The Movies Silently Glossary: To be philbined


Sometimes, there is just no word for what you want to say. Fortunately, English is something of a linguistic slinky* and so I am going to boldly make up my own words to fit my needs. Naturally, these needs are connected to silent film.


verb | ˈfil-bin

to hire an acclaimed actor, director or other film talent and oblige them to work with a terrible performer who is a box office draw or otherwise in favor with management.

This is named for actress Mary Philbin, a lovely woman who had all the acting talent of a plate of pancakes. She was a friend of Universal head Carl Laemmle’s family and was regularly cast in big roles after her discovery by Erich von Stroheim.

Lon Chaney was philbined in The Phantom of the Opera.** Director E.A. Dupont was philbined with Love Me and the World is Mine. Ivan Mosjoukine was philbined in Surrender.

One of the few performers to escape his philbining relatively unscathed was Conrad Veidt. He and director Paul Leni actually managed to drag something resembling a performance out of her in The Man Who Laughs.

For the record, Miss Philbin actually seemed like a sweet woman and her movie recollections are clear and accurate. I would love to have had a cup of tea with her but I would never, ever have wanted to work with her. The issue actually has more to do with Carl Laemmle than Philbin herself but to “laemmle” someone has many more implications than the narrow definition I require.

*I heard “linguistic slinky” somewhere and don’t remember where. Apologies for no credit for this excellent turn of phrase.

** To double the “n” or not? I didn’t, mainly because the pronunciation “fill-BIND” makes me giggle.

Fun Size Review: Feel My Pulse (1928)


Bebe Daniels is a hypochondriac heiress who ends up staying on an island with a gang of bootleggers, who are led by a pre-stardom William Powell. Of course, Bebe is more interested in Richard Arlen, another gangster who seems a bit too nice to be a rum runner. Chaos ensues, obviously, and the film is a real corker in spite of a flabby middle section.

[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for a spoiler)” ]Bebe ends up saving her fella’s life from the rum runners. Feminism! Romance![/toggler]

If it were a dessert it would be:

gin and tonic sorbet

Gin & Tonic Sorbet. Anything this fun was probably illegal at some point.


How to NAIL a movie audition (hey, it worked for Mabel Normand) Animated GIF


Mabel Normand is determined to make it in the movies. This is her audition scene from Mabel’s Dramatic Career. She demonstrates her dancing abilities (no one could do a zany dance like Mabel) but is in danger of losing her balance. Ford Sterling comes to the rescue (or does he?) but the look on Mabel’s face indicates that he might have gotten a little grabby. Not to worry, though. Their characters wed in the film.

Silent Take: “Star Wars” circa 1915

Like most people in my age group, Star Wars was a huge part of my childhood. And like many others my age, I fell out of love with Star Wars around the years 1997-99, when the not-so-special editions and the prequels were being inflicted on us. Around the same time, I was starting to get into silent film. I had never really liked Cecil B. DeMille’s clunky sound epics but I decided to give his early silent work a chance.

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The Great IMAGINARY Film Blogathon: The Golden Challenge (1926)

This is my contribution to the Great Imaginary Film Blogathon. Be sure to read the other posts for this event!

You know that I love silent films. What you may not know, though, is that I have an enormous weakness for the BIG films of the sixties. Lawrence of Arabia, Zulu, you know the kind. I also love those big, big comedies that seemed to star everyone in the entire world. The Great Race, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, etc.

Well, the concept behind this imaginary film is that one of those “starring everyone” adventure comedies was made in the silent era. An eccentric millionaire decided to finance a film and money was no object. The finest of everything, from stars to sets to Technicolor sequences. This millionaire wanted stars and the stars came, the biggest in the business. The whole thing was fourteen reels long and cost $3 to get in. It was the biggest film of the decade.

Here it is.

