Fun Size Review: The Prisoner of Zenda (1922)

(via Silent Hollywood)
(via Silent Hollywood)

Buckles get swashed in a lavish manner. Lewis Stone plays an Englishman who must take his look-alike cousin’s place in order to save the throne, etc. etc. Ramon Novarro steals the show as a deranged dandy. Has fine passages but also has some incredibly boring stretches. Lavish direction from Rex Ingram and some first-rate performances make this one worth seeing,

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via The Guardian)

Devonshire Splits. Old-fashioned, polite, attractive and ever so slightly dull. Still pretty enjoyable, though.

Read my full-length review here.

Lon Chaney tearing our hearts out. Animated GIF

ace-of-hearts-lon-chaney-heartbreak

Lon Chaney as a monster would be memorable enough. However, that wasn’t to secret of his appeal. You see, Mr. Chaney was an actor of great depth and skill and he was able to convey the most heartrending emotions on film. Here he is in The Ace of Hearts, his own heart breaking in half.

This GIF was a request from my wonderful co-hostess, Jo of The Last Drive In. Here it is, along with thanks for all of her help putting on this event.

The Chaney Blogathon: Day Three

chaney-blogathon-banner-header-SMALL

Welcome to the third day of our tribute to that legendary father-son duo, Lon Chaney and Lon Chaney, Jr. I will be hosting today and the fourth and final day will be hosted by my talented co-hostess, Jo of The Last Drive In.

Cable Car Guy – But not as Lon Chaney Jr: Scrapbook

Cinematic Catharsis – Review of West of Zanzibar

Goregirl’s Dungeon – Review of House of Frankenstein

The Hitless Wonder – Tribute to Lon Chaney Sr.

The Last Drive In – A Thousand Faces: Musical Tribute to Lon Chaney Sr & Lon Chaney Jr

Movies Silently – Review of Nomads of the North

Speakeasy – Reviews of Inner Sanctum films

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear – Review of Ace of Hearts

Nomads of the North (1920) A Silent Film Review

A real rarity for Chaney fans: Our beloved monster plays a straightforward leading man. Lon Chaney and Betty Blythe are a pair of Canadian lovebirds who must flee when he is framed for murder. Lewis Stone plays the Mountie charged with bringing Chaney to justice. And he won’t give up because as the Hollywood Mounties say: “We always get our man!”

Continue reading “Nomads of the North (1920) A Silent Film Review”

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.

lon-chaney-london-after-midnight-clipping

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.

The Chaney Blogathon: Day One!

chaney-blogathon-banner-header-unknown-spiderbabySMALL

Welcome to the first day of the Chaney Blogathon, an events that celebrates the careers of two Hollywood legends: Lon Chaney, Sr. and Lon Chaney, Jr.

I will be hosting the first and third days and my marvelous co-hostesss, Jo of The Last Drive In, will be taking care of days two and four. (You can read the complete roster here.)

If you are a participant, please send over a link to your post. Otherwise, we will simply link to your blog’s homepage.

So, without further fuss, here is the roster for Day One!

Asta’s Doghouse – Newspaper clippings on Lon Chaney Jr.

Cable Car Guy – Chaney Outchaneys Chaney

Forgotten Films – Review of The Mummy’s Curse

Furious Cinema – Review of The Alligator People

Grand Old Movies – Review of Big House USA

The Great Katharine Hepburn – Review of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Last Drive In – Review of The Unknown

Movies Silently – Review of The Wicked Darling

Nitrate Glow – Review of The Ace of Hearts

Portraits by Jenni – Review of Tell it to the Marines

Pre-Code.Com – Review of The Unholy Three (1930)

Silver Scenes – Review of The Wolf Man

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear – Review of High Noon

The Wicked Darling (1919) A Silent Film Review

Priscilla Dean stars as Mary, aka the Gutter Rose. Pickpocket, purse snatcher and general shady lady, Mary’s world changes when she encounters a real gentleman for the first time. This does not sit well with her partner in crime and would-be lover, Stoop (Lon Chaney). This film is the very first collaboration between Chaney and director Tod Browning.

