Silent Films: A Quick Guide for the Perplexed (Frequently Asked Questions Answered!)

I like to read reviews of silent films that were written by people who are unfamiliar with the art. It helps me remember what it was like to be a newcomer, which things seemed confusing or odd to me. On that note, I have decided to post a quick and handy answer to some common questions.

Continue reading “Silent Films: A Quick Guide for the Perplexed (Frequently Asked Questions Answered!)”

Fun Size Review: The Sheik (1921)

The Sheik 1921 Rudolph Valentino Silent Movie
The Sheik himself.

Sometimes goofy, sometimes creepy, occasionally romantic but always entertaining. Rudolph Valentino is a sheik who falls for an Englishwoman, Agnes Ayres. What do you do when the lady you love thinks you’re a creep? Kidnap her and confirm all her suspicions, of course! This film reportedly had women fainting in the aisles. Modern women are more likely to be rolling in the aisles with laughter. An amiably clueless kitsch fest.

sheik-rudolph-valentino-agnes-ayres-silent-movie-escape1

[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for a spoiler)” ]Our heroine realizes that kidnapping is okay if the criminal is handsome. Anyway, he’s not really an Arab. Interracial romance averted (yes, people were really worried about that back then), the happy couple is united.[/toggler]

(Read my full-length review here. You can also check out my video review.)

If it were a dessert it would be:

Mayonnaise Cupcakes
Mayonnaise Cupcakes

Mayonnaise Cake. Weird ingredients but it somehow tastes good. And the ladies love it!

Availability: There are a lot of home video editions of The Sheik. The best is the Image release but it is now out-of-print in disc format. It is still available via digital download (for U.S. markets). Alpha has also released a version but I have not viewed it. It likely has a canned score.

Fun Size Review: Silent Movie (1976)

silent movie

Director Mel Brooks makes a silent movie about a director named Mel making a silent movie. Your enjoyment pretty much depends on your devotion to the Brooks brand of humor. Brooks regulars Marty Feldman and Dom DeLuise are on hand as his zany companions while the legendary Bernadette Peters plays the vamp and Sid Caesar is an ulcer-prone studio head. Tons of A-list seventies-era cameos like Burt Reynolds, James Caan and Liza Minnelli.

Silent-Movie-Mel-Brooks-Sid-Ceasar-GIF

[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for a spoiler)” ]Mel gets his silent movie made and it is an enormous hit, possibly reviving the genre. In real life, the movie was a minor financial disappointment and did not spur a silent rebirth. Sigh.[/toggler]

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

If it were a dessert it would be:

cheats fudge

Cheat’s Chocolate Fudge. It tries to capture the feel of the original. Doesn’t really succeed but is tasty enough.

Availability: Silent Movie is available on DVD solo and on Blu-ray as part of The Mel Brooks Collection box set.

Dear Movies Silently, Why do silent films have such poor picture quality?

When people think of silent movies, they often think of jittery, scratched images flickering across their screen. But why does the image quality of silent films tend to be so poor? We are going to briefly discuss the topic in this video.

Of course, the topic of film preservation is vast so please excuse me if I oversimplify. I try to keep these videos under 5 minutes.

Continue reading “Dear Movies Silently, Why do silent films have such poor picture quality?”

Fun Size Review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Poster

One of the most influential and popular silent films, Caligari is also spectacularly weird entertainment. From the expressionist sets to the powerful acting to the slippery plot, this film is a unique experience from beginning to end. Often imitated, always references but never equaled.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via marthastewart.com)

Black Lagoon Cocktails. Dark, mysterious and more than a little disturbing. May mess with your head.

Read my full-length review here.

Fun Size Review: Oh Doctor! (1925)

oh-doctor

Reginald Denny plays a hypochondriac who is being bilked out of his inheritance by swindlers. Things go awry when Denny falls for his pretty nurse (Mary Astor) and becomes an adrenaline junkie in order to impress her. What if he dies before the swindlers can collect? Hilarious situation comedy and charming lead actors make this a forgotten gem.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via tasteofhome.com)

Soda Cracker Chocolate Candy. Seems safe enough for an invalid but packs a sugary punch.

