Cossacks and Crinoline: Creating the perfect opening scene

The time has come, the walrus said, to talk about opening scenes, those iconic moments that kicked off great films. Star Wars (1977) started things off with a literal bang, its heroes on the run from a gargantuan, relentless enemy. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) kept its bangs in check until the end of the scene and contented itself with a rusty windmill and three bored killers. Yojimbo (1961) set the stage with Masaru Sato’s cocky score and a shot of Toshiro Mifune’s shoulders swinging as he walked down a dusty road.

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Movies Silently’s very first Silent Star of the Month!

It’s time to announce the very first Silent Star of the Month here on Movies Silently! I meant to post this a little earlier in the month but the cold I contracted proved to be more stubborn than I had anticipated. I am writing to you under an electric blanket surrounded by hot beverages and watching Robot Chicken: Star Wars videos because I’m classy that way. Please forgive any resulting typos.

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Fun Size Review: Surrender (1927)

I hate this movie so much that I almost can’t write about it. I hate it because the love story is creepy and horrible. I hate it because the hero of the tale is a genocidal rapist and that is portrayed as a-okay in the story. Most of all, I hate it because the talent of Ivan Mosjoukine is wasted on utter dreck. (This was his only American film.) It’s about a Cossack who falls for the rabbi’s daughter (Mary Philbin, hoo boy) and threatens to burn the local Jewish populace alive if she doesn’t sleep with him. Excuse me while I go punch something.

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If you don’t greet your friends like this, you’re doing it wrong. Animated GIF

Making a grand entrance is an underrated skill these days, reserved for royalty and celebrities but not appreciated by the average citizen. Seriously, we need to change this! Use this life hack from the silent era! (Off topic but is anyone else sick to death of simple tips and common sense all being called life hacks?)

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Unboxing the Silents: The House of Mystery

The House of Mystery is one of the most exciting silent film releases to come along in ages. This serial has been knocking ’em dead on the film festival circuit for a while but this is the first time it has been available to the general public since its release over ninety years ago. And don’t let the word “serial” put you off. Instead, think of The House of Mystery as a very fine miniseries, the kind that sweeps award shows.

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Oh, you are a bunch of dolls! Animated GIF


This is the last day of the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon and I wanted to take the opportunity to thank the talented participants for pulling out all the stops and delivering some really smashing posts. I’m sorry to say this but kissing all of you would a) unhygienic and b) possibly illegal but I am sending Ivan Mosjoukine to illustrate how I feel about y’all.

A huge thanks to Flicker Alley (particularly the wonderful Kimberly) for sponsoring the event and David Shepard for his support.

The GIF is from The House of Mystery, which I reviewed for the occasion.

Availability: Flicker Alley is releasing the film on DVD at the end of this month.

The House of Mystery (1923) A Silent Film Review

Framed for murder! Sentenced to a penal colony! Some guys can’t catch a break. This smart serial was made in France by Russian expats and the blending of the national styles produces some very fine entertainment. Pull up a bowl of popcorn, maybe some candy and get ready. It’s a long motion picture but I guarantee a rousing good time.
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In which I share a super secret sneak preview. Shh, don’t tell anyone. Because it’s secret. Animated GIF

As some of you may know already, I got a sneak peek of The House of Mystery, an Albatros-produced serial. It has not been available to the general public for decades but is finally getting a home media release. It also stars my beloved Ivan Mosjoukine, whom I am not at all obsessed with.

I have been bursting with excitement about this one and I have an absolute ton of GIFs to share so I thought I would give you a tiny taste of what you can expect from this crowdpleaser with a brain.

The story in a nutshell: Mosjoukine’s close friend frames him for murder and he is sent to a penal colony. Meanwhile, his wife and daughter try to clear his name. There is blackmail, a jailbreak, some very enthusiastic fight scenes and a young Charles Vanel as the mwahaha villain.

It has romance and humor! (Including a cute running joke about a too-short necktie.)


It has tragedy!


It has more Ivan Mosjoukine than you can shake a stick at!


Adoration of Ivan Mosjoukine? Yes, please!


