It was done with a split screen. (This technique was very refined in the silent era, sometimes better looking than in sound films.)

Reason for the creation of silent movies

Same reason for the creation of sound movies. Because they wanted to.

Films about depravity

Go away.

Kinetoscope hand cranked?

Yes, it was.

Marion Davies was an awful actress

Why you… Ok, that’s it.


And stay out!

In the Vaults #12: Senorita (1927)

(via themave.com)
(via themave.com)

Senorita (1927)

Status: Thought lost for years, a print of Senorita has been preserved in a private collection. There are also rumors that another print is held in a Belgian archive.

Bebe Daniels in disguise (via Tumblr)
Bebe Daniels in disguise (via Tumblr)

Bebe Daniels swung back and forth between comedy and drama throughout her career. By the mid to late twenties, she was making comedies that took a popular adventure plot and reversed the genders: Miss Brewster’s Millions, She’s a Sheik and Senorita. The final title was a version of Zorro with Miss Daniels playing the masked avenger. Miss Daniels got into the spirit of the thing and acted just as Fairbanksian as she could.

As an added bonus, the villain of the film is played by William Powell. In the silents, he was often cast as the sneering baddie.


Photoplay raved about the film:

The best Bebe Daniels’ feature in years. Bebe masquerades as a boy in order to protect the ranch of her grandfather, Don Hernandez, who really thinks she is a boy. Bebe does a Fairbanks-Gilbert-Barrymore act by jumping through windows, winning numerous duels, swinging from chandeliers and what-not. A rip-roaring, peppy piece — one of the finest of the month.


Motion Picture News thought the film was fun, though light on plot:

senorita-bebe-daniels-william-powell-1927-07Bebe Daniels got off on a good tack when she frowned up-on those serious stories and decided to cater to satire and burlesque. Take her latest for example It is nothing to make much of a fuss over, but it has its rollicking by-play — all of which is indulged in with a fine zest and spirit by the bubbling Bebe and her assistants.

It may be that the loud pedal becomes overplayed here and there, but no one should carp over this amusing trifle — which has been produced for the one purpose of creating laughter. Bebe Daniels plays a tomboy of the pampas. She masquerades with a tiny mustache and all the native trimmings. And once she starts cut- ting the didoes there’s no stopping her. She must please her grand- father who thought he had a, grandson instead of a granddaughter. Of such stuff is “Senorita “built. To look for the plot you’d have to look in vain. But it does establish that as the leader of one warring family the girl must conquer the enemy. She ends up by fighting a duel.

It is all mad merriment — but done in a refreshing manner by the star who is beginning to give Constance Talmadge a run for her money. It should please the majority of theatregoers.


This film sounds like an amazing bit of fun.


Silent Movie Favorites: My dream film festival schedule


It’s that time of year. You know, fantasy football. Well, I’m taking the idea and applying it to film festivals. (Goodness, am I a geek!)

I am freshly back from Cinecon 49, you see, and so I am in a bit of a festive mood. So here is my fantasy film festival lineup.

Four Films from the Vaults (and never before released to the general public)

The Blood Ship (1927)

The Blood Ship 1927 Hobart Bosworth and Richard Arlen

Who doesn’t like a good nautical yarn? This tale of wooden ships and bloody revenge should be a rousing spectacle. It enjoyed excellent reviews on its initial release. While it doesn’t boast any enormous names, it has a solid cast led by the rough and ready Hobart Bosworth.

The Song of Love (1923)

(via Stanford.edu)
(via Stanford.edu)

We all need a little kitsch in our movie diet and this film is supposed to deliver in abundance! The hero is decked out in ballerina flats and spit curls. He is a secret agent. Norma Talmadge shimmies. Oh my. The romantic leads reportedly loathed one another and the director, Frances Marion, was accidentally clonked with a stage light.

Ivanhoe (1913)

Ivanhoe 1913 Silent Movie

Buried for a century, this epic was notable for filming on-location (the whole cast and crew tripped off to England), its enthusiastic battles (our leading man was knocked out cold at one point) and the fact that it is an early feature-length film.

Blue Jeans (1917)

Blue Jeans (1917), John Collins, Viola Dana

This is supposed to be melodrama done right. Excitement, romance, pathos… and all under the direction of John Collins. Contemporary critics went nuts for his fresh twist on a creaky play. The clips I have seen are very enticing.

Five Crowd Pleasers (We all have them on DVD and Blu-ray but let’s see them on the big screen!)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Review, Conrad Veidt, Wener Krauss, Lil Dagover, silent german film

Show People (1928)

Show People, Marion Davies, William Haines, King Vidor, Silent Film review

The Strong Man (1926)

(via filmweb.pl)
(via filmweb.pl)

Daddy Long Legs (1919)

Daddy Long Legs (1919) Mary Pickford, Marshall NeilanDaddy Long Legs (1919) Mary Pickford, Marshall Neilan

The Mark of Zorro (1920)

The Mark of Zorro (1920) Douglas Fairbanks, A Silent Movie Review

Three Lost Films (I can dream, can’t I?)

