When a railroad paymaster and the $25,000 in cash he was carrying disappear, returning WWI ace Billy Stokes is put on the case. This independent feature has an all African-American cast and is the only complete surviving feature of the Norman Film Manufacturing Company, a Florida-based studio that specialized in so-called race films.
Vera Reynolds and Julia Faye are a couple of manicurists who end up going “over there” during the First World War. Naturally, army life is more dangerous than either of them imagined.
As everyone knows, posh boys in silent films love nothing better than to marry bareback riders, trapeze artists and the like. In this case, a surgeon with daddy issues falls for an acrobat with double daddy issues. Seems to me that everything could have been solved with some therapy sessions.
Continue reading “Christine of the Big Tops (1926) A Silent Film Review”
Bessie Love is an American college girl who discovers that she is the heiress to a fortune in an obscure little kingdom. While enjoying a last fling in Paris before her inevitable arranged marriage, she runs in Joseph Schildkraut, who is also enjoying a last fling in Paris before his inevitable arranged marriage. I wonder what will come of this.
Continue reading “Young April (1926) A Silent Film Review”
Harry Langdon is a hapless doughboy who does not realize the First World War has ended (he escaped from a POW camp during an armistice celebration) and means to continue the battle in the middle of a Central Europe. As it happens the ruler of this particular country looks just like Harry. Hmm, I wonder what will come of this?
Continue reading “Soldier Man (1926) A Silent Film Review”
Rod La Rocque takes on Fairbanks in this incredibly strange pirate spoof. Mildred Harris is an heiress on the run when it turns out that the only copy of a valuable document is written on her back. Snitz Edwards is her evil uncle and spends the movie chasing her with a sponge. And then Rod and Mildred inadvertently declare war on the United States… Yeah, it’s a strange one.
Continue reading “The Cruise of the Jasper B (1926) A Silent Film Review”
Chronically unfunny “comedian” George K. Arthur plays a boob (in the bumpkin sense, not the anatomical one) who loses his best girl to a smooth bootlegger. Chaos ensues but the main draw is a very young Joan Crawford as the federal agent on the case.
The citizens are terrified! The police are baffled! A costumed criminal known as The Bat has been stalking the city, stealing and murdering with impunity. And a now missing suitcase of money is said to be hidden in an isolated manor house. Do I even need to add that it is a dark and stormy night? This looks like a job for… Jack Pickford?
She’s a sophisticated English girl. He’s a rough-hewn Canadian wheat farmer. She needs a place to go. He needs a wife to help out at the farm. They soon find themselves in a marriage of convenience and then things take a turn for the dark. Underrated upon its initial release, this film has started to build quite a reputation for itself since its rediscovery.
Continue reading “The Canadian (1926) A Silent Film Review”
One of the finest, best-acted and most beautiful mega-epics ever made, Michael Strogoff has catapulted to the top of my favorites list. The compliment is not given lightly. Jules Verne’s red-blooded Siberian adventure comes to life in a lavish screen adaptation. Massive in scale, the film still manages to keep sight of its humanity. It also boasts imaginative editing, skillful performances, innovative camera work and gorgeous tinting and stencil color.
Continue reading “Michael Strogoff (1926) A Silent Film Review”
Poor Charley Chase! He plays Mr. Moose, who is curses with a hideous set of teeth. His wife is equally homely, the owner of a ridiculous schnoz. Two separate sessions of secret plastic surgery later, both husband and wife are knockouts and they immediately decide to have a fling… with each other!
Mary Pickford dusts off her pigtails one last time in her final child role. One of her darkest films, Sparrows tells the tale of a band of orphans who escape from an orphan farm and cross a dangerous gator-infested swamp. A surprisingly moody slice of Southern Gothic from America’s Sweetheart.
Think of this story as Aladdin: Expanded Universe. The tale concerns all the usual Arabian Nights ingredients: princes, lamps, djinn, snakes, caves, enchanted birds… What makes it significant is the way it is presented: via the dainty silhouette figures created by Lotte Reiniger.
Vilma Banky takes on the title role of this Western-set tale of settlers, dams, floods and legal shenanigans. Banky is the prettiest girl in Imperial county. Ronald Colman is the corporate raider from the east who falls for her. A very young Gary Cooper is the local boy who hopes to win her heart. So, just who does win Barbara Worth?