Read my full-length review here.

Fun Size Review: Don Juan (1926)

don juan

John Barrymore is the famous lover who likes his ladies in both quality and quantity. He genuinely falls for Mary Astor’s virginal damsel and ends up incurring the wrath of the Borgias. The costumes are a visual banquet of the gorgeous and the bizarre. The famous duel is worth the price of admission but there is a lot of hamminess and overwrought love-making to get through as well.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via seriouseats.com)

A 27-Layer Rainbow Cake. Quantity and variety but maybe a bit too much.

Read my full-length review here.

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.

The Trail of ’98 (1928) A Silent Film Review

The chaotic year of 1928 was the last gasp of the silent epic. The film industry was converting to sound but many larger films were already in production during the talkie revolution. Soon the realism and grit of silent epics would be replaced by the glossy sheen of the studio-bound talkies but the silents reigned for one more glorious year.
Continue reading “The Trail of ’98 (1928) A Silent Film Review”

How to NAIL a movie audition (hey, it worked for Mabel Normand) Animated GIF

mabels-dramatic-debut-1913-ford-sterling-and-mabel-normand-the-dance

Mabel Normand is determined to make it in the movies. This is her audition scene from Mabel’s Dramatic Career. She demonstrates her dancing abilities (no one could do a zany dance like Mabel) but is in danger of losing her balance. Ford Sterling comes to the rescue (or does he?) but the look on Mabel’s face indicates that he might have gotten a little grabby. Not to worry, though. Their characters wed in the film.

Fun Size Review: Scaramouche (1923)

scaramouche poster

Rex Ingram and company show us the French Revolution in style! Ramon Novarro (in his best-ever performance) is a vengeful lawyer turned actor turned swordsman turned revolutionary. Busy fellow, yes? Lewis Stone is his wily aristocratic opponent. Witty and with atmosphere to spare, one of the finest action epics of the silent era and certainly the most beautiful.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via pbs.org)

Mille Crepe Cake. Dozens of small, perfect details add up to an epic whole.

Read my full-length review here.

The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon: A Little Appetizer

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Update: Read a list of posts and participants here.

Less than week to go before the start of the Classic Movie Project Blogathon! Ruth of Silver Screenings had the idea of posting an appetizer. That is, an introduction to our era that will whet everyone’s appetite. I will also be giving you some details on what the participants will be covering in their posts.

But first, another announcement:

The roster for this event filled up very, very fast. Every single slot was claimed within 36 hours. I know a lot of amazing bloggers were not able to take part so I talked it over with my co-hostesses and we agreed that we would host this event again with an expanded year range. More slots to fill, more fun to be had!

I will send out word when the next edition of this event is ready for launch. If you would like to be informed, please send me over your email and I will be sure to send you a little note when the time arrives. I’m not sure when it will be exactly but most likely in a year’s time.

And now, here are the years, a few events to give you the flavor of the period and the blogathon participant!

Carmen, one of 14 DeMille-directed films released in 1915 (via Wikipedia)

1915

The Lusitania is torpedoed, poison gas employed on the battlefields of WWI and Italy leaves the Triple Alliance. Babe Ruth debuts and D.W. Griffith’s racist epic, The Birth of a Nation, is released.

Movies Silently (that’s me!) will cover the year by discussing the 14 (!) crowd-pleaser films that Cecil B. DeMille directed in 1915.

1916

The Battle of the Somme, the Easter Rebellion and General Pershing in Mexico. Jazz is getting started and the first PGA tournament is held.

Big V Riot Squad is going to take us through the twelve months of comedy with 1916, A Funny Year.

1917

The U.S. enters WWI, Mata Hari is executed and the Russian Revolution begins. The first Pulitzer Prizes are awarded and the first New York Times op-ed is published.