She’s a Sheik (1927)

she's a sheik richard arlen bebe daniels 01

Bebe Daniels takes over the Valentino role as a lusty desert chieftainess who spots Richard Arlen, likes what she sees and abducts him to her desert hideaway.

Me, Gangster (1928)

Me Gangster Raoul Walsh 1928 gangster film, lost movie

Raoul Walsh works his gangster magic in this late silent era offering. The whole film (title cards and all) is formatted like the diary of a foot soldier for a powerful mob. Looks fascinating.

Merton of the Movies (1924)

Merton of the Movies 1924

A send-up of silent Hollywood made by silent Hollywood. Looks absolutely delightful. (I loved the book)

Four Underdogs (They deserve to be better known)

The Volga Boatman (1926)

We are back to kitsch with this Cecil B. DeMille mega-hit. Sadly forgotten since its initial release, it is a wonderful blend of over-the-top acting, splendidly melodramatic intertitles and utter historical cluelessness. One of my favorites.

A Woman of the World (1925)

(via acertaincinema.com)
(via acertaincinema.com)

Pola Negri pokes fun at her own exotic image in this tale of a tattooed countess, a priggish social reformer, a tiny Midwest town and a bullwhip.

The Beloved Rogue (1927)

(via moviepostershop.com)
(via moviepostershop.com)

Swashbuckling and slapstick collide in this zany bit of medieval mayhem. John Barrymore devours the scenery and Conrad Veidt (in his American debut) chomps down whatever is left.

The White Rose (1923)

White Rose Silent Film D.W. Griffith, Ivor Novello, Mae Marsh

Mae Marsh returned to D.W. Griffith’s fold in this little drama. It’s a throwback to one of his earlier potboilers and contains some rather excellent performances.

So those are my festival choices! What about you? What’s your fantasy lineup?

Lost Film Files #20: Prudence, the Pirate (1916)


Prudence, the Pirate (1916)

Status: Unknown

Gladys Hulette gets another adorable vehicle in the form of Prudence, the Pirate. The plot involves a pirate-obsessed young lady who gets out of an arranged marriage by hiring a ship (complete with crew) and proclaiming herself a pirate captain. She then kidnaps her  would-be suitor and forces him to swab the deck! The young man finally proves himself when a fire breaks out on the ship and he saves Prudence, thus proving his worth.


Moving Picture World thought the film was good entertainment:

In “Prudence, the Pirate” Gladys Hulette has a youthful role finely fitted to her tender years— surely as Prudence she looks not more than sixteen, and it is a more or less commonly accepted fiction that a female is only as old as she looks The story is by Agnes Johnson. It is a craftsmanlike piece of work, especially that part of It which is devoted to the draughting of the leaders. These have more than a distinct comedy flavor; there is always present the literary touch Miss Hulette is supported among others by Flora Pinch and Riley Chamberlin. These two unusually clever character actors prove to be Just the team that one knowing their individual capacity for mirthmaking would be led to expect. The general result Is worthwhile. “Prudence the Pirate” will make good entertainment.

Miss Hulette as Prudence shows marked skill in comedy interpretation. She has the pep and abandon of young girlhood Prudence Is romantic, with a leaning to the piratical. She imposes her pranks on relatives and servants alike. Her mis- adventures have the natural effect of indefinitely postponing her formal debut In society even while her feminine ways are hastening the ensnaring of the smitten Astorbilt.

Miss Finch is seen as the prim aunt who unsuccessfully tries to keep her niece within the bounds of conventionality; but who likewise finds her matchmaking ambitions gratified when Prudence in her own way secures the hand-picked prize Mr Chamberlin Is Meeks, the family butler. Meeks loses his standing as a temperance advocate when on the Invitation of Prudence he looks on the punch when it is red; his position is placed in still greater jeopardy when the hastily gathered pirate crew of the Bucket of Blood kidnaps him and carries him away to don a pirate’s garb. Barnett Parker is Astorbilt; he does a good bit of character drawing of the wealthy young man none too strong in his masculinity. Yet he does not overdo the part. The remainder of the cast gives satisfactory support.


Wid’s Film and Film Folk was quite enthusiastic:

I believe that you can feel pretty safe in booking this because it is different. It is just a light comedy with a ‘melo’ climax, but the idea is different and I would say that any average audience would enjoy it. As to box-office value, there is a question as to whether or not Miss Hulette’s name will pull, since she is rather a newcomer to the ranks of stardom. I would depend almost entirely upon playing up the unusual situation of a society debutante, who, in seeking an adventure, chartered a schooner and set out as a sure-enough pirate craft. That sounds very interesting, and on that alone you should be able to pull considerable business. Use Miss Hulette’s picture generally, and ask the question: ‘Can you imagine this young lady commanding an honest-to-goodness pirate crew? She did it! That was her idea of a good time.


