Fun Size Review: Forbidden Fruit (1921)

Cecil B. DeMille embraces the Cinderella story– with his own twist, of course. Agnes Ayres plays a beautiful seamstress hired as the bait in a honey trap designed to keep businessman Forrest Stanley at the negotiating table. What he doesn’t know is that she’s really married to a nasty criminal. Since this is DeMille, we also get a fairy tale fantasy sequence with see-through Rococo costumes. Silly but all in good fun.

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The Pleasures of a Silent Film Fan: The double-takes when they see young Sessue Hayakawa for the first time. Animated GIF

cheat-firelight

There is one indisputable fact in silent cinema: Sessue Hayakawa was one of the handsomest leading men ever to grace the screen. Seriously, hubba-hubba!

In The Cheat, Hayakawa makes the most of his cliched character and his understated performance launched him to stardom. It didn’t last long but what a ride it was! Hayakawa made a triumphant Hollywood comeback after the Second World War, his subtle and powerful acting once more in demand.

However, this means that many movie buffs have only seen him in his fifties or sixties. Mr. Hayakawa at twenty-five? Wow. Looks and talent always packed a punch.

The Cheat is an oddball film, an outlier for director Cecil B. DeMille but one of his most acclaimed films of the ‘teens. It has amazing work for Hayakawa but bizarre histrionics from its official star, the notoriously eccentric Fannie Ward. Still, it’s a dirty little martini of a film and is worth seeing for the cinematography and the real star of the show, Mr. Hayakawa.

(You can read my full-length review here. It also covers the Tallulah Bankhead-helmed remake.)

Availability: The Cheat is available on DVD from Kino Lorber as a double feature with DeMille’s later melodrama, Manslaughter. There is also an out-of-print edition from Image, which pairs it with DeMille’s glorious 1915 version of Carmen. Both editions are highly recommended.

Joan the Woman (1916) A Silent Film Review

Cecil B. DeMille’s first historical epic takes on the life of Joan of Arc. An intriguing, uneven and thoroughly entertaining spectacle, the films stars operatic soprano Geraldine Farrar as the doomed Maid of Orleans and the tragic Wallace Reid as her chief antagonist and romancer-in-chief. What’s that? The real Joan didn’t have a romancer-in-chief? La la la la, not listening!
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Fun Size Review: Chicago (1927)

Before it was a musical, Chicago was a silent film and a rather saucy one at that. Phyllis Haver is on fire as the heartless Roxie Hart, who shoots her lover and spends the rest of the film gaming the legal system to get off scot-free. It’s all very roaring but some concessions to the censors reduce its bite. However, it is still a smashing bit of twenties fun from Cecil B. DeMille, the uncredited director.

chicago-1927-this-is-a-decent-jail

[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for spoilers)” ]Roxie does get off but the press deserts her for a newer, more exciting murderess. Roxie’s husband dumps her for a nicer girl. Roxie is free but alone.[/toggler]

(You can read my full-length review here.)

If it were a dessert it would be:

deep fried oreo

A deep-fried Oreo. No one pretends it is health food but no one claims it is health food. Just sit back and enjoy the naughtiness.

Availability: Chicago received DVD release from Flicker Alley. The two-disc set includes a crisp, beautifully restored print of the film, as well as two documentaries on the 1920s, along with other goodies.

Silent Movie Trivia #16: The Cheat (1915)

Card-16-The-Cheat

The Cheat is a nasty business, a movie without a hero or heroine. Every single character is despicable. I think that’s probably the secret of its longevity. Well, that and the groundbreaking performance of Sessue Hayakawa. As for the leading lady… Well, Fannie Ward was a big star, noted for her ageless beauty. Her performance pales in comparison to her co-star. I wonder if there is any truth to the story that she injected her cheeks with paraffin and had to sit with ice packs on her face to keep it from melting under the hot lights.

Miss Ward was supposedly quite the diva on the set. I think DeMille’s method of coping with her tantrums was ingenious, don’t you?

In any case, The Cheat is famous for a reason and you should definitely check it out, especially if you only know director Cecil B. DeMille for his religious epics.

(Read my full-length review here.)

Availability: There are several editions of this film available. The Kino release pairs the film with DeMille’s Manslaughter. The out-of-print Image edition pairs it with Carmen, another 1915 DeMille title. Both of these editions are excellent and come highly recommended. There is also a solo release from The Video Cellar, which I have not examined.

Fun Size Review: The Whispering Chorus (1918)

whispering-chorus-cecil-b-demille-1918-image-32

A dark, gritty and stylish tale of dishonesty, conscience and capital punishment directed by… Cecil B. DeMille? Yes, things are very dark indeed in the tidy little drama. It’s about a bookkeeper who fakes his own death after embezzling from his employer. Basically, It’s a Wonderful Life in reverse as he discovers that everyone he loves is actually better off with him out of the picture. Oh, and then he gets sentenced to the chair for murdering himself. Will he be rescued in time?

