Sidney Olcott and Gene Gauntier led an American film troupe to film the life of Christ on location in Egypt and locations throughout the once and future Israel. The result was a hit but the behind-the-scenes story is deserves some attention of its own.
Alice Guy variation on a theme by O. Henry is the story of a small child who tries to save her older sister’s life by prolonging autumn. A lyrical tearjerker and a rare example of Guy’s work from her Solax period.
Jetta Goudal and William Boyd are an aristocratic pair on the outs. Angered by his rejection, Goudal plays a cruel joke on her ex-fiancé—she sets him up with a “lady of the pavements” (Lupe Velez) gussied up as a lady of quality. D.W. Griffith’s final silent film.
Paul Robeson makes his film debut in this Oscar Micheaux melodrama. Robeson plays dual roles: a horrible convict posing as a preacher and his sweet twin brother, a would be inventor. Micheaux’s signature pointed social commentary is on display in this rare surviving film from his silent career.
An oddball melodrama shot on location in Detroit, Eleven P.M. is a rare surviving film from mysterious indie director Richard Maurice. It weaves a tale of gangsters, street musicians, dogs with human heads… Well, you can’t accuse it of being boring.
Sound AND color in 1900? You’d better believe it! This French short showcases cutting edge technology of its day and is also the only know screen appearance of Benoît-Constant Coquelin (known as Coquelin aîné), the man who created the role of Cyrano de Bergerac on the stage.
Leatrice Joy is hell on wheels and in a designer gown. She plays a wild heiress whose naughty ways catch up with her when she accidentally kills a police officer with her reckless driving. Her prosecutor boyfriend throws the book at her and she ends up in prison. Also, Roman orgies. Why yes, Cecil B. DeMille did direct!
Mary Pickford returns to child roles as the princess of the title, a sweet young heiress whose sunny disposition is threatened when she loses her family and is forced to work as a maid. ZaSu Pitts nearly walks off with the picture as Pickford’s slavey pal.
A real murder in nineteenth century Ireland formed the basis for a novel, a play and this motion picture. It’s a darker, more twisted Cinderella variation with the poor girl marrying the rich boy but finding herself caught in a whirlwind of love, lust, ambition and greed. Prime melodrama, in other words.
Robert Warwick stars in this biopic of Nathan Hale, which boasts a screenplay by a very young Frances Marion. There are powdered wigs and heroic poses in abundance but, lest things get too stodgy, there are also a surprising number of spicy title cards. Oo-la-la!
Drugs! Norma Talmadge and Tully Marshall star as artistic types who find their best inspiration with a little chemical assistance. This ham-fisted cautionary tale features splendidly over-the-top intertitles and a charming performance from Talmadge.
Looking for something different in American silent film? How about a film shot in Oklahoma with an all-Kiowa and Comanche cast? Thought lost for decades, The Daughter of Dawn was recently recovered and restored.
Continue reading “The Daughter of Dawn (1920) A Silent Film Review”
Mary Pickford stars as Radha, a cute kid from… India? Yep. She falls for a British officer, of course, and gets into all sorts of adorable antics, kind of helps an uprising and then come the roast beef jokes. Shoot me.
Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki and Frank Borzage star in a Thomas Ince version of Madame Butterfly (but with, like, a happy ending). If you manage to get through this one without throwing something at the screen, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.
Lon Chaney stars as Tito, a clown who finds an orphan girl and raises her as his daughter. He falls in love with her (ew!) but she falls for a debauched count, as one does. Everyone ends up in hysterics and it’s a race to see who can off themselves first. Not my favorite. Is it obvious?
Babe Ruth stars in this highly fictionalized and idealized biopic of his early life. Not a word of it is true but it is not without its corny charm.
Continue reading “Headin’ Home (1920) A Silent Film Review”
They raided her home, killed her family, stole her horse and now they’re gonna pay! Viola Dana stars as a Russian peasant who sets out to avenge her murdered family. It’s a stylish drama of vengeance and ballet in the waning days of Imperial Russia.
Lois Weber directs and stars in a stylish short of, well, suspense. She is a young mother alone in a remote house trying to fend off a home invasion robbery while her husband listens on the telephone. It’s a Grand Guignol tale of terror and done rather well.
The earliest surviving Chinese-American feature film, this picture is also the only known film of director-writer-actress Marion Wong, the driving force behind its production. It’s the story of a young westernized Chinese couple and their difficulties with their more traditional family. Fascinating stuff!
Alla Nazimova takes on the role of Marguerite, the lady of camellias, a successful Parisian courtesan. She’s dying beautifully from tuberculosis but finds time to romance Rudolph Valentino in this modernized adaptation.
A teenage Anna May Wong (in Technicolor!) is minding her own business in China when some dope washes up on the shore, induces her into a mock marriage, impregnates and abandons her. He is the good guy. Drippy riff on Madame Butterfly wastes Miss Wong.
A prim adaptation of the famous Georgian play. Apparently, the scoundrel of the tale is played by some actor with the remarkable name of Basil Rathbone. I wonder whatever became of him?
Note: The title is not a typo, I’m afraid. The United States was bitten by the twee bug circa 1880-1920 and this is the result. “Orphant” indeed! Sigh.
One of the earliest surviving Colleen Moore films, this cliched tale of an abused waif and her happy benefactors is based on a poem by James Whitcomb Riley. Heaven help us all.
Madge Bellamy plays a circus performer who escapes from her evil step-father into the Canadian wilderness by riding away on her slang-talkin’ elephant named Oscar when the big top is blown down in a freak storm. Once free, she is mistaken for the antichrist and subsequently enslaved by a French-speaking café owner who forces her to pluck geese but everything is okay because she falls for a handsome violinist with only one good foot and a pet rabbit named Napoleon. As one does.
Continue reading “The Soul of the Beast (1923) A Silent Film Review”
Polly is a spunky circus lass who falls off her horse and into the waiting arms of the local minister. Tongues wag, of course, but can this mismatched couple find true happiness? A heaping helping of nostalgia with Mae Marsh’s winsome orphan routine thrown in.
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”
An intelligent and well-crafted melodrama that contrasts the slums of the poor with the mansions of the wealthy and shows what happens when the two worlds collide. Part morality tale, part expose of child labor practices, this is a tear-jerker supreme. Have a box of tissues handy as you will need them.
The movie vamp took pop culture by storm, thanks to some clever marketing from Fox Studios and some consciously over-the-top acting from overnight sensation Theda Bara. The film is the story of a diplomat who falls into the clutches of a cruel vampire and spends the rest of the film whining about his fate. Mwahahaha! Girls win! Girls win!
Continue reading “A Fool There Was (1915) A Silent Film Review”
Future “It” boy Antonio Moreno is seduced and abandoned by Norma Talmadge (the heartless despoiler of young Spaniards). He recovers but the couple is destined to meet again with far more fatal consequences. This over-the-top melodrama is one of Moreno’s earliest surviving starring roles.
Continue reading “John Rance, Gentleman (1914) A Silent Film Review”
In a grisly tale of madness and murder, the dismembered body… Just funnin’ ya! The title is a bit deceptive as it is a picture of a woman that ends up in a suitcase. The plot can best be described as The Women meets The Parent Trap as Enid Bennett plays detective and tries to track down her father’s mistress to save her family.
Continue reading “The Woman in the Suitcase (1920) A Silent Film Review”