The Morning Telegraph liked the film but found the scenario to be cliche-ridden:

Agnes C. Johnston has set about writing her story as though she had never seen a moving picture in her life and didn’t know that by every screen convention the millionaire should have been the villain and Prue’s young admirer, the hero. As it is, there is not a commonplace character or a hackneyed situation in the whole picture; the people are all human beings and the comedy is lively, good humored and original. As for the subtitles, many of them are good laughs in themselves. 

Unfortunately, no word exists on whether this film is still with us. Too bad, it looks like a blast!

(photo source: silentfilmstillarchive.com)


Silent Movie Time Capsule: The aftermath of the Fatty Arbuckle scandal


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.

You learn something new every day.


Meet the Movie Bloggers! Once Upon a Screen

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.

Once Upon a Screen


Aurora celebrates the golden age of Hollywood!

Focus: Classic films and Hollywood with special TCM emphasis

Features: Movie reivews, festival reports, galleries and star biographies

Gateway Posts: Try the review of Scarface or the article on Joan Crawford and Clark Gable’s famous affairs.

Bonus!: Aurora guested on my blog a few weeks ago with a rebuttal to my review of A Romance of the Redwoods. It was pretty swell.

Questions from the Google: What’s a silent movie?

Pearls Before Swine What's a silent movie?
(via gocomics.com)

I’m back with more search engine queries! This time, I am going to be answering questions related to silent films themselves.

Who are the people in silent film?

Number of silent movies presumed lost?

Exaggerated silent film acting?

How to get into silent films?

How to make a silent film.

Let’s get started!

Who are the people in silent film?

Who's who in Hollywood 1928

A lot of people worked in silent film and it would be impossible to list them all in a single post. However, if you are curious, the venerable Silent Ladies & Silent Gents is a fabulous resource, as is Silents Are Golden.

Number of silent movies presumed lost?

There are whole books about this.
There are whole books about this.

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:

You must pay the rent! Etc. etc, etc...
You must pay the rent! Etc. etc, etc…

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?

Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid
You can’t go wrong with an acclaimed silent comedy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Do you have what it takes?
Do you have what it takes?

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.

Please do not tie women to tracks

Or I will be forced to hit you with a trout.

Don’t neglect the great outdoors

Silent films did not have to worry about sound equipment and outdoor scenery was cheap and plentiful.

I hope these answers were helpful and get you started on the right track with silent movies.


In the Vaults #11: The Night of Love (1927)


The Night of Love (1927)

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.

The Night of Love (1927 film)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Motion Picture News liked what it saw:

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.


Photoplay was enthusiastic:

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!


Lost Film Files #19: The Shine Girl (1916)


The Shine Girl (1916)

Status: Missing and presumed lost

This is a Pollyanna-esque tale of a little shoeshine girl who brightens the lives of all she meets. For the record, Mary Pickford and I feel exactly the same way about Pollyanna (she annoys us) but I rather like Gladys Hulette, who plays the title character in The Shine Girl. (Get it? Get it? Cuz she shines shoes and brightens lives? Get it? Get it?)

The story is about a shoeshine girl who wins the love of a Children’s Court judge.


Moving Picture World praised the picture but mentioned a few rough spots:

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

One of the interesting points about this production from the Thanhouser studios is that its scenario was written by Agnes C. Johnson, who is not only one of the youngest, but one of the few scenario writers exhibiting the spark of genius. Miss Johnson is but eighteen years old, and first attracted the notice of the writer through an artistic three-reel production entitled “The Window of Dreams.” While “The Shine Girl” could not be termed a powerful play, it represents an idea of great beauty. The character of the “shine” girl is of the positive, individual sort that is sometimes met with in the most unexpected places. Although this little girl’s vocation was that of a bootblack, she was not content with the mere shining of shoes. She was of a philosophic turn of mind, and believed among other things that sorrow had the same effect on people that show blacking had on shoes, it made them dark at first, but they polished up brighter after if had been rubbed on. She was also the very embodiment of the spirit of love as learned by her only pal Sally; and Sally, by the way, was a poor, sickly geranium, who consented to live only because the little “shine” girl carried her out of her dark corner into the sunshine whenever she ventured forth herself and considered it a privilege to clamber up fire escapes that Sally might drink in larger droughts of the life-giving elements.

This is an index to the nature of the “shine” girl, and early in life she found opportunities to shine human hearts as well as shoes. She also found her way, along with Sally, into the country where she believed the sun always shone through the kind heart of the Judge of the Children’s Court, whom she afterward rescues from committing a folly, and later marries.

Gladys Hulette has given a beautiful portrayal of the character of the “shine” girl , with A. Wayne playing opposite her as the judge. There are a few points at which the picture might be brushed into more professional shape, but here is no denying that the central idea has been clearly defined. Some off-shoots of the theme might have been strengthened in detail, and there may be a felling that the character of the Judge was not a well-balanced one and has been somewhat victimized in bringing about a dramatic climax. Nevertheless the production is distinctly human, clean and beautiful.

Agnes Christine Johnston was all of 20 when she wrote The Shine Girl. As predicted in the review, she did go on to great things. She wrote scenarios for beloved silent classics like Daddy Long Legs and Show People and enjoyed success in the talkies writing screenplays for the Andy Hardy series.

