Fun Size Review: Monte Cristo (1922)

Monte Cristo 1922 John Gilbert Estelle Taylor

Monte Cristo 1922 John Gilbert Estelle Taylor

Note to villains: If you want get the hero out of the way by framing him, just make sure he doesn’t get the cell next to the crazy old guy who knows where to find a fabulous treasure. Cuz, you know, he may come back for revenge.

It has a pre-Great Lover John Gilbert and Estelle Taylor playing a good girl for once. It is a little rushed but overall a pretty dern good adaptation.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(food.com)

Butterscotch Banana Muffins. A little bit of added flavor but generally stays close to the classic.

Read my full-length review here.

Recommended

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”

Silent Take: The Princess Bride circa 1928

It’s baaack! Another modern movie re-imagined as a silent. This time, it’s The Princess Bride and it is taking a little trip back to 1928. If you have only seen Mary Astor and William Powell in the talkies, you may be interested to know that in the silents, she was often the dainty princess and he was often a sneering villain. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. did not try his hand at swashbuckling until 1937’s Prisoner of Zenda (Astor was in that one too) but I crave your indulgence because I think he is a perfect Westley.

Continue reading “Silent Take: The Princess Bride circa 1928”

Seriously, if anyone did this to me, I would slug them, Animated GIF

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Cecil B. DeMille was known to use… odd romantic gestures in his films. In this case, Elinor Fair is groovin’ to some boatman music supplied by William Boyd and her fiance, Victor Varconi, is jealous. So what does he do? Make his hands into earmuffs, of course. And she is fine with it. In fact, she thinks it’s pretty wonderful.

The Volga Boatman is stuffed with moments like this, which is why I love it so.

Recommended

Tol’able David meets… The TINGLER!!! Special William Castle Animated GIF

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To honor the start of the William Castle Blogathon, I made this GIF from The Tingler. The titular nasty is loose in a silent movie theater that just happens to be playing Tol’able David, one of my favorite movies. This is the iconic scene in which the Tingler crawls in front of the projector. Brrr! Scary puppet!

You can read the roster of entries here and here. And be sure to look for mine on August 2. And you can read my review of Tol’able David here. The Tingler does overcrank it so that everything is a bit manic looking.

Recommended

A bouquet of guns, Animated GIF

volga-boatman-cecil-be-demille-william-boyd-silent-movie-bouquet-of-guns-revised2

About 73% of the fun in The Volga Boatman comes from the overblown intertitles. In this case, William Boyd (yes, that William Boyd) is leading a Bolshevik uprising (this was back when a Hollywood hero could lead a Bolshevik uprising) and he is calling on his followers to storm the castle. (Have fun with that!)

Recommended

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

how-to-get-into-silent-films-header

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!

show-people-1928-marion-davies-william-haines-king-vidor-silent-movie-hoity-toity-1

(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.

Availability

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.

Availability

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.

Availability

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.

Availability

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.

Availability

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!

“Always dust her well” Animated GIF

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It’s early Lubitsch but his touch is there, right down to the clever intertitles. After all, this is what every father says when he is sending off his only child, right?

Background: In The Doll, dollmaker Hilarius has just inadvertently sold his daughter to a customer. She was taking the place of a broken model for a demonstration but Hermann Thimig was so pleased that he bought the mechanical woman on the spot. Obviously, chaos ensues.

Availability

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

Conrad Veidt demonstrates the only proper way to walk down a dark alley in “Caligari” – Animated GIF

cabinet of dr caligari

cabinet-of-dr-cailgari-animated-gif-walk

This is just how it is done. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

Caligari co-star Lil Dagover later said that Conrad Veidt did not break character during the shoot and lurked through the hallways of the studio startling people. He said he did it for a better performance. but you can’t tell me he wasn’t having just a bit of fun playing the ghoul and scaring his friends.

Recommended

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!

Recommended



La la la LA LA LAAAAAAA!!! Animated GIF

Lupino Lane is at it again! This time, he is a less-than talented operatic soprano. The zoom effect just cracks me up. This is yet another persona he adopted for the comedy short Only Me.

Lane made a successful talkie transition but his stage work is supposed to be his best. A pity we cannot see it now but this will do nicely.

(He’s a cousin of Ida Lupino, by the way.)

Announcement of New Feature: Silents in Talkies

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I am pleased to announce another feature for Movies Silently: Silents in Talkies.

What is it? I will be reviewing sound-era films that contain silent movie clips, are set at silent movie studios or that feature characters who are involved in the silent film industry.

I got the idea for this feature by people watching. You see, most modern moviegoers get their ideas about silent films not from actually seeing silent films. Nope. They get them from the portrayals of silent cinema in talking pictures.

