One of the most analyzed silent films. One of the most watched silent films. One of the most famous silent films. What else is there to be said about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari? Well, I’m giving it a shot. We’re going to see if we can unravel the mystery of the film’s meaning. A daunting task? Only slightly.
Pastor Lionel Barrymore receives a strange mission from a parishioner (the wife of the town miser) who has recently passed away: He is to take the money she has left and buy her daughter, Mary Pickford, little luxuries that she has been denied. The Pastor starts by buying Mary a pricey hat from New York. Little does he know that this kindness will start a frenzy of gossip.
Reginald Denny stars as a hypochondriac whose condition is being exploited by a trio of loansharks. Mary Astor is the pretty nurse who inspires Denny to try to be healthy– and just may be able to save him from bankruptcy.
John Barrymore takes on the role of one of history’s great lovers. Raised to be a libertine, Don Juan romances his way across Europe until he ends up in Rome and runs into something completely different: a nice girl (Mary Astor). Unfortunately, she is promised in marriage to a Borgia. I think a little action is called for.
Continue reading “Don Juan (1926) A Silent Film Review”
D.W. Griffith tackled the Gold Rush and experimented with close-ups in this tidy little drama. Mary Pickford is a shady lady living in a gold rush town. When she gets dumped by her duded-up suitor, Henry B. Walthall, she seeks comfort in the burly arms of Lionel Barrymore. But who will get the girl?
Continue reading “Friends (1912) A Silent Film Review”
Douglas Fairbanks is a nice Kansan who, through a the odd combination of his mother’s prenatal Dumas reading and a cyclone ravaging town as he was born, is a little hyper. All right, a lot hyper. He is also chivalrous to the point of madness (Dumas again). Setting out to find adventure, he happens upon a true damsel in distress. Is this the mission he has been waiting for?
Featuring the famous opening line, “he was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad,” Scaramouche is the tale of Andre-Louis, a young lawyer (Ramon Novarro) who seeks to revenge the murder of his best friend at the hands a heartless aristocrat (Lewis Stone). To further his ends, Andre-Louis becomes an actor, a fencing master and, finally, an architect of the French Revolution.
Continue reading “Scaramouche (1923) A Silent Film Review”
Douglas Fairbanks stars in the very first Zorro movie. The tale is familiar: Zorro is a Californian Robin Hood, who robs from the rich, gives to the poor, fights oppression, romances the beautiful Lolita and does battle with the villainous Captain Ramon. And, this being a Fairbanks vehicle, there is quite a lot of leaping about in the bargain!
Continue reading “The Mark of Zorro (1920) A Silent Film Review”
Sir Oliver Tressilian (Milton Sills) is a retired Elizabethan privateer whose life suddenly gets shot to pieces. He is framed for murder by his own brother, dumped by his fiancee, kidnapped, sold into slavery… What I’m saying is this guy has a chip on his shoulder. So he joins up with the Barbary corsairs and becomes the dreaded Sea Hawk. Now for that revenge…
Continue reading “The Sea Hawk (1924) A Silent Film Review”
Rudolf (Lewis Stone) is an Englishman on holiday in the unstable European kingdom of Ruritania. It turns out that he is a dead ringer for the soon-to-be-crowned king (also Lewis Stone). This comes in handy when the king is kidnapped by his evil brother and Rudolf must take his place to save the kingdom. A young Ramon Novarro has a star-making turn as the theatrical (and homicidal) Rupert of Hentzau.
Pola Negri stars as Rischka, the wildcat of the title. She is the leader of a gang of bandits. Their latest victim is Alexis, a caddish military officer on his way to his new post. Rischka and Alexis embark on a mad courtship leaving chaos in their wake. Director Ernst Lubitsch creates onscreen havoc that has rarely been equaled since.
Continue reading “The Wildcat (1921) A Silent Film Review”
White Almond Flower (Clarine Seymour) is a flapper-ish island girl who just can’t choose between a sickly missionary (Creighton Hale) and an atheist beach bum (Richard Barthelmess). Will WAF be “civilized” or will she be free to continue her moonlight idolatry? D.W. Griffith directs this tale of religion, the nature of civilization and shimmy-shimmy shakes.
Continue reading “The Idol Dancer (1920) A Silent Film Review”
Ossi’s father is the Oyster King of America and she has decided that she deserves nothing less than a European prince. Nucki is the penniless prince in question but a few cases of mistaken identity later, all plans are in shambles. Hidden amongst the the wacky hijinks is some pointed social commentary courtesy of director Ernst Lubitsch.
Pola Negri hits it out of the park in this late silent war drama. She is a French farmer whose land is converted into a POW camp during WWI. Her hatred of Germans is slowly melted away by her discovery of common humanity… and by Clive Brook, a handsome prisoner. First class story of love and tolerance.
