Fun Size Review: Judith of Bethulia (1914)

D.W. Griffith gets biblical (or not, depending on whether you accept the apocrypha) with the story of an Assyrian invasion of Israel and the smokin’ hot widow who decides the best path to victory is to make the enemy general lose his head, literally. Blanche Sweet makes a powerful impression as the titular heroine but the story is Victorianized to minimize her awesomeness. The enemy general is cute and gives her gifts, you see. Sure, he’s looting and pillaging and enslaving but, but, stuff! It seems that sword-wielding patriots still must think with their ovaries. Sigh.

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Silent Movie Myth: “The Birth of a Nation” was the first feature and the first film shown at the White House

There are some silent movie myths that are so common that they are printed without question by major publications and repeated on national radio and television shows. With the 100 year anniversary of The Birth of a Nation‘s 1915 premiere back in February, silent movie fans received more than our share of this nonsense.
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Judith of Bethulia (1914) A Silent Film Review

Villainy is afoot in ancient Israel, the Assyrians have laid siege to a little mountain town. All seems to be lost. But the Assyrians didn’t count on a young widow named Judith (Blanche Sweet), who wields a mean saber. Will the charms of the enemy general (Henry B. Walthall) derail her plans? Or will our Assyrian lose his head over the comely widow? This is an early feature film and the start of director D.W. Griffith’s big, Big, BIG! period.
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Silent Movie Rule #8: You may think it’s cute but it’s probably annoying

Animated GIF Carol Dempster the Love Flower

Poor D.W. Griffith. A man of… singular predilections, he never quite figured out that audiences (and sometimes the actresses themselves) were not quite as fond of whirling, swirling, hippity-skippity heroines as he was. Case in point: The Love Flower. We are supposed to boo and hiss at the evil step-mother for ordering Carol Dempster to stop twitching. Instead, she gets a standing ovation.

Of course, the “heroine on a sugar high” thing was the least weird of Griffith’s fixations but that’s another story for another day.

You can read my review of The Love Flower here.

Availability: You can see it on DVD, if you must.

Silent Movie Trivia #9: Way Down East (1920)

Card-9-Way-Down-East
Click to view in lightbox

This time, we are going to be looking at trivia from a very famous film, Way Down East. Most of us know the story already. D.W. Griffith paid out an enormous sum for the movie rights to one of the corniest plays ever to show its face on the stage. The gamble paid off and the resulting film was a blockbuster and included the now-iconic scene of Lillian Gish on the ice floes.

(You can read my review here.)

Way Down East continues to be one of Griffith’s most popular films. It was also the last time he enjoyed outrageous success. While there were still hits, his days as King of the Movie Directors were numbered.

Oh, by the way, according to this handy inflation calculator, Griffith spend the equivalent of $2.2 million dollars in 2014 money. Wow. That is a hefty sum.

Availability: Way Down East is available on DVD, Blu-ray and via streaming. I like the Kino release, available on DVD and Blu-ray, which avoids using the very annoying and highly-Mickey Moused sound reissue score. Instead, we get a very nice score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Silent Movie Trivia Card #7: The White Rose (1923)

Click to view in lightbox
Click to view in lightbox

This time, we have some trivia from one of D.W. Griffith’s more obscure films. The White Rose was a return to themes that he held dear: spiritual crises, single motherhood, poverty, Southern gentility and abused waifs. The White Rose is also of interest as it marks the return of Mae Marsh to the Griffith banner. The whole thing is very much a throwback to the storytelling of five or ten years before.

(You can read my review here.)

Marsh’s leading man is Ivor Novello, a Welsh leading man who was wildly popular both as an actor and a composer. He, of course, achieved screen immortality (at least on this side of the Atlantic) for his title role in Hitchcock’s first Hitchcock film, The Lodger.

Availability: The White Rose was released as a budget disc by Alpha. While not pristine, it is miles ahead of the previously released version by Classic Video Streams, which is badly faded and expensive to boot! The Alpha release can be had for just a couple of bucks.