Gladys Hulette charmed the audiences of the ‘teens.
click to enlarge

Wid’s Film and Film Folk also praised the concept but considered the film uneven:

Taken as a whole, I would say that this is a production which will be decidedly satisfying with any audience, highbrow or lowbrow. It is sufficiently artistic to please the discriminating, and surely it has a good audience appeal because of the central thought. This is not a wonderful production technically, because of a few little things which hold it down in the ‘good’ class instead of allowing it to soar to great height, but it surely is a splendid audience film. When it comes to box-office appeal, I doubt whether Miss Hulette can pull you much business, unless you go out and aggressively boost this as an artistic, human presentation of a truly big idea. You can possibly arouse a lot of interest in this by announcing that it deals with the juvenile court problem, for this is a question of general interest. If you wanted to start a discussion, you might say in your ads, ‘Is it any worse to steal a man’s wife than it is to steal a loaf of bread?

I am curious to see this “clean and human” film. I certainly would like to see Gladys Hulette in an early role.



Silent Service Review: Is Fandor worth it for silent movie fans?

Let’s take a look at a silent streaming service. (image credit: Fandor)

A lot of people have asked me where I watch my silent movies. Quite a few are from my personal DVD collection but I am a huge fan of streaming movies as well. In the world of subscription-based on-demand movie rentals, the three biggest players are probably Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix. However, any fan of a niche genre knows that the big boys are not necessarily the best place to look for more obscure treats.

Silent film fans, in particular, have to be wary of on-demand services. Between battered prints and so-so musical accompaniment, there is just so much that can go wrong with a silent viewing experience.

Fortunately, there are quite a few choices on the market and today I am going to review one of them. Here it is, a silent movie fan’s opinion of the on-demand movie service Fandor.

If you like an article, don't stay mum.
Hmm, is Fandor a good choice for the silent movie fan?

A quick note before I begin: I have a paid personal subscription to Fandor and all opinions are based on my experiences with that subscription. The long and the short is that I do not make any money from folks joining Fandor or Netflix or any other online rental service.

What is it?: Fandor specializes in films outside the mainstream. They have art house, foreign, classic B movies and, best of all, an enormous selection of silent films. Fandor licenses from silent powerhouses like Flicker Alley and Kino-Lorber, which means that the silent films they offer are the best available versions, not battered public domain prints.

Availability: Fandor is currently only available to users in the United States. The films may be viewed from a computer, Roku, iPad or iPhone. There is currently no Android app.

Price: Fandor currently costs $10 a month or $90 a year. There is a free two-week trial period available. You may also purchase a 3 day pass for $3.

What I like about it: Well, it has an unparalleled selection of silent films, first and foremost. It also features what is possibly the best browse function currently available (they call it Discover). Let me give you an example:

Let’s say you are in the mood for a crime film.  You click the Crime genre. Then you get to choose the film by specific crime. Caper, murder, smuggling, courtroom, etc. You also get the choose the country of origin for the film and there are sliders that let you specify the year range of your search.

So here is what I got when I said I wanted a movie about murder made in Italy between 1950 and 1965.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Is that cool or what?

(You can also add film duration to the mix, if you like. Very useful when browsing for silent films as they can range from a few seconds to a few hours.)

The browse function is not quite as elaborate on the Roku but it still works quite well. I have not used the iPhone/iPad app, being firmly entrenched in the Android ecosystem.

What I don’t like about it: Even though I am overall pretty happy with Fandor, there are a few issues. First, the player seems to have trouble with the Chrome browser, causing an audio sync problem. As of this writing, Fandor is working on a test player to resolve the un-synced audio. Another issue is that when watching in a browser, the player will sometimes just lose your place in the film and start back at the beginning.

Another issue I have is that the player can enter full-screen mode but it does not shrink down. I like players that can shrink down to an itty bitty size so that I can watch in the corner while I am working on something else. This is a pretty specific use for the player so I am not complaining too much.

The verdict: I have had my subscription for a while now and am overall pleased as punch. There are minor issues but these are more than offset by the service’s advantages. If you are a silent movie fan and can only afford one online streaming service, Fandor is the one to get. The quality and selection are top notch and the wonderful Discover function is the icing on the cake.

After the Silents: Silent Stars in William Castle Films

What do you think of when you hear the name William Castle? Classic chillers? Clever marketing gimmicks? If you asked a movie-goer in the forties, though, they would have thought of mysteries.

In the forties, Castle was known as a B director who could get films done on-time and on-budget. His output varied during this decade but two series kept cropping up on his resume: The Whistler and The Crime Doctor. Both were low-budget films series involving amateur sleuths and both featured former silent leading men: Richard Dix and Warner Baxter, respectively.

Continue reading “After the Silents: Silent Stars in William Castle Films”

About Silent Movies #8: How to get started watching silent movies


One thing that I learned from writing this blog is that a lot of people want to get into silent movies but have not been able to for various reasons. Some don’t know where to begin. Some are intimidated by how different silents are from sound films. Some had a bad experience in Film 101 and are understandably wary.

