Whew! Finished reimagining the Nolan Batman trilogy as silent films. Here is the movie that started it all.
Elliott Dexter’s character in A Romance of the Redwoods is not a good man or a good bad man. He is a bad bad man. You know the type. Burns people with his cigar, tries to chop off their finger, the whole enchilada.
That being said, this is exactly my reaction if anyone tries to take my buttered popcorn Jelly Bellies.
This is everything I love about John Barrymore in one convenient GIF.
Here is the formula:
1 part Don Juan
1/2 part Mr. Hyde
1 part Hamlet
2 parts Daffy Duck
The GIF is from Tempest, one of my favorite Barrymore vehicles. (You can read my review here) While not as zany as his performance in The Beloved Rogue, it still has just enough goofiness to keep things interesting. You can never accuse the man of being boring!
Prudence, the Pirate (1916)
Gladys Hulette gets another adorable vehicle in the form of Prudence, the Pirate. The plot involves a pirate-obsessed young lady who gets out of an arranged marriage by hiring a ship (complete with crew) and proclaiming herself a pirate captain. She then kidnaps her would-be suitor and forces him to swab the deck! The young man finally proves himself when a fire breaks out on the ship and he saves Prudence, thus proving his worth.
Moving Picture World thought the film was good entertainment:
In “Prudence, the Pirate” Gladys Hulette has a youthful role finely fitted to her tender years— surely as Prudence she looks not more than sixteen, and it is a more or less commonly accepted fiction that a female is only as old as she looks The story is by Agnes Johnson. It is a craftsmanlike piece of work, especially that part of It which is devoted to the draughting of the leaders. These have more than a distinct comedy flavor; there is always present the literary touch Miss Hulette is supported among others by Flora Pinch and Riley Chamberlin. These two unusually clever character actors prove to be Just the team that one knowing their individual capacity for mirthmaking would be led to expect. The general result Is worthwhile. “Prudence the Pirate” will make good entertainment.
Miss Hulette as Prudence shows marked skill in comedy interpretation. She has the pep and abandon of young girlhood Prudence Is romantic, with a leaning to the piratical. She imposes her pranks on relatives and servants alike. Her mis- adventures have the natural effect of indefinitely postponing her formal debut In society even while her feminine ways are hastening the ensnaring of the smitten Astorbilt.
Miss Finch is seen as the prim aunt who unsuccessfully tries to keep her niece within the bounds of conventionality; but who likewise finds her matchmaking ambitions gratified when Prudence in her own way secures the hand-picked prize Mr Chamberlin Is Meeks, the family butler. Meeks loses his standing as a temperance advocate when on the Invitation of Prudence he looks on the punch when it is red; his position is placed in still greater jeopardy when the hastily gathered pirate crew of the Bucket of Blood kidnaps him and carries him away to don a pirate’s garb. Barnett Parker is Astorbilt; he does a good bit of character drawing of the wealthy young man none too strong in his masculinity. Yet he does not overdo the part. The remainder of the cast gives satisfactory support.
Wid’s Film and Film Folk was quite enthusiastic:
I believe that you can feel pretty safe in booking this because it is different. It is just a light comedy with a ‘melo’ climax, but the idea is different and I would say that any average audience would enjoy it. As to box-office value, there is a question as to whether or not Miss Hulette’s name will pull, since she is rather a newcomer to the ranks of stardom. I would depend almost entirely upon playing up the unusual situation of a society debutante, who, in seeking an adventure, chartered a schooner and set out as a sure-enough pirate craft. That sounds very interesting, and on that alone you should be able to pull considerable business. Use Miss Hulette’s picture generally, and ask the question: ‘Can you imagine this young lady commanding an honest-to-goodness pirate crew? She did it! That was her idea of a good time.
The Morning Telegraph liked the film but found the scenario to be cliche-ridden:
Agnes C. Johnston has set about writing her story as though she had never seen a moving picture in her life and didn’t know that by every screen convention the millionaire should have been the villain and Prue’s young admirer, the hero. As it is, there is not a commonplace character or a hackneyed situation in the whole picture; the people are all human beings and the comedy is lively, good humored and original. As for the subtitles, many of them are good laughs in themselves.