The Golden Challenge (1926)

United Artists

Director: Raoul Walsh

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

The Plot: The richest man in the world, Jabez Watertoast, passes away without heirs. Instead, he has left an eccentric will: He has buried the majority of his fortune (in emeralds and gold) in a secret place and has left clues as to its location. Four copies of the clues have been sent to four different married couples, all in desperate need of money. These couples must use their resourcefulness to find the treasure. Watertoast wanted his money to go to a bootstrapping pair of go-getters and this race is his way of finding the most worthy recipient.

So, four letters are sent out with strict instructions that the participants tell no one (especially the press!) about their mission.

The letter:

Dear sir and madam:

You have been selected as a possible recipient of the Watertoast emeralds. Your first instructions are included in this envelope. You will be given an allowance of $50.00 a week to cover your expenses but no more. If you tell anyone about this contest (especially the newspapers) you will be disqualified.


Jabez Watertoast

Now it’s time to meet our four couples.

Note: I created a GIF for every main character but if you have a slow internet connection, they may not animated properly. If a GIF seems to be frozen, simply click it and you should be able to see it move.

The Cast

Ned and Amy Sheffield

Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford



The Sheffields were raised in an orphanage together. They grew up, got married and were able to buy the place with the proceeds from Ned’s wingwalking prize money and Amy’s secret gooseberry pie recipe. However, money is tight and an evil banker (who knows there is oil under the place) may take over if they don’t get enough cash to pay off their debts.

Prince Henri and Sylvia de Guise

Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson



Henri is the heir to the throne of Carolingia, which was impoverished by the Great War. Accompanied by his American wife, Sylvia, Henri hopes to raise enough money to strengthen his army so that his country will not fall to anarchists. A former manicurist to the rich and powerful, Sylvia plans to use her business contacts to try to help her husband.

Robert and Phoebe Merriweather

John Barrymore and Marion Davies



A pair of itinerant entertainers and semi-con artists, Robert and Phoebe are a comedy/illusion duo who pass themselves off as Russian refugees. However, when performing for a gangland audience, they made the dog of the boss’s moll disappear. The problem? It never reappeared. Running for their lives, they want enough money to start a new life far, far away from Chicago.

Erik and Velma Hardt

Conrad Veidt and Pola Negri



Erik and Velma were born into money but have long since spent it. However, they do have one advantage: Velma’s uncle was Jabez Watertoast’s lawyer and he means for his niece to win the money. Erik, meanwhile, is using his shadowy connections to try to trip up the competition. He was a spy during the war, you see, and has connections with the anarchist movement.

The four couples only have the first clue to work with. One clue leads to another and so forth as they race across the world at breakneck speed. On the way, they are met with numerous stars in cameos and character actors. But who will win the big prize?

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

My cameo ideas:

Clara Bow as one of the older, spunky orphans

Harry Langdon as the Merriweather’s hapless booking agent

Charlie Chaplin as himself, a helpful passerby in Paris

Dorothy Gish as a cab driver in Budapest

Nita Naldi as a tribal chieftainess

William S. Hart as a displaced cowboy in Morocco

Norma Talmadge as the scorekeeper for the treasure hunt

Richard Barthelmess as a country boy who gives the couples a lift in his old cart

Ben Turpin as a foreign legionnaire

Anna May Wong as the Hong Kong-based reporter who wants a scoop


The race will start in New York and then head to Arizona (a little tip of the hat to The Great Race there). From there, the race heads to London, Paris, Budapest, Moscow, Hong Kong and then all the way back to Morocco. The treasure is hidden in the desert and guarded by a fierce tribe of warriors.

And who wins the prize? I’m leaving that up to your imagination.

Silent Take: “Enchanted” circa 1918

After completing posters for the silent Nolan Batman trilogy and working on my designs for James Bond and Indiana Jones, I am a burned out on male-led blockbusters. So, how’s about some girl stuff? Enchanted is, of course, a clever 2007 send-up by Disney about Disney. I have to confess that I am not an enormous fan of Disney films in general but I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

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