It is commonly said that the phrase “silent movie” is a misnomer. To be properly appreciated, a silent movie needs appropriate musical accompaniment. But what is considered to be an “appropriate” type of music? No two silent film fans are going to quite agree on that but here are some basic guidelines.
Status: Missing and presumed lost except for the fragments found in the film’s trailer.
This is the very first film adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, filmed a mere four years after it was written. No need to make this a costume picture. The twenties were roaring away as the cameras cranked.
1926 was a banner year for silent film and The Great Gatsby, while praised, seems to have been a bit lost in the shuffle of Beau Geste, Old Ironside, What Price Glory, Night of Love, Flesh and the Devil…
Here are some vintage reviews:
Photoplay particularly praised Lois Wilson as Daisy Buchanan.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of the great war’s aftermath presented unusual film difficulties. Herbert Brenon, the director, has managed to retain much of the feeling of the story. Gatsby comes out of the war to achieve a fortune unscrupulously. He falls, of course, in the end, finding that happiness can’t be won that way. Lois Wilson runs away with the film as the jazzy Daisy Buchanan who flashes cocktails and silken you-know-she-wears-’ems.
The distributor magazine Motion Picture News had this to say:
Every good job has been done by this picture — an adaptation of the novel and play. It offered material which necessitated the intelligent handling of characterization so as to keep its spirit intact. In other winds, it depended upon the director emphasizing the central figure as he was emphasized in the novel and play to approach a “nearly perfect gentleman.” This Herbert Brenon has done and so well has Warner Baxter responded that his performance is quite the best of his career and one of the best of the season.
A tragic figure is Gatsby, a product of the gutter who comes up in the world and tries to assume the culture which only goes with long-established generations of ancestry. The manner in which Brenon works is in showing the mute pride and helplessness of the man in attempting to “belong.” Of course, Baxter has his work cut out for him, too.
It’s a sophisticated story, told with first-rate lights and shadows. The spirit of the original is there with plenty to spare. It has its dramatic moments, its romantic scenes, its contrasts and conflicts. And it is splendidly acted by every member of the cast, including Lois Wilson, Neil Hamilton, William Powell, Hale Hamilton, and Georgia Hale.
You read that cast right. William Powell, Lois Wilson, Georgia Hale…
The New York Times felt that something was missing from the final product:
The screen version of “The Great Gatsby” is quite a good entertainment, but at the same time it is obvious that it would have benefited by more imaginative direction. Although Mr. Brenon has included the tragic note at the end, he has succumbed to a number of ordinary movie flashes without inculcating much in the way of subtlety. Neither he nor the players have succeeded in fully developing the characters.
Zelda Fitzgerald was even less happy with the film (she and her husband walked out):
“We saw ‘The Great Gatsby’ in the movies. It’s ROTTEN and awful and terrible and we left.”
Unfortunately, we will never be able to judge for ourselves. The Great Gatsby is one of the more sought-after lost films of the silent era. It is a shame that it is gone since it would have provided a unique perspective on the novel, as played by the men and women who made up that Lost Generation.
Men of Steel (1926)
Sorry, this is not a Superman movie. However, it just may be even better.
So Big (1924)
Status: Presumed Lost
Here is what Photoplay magazine had to say about the film and Colleen Moore’s performance:
Note: This article covers the origins of the trope, how it erroneously became associated with silent films and why the myth persists. For more details on the actors involved, the Snidely Whiplash connection and examples of this trope subverted, check out my follow up article. You can also check out real footage and vintage images in my video response.
I came across this caricature by de Bru in Photoplay magazine. How many movie stars of 1928 can you identify without peeking at the legend?
Unfortunately, many films of the silent era have been lost. This new series is going to list some of the more interesting ones. We are going to start with a comedy from the late silent era.
So, what kind of silent movie fan are you? In my experience, they usually come in three varieties:
Those discount trivia books that litter the shelves of chain bookstores have a lot to answer for. They state with great confidence that The Jazz Singer was the first sound movie, The Birth of a Nation was the first feature film, that The Great Train Robbery was the first film with a story…
It’s a reasonably popular internet meme: Take hit modern film, desaturate it, add a few intertitles and a tinkling piano score and voila! You have a silent movie. That’s all silent movies are, right? Movies without sound and with those title cards placed at intervals.
Hooo boy, is this an old one. It is actually as old as talking pictures themselves. The myth goes like this: So-and-so (often John Gilbert) was a famous film star in the silent era but what people didn’t know is that he sounded like Mickey Mouse! Hilarious!
All right, you like silent movies. In fact, you love silent movies. The problem is that your movie nights are, to put it nicely, a rather solitary affair. Let’s face it, we’re in the minority.
“Can anyone take those movies seriously?”
“Did they even make movies back then?”
“How do you know what’s going on?”
Well, no one said being a silent film fan would be easy.