A Person in the Dark is going to give us Chaplin Mutuals, Cleopatra and the films of Mary Pickford!

Mabel Normand’s 1918 comedy was her biggest hit. (via Nitrateville)

1918

The Russian royal family is executed, the Kaiser abdicates and Gandhi begins his campaign of non-violent resistance. The Spanish Influenza pandemic kills millions.

A Small Press Life is going to discuss Mabel Normand’s hit Mickey and much more!

1919

The Great War has ended at last but fascism is on the rise. United Artists is founded. Dial telephones are introduced in the U.S.

Totally Filmi is going to beckon us out of Hollywood with a review of the work of Dadasaheb Phalke, the father of Indian cinema.

One of the most famous of all silent films. (via filmstarts.de)

1920

Women can now vote in the U.S. but they can’t buy alcohol. No one can. This is Prohibition! The League of Nations is founded. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks wed.

Durnmoose Movie Musings is going to show us 1920 with significant births and hits like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Mark of Zorro and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

1921

Vitamins D and E are discovered. The Fatty Arbuckle scandal explodes, women swoon for The Sheik and Chaplin releases The Kid.

Silent Volume is going to treat us to four reviews of silent works from Germany, Sweden and the U.S.

1922

Lincoln Memorial and coal miners strike. Nanook and Nosferatu, von Stroheim fired by Irving Thalberg, William Desmond Taylor murdered.

Family Friendly Reviews is pulling out all the stops with an epic examination of the year in film.

A Woman of Paris was a major artistic risk for Chaplin. (via janusfilms.com)

1923

Warren G. Harding dies and Calvin Coolidge becomes president. Wallace Reid passes, the Hollywood sign is built and DeMille releases his first version of The Ten Commandments.

The Filmatelist is going to discuss the films Charlie Chaplin released and his transition from shorts to features.

1924

The first Winter Olympic Games, J. Edgar Hoover appointed head of FBI, Lenin dies, Stalin wins the power struggle to succeed him. MGM forms, CBC Film Sales becomes Columbia Pictures.

Nitrate Glow will cover the hits and misses for the year.

1925

Scopes Monkey Trial, Mein Kampf, KKK march in Washington. Court ruling kicks AT&T out of radio, Mrs. Dalloway and The Great Gatsby published. Potemkin, Phantom and The Big Parade.

Crítica Retrô is going to be covering the greatest hits of the year from around the world!

1926

The world mourns both Rudolph Valentino and Harry Houdini. This is the last complete year of the silent era. Winnie the Pooh is published and the first woman swims the English Channel.

Silent Film Buffa is going to cover this year by examining the work of Alfred Hitchcock.

Son of the Sheik 1926, Rudolph Valentino, Vilma Banky
Valentino’s final film. The silents survived him by just one year.

1927-1950

You can read about the next years on the roster at the website of my co-hostesses, Silver Screenings and Once Upon a Screen. The event launches on January 12. I hope to see everyone there!

Timeline Sources:

Digital History

Timeline of the 20th Century

eHistory

AMC Filmsite

History Orb

Movies Silently Quarterly Report

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Whew! The last quarter of 2013 was a busy one!

Here are some numbers:

The site now has a total of 641 WordPress followers and over 2,000 Twitter followers.

I participated in four blogathons (not counting ones that I co-hosted)

I have published a total of 635 posts

News

I launched some new features on the site:

Click to enlarge.
Hair tips!

The Silent Life: Vintage articles and excerpts dealing with daily life during the silent era.

I am in the middle of holding my first-ever silent movie tournament. The winners in four categories will be featured in April of 2014.

I co-hosted the Chaney Blogathon with the fabulous Jo of The Last Drive In.