Of course, plenty of folks get into silent films with no trouble at all but I thought it would be fun to write an encouraging post to help the viewers who may need a few tips or recommendations to get started.

Tip #1: Remember that silent films were made for viewers just like you

Popular entertainment was, of course, made for the everyman. However, as time marches on, references become obscure, language shifts, tastes change. As a result, yesteryear’s pop culture is often claimed by today’s academia. Now I have no problem with scholarly work on the silent era, it’s wonderful stuff. But viewers should never lose sight of the fact that these films were meant for the masses. As such, they deal with basic human emotions like love, hate, greed, sorrow and joy.

True, a new viewer to older films may not get every single pop culture reference thrown their way but the basic humanity in silent films means that they are quite accessible to modern audiences. You don’t need to have a degree in film studies to enjoy them.

Tip #2: If at first you don’t succeed…

I have a confession: I didn’t like the first silent movie I saw. I don’t think I’m alone in this. You know what, though? It’s all right not to like a silent film. We modern viewers tend to lump silent movies into one genre but they were extremely varied in content and tone. Romance, comedy, horror, action… It’s all there. Plus, what we call the silent era lasted from 1895 (when the first motion picture was projected before a paying audience) to 1929 (when the last of the silent titles were released by major American studios). That’s 34 years of movies! So if you don’t like a silent movie, try one in a different genre or from a different decade.

Tip #3: Try to watch the highest quality version available

Many silent films are out of copyright, which means they are in the public domain. The downside of this is that there are some very low quality silent movie releases out there. (I wrote a whole article on finding the best available version) If you want to try silent movies for the first time, higher quality versions will give you a much better experience.

Tip #4: You like what you like, don’t let anyone tell you different!

Some silent fans, in their enthusiasm for their favorite star, can sometimes make newcomers doubt their own taste. How do they do this? By suggesting that a particular star or film or director is just not worth the time of a real silent film fan.

Meow! And, while we are at it, la-dee-da!


(If you have never run into this, just know that it exists.)

Am I saying that it is wrong to have a negative opinion about a performer or film? Of course not! My regular readers know that I can savage a turkey with the best of them and that there are certain performers I just cannot bring myself to appreciate. What I object to is attempting to make devotees of a particular artist feel like an inferior sort of silent fan. Not cool.

Plus, the rudeness often backfires. Take the great Chaplin vs. Keaton debate. I like Buster Keaton very much but after a run-in with some particularly venomous Chaplin bashers, it took me a few months to see Keaton films again. I just wasn’t in the mood.

(The Chaplin vs. Keaton thing is probably the most common battleground but the European Art vs. Hollywood Crowdpleaser can also be  minefield and there is always the Latin Lover/Great Lover/My Swarthy Heartthrob is Better than Your Swarthy Heartthrob thing.)

Again, nothing wrong with healthy debate and differing opinions make things fun. However, there is no Grand Poobah of the Silents who decides which films and actors must be loved by “real” fans, which is the impression that comes across sometimes.

The Oyster Princess 1919 Ernst Lubitsch a silent movie review Nucki holds court
My vision for Grand Poobah of the Silents

Popularity is not some kind of limited resource. Love for one actor or film does not mean that there is less love available for another.

If you like Keaton better than Chaplin, fine. If you like Chaplin better than Keaton, fine. If you don’t care for either one and prefer Mabel Normand, fine. If you love them all, fantastic! Enjoy the movies that appeal to you and don’t let anyone tell you different.

Suggested Films:

These films are titles that I like to show to newcomers to the silents. Some have been recommended by my wonderful readers and some I have discovered through trial and error. The list skews heavily toward comedies as these are generally the most successful gateway films.

I decided to limit this list to films that have only one official version available on home video. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Phantom of the Opera are amazing and popular films but the many, many, many available versions can be confusing to the newcomer.

I live in the U.S. and all copyright information and film availability applies to my neck of the woods only. Copyrights and availability vary from country to country. Also, I will only be covering streaming services with a confirmed track record of legal and legitimate business practices: Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu and Fandor.

City Lights (1931)

City Lights
City Lights (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was the first silent film that I loved.

Charlie Chaplin was the last major Hollywood holdout when sound came to the industry and I think City Lights proves that he was right to keep his silence a little longer.

Chaplin is, arguably, the most recognizable and iconic figure of the silent era. City Lights features that blend of comedy and pathos that was his trademark. It works as a Chaplin movie, it works as a silent movie, it works as a movie.


Safety Last! (1923)

English: Image located opposite Page 145; Capt...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That guy hanging from the clock. How many silent movie retrospectives feature the iconic image of Harold Lloyd holding on for dear life? I lost count.

On the practical side of things, Harold Lloyd comedies are fast-paced, breezy affairs. His screen persona was a cheery go-getter who will do whatever it takes to get the job done. As a comedian, Lloyd was second only to Chaplin in box office appeal.


The General (1926)

The General (1926 film)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am going to make one exception to my “Official Release Only” policy for this post: Buster Keaton.