Unfortunately, no word exists on whether this film is still with us. Too bad, it looks like a blast!
William S. Hart hangs up his cowboy hat in this cops-and-robbers tale of post-War San Francisco. Hart is a veteran and ex-crook who comes back from his doughboy stint a changed man. The robber is now a cop and he is forced to investigate his old friends and his own family. Good enough but no classic. Worth it for vintage footage of San Francisco.
If it were a dessert it would be:
Rocky Road Ice Cream. You got your cool stuff, your dark stuff and your fun stuff. An old hat but welcome all the same.
Read my full-length review.
Come on, who wouldn’t trust these guys?
Me, that’s who! I wouldn’t trust them. They couldn’t look less trustworthy if they were selling used cars!
These scheming gentlemen are from The Doll and they are indeed up to no good. In fact, they are conspiring to steal the hero’s fortune. Ernst Lubitsch does it again in this delightful 1919 comedy.
(You can read my full review of the film here.)
Me? Go over there with you? No, thank you!
Poor Leatrice Joy’s attempts to be a player are met with utter failure in Eve’s Leaves. The object of her affections (William Boyd) considers her pesky and would rather risk piratical attack than spend one more minute with her. I would call that a bad sign. The worst.
Of course, you know they are going to end up together, right?
Bonus! This is a great GIF for turning down invitations. If you don’t mind burning bridges with the host, that is.
You asked for it and here it is! My idea of what The Dark Knight Rises would have been like if it had been released in 1927. (You can see my poster for The Dark Knight here)
Valentino’s career was revitalized by going… Russian? Yep, this Robin Hood tale turned out to be an ideal vehicle for him. Valentino is heroic, romantic and surprisingly funny (he had an underused gift for comedy). Essentially a dress rehearsal for Son of the Sheik. Vilma Banky was a marvelous leading lady but the show was thoroughly stolen by Louise Dresser as a man-eating Catherine the Great. A film for anyone who thinks they don’t like Rudolph Valentino.
If it were a dessert it would be:
Champagne Truffles. Sparkling and sophisticated yet fun-loving.
Read my full-length review here.
More Bolshevik trash talk from the one and only William Boyd, aka Hopalong Cassidy. In case you didn’t already notice, I find this casting to be infinitely amusing.
The setup is as follows: Aristocrat Elinor Fair thinks William Boyd’s muscly peasant is pretty easy on the eyes. Her fiance, Victor Varconi, realizes this is true and, spurred by jealousy, messes with Mr. Boyd’s face. Boo! I mean, Boyd doesn’t end up like Gwynplaine or anything but still!
In any case, the “Our blood now, your blood later” thing is some splendidly over-the-top threatening!
Bebe Daniels stars as a hypochondriac heiress who is threatened with a move to a ranch in Texas. She flees to what she thinks is a convalescent home but finds herself trapped on an island with a gang of rum runners– led by a pre-fame William Powell. Bebe doesn’t realize the danger she is in until it is too late. Will she be able to save herself and her only ally, Richard Arlen?
Continue reading “Feel My Pulse (1928) A Silent Film Review”
I was reading through 1927 issues of Photoplay magazine (as one does) and I came across a capsule review for the Marion Davies vehicle The Red Mill.
Here is the interesting part of the review:
Here is a fairly amusing comedy with the star giving a cheery performance of the Holland hoyden. Incidentally, the direction is the work of William Goodrich, who is no other than Fatty Arbuckle under his newer megaphone cognomen.
You see, I always had the impression that Arbuckle’s William Goodrich years were an open secret among Hollywood folks but not known to the general public. The scandal that destroyed his career was a doozy (although the poor man was almost surely innocent). However, here is a mainstream entertainment magazine trumpeting the new identity.
You learn something new every day.
A director must be able to coax just the right performance out of actors and actresses. During the silent era, directors were even able to coach their cast while the cameras were rolling. In fact, the loss of this reassuring voice in the talkies is often cited by silent-era actors as a major reason why they did not enjoy working in sound as much.
However, that doesn’t mean that the direction was always ideal. Here is a gentle send-up of silent era directors.