Here are the countries that visited my site the most in the last quarter:

2013-qtr-3-countries

Here are my top 5 reviews for the quarter:

1. The Sheik

2. The Wizard of Oz

3. The Cheat

4. City Lights

5. The Wind

And the sad bottom 5:

1. Oh Doctor!

2. The Play House

3. Only Me

4. The Hessian Renegades

5. That Certain Thing

The top 5 articles:

1. Battle of the Bobbed Hair

2. Silent Movie Myth #4: Tied to the Railroad Tracks

3. Five must-own silent movies from Warner Archive

4. Top Ten Silent Films (with numerous caveats)

5. All About the Blogathons: How to Participate

As always, thanks for reading!

Lost Film Files #23: Burning Sands (1922)

burning-sands-1922-milton-sills-04

Burning Sands (1922)

Status: Missing and presumed lost

Another day, another sheik film. It seems that even my beloved Milton Sills was not spared the indignity of appearing in one of these things. Burning Sands was billed as “The Sheik for men” and shared both director and filming locations with its predecessor.

(To tell the truth, these overblown desert romances are my guilty pleasure. They’re dreadful but I can’t seem to get enough!)

Oh, Milton, Milton, Milton, what have you gotten yourself into?
Oh, Milton, Milton, Milton, what have you gotten yourself into?

Mr. Sills was supported by two DeMille actresses: Wanda Hawley (a DeMille discovery best remembered today for her major role in The Affairs of Anatol) and Jacqueline Logan (who was Mary Magdalene in King of Kings). The talented Louise Dresser is also on hand as the genial best friend-type.

Much was made of the movie’s Oxnard filming location.

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(click to enlarge)

Motion Picture Magazine acted as though Oxnard was on par with camping in the Sahara. I actually rather like Oxnard and I have to say that I would infinitely prefer camping there to pitching a tent in the Sahara.

Well, warm sands anyway. (click to enlarge)
Well, warm sands anyway. (click to enlarge)

But how did the movie fare once the critics got their paws on it? Not too well, I’m afraid.

Photoplay kept things short and not-so-sweet:

In other words, hot dirt! Of “The Sheik” school, and made by the same director — George Melford — who started the fashion in desert love, hate and passion. The cast is fairly good — Jacqueline Logan, Wanda Hawley, Milton Sills — and the sets have the east of Suez look. But audiences arc beginning to tire of a conventional story in the midst of tribal feuds and sand storms and camels — especially camels!

Hey! What did camels ever do to them?

An embrace or the Heimlich gone wrong? You decide!
An embrace or the Heimlich gone wrong? You decide!

Motion Picture Magazine was less succinct but equally dismissive:

burning-sands-1922-milton-sills-09It’s the same old story of the desert with its caravan and the exiled English- man which confronts the spectator in “Burning Sands.” There is no variation in this formula which, now that Valentino has made it popular, is brought forth from its cubby-hole in the filing cabinet marked “B.” The Valentinoritas will miss their favorite here. In his place is Milton Sills trying to appear as convincing as possible under the burden of carrying on the heroic virtues. He is awfully manly, is Milton here — a figure too good to be true. Would you know the plot? Well the spoiled darling of society is charmed by the Englishman’s colorful tan and wardrobe. Being so far away from Hyde Park she has time to realize that the time and the place are in order when one is looking for romance. There is no story interest because the idea is too trite and the development brings forth all its stupidity. George Melford directed the picture. He also directed “The Sheik.” Therefore his sands, palm trees, caravans et al. are entirely appropriate. It’s a favorite recipe — this story. Consequently it will be produced ’til the sands of the desert grow cold.

I don’t know… It actually sounds like an amazing kitsch-fest to me. And I am always up for Milton Sills doing manly things in a manly fashion, manly man that he is.

For men!
For men!

Researching the film led me on a little tangent that I would like to share:

Wanda Hawley, the leading lady of the picture, is quite a fascinating and elusive figure. She enjoyed some measure of popularity in the late ‘teens and early twenties but had no screen credits past 1932. Predictably, her IMDB profile states that her career ended with the coming of sound. Since I find that these statements are almost always incorrect, I decided to do a little digging.

Whatever happened to Wanda Hawley?
Whatever happened to Wanda Hawley?