[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for a spoiler)” ]In the first unselfish move of his life, he allows himself to be executed so that his wife (who remarried after her husband’s “body” was found) will not be accused of bigamy.[/toggler]

(You can read my full-length review here.)

If it were a dessert it would be:

 

(via bhg.com)
(via bhg.com)

Pineapple Berry Hobo Pack. Embraces its grit and the result is something rather tasty.

Availability: The high-quality Image edition is available on DVD and via streaming. There is also a bargain release from Alpha, which can be had for a few dollars.

Fun Size Review: The Squaw Man (1914)

squaw-man-1914-cecil-b-demille-image-31

Cecil B. DeMille’s debut film is pretty rough going. Crude, stereotyped and more than a little confusing, it still boasts some strong ingredients. The California scenery is lovely, the likable performance of Red Wing as the wife of the hero (a Native American woman playing a Native American woman, fancy that), and the dusty authenticity that early silent features wore so well. A historical artifact but an interesting one.

[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for spoilers)” ]Red Wing shoots herself (boo!) and the hero returns to home to England.[/toggler]

(Read my full-length review here.)

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via marthastewart.com)
(via marthastewart.com)

Apple Pandowdy. Old-fashioned, not going to win any beauty contests but welcome all the same.

Availability: There are lots of bargain and public domain versions out there but do yourself a favor and get the Warner Archive release. It pairs the 1914 version with its 1931 remake and boasts a beautiful print and wonderful score.

I like him, he’s silly. Animated GIF

carmen-he-is-crazy

During the middle of the 1910s, there was a stampede of stage stars. Movies were becoming feature length and were starting to be considered respectable entertainment. The easier working conditions and high salaries made the work very attractive to folks in the legitimate theater who may have sniffed at the movies previously.

Of course, breaking into the motion pictures was not as easy as it looked. Star after star discovered that stage popularity did not always translate into strong movie returns. However, there were some notable successes. The Farnum brothers became early heartthrobs, Carlyle Blackwell enjoyed enormous popularity and Fannie Ward packed movie houses. One of the most successful transitions was also one of the most unlikely. Geraldine Farrar was a famed operatic soprano. While lively and attractive, she did not have movie star looks. How would she do without her glorious voice?

Very, very well, as it turns out. Cecil B. DeMille’s saucy take on the opera Carmen proved to be an ideal vehicle for the talented Miss Farrar. Rather than a fiery girl, Farrar’s Carmen is a mature woman who gleefully takes the much younger Don Jose (Wallace Reid, nine years her junior) for the buggy ride of his life. In this case, she is amused at his declarations of eternal love. She only needs you for an afternoon, sonny boy.

(You can read my full-length review here.)

Availability: The film has received a high-quality DVD release from Video Artists International. This release uses a 35mm print and features an orchestral score based on the Bizet opera. There is also the Image release, currently out-of-print, which is of similar quality and pairs the film with another 1915 DeMille hit, The Cheat.

Fun Size Review: The Road to Yesterday (1925)

We're going to kill that little so-and-so.

Terrible script? Check! Terrible title cards? Check! Weird plot? Check! Tons of fun? You bet! Cecil B. DeMille’s wacky time travel romance makes absolutely no sense but that is all just part of the fun. A modern flapper is on the outs with her minister boyfriend (he is just ruining her reputation!) and it looks like all is lost until a train crash catapults them to… sixteenth century England? William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd’s first starring role under the DeMille banner.

road-to-yesterday-1925-excuse-me-reverend

[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for a spoiler)” ]Everyone dies in the past but then wakes up, having learned their lesson. Love all around![/toggler]

You can read my full-length review here.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via Kraft Recipes)
(via Kraft Recipes)

Chocoflan. Caramel AND chocolate AND cake? Sometimes too much is just enough.

Availability: Received bargain release from Alpha. The print quality is pretty good but a few snippets are missing. Still, when you can grab a copy for just a couple of bucks…

Fun Size Review: Adam’s Rib (1923)

So. Stinkin'. Cute!

Cecil B. DeMille heads back to the bedroom in this romantic comedy. Anna Q. Nilsson is stepping out on her husband, Milton Sills. Meanwhile, their flapper daughter is in hot pursuit of a bespectacled paleontologist who just wants to be left to his dinosaur bones (and who, she remarks, is very good looking without his glasses). Hmm, that sounds familiar… (Would it come as a surprise if I said Howard Hawks worked for DeMille?) An uneven affair, especially in the third act, but good actors save the day.

Oh, and no relation to the Tracy-Hepburn vehicle of the same name.

