We’ve got our fill of blubber. Animated GIF

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Sometime, silent film title cards just strike me as funny. This is one of them. Maybe it’s the weird phrasing. Maybe the word ‘Frisco just makes me giggle. For whatever reason, I have captured it and now I am sharing it with you. (Whaling portrayed as a heroic profession: One thing I do not miss about the silents.)

I am currently a lonely member of the Hobart Bosworth fan club. This guy is great! He was one of the very first stage stars to successfully change over to the movies, he was an early independent actor/producer and he was among the first to make films in California. He was also a fine actor.

Bosworth spent much of his time playing variations on The Sea Wolf. He obtained the rights from Jack London and made an authorized version but he revisited the material again and again under various titles. This is from The Sea Lion, which is The Sea Wolf + Robinson Crusoe + Bessie Love. It’s no masterpiece but it’s rather good and Bosworth and Bessie Love have excellent chemistry. (Don’t worry, it’s all paternal.)

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

Availability: The Sea Lion is available from various public domain dealers. Alpha is the cheapest, of course. Televista has a pricier version out but I have not been unduly impressed with their releases (especially considering the cost). I consider the Grapevine release to be the best bet for quality.

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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Me when all my site’s search queries are “tied to the train tracks silent movie” and “silent star squeaky voice” Animated GIF

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I pay attention to the keywords that bring people to my site and they can often reveal a lot about what people think of silent movies. The keywords and terms also let me know about shortages on my site and I do my best to fill any gaps that might show.

That being said, some search queries make me weep for humanity. Obviously, the “daddy long legs honeymoon fan fic” is one of those categories. Blech! But the most irritating queries are the ones that remind me of my Sisyphean task of killing two persistent silent film myths: That the movies regularly featured women tied to railroad tracks (usually by villains in top hats) and that there were silent stars with weird voices whose defect was revealed with the coming of sound.

The railroad track thing: I traced the history and showed that it was both rare and coed when it did happen– and that it simply did not exist in mainstream silent features. I made a video proving my point. I directly answered queries about that top-hatted villain. Come on, people, stick a fork in it!

The squeaky voice thing: I pointed out all the different ways stars weathered the sound transition. Despite rumors to the contrary, a good number of silent stars transitioned with no trouble at all and many even benefited from the new movie format. I have an entire series of reviews dedicated to just that. (No, John Gilbert’s voice was not squeaky. No, it was not sabotaged in post-production. The dialogue was corny. He was nervous and over-rehearsed. Content and delivery, not voice quality. The end.)

Oh, and the GIF is from Below the Surface, a criminally underrated silent melodrama about sunken treasure, deep sea diving and paternal love. There is also an amazing shipwreck scene and underwater photography that still wows. That’s Hobart Bosworth in the GIF, one of the very first movie stars. I am not the first one to point this out but he certainly has a bit of Rutger Hauer about him, doesn’t he? Intriguing man and a darn fine actor. Oh, and he did just swell in the talkies, thank you for asking.

(You can read my review here.)

Availability: Below the Surface has been released on DVD by Grapevine.

Zander the Great (1925) A Silent Film Review

A sort of orphanage-western-drama-comedy, Zander the Great was one of Marion Davies’ big hits and her first film for the newly-merged MGM. She is an orphan who takes in a small boy and then sets out for Arizona in search of his father, who may or may not be a bootlegger. On the way, she meets Harrison Ford, who really is a bootlegger. A darling bit of fluff from the pen of Frances Marion.

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Fun Size Review: Captain January (1924)

Hobart Bosworth plays an old lighthouse keeper who has adopted the castaway, Baby Peggy. Local do-gooders are annoyed at his unorthodox parenting but he and little Peggy love one another. However, what will happen when Peggy’s real family comes to claim her? Sweet but never simpering. Heart-warming but never trite. This is family entertainment that the grown-ups can enjoy too. Highly recommended.

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Fun Size Review: The Sea Lion (1921)

Hobart Bosworth is (and this may shock you) a sadistic ship captain. Bessie Love is the little castaway who warms his heart and awakens fatherly feelings. But when the captain discovers that poor Bessie just may be the daughter of his enemy, things start to get mean. Love and Bosworth are delightful in their father-daughter relationship and the seafaring scenes are swell but predictable plot prevents this film from being a classic.