Another great moment from Show People.
Welcome to a new series! As you know, I have joined several blogging organizations in the past few months and have become acquainted with many fellow movie fans. I thought it would be fun to profile some of them. I am starting with the Classic Movie Blog Association but will probably branch out.
Aurora celebrates the golden age of Hollywood!
Focus: Classic films and Hollywood with special TCM emphasis
Features: Movie reivews, festival reports, galleries and star biographies
Bonus!: Aurora guested on my blog a few weeks ago with a rebuttal to my review of A Romance of the Redwoods. It was pretty swell.
Rudolph Valentino’s early death at the height of his career was a tragedy. It also opened up a floodgate of what-if’s. Would he have survived the transition to sound? Would his career have fizzled even before that?
Me? I think he would have survived. Mr. Valentino had a talent for light comedy, when he was allowed, and he could sing. During the talkie transition, musicals were the absolute rage.
Here is Rudy serenading Agnes Ayres in The Sheik. And, as a special bonus, here is the 1923 recording of him singing the very song quoted in the intertitles, Kashmiri Song.
Hope that brightens your day.
I am in a bit of a quandary and was hoping that my readers would be able to help me out.
I belong to the Classic Movie Blog Association and every year, they have the CiMBA awards to honor members. This is my very first year of membership so I am still finding my way around.
Here’s how it works: There are seven categories. Bloggers may pick up to four of those categories and self-nominate one post per category.
This is where you come in. The self-nominating is a little difficult for me. I wrote this stuff and feel like I need outside opinions. Any help would be enormously appreciated.
Which review should I self-nominate?
The review category is divided into two: Drama or Musical/Comedy. Here are some of the ones I was thinking of:
The Doll (comedy)
Alias Jimmy Valentine (drama)
The Bells (drama)
The Prisoner of Zenda (drama)
Show People (comedy)
Remember, this is based on the review, not how much I love the film. So, these are the reviews that I think I did the best job on. (I am so uncomfortable with this!)
Which article should I self-nominate?
Stolen Bravery (I actually like this review best but I wasn’t sure if an image-based post was in the spirit of the awards)
Which series should I self-nominate?
Silent Take (modern films recast as silent movies)
About Silent Movies (most common questions about silent films answered)
After the Silents (reviews of sound movies with silent veterans in the cast and mini-bios of the performers in question)
Silent Movie Myths (common misconceptions about silent movies debunked)
What you can do
You can offer suggestions in the comments or use this handy form.
Thanks for your help!
PS, the fourth topic I am going to self-nominate is Best Classic Movie Blog Design.
I’m back with more search engine queries! This time, I am going to be answering questions related to silent films themselves.
Who are the people in silent film?
Number of silent movies presumed lost?
Exaggerated silent film acting?
How to get into silent films?
How to make a silent film.
Let’s get started!
Who are the people in silent film?
A lot of people worked in silent film and it would be impossible to list them all in a single post. However, if you are curious, the venerable Silent Ladies & Silent Gents is a fabulous resource, as is Silents Are Golden.
Number of silent movies presumed lost?
A lot of silent films are lost. Some put the percentage as high as 90%. However, it is impossible to say for sure since there is no exhaustive catalog of every single silent film print in the world. Sometimes, a missing film has simply been sitting in an archive in an unlabeled canister. Film preservation was not a priority in the early history of film and we are still suffering from the aftereffects of that neglect.
So, it would be impossible to give an exact number of lost films. If you want more details on how films are lost and how they can be found again, here is my introductory article on the subject.
Exaggerated silent film acting?
I’m actually uncomfortable using that word to describe silent film acting. You see, a few generations of people snickering at the silents has meant that, to most people, silent movie acting involves, well, this:
Never mind that this is Victorian stage melodrama acting and never mind that silent films were often spoofing this style.
Silent film actors engaged in the very challenging art of pantomime and the best ones could get their message across with astonishing accuracy. Yes, the emotions are portrayed more powerfully but that was due to the nature of the craft.