Often considered Buster Keaton’s masterpiece, this is the story of a man and his true love: a locomotive named The General. Oh, and there’s a girl too… somewhere.


The Oyster Princess (1919)

(photo source: filmweb.pl)

If you think that German films are dour, heavy affairs, be prepared to be proven wrong in the most charming way possible! I recommend Ernst Lubitsch’s film The Oyster Princess because it is madcap, hilarious and you have probably never seen anything like it. The zany plot, witty intertitles and goofy characters all represent the very best in silent cinema.


Sunrise (1927)

(via Tumblr)

Let’s step over into drama for this selection. F.W. Murnau’s 1927 drama was honored with a special Academy Award for “Unique and Artistic Production” and it certainly deserved it. It’s the story of a country husband and wife and one day spent in the city. The love story is beautiful, the setting is beautiful, the set design is beautiful.


I could go on but I think limiting the selections to five is a good way to keep things simple.

Have some beginner-friendly titles to suggest? Leave a comment!

In the Vaults #10: The Arab (1924)

The Arab 1924 Ramon Novarro, Alice Terry, Rex Ingram

The Arab 1924 Ramon Novarro, Alice Terry, Rex Ingram

The Arab (1924)

Status: No print existed in American archives until Gosfilmofond (the state film fund of Russia) presented a digital copy to the Library of Congress in 2010.

The Arab 1924 Ramon Novarro, Alice Terry, Rex Ingram
Vintage clipping

In the early to mid-1920’s Hollywood was mad to find the next Valentino and the next Sheik. On the surface, The Arab looks like just another attempt to cash in on Valentino’s signature role. Filmed on location in Tunisia (at a time when California doubled for everywhere from India to Alsace), it starred Ramon Novarro (widely considered a rival for Valentino’s Latin Lover crown) and was directed by Rex Ingram, who had helped catapult Valentino to stardom. However, the truth of this film is considerably more complex.

The production was breathlessly followed by fan magazines. Ingram and Novarro were hot commodities after the success of Scaramouche and the novelty of going on location was enough to keep reporters flocking to the set. However, once the film was released, results were mixed.

Photoplay found the whole thing a bit dull:

The Arab 1924 Ramon Novarro, Alice Terry, Rex IngramThis latest — and possibly final — directorial effort of Rex Ingram has a fascinating background, the very Sahara itself, but the story limps. The action revolves around a missionary and his daughter, with a young native on the sentimental horizon. In this it is suggestive of “Where the Pavement Ends.” But there the comparison ends.

This mission is a pawn in the hands of the wily Moslems. They plan to send away the government troops, let the desert tribesmen wipe out the Christians and politely disclaim all responsibility. But the dashing dragoman, Jamil, son of a desert chieftain, prevents the tragedy. There is an indefinite ending, with the girl returning to America but promising to come back. All this may sound like a story of considerable action. “The Arab,” however, is turgid. There are few romantic scenes and the sentiment is meager. The Moslem attack is worked up without creating any real suspense. But there is more than a measure of picturesqueness in the role of the dragoman, Jamil, who has politely lied his way in and out of Christianity four times. And there is a distinct pictorial appeal to Mr. Ingram’s production.

Mr. Ingram seems to have fallen down most in his plot development but he has performed something of a miracle with his native players. They seem excellent actors, indeed. There are some finely atmospheric scenes of the East, notably in the Algerian dance halls and in the streets of the Oulad Niles.

Ramon Novarro is the Jamil and the role seems to us to be better played than anything this young actor has yet done. Alice Terry is the missionary’s daughter and Alexandresco, a vivid Russian actress, makes her film debut in the colorful role of an Oulad Nile.

The Arab 1924 Ramon Novarro, Alice Terry, Rex Ingram

Variety, on the other hand, lavished the film with praise:

This is the finest sheik film of them all. The Arab is a compliment to the screen, a verification of the sterling repute of director Rex Ingram.

As a sheik Ramon Novarro is the acme. Surrounded as he is by genuine men of the desert – for the scenes were shot in Algiers and the mobs are all natives in their natural environments he seems as bona fide as the Arabs themselves.

The Arab 1924 Ramon Novarro, Alice Terry, Rex Ingram
Rex Ingram’s sketches while on location. These are so cool!

So, is The Arab a fascinating film or lovely-but-dull? Here’s hoping that we are able to see for ourselves soon!


Stolen Bravery | Dedicated to the fearless women of silent films

It makes me angry when people reduce the women of silent film down to the image of a damsel tied to the train tracks or threatened by a sawmill. The mere fact that it is a misconception is not what upsets me. What really makes me angry is what this belief takes away from the women of silent movies.

Most people think of this when they hear about silent movies. Never mind that this is from the talkie version of The Perils of Pauline, which was made nearly two decades after the silent era ended.
Most people think of this when they hear about silent movies. Never mind that this is from the talkie version of The Perils of Pauline, which was made nearly two decades after the silent era ended.

You see, women in silent movies are not helpless victims of mustachioed villains.