Continue reading “The Wicked Darling (1919) A Silent Film Review”

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:

Fight!
Fight!

This:

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

And, finally, this:

A dumped smuggler.
A dumped smuggler.

Aww.

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.

Unboxing the Silents: Baby Peggy | The Elephant in the Room

BabyPeggy_DVD_Front_grande
I’m back with another installment of Unboxing the Silents. I usually reserve this feature for box sets of silent films but I decided that this single-disc release has enough content to warrant coverage here. As usual, I am reviewing the collection itself, not the individual films. Ready? Let’s go!

What is it?

The official DVD release of the acclaimed 2012 documentary on Baby Peggy, one of the first child superstars and one of the last surviving silent performers.

The disc also includes Baby Peggy’s charming 1924 feature Captain January (you can read my review here) and three of her short films. This marks the first time that Baby Peggy’s films have been made available to the general public in a high-quality, pressed DVD release.

Back of disc.
Back of disc.

 

Who released it?

Milestone Films

The Films:

Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room, documentary (2012)

Captain January, feature (1924)

Carmen Jr., short (1923)

Peg O’ the Mounted, short (1924)

Such is Life, Short (1924)

Slideshow of Baby Peggy photos set to That’s My Baby

Packaging

The disc comes in a standard plastic DVD case.

Navigation

Main menu
Main menu

The menu is animated but loads quickly and is easy to get around.

Music

Captain January features a piano score by Donald Sosin. The three short films have piano scores by Guenter Buchwald. The music for the slideshow is performed by Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton.

Price per Movie

Disc artwork.
Disc artwork.

The DVD has a retail price of $29.95 (though it can be found on sale from various online vendors). Counting the shorts as one film, that comes out to $10/movie.

Buy?

Yes! The documentary/movie combination is a great way to meet Baby Peggy. If you do not enjoy the child stars of the talkie era, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the charm of the silent kids.

Redskin (1929) A Silent Film Review

The surprisingly sympathetic tale of a Navajo man, Wing Foot (Richard Dix), who was taken from his family as a boy and raised in a boarding school. Insulted and referred to as “Redskin” by his college peers, Wing Foot also finds that he no longer fits in with his family, especially his extremely traditional father. Will Wing Foot be able to bridge the gap between the culture of his birth and the culture in which he was raised?
Continue reading “Redskin (1929) A Silent Film Review”

They may take our lives but they can never take our chewing gum! Animated GIF

manhandled-1924-gloria-swanson-silent-movie-gum-chewing

In the 1920’s, a working girl could be identified by her ever-present wedge of chewing gum. Gloria Swanson is rather annoyed at being asked to chuck it in Manhandled. The chewing gum phenomenon was immortalized in the 1924 novelty song Does the Spearmint Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight? (It has been revived several times since, usually with “chewing gum” instead of “spearmint” in the title.)

Fun Size Review: My Best Girl (1927)

(moviepostershop.com)
(moviepostershop.com)

Textbook Boy meets Girl. Fancy it ain’t but no romantic comedy has been sweeter than this one. Mary Pickford was never spunkier, Budder Rogers was never more adorable. An accomplished supporting cast rounds out this good-natured tale of a shop girl falling for the boss’s son. An ideal silent film for first-timers.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via cakestudent.com)
(via cakestudent.com)

Sweetheart Cherry Pies. Very classic, very cute, very irresistible.

Read my full-length review here.

Silents in Talkies: Hollywood Cavalcade (1939)

Welcome to another installment of Silents in Talkies. In this series, I review sound movies that are either about the silent era or that incorporate silent films into their story. I will review the film itself and then briefly discuss whether the film helped or harmed public perception of the silent era.

This time around, Alice Faye and Don Ameche play the leads in movieland’s love letter to itself, Hollywood Cavalcade.