The Taming of the Shrew (1908) A Silent Film Review

Four months into his career as a director, D.W. Griffith took on William Shakespeare. In one reel. Yes, that is about ten minutes. The short stars the legendary Florence Lawrence as the titular hellion and Arthur V. Johnson is her suitor. But did you know that Mack Sennett was also on hand in a supporting role? I wonder what will come of that…

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Fritzi’s Scrapbook: Carol Dempster Trading Card

Carol-Dempster-Trading-Card-Watermarked

Silent movie memorabilia is a fairly new thing for me. I swore I would never do it and yet here I am. I would like to say that I was one of those people who kept a carefully curated collection but that would be a lie. When it comes to silent film collecting, I am a magpie. I pretty much grab anything shiny that takes my fancy. (Assuming the price is in my budget.)

I bought this Spanish Carol Dempster trading card on eBay. While I am not really a fan of her performances, I do feel that the way people talk about her tends toward the needlessly cruel. Saying you do not care for an actress’s onscreen performance is one thing. Snickering about how “ugly” she was is just plain mean. I liked Carol’s expression in this picture. I think she looks quite nice.

To put things in perspective: A socially awkward teenager falls under the influence of a powerful director, one who is old enough to be their parent. The director is determined to make our teen a star, tells the teen that they are brilliant and soon the whole world will know it. However, the teen’s popularity never matches that of their predecessor, partly due to the fact that the teen’s skill as an action star was all but ignored by the director. You tell me who deserves the lion’s share of the derision. (Hint: Not the teen.)

In any case, Miss Dempster retired from the screen, married a successful businessman and lived a life of philanthropy. She never had children and so at her death, she left a generous bequest to the San Diego Museum of Art. She stipulated that the money was to be used to expand the museum’s collection of drawings and prints, my two favorite areas of artistic expression, as it happens.

(I reviewed Carol Dempster in Sherlock Holmes and The Love Flower, in case you are interested. The review for Sherlock Holmes can be found here and the review for The Love Flower can be found here.)

Note: I do not personally buy sell or trade merchandise through this website. When I buy, I do so exclusively through eBay or through merchants with whom I have already established a business relationship. All of my website product links are served by major online retailers and they handle all transactions. If you are interested in purchasing silent film memorabilia, I suggest looking at eBay or checking out what Cliff at Immortal Ephemera has to offer.

Recommended

Fun Size Review: The Hessian Renegades (1909)

hessian-renegades1776! Spies! Hessian aggression! And all in a tidy, one-reel package. Mary Pickford plays a Colonial miss who helps get a message past some very determined redcoats after her brother (a messenger/spy) is killed. Not a masterpiece from director D.W. Griffith (who was in his second year on the job) but fast and amusing. Plus, we get to see Pickford disguise herself as an enemy soldier. That’s worth something, right?

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via Munchkin Munchies)
(via Munchkin Munchies)

Disguise cookies. Little trifles but amusing and ideal for budding spies.

You can read my full-length review here.

Recommended

Fun Size Review: The New York Hat (1912)

new-york-hat

It’s the story of an impoverished teen, a kindly minister, gossipy neighbors and a $10 hat. Griffith spins an alluring confection of small town America that both satirizes and celebrates the culture. Lionel Barrymore and Mary Pickford are excellent as the innocent pair who find themselves the subject of slander.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via allrecipes.com)

Strawberry Cheesecake Bites. Short, sweet, classic.

Read my full-length review here.

Fun Size Review: Friends (1912)

friends

Henry B. Walthall is a slick miner. Mary Pickford is the local lady of the evening. Lionel Barrymore is Henry’s rootin’-tootin’ pal. Both guys like Mary but who will win the day? This is a short subject from D.W. Griffith extolling the virtues of male friendship. Some very fine acting from Mary.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via justapinch.com)

Gold Rush Cake. There’s gold in them thar hills.

Read my full-length review here.