My full review will be published for the blogathon. See you there!

Availability: The serial has an April release date. You can get details, pre-order (if you like), and generally be well-informed here. Oh, and there is also a way to win a copy. Keep on reading…

Disclosure: Flicker Alley is sponsoring my Russia in Classic Film Blogathon but, come on, did I ever need an excuse to wax eloquent about Russians in general and Ivan Mosjoukine in particular? They are also sponsoring a giveaway of one copy of The House of Mystery. You can read the rules and find out how to enter on my sponsorship page. Scroll down to the Aelita picture and all the info will be there.

(And a big thanks to David Shepard for kindly arranging an early look at the serial.)

This is how we make little Russians. Animated GIF


Ivan Mosjoukine and Nathalie Lissenko’s romance in The Burning Crucible is best described as… energetic. There is something really wonderful about the wacky chase that they engage in. This time around, he has located a briefcase that she stole and she needs it back and so… Oh forget it. Just enjoy. The scene culminates with them both leaping on chairs and he stands on his head at one point. Did I mention how much I love this movie?

(You can read my review here.)

Availability: Available on DVD as part of the French Masterworks: Russian Emigres in Paris 1923-1928 box set. I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful this box is and how highly I recommend it.

In the name of all that is holy, save me from this woman! Animated GIF


This just cracks me up. The Burning Crucible is one of the maddest films to come out of the silent era, combining the zany humor of not one, but two nations, Russia and France. Poor Ivan Mosjoukine is a legendary detective who just does not know what to do about Nathalie Lissenko. She finds this hilarious. So do I. (You can read my full-length review here.)

(In real life, Mosjoukine and Lissenko were married.)

Availability: Available on DVD as part of the French Masterworks: Russian Emigres in Paris 1923-1928 box set. The phone bill can wait. Rent? Feh! They can’t evict you for a while yet. Get this box set instead.

(Note: Not actually advocating financial irresponsibility.)

Michael Strogoff (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.
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Go away or I shall taunt you a second time! Animated GIF


I wish I had weird little picture frame windows so I can do this to people who annoy me.

“Oh, I love old movies! Like, from 2010 even!”

Shove! Slam! Ha!

“I haven’t ever seen a silent movie, nor do I wish to, but I want to make a silent movie comedy for the internet. Can you tell me how?”

Poke! Slam! Smirk!

“I have a report due on a silent movie and I don’t want to see it. Can you tell me what happens?”

Smack! Slam! Eye roll.

“I know you’re doing a Chaplin centennial celebration but I think you should just make it about Buster Keaton because he was better.”

Disclaimer: I love Keaton but some of his fans… Oh lordy! I call it Keatonocity. Basically, it is the time between any mention of Charlie Chaplin and someone showing up demanding that you mention Keaton too. It’s measured in seconds. The only silent movie fans who have ever yelled at me have been devotees of Keaton, Valentino, Lillian Gish and Carol Dempster. (Needless to say, they were not the same person.)

(The GIF is from The Burning Crucible, which everyone should see. My review is here.)


Surrender (1927) A Silent Film Review

He’s a Cossack prince. She’s the rabbi’s daughter. Can they find love? Also, the hero is a tad bit genocidal. Yes, that is the plot. The unusual duo of Mary Philbin and Ivan Mosjoukine (in his only Hollywood appearance) are star-crossed lovers in this Great War romance. It boasts superb cinematography but the story? Oh my. The main conflict: You always blackmail the one you love.

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The Ultimate Disguise: Somewhere, somehow, I am going to do this. Animated GIF


I can see this working very well at job interviews, boring parties and corporate team building retreats but, really, its usefulness is endless. What better way to perk things up?

(Obviously, this will only work if you have the nose to pull it off. Sorry, button-nosed people but we owners of aristocratic proboscises have this one sewn up.)

This is from The Burning Crucible, an extremely strange Russo-French detective comedy written and directed by its star, legendary Russian actor Ivan Mosjoukine. This is also the scene that sold me on the film. Anything this weird and wonderful deserves my undivided attention.

(You can read my review of the movie here.)