Continue reading “Silents in Talkies: Hollywood Cavalcade (1939)”

Theme Month! November 2013: Color in Silent Film

2013-11Theme-Month-display-banner-Green

How do you get a color movie? Shoot in color, silly! In the silent era, however, there were a lot more options for getting color on the screen. For the month of November, I am going to celebrate the colorful world of silent film.

Here were the most common methods used:

Tinting & Toning: The entire frame is given a particular hue. Simply put, tinting affects the “whites” while toning affects the “blacks” and both techniques could be combined.

Hand Coloring: Color is applied by hand to portions of individual frames.

(via the-frame.com)

Stencil Color: A stencil is cut for each color that is to be applied. This allows for greater precision and faster duplication. Pathecolor was a stencil process.

Color Film (Technicolor): Yes, it did predate the talkie revolution. However, it only recorded blends of red and green. I am not a huge fan of the eyeball-searing Technicolor of the 30’s-50’s so this early process appeals to me. The limited palette gives the images a gorgeous watercolor feel. While some movies were filmed entirely this way, it was more common for movies to employ color sequences lasting a few minutes.

I will be reviewing movies that make use of each and every one of these color methods!

Review #1: Hand-colored

The Great Train Robbery (1903)

One of the earliest movie blockbusters, this classic also boasts of hand-colored sequences.

Review #2: Technicolor

Redskin (1929)

One of the last major silent films ever made, this race drama uses stunning color to tell its tale.

Review #3: Sepia Tone

The Wicked Darling (1919)

The first collaboration between Lon Chaney and Tod Browning features some sepia!

Review #4: Tinted

Upstream (1927)

This long-lost John Ford silent boasts some lovely tints.

Review #5: Stencil Colored

Cyrano de Bergerac (1925)

The famous tale given silent movie treatment, complete with gorgeous stencil color!

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.

Continue reading “Silent Take: “Star Wars” circa 1915″

Five must-own silent movies from Warner Archive

vaults

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.

Availability

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.

Availability

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.)

Availability

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.

Availability

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.

Availability

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

IT’S A SILENT MOVIE!!! Animated GIF

Silent-Movie-Mel-Brooks-Sid-Ceasar-GIF

This is exactly the reaction I get from people when they ask when what I blog about.

Sid Caesar is more than a little perturbed about the “surefire hit” Mel Brooks is pitching in Silent Movie. I can imagine this is pretty much how the budget negotiations for The Artist and Blancanieves went.

Fun Size Review: The Wildcat (1921)

wildcat

Pola Negri and Ernst Lubitsch team up once again in the deranged comedy that sends up romance, adventure and Hollywood. Pola is a bandit girl. Paul Heidemann is a ladykiller army officer. She captures him and steals his pants. He chases her all over a Dr. Suess-ian fortress. Oh, it’s a mad film. A little too mad, in fact. But Pola has never been more fun!

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via Pillsbury)

Trix Cereal Crunch Cake. Loud, zany and slightly psychedelic. May induce headaches on some days. On others, it may be just what the doctor ordered.

Click here to read my full-length review.

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.

You can’t be a broken man. You’re seven. Animated GIF

doll-ernst-lubitsch-ossi-oswalda-silent-movie-animated-confession-of-a-broken-man

Don’t you love it when kids get dramatic? This is from The Doll (1919).

I should note that the boy was played by Gerhard Ritterband, whom IMDB lists as having a 1904 birthdate. This would have made him 15 when The Doll was made. I should note, though, that it was not uncommon for actors to play fast and loose with their birthdates. Leading ladies and gentlemen shaved off years, underage actors added them on to avoid issues with child welfare societies. (For example, Buster Keaton wrote that his family employed this trick on occasion.)

I’m not saying that this was the case with Ritterband. He might have just been really tiny for his age.

Availability

Released both digitally and on DVD by Kino-Lorber and available for purchase in the U.S.