Of course, there were stage holdovers in the silents who insisted on overdoing it. And there were actors who were purposely camping it up. And, finally, there were indeed some bad actors in silent movies. Like today. You got movies? You probably have a few bad actors. That’s how life works. However, it would be unfair to judge the entire art by a few hams and turkeys.
How to get into silent films?
It can seem a bit daunting. Silent movies are very different from sound films and take more concentration to watch. I usually recommend starting with comedies from one of the masts like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaon, Harold Lloyd or Harry Langdon. If you want more details, I have a list of tips and recommendations for first-time watchers.
How to make a silent film.
Amateur filmmaking is not a modern hobby. It was a pretty popular hobby in the silent era and there were multiple books published on the subject. I actually collect them and have reviewed quite a few of them. Check out my book section for reviews.
In the meantime, here are a few tips that will make your silent film more accurate:
The ratio is not one line of dialogue to one intertitle
Silent movies expected their audiences to read lips. This was for a few reasons. First, many fillmakers felt that onscreen titles spoiled the flow and rhythm of a film and tried to minimize them. Others found audience lipreading was a way to include dialogue that would otherwise be censored.
Please do not tie women to tracks
Or I will be forced to hit you with a trout.
Don’t neglect the great outdoors
Silent films did not have to worry about sound equipment and outdoor scenery was cheap and plentiful.
I hope these answers were helpful and get you started on the right track with silent movies.
A silent movie blogger on a radio show! Will this cause the world to explode? I had great fun but was forced to finally take a side in the great Chaplin vs. Keaton debate. Thanks to Dan Delgado for having my on the show!
The wonderful Marion Davies delights in Show People. This time, her character is showing off her acting skills by reading bad news in a letter. It takes a very good actress to pull off playing such a bad actress, I say.
This is basically how I look when I get my phone bill and discover that I have gone over my data plan. Or, I should say, how I used to look in the olden days when you needed a paper bill to monitor your usage.
I enjoyed True Grit as a book and I loved the 2010 adaptation. The ‘teens were a golden time for the western film and so I decided to work with the year 1917 in mind.
I blog about a niche topic within a niche topic. Classic movie blogs are niche enough but I specialize in silent movies.
Want to know my favorite kind of comment?
“I have never seen/wasn’t interested in seeing/only have seen a few silent movies but I want to see this one.”
It makes me so happy to read this. But how do you get people to take that first look at your site? I am going to share some of the tricks that have worked for me. Some of them have already been covered in my post on increasing your blog’s traffic but I am going to revisit them with broadening blog audiences in mind.
How widely do you want to spread your blog?
That is the most important thing to consider is how far you are willing to spread your blog’s topics. If you blog about cooking, would it make sense to add sections on gardening, entertaining or travel? Only you know the answer to that.
Let’s cover some risks of stepping out of your niche:
You risk alienating your core fans: If your most devoted fans only want to read about cooking, suddenly adding a lot of semi-related posts will make them less likely to return.
You risk unfocusing your blog: If you add too many new topics or topics that are not closely related to your main theme, you risk losing focus on your blog. A new visitor must be able to immediately know what your blog is about. And if your blog is purposely eclectic, say so on the landing page.
Here are some rewards:
You might get readers who may never have visited your blog otherwise: Sure, you have loyal readers for your articles on French cheesemaking but adding reviews of supermarket cheeses will give you access to a much broader readership.
You might find yourself having fun: Writing a regular blog is a challenge, even for the most passionate. Thinking of ways to expand your topic can make your blog new to you once again.
Eclectic content and off-topic posts are fun to write and read. However, when you are expanding your content, never forget the original purpose of your blog. Venture out but don’t forget to come home again.
(Of course, there are cases of blogs changing their purpose entirely but that was a decision made by their creators, not the result of too many topics. And, again, some blogs are purposely eclectic.)
Adding new topics and features
What new topics and features? Again, it depends on your blog. In my case, I wanted to make silent movies more real and relevant to modern viewers who may not necessarily be film buffs. Figure out your target and then try to come up with ideas that will appeal to them.
You have a blog on classic English literature. You decide that you want more non-readers to take a look at your site. You decide to start reviewing modernized film versions of the classics.