Any silent film fan knows that if you mention liking pre-sound movies, the first thing most people will think of is Singin’ in the Rain. Or The Three Amigos. Or Hugo.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing. After all, a very non-silent-loving acquaintance sat through some Melies shorts thanks to Hugo. However, Hollywood handles its own history about as well as it handles everyone else’s: Stereotypes are reinforced, tropes are employed, timelines telescoped and complex issues are ridiculously oversimplified. As a result, even the best-intentioned talking picture has trouble capturing the true flavor of silent films.

Here is my goal for the new feature:

Take a look at how silent films are portrayed in the talkies and highlight what they got wrong… and what they got right!

I will briefly review the film itself and then discuss the way silent films are portrayed and whether this portrayal helped or harmed public’s perception of the silent cinema. Note that is is possible for a very good film to still cause damage.

My first review? Well, it’s the movie everyone in my locality seems to think of when silents are mention.

Look for it soon!

Recommended

Fun Size Review: The Garden of Eden (1928)

Would-be opera singer Corinne Griffith accidentally gets a job in a girly show. Rescued by seamstress Louise Dresser, the pair escape to Monte Carlo. Passing herself off as Louise’s aristocratic daughter, Corinne falls for rich boy Charles Ray. But how long can Louise and Corinne keep up the act? Bubbly, zany and thoroughly Jazz Age, this romantic comedy is a wacky blast of fun. Don’s miss this proto-screwball.
Continue reading “Fun Size Review: The Garden of Eden (1928)”

Blogging awards and what to do about them

If you are new to blogging, you may notice badges on a website’s sidebar. Versatile Blogger, Liebster, Super Sweet Blogging Award… But what are they? Who gives them out? How can you get one? Do you want one at all?

Here is an easy guide with the newcomer in mind.

What are the awards?

They are awards given by bloggers to bloggers. The awards have rules attached that are usually some variation of this:

  • Thank whoever gave you the award and link to their site
  • Answer a certain number of questions and/or share a certain number of personal facts
  • Nominate a certain number of bloggers to receive the award (usually between 10 and 20) and inform them of it by commenting on their latest post
  • Display the award badge on your site

That’s it! You can wear your award!

If I accept, do I have to follow all the conditions?

I guess you are supposed to but most bloggers (myself included) have bent or broken the rules on occasion. Sometimes we just answer the questions and don’t nominate anyone. Sometimes we nominate too many or too few. Remember, this is supposed to be fun!

Who can I nominate?

Some awards have rules as to who can receive the award but most are open to all. I should note, though, that some bloggers do not accept awards.

Why would anyone refuse an award?

Here’s the thing: Blogging awards are quite time-consuming. It may not sound like much but it can really eat into blogging time. Some bloggers just don’t care for the concept, which is fine. Others have received so many that they no longer accept new ones. Don’t worry though. Bloggers who do not accept awards generally know how to graciously decline them.

Three good reasons to accept blogging awards (especially if you are new to blogging)

I absolutely respect the decisions of bloggers who do not accept awards but I am going to list three reasons why newer bloggers should seriously consider participating.

1. It can spike your traffic

You should see a spike in your traffic when you create an award post. Why? Well, the award-giver will probably visit your site, as will their readers. And people just generally like reading about awards. Why do you think the Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy award broadcasts are so popular? Obviously, this is on a smaller scale but you should see a boost in traffic.

2. It can help you network

Giving out awards is a great way to get to know other bloggers. They will appreciate your recognition and support, even if they do not accept the award.

3. It can create links back to your site

When someone accepts an award from you, they will include a link back to your website. This is important for building your search engine ranking (though spammer abuse of links does mean that the ranking rules change once in a while) but it also helps you get more human eyeballs looking at your blog. This makes it all worth it, even if there was no search engine advantage!

(Don’t get too enthusiastic, though. Google does not look kindly on link exchange schemes. Nor should they.)

If you give an award to, say, ten bloggers and three of them write posts on it, you have three posts that are linked directly to your blog. That’s huge for a beginning blogger!

Of course, the most important reason to participate is because it is fun!

Tips on award success

If you have time, write a tiny blurb about the blogs you are nominating. This will make your award page more fun to read and will encourage your readers to visit the nominated sites.

Sample:

Nominee List

Swell Cooking Blog | Mary shares the secrets of her mother’s recipe card box

Swell Book Blog | John blogs about the newest literary fiction releases in reviews of 300 words or less

Swell Movie Blog | Jane reviews classic Japanese film with the newcomer in mind

It is also a good idea to mix up your nominee list once in a while and make sure that you are cycling in new blogs for the award love.

It is also good policy to leave a comment on the blogs of your nominees. Nothing elaborate, just saying that they have been nominated. You may also add a little ending that makes it clear that you do not expect or require them to participate. Synkronicity phrased this very well, I think.

“I hope you will consider this a big thank you and pay it forward to someone who delights you. If you aren’t into this sort of thing, then just know that someone out here admires your work.”

Isn’t that nice?

Well, I hope this helps you deal with the world of blogging awards! Happy blogging!