Miss Hawley did indeed work steadily through 1926, only made one film 1927 and one in 1929. On the surface it looks like sound is the culprit but not so fast! Take a closer look at her screen credits and you will see that she was employed with Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount until 1923. From that year forward, she jumped from studio to studio. By the mid-twenties, she was appearing in poverty row productions. Oh, and that pivotal year of 1927? It’s important to remember that the film that brought on the talkie revolution, The Jazz Singer, was not released until early October of that year. That leaves three-quarters of the year when silents reigned supreme. Anyway, Wanda’s 1927 release was actually filmed in 1926.

So, talkies were not the culprit. What was?

Marketing material for Burning Sands featured Miss Hawley prominently. Here is the tie-in sheet music.
Marketing material for Burning Sands featured Miss Hawley prominently. Here is the tie-in sheet music.

Well, I did a little detective work. Miss Hawley was barely mentioned in fan magazines after she left Paramount. At first, I thought she may have been pushed out but that was not the case. Wanda was apparently tired of playing adorable ditzes and felt that she had a chance at better roles if she struck out on her own. This change of employment coincided with her divorce from Allen Burton Hawley. Mr. Hawley claimed that he would “astound the movie fans of America” with his revelations about his wife.

Wanda also took work with foreign studios during this period, including another sheik film shot in Cairo. There is a small item on her Egyptian working vacation in 1923:

How many different nationalities and races can we offend with one clipping? Let's find out!
How many different nationalities and races can we offend with one clipping? Let’s find out!

Bashing your host country? Charming. (That is, if she wrote this little quip herself. One always wonders with fan magazines.)

She appears in an ad or two and is listed in film casts but is pretty well ignored by the press. Some loyal readers of Photoplay noticed this and called attention to it:

Wanda's fan is also an outspoken Valentino hater.
Wanda’s fan is also an outspoken Valentino hater.

Then I came across this item in a 1924 issue of Photoplay:

Wanda before and after.
Wanda before and after.

Weight issues are not the sole province of modern actress. Silent leading ladies were also judged by the numbers on the scale. However, our silent starlet lost the weight and looked svelte.

On to 1925! Where is Wanda? Still mentioned as “appearing in” but definitely not getting the star treatment. Then I found a little offhand mention in the gossip department by Cal York. It seems that while at Paramount Miss Hawley had put on airs and annoyed at least one reporter.

Wanda was not well liked by Mr. York, methinks.
Wanda was not well liked by Mr. York, methinks.

Wanda Hawley annoyed this gentleman of the press, it seems. Of course, one must take this opinion with a grain of salt as Mr. York mentions Mary Miles Minter’s faltering career in the same breath. And we all know that the cause MMM’s downfall was considerably more dramatic than simply acting the duchess. However, this description of Wanda was echoed by her niece, who was interviewed by Michael G. Ankerich for his book Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels.

By 1927, Wanda Hawley’s career was being described in the past tense. Her saccharine comedies were blamed but the semi-scandalous divorce could not have helped her case.

Wanda Hawley, Movie Star is no more.
Wanda Hawley, Movie Star is no more.

It is important to remember that movie careers moved much faster in the silent era. Performers could potentially put out dozens of films in a single year and my estimate is that most mid-level stars would release between four and ten pictures a year. Big stars had the luxury of giving their productions more time but contract players like Wanda Hawley had very little control over their own destiny. With so many films in production at once… Well, downfalls were sped up too. A star may be popular but a few bombs in a row and they would be shown the door.

Wanda's career did not survive the rampant silliness.
Wanda’s career did not survive the rampant silliness.

Sound had nothing to do with Wanda Hawley’s fading career. Her story is all too typical. She was popular but a combination of ill-chosen vehicles and lack of a long-term contract (after leaving Paramount) doomed her prospects. Tastes changed and Wanda Hawley was last week’s flavor.

wanda-hawley-06

The combination of minor scandal, poor career decisions and a difficult personality were enough to bring down this star. Sound was merely the final nail in the coffin.