(You can read my full-length review here.)

adams-rib-product-of-woman-suffrage

[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for a spoiler)” ]Nilsson sees the error of her ways and returns to her delighted husband. The flapper nearly loses her nerd when he thinks that SHE is the one having the affair but things get sorted out. Love wins all ’round.[/toggler]

If it were a dessert it would be:

guinness float

Guinness Floats. Variation on a theme. After a few viewings, it beginsh to look real shwell, shee? (hic!)

Availability: After years of languishing in obscurity, it was finally released on DVD.

Silent Movie Trivia #8: Don’t Change Your Husband (1919)

Click to view in lightbox
Click to view in lightbox

This time, we are going to be enjoying trivia from one of Gloria Swanson and Cecil B. DeMille’s decadent collaborations. Together, director and actress did much to make the post-war movie world an opulent world of wealth and spectacle. Behind the scenes, they remained friends and had an enormous amount of mutual respect. Don’t Change Your Husband was their first collaboration.

(You can read my review here.)

In spite of numerous negotiations and near-misses, the duo’s last film together was the 1921 marital dramedy, The Affairs of Anatol. Well, that is until Sunset Boulevard. (Unless you count those tour of Hollywood documentaries and I don’t.) Part of the reason why that film is so fascinating is that it slithers between fiction and reality and you can never be sure which is which. The use of DeMille and Swanson’s real friendship is just one example.

Availability: Don’t Change Your Husband is available on DVD and via streaming.

Silent Movie Rule #6: Don’t you be playing any of that devil music around here!

Thomas Meighan tries to spice up his marriage with Gloria Swanson. His methods? A little music, a little dancing, a new negligee and then… romance, right? Well, Gloria stops him right there. Music? To dance to? Must he be so physical? This is from Why Change Your Wife? Cecil B. DeMille’s best marital comedy.

You can read my review here.

(In fact, I did have someone complain about devil music in my presence. It was Pink Floyd. Really.)

Availability: Released on DVD and via streaming.

Silent Movie Trivia Card #1: Chicago (1927)

Click to open in lightbox

I am getting into the collectible business! Well, digital collectibles anyway. And since these are free, I guess it is really not much of a business. In any case, humor me.

My point is that I thought it would be fun to deliver bite-sized bits of silent movie trivia in a series of cards. Feel free to download, print, share and annoy your friends and relatives with your new-found knowledge.

Before it was a musical, Chicago was a sassy silent film. But how well do you know Roxie Hart and the gang? Enjoy the trivia!

(You can read my review of the rowdy romp that is Chicago here.)

Availability

Love at first sight is easy. Love after a few decades… Animated GIF

adams-rib-love-at-first-sight

Adam’s Rib was one of Cecil B. DeMille’s last silent marital comedies. While not his best, it still has its moments of wit and wisdom. Here, Anna Q. Nilsson is explaining the facts of life to her daughter. Falling in love? Easy. Staying married? Hard. Even if you are married to Milton (sigh) Sills.

However, young Tillie does not take her mother’s advice and is soon off in hot pursuit of a nebbishy paleontologist who just wants to finish his dinosaur skeleton in peace.

Hmm, now where have we heard that before?

(You can read my review of Adam’s Rib here.)

Recommended

She always plays peekaboo… right before she shoots you. Animated GIF

chicago-1927-roxie-peekaboo

Phyllis Haver was the silver screen’s first Roxie Hart and does she ever own the part! The 1927 version of Chicago is a mad bit of twenties wildness and Miss Haver’s performance is a huge part of what makes it a success.

The plot, if you will recall, is that Roxie plugs her lover and then tries to get off the hook with the help of a very clever lawyer. Thought lost for decades, it was rediscovered in the personal archive of Cecil B. DeMille (the film’s uncredited director) and has finally been restored to its rightful place as one of the darlings of the silent movie fandom.

Recommended

Fun Size Review: A Romance of the Redwoods (1917)

romance of the redwoods

Mary Pickford and Cecil B. DeMille combined forces for the first time in this romantic melodrama and the results are mixed. Elliott Dexter is a bandit. Mary Pickford is a little lady. Can they find love? Well, you know they can but what comes first is a rather dark and brutish wooing with a dollop of sleaze. Dexter plays the Good Bad Bad Man a little too well but the film is not without its pluses and the cinematography is lovely.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via wikiHow)
(via wikiHow)

A Dirty Girl Scout. What else could it be?

Read my full-length review here.

Recommended

The Road to Yesterday (1925) A Silent Film Review

Cecil B. DeMille’s first feature from his shiny new studio, The Road to Yesterday is the epic tale of two couples, marital strife, a fiery train wreck, flappers, ministers and a touch of time travel. You know, keeping things simple. It is also notable as the film that started William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd on his path to stardom.

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