Lost Film Files #16: Far From the Madding Crowd (1915)

Status: Missing and presumed lost

If ever there was a tale to showcase leading men, this is it. Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel features three juicy parts for the boys: The flashy playboy, the mature stalker and the solid (and stolid!) suitor-in-waiting. There is also a doozy of a leading lady part and a few nice supporting roles for actresses as well.

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The Hessian Renegades (1909) A Silent Film Review

Still in his second year of directing, D.W. Griffith delves into the American Revolution in this early Biograph adventure film. An American courier is trying to deliver an important message to General Washington. He seeks refuge with his family but is soon found out and shot. His family must try to deliver his message and save themselves from the licentious Hessians, who include… Mack Sennett?
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Fun Size Review: Judex (1916)

Have a spare 5 hours? Sure you do! For this you do. Legendary French serial expert Louis Feuillade creates the crazy-addictive tale of a caped crusader, a vamping criminal mastermind and some really cute kids. Judex is a mysterious avenger out to right the wrongs performed by a corrupt banker. It starts with threatening notes and escalates to murder (or does it?). Fast, funny, exciting and highly addictive.

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Fun Size Review: Little Annie Rooney (1925)

Mary Pickford: Tenement kid, daughter of an Irish cop. William Haines: Big brother of her arch-rival and a would-be gangster. Mary loves William. He thinks she’s a kid. However, when he is framed for the murder of Mary’s father, she is the only one who can save him. Haines and Pickford are cute as proverbial bugs (could they be anything else?) but the thin plot does not use them to their full potential.

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Fun Size Review: The Love Flower (1920)

D.W. Griffith offers adventure, romance, exotic climes, a leering camera and Carol Dempster to the viewing public. The viewing public says: “Thanks but no thanks.” Carol is a zany teen determined to save her father from a murder charge in this kitchen sink (as in everything but) caper. Oh, Dad’s guilty, Carol just doesn’t want him arrested. Unlikable characters, an inexperienced leading lady and far too little Richard Barthelmess doom this picture. Dempster is good at the stunts. Acting, not so much.

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Silent Movie Bookshelf: Oh, Doctor! by Harry Leon Wilson

Harry Leon Wilson is not a household name nowadays but back in the ‘teens and twenties he was a popular novelist and many of his books were adapted into movies. His books often featured prissy, emotionally immature heroes who were saved from their plights by spunky young ladies. (You can read my review of Wilson’s most famous novel, Merton of the Movies, here.) Oh, Doctor! was adapted in 1925 by Universal. The film starred Reginald Denny and Mary Astor.

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Fun Size Review: Captain January (1924)

Hobart Bosworth plays an old lighthouse keeper who has adopted the castaway, Baby Peggy. Local do-gooders are annoyed at his unorthodox parenting but he and little Peggy love one another. However, what will happen when Peggy’s real family comes to claim her? Sweet but never simpering. Heart-warming but never trite. This is family entertainment that the grown-ups can enjoy too. Highly recommended.

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Silent movie review process

I have had a few fellow bloggers ask some technical questions of me so I thought it would be fun to do a post all about my movie review method, such as it is.

Film selection

Are the films that I review new to me or not? About 25% of the time they are. The rest of the time, they are films that I have seen before and filed away as to-be-reviewed. There are a few films that I have seen but do not plan to review for various reasons. However, generally speaking, if I watch it, I will eventually review it.

I always re-watch a film before I write a review. Memories are slippery things and there are always nuances and details that I had forgotten.

I am most likely to review American films of the silent feature period (1915-1929) but I like to step out of my comfort zone for variety. I try to balance my reviews between the famous and the lesser-known.

Note-taking

I usually take notes as I watch (or re-watch) the movie I am reviewing. Silent films take a lot of concentration, though, so most of my notes are 3-5 word reminders to bring out a particular element or to research a topic. For example, while I was reviewing The Bells, my notes were something like this:

Exact shot in Caligari

Research mesmerist role in play

Blood on snow, understated

And so forth.

Research

If the film is based on a novel or play, I like to read the original source material, if it is available. One huge advantage is that most of the books that inspired silent films are in the public domain and are easy to access. Reading the original material gives me insight on what the scenario author was thinking and why they made the decisions that they did. I find that what they leave out is just as interesting as what they keep in. Plus, I have an excuse to read!

I also try to track down information on the making of the film. My best sources for this are autobiographies and interviews. I also look through my collection of scholarly works to see if film historians have insight on how the film was made. I try not to read other reviews of the film until after I have written mine because I don’t want to color my views.