You have a blog on fine cooking. You decide that you want to appeal to the busy mom/dad reader. You decide to start posting about quick and easy shortcuts that bring gourmet food to a busy household.
In my case, I started reviewing modern sound films that featured silent movies in their plots.
Varying post length and branch into other media
If you are regularly writing 1,000+ word posts, consider interspersing smaller, more digestible posts. Someone who is new to your blog may hesitate to commit to a 2,500 word review but will be more than happy to look at a 350 word feature. Plus, the challenge of having fewer words available is a great writing exercise.
Also consider varying your content. What do I mean? Well, if you are a passionate blogger, you are using the written word. Have you considered adding images to the mix? Movie stills, vintage illustrations, animated GIFs…
By the same token, if you are an image-centric blogger, maybe consider adding a small amount of written content to mix things up.
Videos are powerful and search engines love ’em. Just be sure that the video is either in the public domain or is otherwise authorized to be posted. Of course, your own videos would not have copyright issues, assuming you follow the rules of your video hosting service. (Here is the official word on Fair Use; the actual definition of it varies from site to site.)
Test drive your content
I’ve mentioned before that I belonged to a small writers group and that it helped my writing a lot. Here’s why.
The group consisted of four women, not including me. We were all from different backgrounds and were different ages. We all wrote on different topics. Only one of the ladies had ever seen a silent film. What did this mean? I got to test out my reviews on an audience who did not know Wallace Reid from Sessue Hayakawa. If my references were too vague or too obviously intended for insiders, they would tell me so.
You see, as a fan of your subject, you may take for granted that your audience will understand your references and jokes. Am I advocating talking down to your readers? Heavens, no! What I am saying is that it helps me a lot to try to imagine a newcomer reading one of my posts. Would it be clear and fun to read? It should be.
While I no longer belong to a writers group, I think I benefited from my membership. In addition to helping with the basic craft of writing, it also helped me to see my work with fresh eyes.
Sessue Hayakawa deserves a lot of credit for moving film acting away from stagy gestures and toward more natural emotions. In this scene, he filled his mind with anger, acting with his eyes. He is electrifying, especially compared to his overacting co-stars. Even though The Cheat is (and was) an incredibly insensitive film, it is an amazing showcase for Mr. Hayakawa’s astonishing talent.
(The Japanese government successfully pressured Paramount to change Hayakawa’s character from Japanese to Burmese when the film was re-released. No word on what the Burmese government thought of this.)
He laughs at the beer glasses in this hick town. Honestly, the nerve of some people!
Alias Jimmy Valentine is a pretty serious movie overall, what with its emphasis on robbery, death and redemption. However, it is not without its little humorous passages.
You can read my full review of the film here.
Jimmy Valentine (Robert Warwick) belongs to a gang of bank-robbers– his job is to crack safes and he is the best in the business. After a stint in Sing Sing, however, Jimmy sees the error of his ways and decides to live an honest life. However, his old nemesis Doyle (Robert Cummings), a surly detective, has a chance to haul Jimmy in on an old charge. Will Jimmy’s life of honesty go to waste? Or will he be able to bluff his way to freedom?
The Night of Love (1927)
Status: Samuel Goldwyn donated a print of this film to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1956, it is the only known copy in existence. The film has been shown at festivals and special screenings but has never been released to the general public.
The film was praised for its original plot but it sounds fairly generic to me. Ronald Colman is a Spanish gypsy whose bride is abducted by a despotic duke. Wanting to exact vengeance, Colman steals the duke’s new bride, Vilma Banky. Three guesses as to how this one turns out.
However, what the plot lacks in originality, it seems to more than make up for in beauty and enthusiasm. Director George Fitzmaurice is best remembered for directing Miss Banky and Rudolph Valentino in Son of the Sheik, which was pretty similar material.