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Lost Film Files #11: The Sea Wolf (1913)

The Sea Wolf (1913)

Status: Missing and presumed lost

In 1913, Jack London was a white hot author in 1913. Only a few years removed from his three biggest successes (White Fang, The Call of the Wild and The Sea Wolf), it was natural that film-makers would want to adapt his rugged adventures to the screen. The stories were especially well-suited to the gritty, grimy, outdoorsy world of silent movie making. Because there was no sound equipment to consider, silent movies had freedom to film almost anywhere. The great outdoors were at their disposal.

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At the same time, actor Hobart Bosworth was striking out with his own production company. A burly six-footer, Bosworth was born to act in Jack London stories. He had escaped a wicked step-mother, worked as a sailor, a whaler, a rancher, a wrestler, a boxer, a miner, a magician’s assistant…

(You know what? This guy was awesome!)

He bears a rather striking resemblance to Rutger Hauer and had a similar masculine bearing. In short, ideal to play Wolf Larsen. (Larsen was described as a perfect physical specimen in the Scandinavian mode.)

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Anyway, Bosworth took to the stage where his blue eyes made him a sensation with the fair sex. He was also an extremely good actor, subtle and powerful. Tuberculosis robbed him of his health and his voice. Fortunately, he was able to join the fledgling motion picture industry in California, where the warmer weather ensured better health.

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Bosworth’s production company obtained the rights to London’s novels and began production on The Sea Wolf but another production company, Balboa, attempted to make a film using the same source material. Jack London sued for copyright infringement. I mention this because the ads for the film seem a bit paranoid otherwise. You know, The One and Only Authorized Version kind of thing.

Moving Picture World praised Bosworth but felt the film was too long:sea wolf 1913 image (4)

No praise can be too high for the settings and for the photography. The spirit of the ocean, which London conjures with such enviable ease, is on the screen and travels from the screen to the delighted audience. The attention to detail in all nautical matters, the characterization of the types of sailors, who sail in the London stories — and we all know they are true enough sailors and always mighty interesting — leave not the least thing to be desired. I think a word of acknowledgment is likewise due to the cameraman, whose task was a heavy burden. He has done well. The realism for which a London story affords such fine chances is not lacking. It is convincing no less than exciting. Take the accident. It has every appearance of being real, and the cheers the scenes brought forth from a rather critical audience were well deserved.

Far the most difficult part of the whole production was the rendering of the “Sea-Wolf.” Mr. Bosworth had the physique and the artistic size required by the part, though in the characterization he was not quite as strong as in the “straight” acting. He seemed in the early part of the story not quite certain of his ground, but as the action advanced to the great dramatic moments he electrified the audience by his masterly portrayals. He does not always succeed in expressing a mood, but a passion he can express according to Shakespeare. He found his footing at the first great dramatic moment and never lost it afterward. It was his acting which was chiefly responsible for the sharp revival of interest toward the end of the story just as the action was beginning to drag.

His support was fair. Viola Barry, the only woman in the story, is conscientious in her work. It would have been better if she had not emerged from the shipwreck with her makeup in a flourishing condition.

I think five reels would have been much better than seven. In saying this I realize very well that the adaptation for the screen may be allowed on a much more generous latitude than an adaptation for the conventional stage.

Indeed many of the incidents of the story, though they do not carry the action forward by the fraction of an inch, are entirely welcome to the motion picture audience. What could be more interesting than the rough but good-natured comedy of the sailor folk? The throwing overboard of the cook and “washing” him because of his contempt of sailors’ stomachs, the appearance of a man eating shark going in the direction of the unlucky cook and finally the capture of the monster are incidents that add not a little to the charm and the general effect of the story. Other scenes, however, were painfully superfluous. The lingering of the poet and the critic on Endeavor Island was altogether too long and the action in the last thousand feet could have been fully brought out in less than five hundred feet without the least danger of crowding. The trips to the boat and the final incidents on it might profitably have been cut even at the risk of cutting the story itself. These and other scenes that might be mentioned in different parts of the production have not enough humorous or spectacular value to allow them to detract from the central theme of the story.