To me, a silent era women can take pratfalls with the boys, ride motorcycles and do their own stunts.

Mabel Normand on her motorcycle.
Mabel Normand on her motorcycle.

A silent era woman can lead a band of children safely through a gator-infested swamp with a baby on her back.

Mary Pickford in "Sparrows"
Mary Pickford in “Sparrows”

They are mountain girls who are willing to die in battle to defend their king.

Constance Talmadge in "Intolerance"
Constance Talmadge in “Intolerance”

They face their nation’s enemies and take their heads.

Blanche Sweet in "Judith of Bethulia"
Blanche Sweet in “Judith of Bethulia”

And they don’t get mad, they get everything, including the boat.

Clara Bow in "Mantrap"
Clara Bow in “Mantrap”

But stay out of their way if they do get mad.

Pearl White in "Plunder"
Pearl White in “Plunder”

They are spies, thieves, master criminals and criminal masterminds.

Musidora in "Les Vampires"
Musidora in “Les Vampires”

That sawmill scene? Yeah, it’s there. But instead of the hero saving the girl, the girl saves the hero.

Viola Dana in "Blue Jeans"
Viola Dana in “Blue Jeans”

They are able to overcome labels like Spinster or Grass Widow and seek out their own happiness on their own terms.

Lois Wilson in "Miss Lulu Bett"
Lois Wilson in “Miss Lulu Bett”

They stay true to themselves no matter what the pressure. If they seem to weaken, it just means they will come back stronger in the end.

Gloria Swanson in "Sadie Thompson"
Gloria Swanson in “Sadie Thompson”

But they also know when to forgive.

Janet Gaynor in "Sunrise"
Janet Gaynor in “Sunrise”

Or not, as they choose.

Theda Bara in "A Fool There Was"
Theda Bara in “A Fool There Was”

When they want something, they don’t take “no” for an answer.

Leatrice Joy in "Eve's Leaves"
Leatrice Joy in “Eve’s Leaves”

They can beat the men at their own game.

Bebe Daniels in "She's a Sheik"
Bebe Daniels in “She’s a Sheik”

Or they can invent a whole new game.

Pola Negri in "A Woman of the World"
Pola Negri in “A Woman of the World”

To me, this is who the silent era woman is: A lively lady who is ready to take on the world.

Ossi Oswalda in "The Oyster Princess"
Ossi Oswalda in “The Oyster Princess”

But none of these things matter. All because it is easier to think of that hackneyed image of a silent movie heroine tied to the tracks. This misconception has stolen the bravery of silent movie women in the public’s eye. That’s a real crime.

Every era of film has its damsels in distress, unfortunately, and the silent era was no exception. However, these damsels were offset by some very amazing women and the sheer number of independent and intelligent heroines is impressive. Silent era women are in danger of being swallowed up by an exaggerated image of helplessness.

I will repeat the opening image to remind you that this was not always the case.

Helen Holmes lends a hand in "Lass of the Lumberlands"
Helen Holmes lends a hand in “Lass of the Lumberlands”

Questions from the Google: Who was the silent era villain who tied women to train tracks?

New feature! I like to read over the search engine queries that bring people to my site. Lately, I have been noticing the same sort of queries cropping up again and again:

Who was the silent era villain who tied women to train tracks?

Snidely Whiplash in silent films?

Silent star tied to train tracks.

I have previously posted about the origins of this cliche but let’s take a look at these search engine queries and see if we can finally put this ridiculous myth to rest.

(Oh, and in the spirit of generosity, let me advise you never, ever to bring this up among silent film fans as a serious topic. You will be ruthlessly mocked for your ignorance and you will deserve it.)

The Questions:

Who was the silent era villain who tied women to train tracks?

No one.

Let me repeat for emphasis.


No Hollywood executive said “We need that fellow who does the railroad track thing! Get him at once!” There was no such man because the cliche was simply not used that much in motion pictures.

The footage of the train track cliche that usually gets trotted out is from one of two Sennett comedies, Teddy at the Throttle or Barney Oldfield’s Race for Life. Both films were making fun of the cliche, which was seen as dusty, clueless and so last century.


The gentlemen playing the villains in these films were Wallace Beery and Ford Sterling, respectively. However, both men were better known for their other comedic skills. This is not how they regularly spent Saturday night.

The play that originated this trope, Under the Gaslight, was written in 1867. The victim, by the way, was male. There was a real-life copycat incident in 1874. Again, the victim was male.

Snidely Whiplash in silent films?

Dudley Doright
Not a silent movie.

Snidely Whiplash is a send-up of Victorian melodrama villains, the same target that inspired the Sennett comedies. If he is based on a silent era character, it is likely one of these Sennett comedians.

Silent star tied to train tracks.

Again, no silent era studio executive ever said, “That girl who gets tied to the tracks all the time! Fetch her for this film.”

In the films mentioned before, the victims were Gloria Swanson and Mabel Normand. I am going to repeat this one more time: These were comedies! The peril was meant to make fun of the over-the-top melodramas that had been in style a few years before.