Continue reading “The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926) A Silent Film 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…
Continue reading “The Bells (1926) A Silent Movie Review”
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”
Status: Missing and presumed lost except for the fragments found in the film’s trailer.
This is the very first film adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, filmed a mere four years after it was written. No need to make this a costume picture. The twenties were roaring away as the cameras cranked.
1926 was a banner year for silent film and The Great Gatsby, while praised, seems to have been a bit lost in the shuffle of Beau Geste, Old Ironside, What Price Glory, Night of Love, Flesh and the Devil…
Here are some vintage reviews:
Photoplay particularly praised Lois Wilson as Daisy Buchanan.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of the great war’s aftermath presented unusual film difficulties. Herbert Brenon, the director, has managed to retain much of the feeling of the story. Gatsby comes out of the war to achieve a fortune unscrupulously. He falls, of course, in the end, finding that happiness can’t be won that way. Lois Wilson runs away with the film as the jazzy Daisy Buchanan who flashes cocktails and silken you-know-she-wears-’ems.
The distributor magazine Motion Picture News had this to say:
Every good job has been done by this picture — an adaptation of the novel and play. It offered material which necessitated the intelligent handling of characterization so as to keep its spirit intact. In other winds, it depended upon the director emphasizing the central figure as he was emphasized in the novel and play to approach a “nearly perfect gentleman.” This Herbert Brenon has done and so well has Warner Baxter responded that his performance is quite the best of his career and one of the best of the season.
A tragic figure is Gatsby, a product of the gutter who comes up in the world and tries to assume the culture which only goes with long-established generations of ancestry. The manner in which Brenon works is in showing the mute pride and helplessness of the man in attempting to “belong.” Of course, Baxter has his work cut out for him, too.
It’s a sophisticated story, told with first-rate lights and shadows. The spirit of the original is there with plenty to spare. It has its dramatic moments, its romantic scenes, its contrasts and conflicts. And it is splendidly acted by every member of the cast, including Lois Wilson, Neil Hamilton, William Powell, Hale Hamilton, and Georgia Hale.
You read that cast right. William Powell, Lois Wilson, Georgia Hale…
The New York Times felt that something was missing from the final product:
The screen version of “The Great Gatsby” is quite a good entertainment, but at the same time it is obvious that it would have benefited by more imaginative direction. Although Mr. Brenon has included the tragic note at the end, he has succumbed to a number of ordinary movie flashes without inculcating much in the way of subtlety. Neither he nor the players have succeeded in fully developing the characters.
Zelda Fitzgerald was even less happy with the film (she and her husband walked out):
“We saw ‘The Great Gatsby’ in the movies. It’s ROTTEN and awful and terrible and we left.”
Unfortunately, we will never be able to judge for ourselves. The Great Gatsby is one of the more sought-after lost films of the silent era. It is a shame that it is gone since it would have provided a unique perspective on the novel, as played by the men and women who made up that Lost Generation.
Men of Steel (1926)
Sorry, this is not a Superman movie. However, it just may be even better.
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”
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 historic curio from a strange time when Soviet filmmakers actively sought to create American-style films. This serial, which owes as much to Germany as it does to the U.S.A., involves a plot by capitalists to poison all of Russia. The titular heroine must save the day. Sly commentary is hidden among the action and stunts.
Continue reading “Miss Mend (1926) A Silent Film Review”
Valentino went back to the old Middle East well one more time. Ahmed, the son of the title character of The Sheik, loves a dancer named Yasmin. After coming to believe that she betrayed him to bandits, Ahmed seeks revenge. Valentino-style. Valentino’s final screen appearance is also one of his best.
Continue reading “Son of the Sheik (1926) A Silent Film Review”
Eve (Leatrice Joy) is a tomboy raised on her father’s ship. She dreams of romance but there are no eligible bachelors around. When chance sends the handsome Bill Stanley (William Boyd) her way, she is determined to land him as a husband, even if it means shanghaiing him first!
He’s a Bolshevik. She’s a princess. Can they find love? Of course they will! Riding roughshod over historical accuracy and narrative logic, The Volga Boatman still manages to be a rollicking (if air-headed) good time.