Motion Picture News liked what it saw:
There’s a fine costume love story on view in “The Night of Love,” which presents Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky again in the best film they’ve appeared since “The Dark Angel.” Marked with fine photography, gorgeous settings and compact and stirring action it is certain to move any spectator, no matter how hard-boiled, to remark: “Here’s a picture!” It has been staged with a lavish hand but its expenditure is perfectly in keeping with its story of rich adventure in old Spain. This is one instance where the background doesn’t run away with the plot. There are such tales as this — and a few have served as themes to attract light opera lovers. What is sauce for the stage is also sauce for the screen. What really matters is that it tells its story with- out making heavy footprints around Robin Hood’s barn and tells it with moving scenes and gripping suspense. There is a lecherous duke who kidnaps a gypsy’s bride on her wedding night. She kills herself to escape him, whereupon the rogue of the open road vows vengeance. He exacts it by stealing the duke’s newest spouse and winning her love. That ‘s all there is to it, but before the ending arrives the spectator is in for a display of rich scenes and much excitement.
Photoplay was enthusiastic:
The Night of Love is full of beauty, emotional thrills, and good acting, and, praise be, it is a new story. Vilma Banky is ravishingly beautiful and Ronald Colman is the perfect gypsy hero. What a combination, those two. It’s a gypsy story of the seventeenth century, but do not let that stop you, for it grips you from the first foot of film until the last. It’s over all too soon. The tale is woven around the feudal right of the Duke of a Spanish province to hold all brides at his castle on their wedding day while the poor vassal groom gnashes his teeth in rage, and Montagu Love plays the Duke with such realism that you’re unhappy until the gypsy lover puts an end to his rascally life. George Fitzmaurice’s direction is exquisite. Don’t miss this.
Here’s hoping that the film is made more widely available soon!
Okay, okay, just back away slowly. Keep calm. Don’t startle him….
This scene always kind of cracked me up. Agnes Ayres is not exactly clad for escape but then again, Rudolph Valentino isn’t really clad for pursuit. Knee breeches are just impractical in my opinion. Yes, I realize revolutions were fought and won in them but I dare say most gentlemen would prefer longer trousers. On the plus side, I totally love this impractical but stunning dress! Absolutely gorgeous.
On a side note, this scene reminded me of Norma Shearer lunging at the camera in the final scene of The Women.
I previously posted this in three parts. Here are all the story cards in one easy post.
Why bother to really watch a movie when you have all the tools on hand to pretend that you watched it! Here is the quick and easy guide to The Sheik, Valentino’s signature film (for better or for worse).
Him: You’re cute.
Her: I am culturally, morally and ethnically superior. (pulls gun)
Him: We can settle this debate in the desert– OF LOVE! (grabs her and carries her off to his tent)
Her: Unhand me, you brute! (starts crying)
Him: You shall be my bride, my little calzone!
Her: No, no, a thousand times no! (continues weeping)
Him: She’s upset? But why? Just for that, I’m picking out all her outfits for a week.
Her: Listen, Coco Chanel, I hate you and your stupid cigarette holder.
Him: But I can sing! La la la la la! And, my best friend is coming for a visit.
Her: That’s the last straw. I’m outta here. Oof! Or not.
Him: Hey, what’s the idea? If you had escaped, you would have gotten away!
Her: Just for that, I’m wearing my ugliest dress.
Him: Don’t be mad! I have a present for you! A gun! (gives her a gun)
Her: Golly, he’s not so bad after all.
Him: (to himself) Why isn’t it any fun to annoy her? I’m usually into that sort of thing.
Her: Help! Help! I’ve been kidnapped by someone less handsome than you!
Him: Unhand her, you brute! (gets bashed on head in the process)
Her: Thanks for saving me. Sorry they bashed you on the head and whatnot…
Him: And I’m not even an Arab really!
Her: Oh, you silly bunny! I knew the whole time you were Italian.
Her: Whatever. (kisses him)
I think this is a fairly universal reaction to Ronald Colman. He’s just so… so…
Well, he’s so Ronald Colman!
This is from Her Night of Romance, a Constance Talmadge vehicle. Ronald supplies the romance, Constance supplies the comedy and a reasonably good time is had by all.
Boris Karloff is, of course, best known for his monstrous roles in films like Frankenstein and The Mummy. While his big break came in the talkies, Karloff was quite active in silent films as well. The Walking Dead came along after Karloff had found fame playing assorted creepy characters. While not his most famous film, it contains one of his best performances.