Continue reading “Barbed Wire (1927) A Silent Film Review”
Mary Pickford joins the war effort in this collaboration with director Cecil B. DeMille. One woman, two armies, oh dear. Pickford plays Angela, an American girl so patriotic that she contrived to be born on Independence Day. However, she is in favor of outsourcing her love life: her two suitors are French and German respectively. But then that pesky war starts, both men are called up to serve and Angela must choose her side.
William S. Hart trades his Stetson for a blue policeman’s hat in this gangland drama. Hart is a safecracker-turned-cop who finds himself at odds with his larcenous family and targeted by a former business partner. But, as we all know, Hart is not someone to be trifled with.
Continue reading “The Cradle of Courage (1920) A Silent Film Review”
Director D.W. Griffith attempts to showcase his protegee, Carol Dempster, in this ocean-themed crime drama. An accused murderer is hiding out on a South Sea island with his daughter. The long arm of the law is closing in. How far will she go to make sure that her dear old dad stays free?
Continue reading “The Love Flower (1920) A Silent Film Review”
Richard Barthelmess is David, a country boy whose one goal in life is to be considered a man, to prove himself worthy of being allowed into the grown-ups club. When tragedy strikes his family, David finds himself growing up faster than even he had ever wanted.
Continue reading “Tol’able David (1921) A Silent Film Review”
Rudolph Valentino finally came up with the perfect movie formula in this 1925 hit: Action Lover. Valentino is a fun-loving Cossack who turns down the advances of the Czarina. Forced on the run, he takes the opportunity to seek revenge against his father’s enemy. And wouldntcha know it, that enemy just happens to have a beautiful daughter.
Continue reading “The Eagle (1925) A Silent Film Review”
When an innocent romance springs up between a lowly shop girl and an incognito chain-store heir, can it survive interfering parents, a hidden identity, and a secret engagement? This was Mary Pickford’s final silent film and she works opposite her future husband, Buddy Rogers.
I am pretty sure we all know the famous Alexandre Duman tale. Nice guy gets framed, finds buried treasure and then he is off for revenge. Tralalala! A very young John Gilbert stars as the vengeful count, determined to destroy the men who sent him to prison on false charges. Gilbert buckles swash (or is it swashes his buckle?) in admirable style.
Lon Chaney at his most grotesque. A delightfully slimy jungle picture that involves Chaney’s quest for revenge against the man who stole his wife and crippled him. Mary Nolan and Lionel Barrymore support. Wonderful but not for all tastes. A slightly warped mind is recommended. Maybe even required.
Continue reading “West of Zanzibar (1928) A Silent Film Review”
Cinderella has ulterior motives in this early DeMille melodrama. Mary Denby is a judge’s daughter who married below her station. With her husband drinking away the household income, she applies for work as a seamstress. The new job puts her in contact with a rich family who decide to use her beauty and charm to their advantage in business dealings. Nice people.
Mary Pickford plays an orphan who is awarded a scholarship to college by a mysterious benefactor, whom she nicknames her Daddy Long Legs. Mary grows, learns and graduates and all the time, she sends letters to Daddy Long Legs detailing her progress, fears and dreams. Now just who could her Daddy be?
Toni is an innocent Austrian girl who dreams of an operatic career but the only job she can get is as a showgirl in a nightclub. After refusing the advances of a wealthy customer, Toni and the club seamstress are sacked. The unlikely pair make their way to Monte Carlo where Toni gets a chance at real love.
Think silent movies are dusty? Meet Clara! The divine Miss Bow is a pretty city girl who winds up married to a stodgy Canadian trapper. Then a city man shows up and starts a flirtation with our bored little flapper. He gets more than he bargained for. Basically, this is the most fun you can legally have at the movies.
Continue reading “Mantrap (1926) A Silent Film Review”
John Barrymore lends his talents to this tale of a cricket player who has found a more lucrative occupation: cat burglary. Barrymore is supported by Frank “Oz” Morgan hut can the film survive all the changes that are made to the iconic character of A.J. Raffles? Looks like we are going to find out.
Continue reading “Raffles the Amateur Cracksman (1917) A Silent Film Review”
A Cinderella story for the 1920s. Colleen Moore plays the Ella of the title, a waif who finds happiness and her prince charming via Hollywood. The picture has some clever and funny camera work and an extremely beguiling performances from Moore, who lends her ready wit and elastic features to the affair.
A society woman’s plans to make easy money backfire and she turns to a Burmese businessman for help. He agrees to give her the money she needs… for a price. Excellent melodrama that showcased Sessue Hayakawa’s talents to the world. A major smash hit and the film that really put Cecil B. DeMille on the map as a director of premium entertainment.
Continue reading “The Cheat (1915) A Silent Film Review”
Silent child star Baby Peggy plays the captain of the title, a castaway orphan who is raised by a scruffy lighthouse keeper (Hobart Bosworth). The story is slight but that actually works in the film’s favor as it allows the viewer to focus on what’s really important: the talented Baby Peggy and the peerless Bosworth.
Continue reading “Captain January (1924) A Silent Film Review”