The Sunbeam (1912) A Silent Film Review

Director D.W. Griffith’s modern reputation rests on his epics but I don’t think that is the right call. The charming short films that he made for the Biograph company are the Griffith movies that I keep coming back to. (Well, the non-squicky ones, anyway.) The amount of emotion and story he was able to pack into those ten to twenty minute morsels is nothing short of miraculous.
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Fun Size Review: The Idol Dancer (1920)

(via Flickr)
(via Flickr)

A South Seas vehicle for flapper-in-the-making Clarine Seymour, who died soon after filming was completed. D.W. Griffith makes the most of his scenery and poses some interesting religious and ethical questions but nothing really pays off. Too many reused elements from his earlier films and about 30 minutes too long. See it for the lively Seymour and an uncharacteristically dark turn from Richard Barthelmess.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via Betty Crocker)

Pineapple Upside-Down Mini Cakes. Cute but a whole lot of canned goods involved.

Click here to read my full-length review.

Lillian Gish, the fragile flower battered by the cruel winds of fate. Sigh. Animated GIF

musketeers-of-pig-alley-lillian-gish-dw-griffith-lillian-stands-up-for-herselfSee poor Lillian Gish, a damsel in distress once again! What can she possibly do when Elmer Booth (one of the screen’s first charming gangsters) tries to make her his chicken? Why, she must faint, of course!

(I hope you can see the GIF. Lillian smacks Elmer and shoves him back. Good girl!)

On a side note, Elmer Booth’s oddly made-up friend is future cowboy star and John Wayne mentor Harry Carey.

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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Fun Size Review: Way Down East (1920)

Director D.W. Griffith took a creaky melodrama and… kept it creaky! Lillian Gish is used and tossed aside by a rich creep. She stumbles onto Richard Barthelmess’s farm, where the whole family embraces her with open arms. Then said rich creep shows up. Works surprisingly well thanks to great work from Gish and Barthelmess, as well as one of Griffth’s very best Races to the Rescue™… On  Ice! (On tour this winter!)

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The New York Hat (1912) A Silent Film Review

Pastor Lionel Barrymore receives a strange mission from a parishioner (the wife of the town miser) who has recently passed away: He is to take the money she has left and buy her daughter, Mary Pickford, little luxuries that she has been denied. The Pastor starts by buying Mary a pricey hat from New York. Little does he know that this kindness will start a frenzy of gossip.

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Fun Size Review: The White Rose (1923)

D.W. Griffith tried to break his slump by casting Mae Marsh and scrumptious Welsh heartthrob Ivor Novello in this tale of single motherhood and spiritual crisis. Minister-to-be Novello seduces and abandons orphan flapper Marsh, who must face the cruel world, etc. etc. Griffith has done all this before (and better) but his leads try their hardest and almost manage to put it over. Almost. A mixed bag.

white-rose-getting-ready

How does it end? Hover or tap below for a spoiler.

Marsh and her baby wander into Novello’s neck of the woods, where he promptly realizes the error of his ways and he makes an honest woman of our heroine on her sickbed. Happy endings for all.

If it were a dessert it would be:

Cheesecake rice pudding. Variation on a very old theme. Tasty enough but hardly earth-shattering.

Read my full-length review here.

Availability: Released on DVD.

The Idol Dancer (1920) A Silent Film Review

White Almond Flower (Clarine Seymour) is a flapper-ish island girl who just can’t choose between a sickly missionary (Creighton Hale) and an atheist beach bum (Richard Barthelmess). Will WAF be “civilized” or will she be free to continue her moonlight idolatry? D.W. Griffith directs this tale of religion, the nature of civilization and shimmy-shimmy shakes.
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Way Down East (1920) A Silent Film Review

Director D.W. Griffith dives back into country melodrama with this adaptation of a hoary stage smash. Lillian Gish plays Anna, a country girl seduced and abandoned by a rich cad. The resulting baby dies and Anna is alone in the world. She meets the kindly Bartlett family and it seems that her life is taking a turn for the better… that is until her past is exposed.

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The White Rose (1923) A Silent Film Review

Child neglect, single moms, personal crisis… Just another day D.W. Griffith-land. Mae Marsh is Teazie, a young orphan who flirts as way to get much-needed attention. Ivor Novello is Joseph, a freshly ordained minister who mistakes her flirtations for an immoral character. What follows can best be described as Way Down East meets The Scarlet Letter.

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