In the 1916 serial A Lass of the Lumberlands the hero, Leo Maloney, is tied up and stumbles onto train tracks and then is rescued by Helen Holmes. Not exactly a perfect fit. Pearl White, to the best of my knowledge, was never victimized in this manner and any purported footage of this has yet to turn up. (The trope was used in the ridiculous sound remake of The Perils of Pauline.) Please note too that American serials were not regarded as the pinnacle of fine film writing.


In one of the few examples of this trope presented seriously in a mainstream silent feature film, the leading man of Blue Jeans (which I wrote an article about) was nearly sliced in half in a sawmill before being rescued by leading lady Viola Dana. Contemporary reviews praised the film but noted its old-fashioned source material. The train tracks/sawmill thing was just not something a modern film circa 1917 would use.

Blue-Jeans-Viola-Dana-John-Collins-1917 (2)

I have run across comments that talk about wanting to make a “1920 silent movie where a woman is tied to the train tracks.” I should mention that I have never found an example of this cliche in studios films made after 1919.

So now we know that the trope was rare, that men were just as likely to be victims and that the whole thing died before the twenties let out a single roar, well except for amateur films like this one:

Home videos are totally the same as studio releases! (And, again, the victim is a man.)

This fixation on railroad tracks is especially strange when you consider how long the silent film era lasted. Saying that silent movies (the era stretched between 1895 and 1929) regularly featured women tied to the train tracks would be like looking at the Home Alone movies and their ripoffs and then declaring that all films made in the 1990’s to 2010’s regularly featured small children beating up dimwitted burglars with elaborate booby traps. Avatar? Jurassic Park? Independence Day? The Artist? Men in Black 1-3? They all had that in them, right?

Other film sites have written on this oddly specific misconception but the queries keep on coming in. It’s a myth that really needs to die.

In the Vaults #9: The Song of Love (1923)

Status: 35mm prints held by The Library of Congress and the Czech Film Archive.

The Song of Love is one of those films that is more famous for what went on behind the camera. First, there was drama on the set. Joseph Schildkraut got most of the blame but I think he was just annoyed about being decked out in spit curls and ballet flats.

Anyway, news reports about the Talmadge-Schildkraut collaboration went from this:


to this:


But I still blame those spit curls.

Don’t worry about Mr. Schildkraut, by the way. He ended up just fine.

He cried all the way to the Oscars.
He cried all the way to the Oscars.

And the film was Frances Marion’s third and final attempt at breaking into directing. Marion was, of course, a popular and successful screenwriter. The first film she directed was The Love Light (which, for the record, I hated), starring Mary Pickford and Marion’s husband Fred Thomson. Marion was hit by a falling arc lamp while making The Song of Love and frequent Norma Talmadge collaborator Chester M. Franklin filled in while she recovered.

The scenario was adapted by Marion as well. Norma Talmadge’s character is named Noorma-hal. Noorma-hal. This is going to hurt, isn’t it? I wonder if any scenarios exist for Poola-hal Negri? Or Doorothy-hal Gish? Or Doouglas-hal Fairbanks?

Okay, I’ll stop.

The plot involves a dancing girl (Talmadge) who falls for an undercover French agent (Schildkraut). When a villainous rebel chieftain (Arthur Edmund Carewe) captures Mr. Schildkraut (spit curls and all), Miss Talmadge must spring into action to save the man she loves. All while (naturally) wearing teensy little costumes. Feminism!

Photoplay was mildly enthusiastic:


Norma Talmadge steps slightly out of character one always thinks of her as dignity incarnate to become Noorma-hal, a passionate, lovely dancing girl of the desert. Although a different Norma she is always charming, always warmly sympathetic. Torn between the faith of her ancestors and the love of a man who has confessed to being a spy, the girl is forced to tight a great battle with herself.

Variety less so:

Outside of Miss Talmadge there isn’t an awful lot to “The Song of Love.” It is another of those desert stories, the same type more or less that went out of fashion a little over a year ago as far as the big first-run houses were concerned, at any rate. There is a lot of sand, some of the sheik stuff, some hard riding and gunplay, and above all Norma slips through a dance.

Just because a film was written by a woman, directed by a woman, and starred a woman… well, that doesn’t make it feminist. This is a fact some film historians seem to ignore. However, while it doesn’t work as an empowerment film, it looks like there are other advantages to this movie. Frankly, it looks like a kitschy riot! Here’s hoping we get to see it soon!

Lost Film Files #17: The Amateur Gentleman (1926)

Status: Missing and presumed lost

This Richard Barthelmess vehicle was based on the 1913 novel of the same name by Jeffery Farnol. The novel told the tale of the son of a prizefighter who tries to break into English society in the Regency era. The silent era was not overly fond of Regency-era costume pictures (some were made but silents generally skewed Victorian and Elizabethan) so it would be fun to see how they handled this tale. Plus Richard Barthelmess is always a pleasure to watch.

Continue reading “Lost Film Files #17: The Amateur Gentleman (1926)”