The motion picture art is in a fair way to profit by further screen adaptations of the London stories. I predict that in his second venture Mr. Bosworth will touch perfection. He has the ability and he has the ambition which is justified and useful only as it is supported by ability. There was a lavish expenditure of money in the production, an item that counts for much when the money is expended judiciously, as it was in the present case. Every friend of the good motion picture will hail the present and the future work of Mr. Bosworth with sincere joy. We cannot have enough good, clean, thrilling pictures of adventures at sea and in strange lands.

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Bosworth would remain with his production company until 1921’s The Sea Lion, a tale very much along the same lines as The Sea Wolf. He would continue playing fathers, mentors, and other kindly figures but he also included a fair dose of salty (and sometimes psychotic) seamen.

I have seen Bosworth in so many Sea Wolf-like parts that I would love to see him doing the real thing. Check the vaults, please!

In the Vaults #3: The Blood Ship (1927)

Status: Print, held by the Academy Film Archive, was missing one reel. The missing final reel was located and the complete film has been shown at festivals but has not been made available to the general public. Hint hint.

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It stars Hobart Bosworth, my absolute favorite old sea salt, and Richard Arlen, who provides the hubba-hubba.

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From the descriptions available, it sounds like it has everything a viewer could want in a seafaring adventure: Shanghaied crew, mutiny, ruthless captain…

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Bosworth is out to revenge himself on the nasty captain who framed him for murder and stole his wife and daughter. Arlen, naturally in love with said daughter, is ready to lend support. Sounds like some grade “A” tuppenny blood stuff!

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Reviews were very positive for this nautical yarn.

Motion Picture News was quite enthusiastic:

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A good old nerve-tingling title decorates this picture — the action of which lives up to its colorful moniker. The piece carries a wallop in the play of melodrama on the high seas. Before you are barely ready to say “Captain Kidd” it informs you that the clipper is a hell-ship the master of which has a habit of beating up his crews. As you can see, the story is a blood relative of Jack London’s “Sea Wolf,” though there are many marks of originality about it which sets it apart from the London opus.

The skipper has a “shanghai” complex. When a crew runs out on him after a punishing cruise he and his first mate (who registers an equally hard-boiled disposition) use strong-arm methods and shanghai enough sailors to run the ship. Of course, with such a background it is easy to guess that the motivation will concern a mutiny. It’s red-hot action which is served up here — and no mistake. The players entertain a deal of punishment from the brutal skipper before he is knocked for a row of anchors.

A love note punctuates the action to balance the hard moments — and Richard Arlen and Jacqueline Logan take care of it very romantically. But it is the melodrama which provides the real interest and suspense. Everything happens that could possibly happen during the voyage. So put it down as vigorous entertainment.

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Photoplay liked the film but felt it was too brutal:

A real he-man picture and this is one time we feel the ladies will like to be excused. (Editor’s note: This lady will be staying, thank you very much.) A picture that is well- produced and directed; filled with splendid performances; but its story is one of mutiny, brutality, murder and a girl. Too gruesome for real enjoyment. Hobart Bosworth, Jacqueline Logan and Richard Arlen are in the cast, with Bosworth giving one of the finest performances of the month.

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The New York Times liked what it saw:

Vivid characterizations give vitality to “The Blood Ship,” at the Roxy this week. It’s a story of mutiny, murder and men, with a lone girl among them.

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The original 1922 novel by Norman Springer is in the public domain and may be downloaded from several sources. Until the film is released to the viewing public, that is about as close as we can get to it.

Richard Arlen. Hubba!
Richard Arlen. Hubba!

The Little American (1917) A Silent Film Review

Mary Pickford joins the war effort in this collaboration with director Cecil B. DeMille. One woman, two armies, oh dear. Pickford plays Angela, an American girl so patriotic that she contrived to be born on Independence Day. However, she is in favor of outsourcing her love life: her two suitors are French and German respectively. But then that pesky war starts, both men are called up to serve and Angela must choose her side. 

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