Screen captures

I use WinDVD to capture sample images from films. I consider screen captures to be essential when reviewing silent movies. Silent cinema was such a visual medium and the pictures help the reader enjoy some of the beauties that these films have to offer. Naturally, these images are for the purpose of criticism and commentary.

I also use WinDVD to capture my GIFs and then I edit them in Photoshop. I try to find little moments that really capture the flavor of the film I am reviewing.

Read it out loud

This trick is often overlooked but incredibly valuable. I like to read whatever I write out loud. It helps me to get rid of awkward sentences and typos. It also helps me catch repeated words. Do I still make mistakes? Of course! But reading out loud helps me catch the major ones before I hit the “Publish” button.

Let it rest

I like to let my reviews rest for at least a week before I publish them. I am one of those people who does best with time to sort out thoughts and opinions. The extra rest time allows me to consider my review and to look at it with fresh eyes. Sometimes what seemed like a clever quip was actually a little mean. Sometimes a theme from the film that was not obvious at first becomes clear. Whatever the reason, I think that my reviews benefit from the resting period.

I generally have one month of posts written ahead of time. However, if a sudden whim overtakes me, I revise my schedule to accommodate it.

Lost Film Files #14: Gang War (1928)

Status: Missing and presumed lost

Jack Pickford (little brother of Mary) stars with Olive Borden in this gangster film, his final motion picture appearance. With the success of Underworld, all things gangland were popular and profitable. The demand for the genre would, of course, only increase with the coming of sound and the introduction of Cagney, Robinson and Raft, among others.

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Announcement of New Feature: After the Silents

I am very excited to announce a new feature for the site: After the Silents.

What is it? It will involve brief reviews covering sound movies that feature silent era performers and directors.

I got the idea for this feature in two parts. First, I noticed as I was doing research using sites like IMDB and Wikipedia that one phrase kept cropping up: “One of the few silent era performers to make it into talkies.” I read the phrase in dozens of articles in a row! Now anyone familiar with silent movies and early talkies knows that lots of silent era performers made the jump, albeit sometimes with diminished prestige. This “one of the few” talk may seem like a small issue but it bugged me all the same.

The second part of the idea came when Joey over at The Last Drive In asked me to join her William Castle Blogathon. William Castle, of course, made no silent films but I noticed that he had made quite a few films with actors who had been active in the silents.

Eureka! Why not talk a bit about films that featured former silent actors?

Here are my goals for this new feature:

  • Introduce readers to a silent actor whose sound work has been forgotten
  • Reacquaint readers with a famous sound-era actor whose silent work has been forgotten
  • Help viewers dive into the silents. I think it is much easier for newer viewers of silents to enjoy them if they see one of their favorite sound-era performers.

I plan to keep reviews short and, after a brief review of the overall film, focus on the work of the former silent stars and director. I intend to review films that are either representative of the performer’s sound career or are the most famous sound films that they acted in.

My first after the silents review? Here’s hint:

Actually, this gives the whole game away but enjoy anyway! I will be posting it soon.

Oh, and if you blog, do be sure to sign up for that William Castle blogathon!

Fun Size Review: Why Change Your Wife? (1920)

Gloria Swanson has a problem. Her husband, Thomas Meighan, has purchased her a negligee! The degenerate! And he listens to fox trot music, if you please! Thomas is soon driven into the waiting arms of Bebe Daniels. Realizing her mistake, Gloria dons designer duds in a bid to win him back. Cecil B. DeMille’s best marital comedy, it is spunky and fast-paced. Excellent performances by all the leads make the film memorable. Worth seeing for Bebe and Gloria’s costumes alone.

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The Bells (1926) A Silent Movie Review

Lionel Barrymore is Mathias, a kindly Alsatian innkeeper who is being crushed by debt. Unable to deny his friends loans or his loving daughter small luxuries, Mathias is on the edge of destitution. When a rich man stops briefly at the inn (with a fortune in gold on his person), Mathias drunkenly robs and murders him. All his problems are solved. Except for that little thing called a conscience…
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Silent Movie Bookshelf: The Keystone Kid by Coy Watson, Jr.

If you are a fan of classic films, you have probably seen one of the Watsons in a movie. Mother, father and all nine children were involved in the motion picture industry from the moment it came to California. Coy Watson Jr. was the oldest of the Watson siblings and he made his acting debut in a Keystone comedy at the tender age of nine months! His siblings were (in birth order) Vivian, Gloria, Louise, Harry, Billy, Delmar, Garry and Bobs. Between them, the children appeared in over 1,000 films!

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