With that mystery out of the way, let us move on to happier topics.

I have a very special treat for you. Motion Picture Magazine adapted Burning Sands into a short story and I am presenting it to you in its entirety! Warm sun and purple prose.

(The story was published in 1922 and is not politically correct. At all. You have been warned.)

Here is Burning Sands the song to listen to while you enjoy the tale.

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)
burning-sands-1922-milton-sills-short-story-03
(click to enlarge)

Out of music? Here is another guilty pleasure of mine: Ketelby. This is his ode to the Nile river.

Back to the story!

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(click to enlarge)
The kitsch is almost too much for Milton! Look at his expression(click to enlarge)
The kitsch is almost too much for Milton! Look at his expression (click to enlarge)
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(click to enlarge)
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(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)
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(click to enlarge)

Oh my! Invoking deities at the end was a master stroke of awfulness. But my main question is where can I find people to feed me grapes? I love grapes. Must one go to the Sahara to hire such workers? Let’s hope someone recovers the film so we can learn the answer!

burning-sands-1922-milton-sills-03

Oh, and in case you are interested, the original novel is in the public domain and may be freely downloaded. Or you can snag a hard copy from 1922, complete with scenes from the movie!

Gallery

Update: The poll results for new features, some design news and upcoming events

I’d like to start by thanking everyone who voted and left feedback. And here are the results of the polls:

What existing series do you like best?

Many sound favorites got started in the silents.
Many sound favorites got started in the silents.

The choices here were Silents in Talkies, After the Silents, The Lost Film Files and In the Vaults.

The first three choices are all neck and neck in popularity with In the Vaults slightly less popular. I had been slacking off on my Lost Film and Vaults posts lately but I will be putting more into the queue. I will also be more diligent about posting After the Silents. Silents in Talkies will be a little more sporadic because I frankly get a little worked up when movies get things wrong and I try not to write angry.

What new series would you like to read?

The choices here were Silent Life (a look at daily life in the silent era), Dress Like a Star! (showcase a fashionable look from a silent film), and So You Want to Make a Silent Movie (vintage tips for would-be filmmakers).

The response was overwhelming. Silent Life got more votes than the other two choices combined. I have already started implementing the series on my site. The other two proposed features will be rolled out sometime in the new year.

Once again, I really appreciate your feedback and hope you enjoy the new features.

Movies Silently is getting a makeover

Will the site be as pretty as Joseph Schildkraut in Orphans of the Storm? That is the goal! (via Wikipedia)

Over the last year or so, you may have noticed that I have been experimenting with various headers and banners. Well, I finally made up my mind. I will be switching themes and implementing the new look in the next few months. In the meantime, please excuse my mess.

Upcoming Events

I'm just tickled to have an excuse to use a still from Nyoka and the Tigermen.
I’m just tickled to have an excuse to use a still from Nyoka and the Tigermen.

I will be co-hosting the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon on January 12. Be sure to come over for the festivities.

February is a very special month. I will be holding a Cecil B. DeMille Centennial Bash. DeMille’s directing debut, The Squaw Man, was released in February of 1914 and I will be reviewing it (along with other DeMille features). I considered hosting a DeMille blogathon but had a bit too much on my plate already. Don’t write it off, though. Cecil B. and I have a very complicated relationship and it would be a fun event to host sometime in the future.

But that’s not all! February is also the anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s debut! I will be throwing some Chaplin shorts into the review mix as well. I decided to give the month to DeMille because I think his best work was in the silent era and it is unjustly neglected. However, there was no way I could leave the Little Tramp out entirely.

Lots to do!

Fun Size Review: A Modern Musketeer (1917)

modern-musketeer

Douglas Fairbanks is a human hurricane in this action-comedy. Obsessed with adventure novels and too wild for his home in Kansas, he finds adventure and romance in Arizona. Villain to vanquish? Check! Damsel in distress? Check! Things to leap from? Check and check! Fairbanks’ stunts are fun and his personality is first rate! The Grand Canyon scenery is an added bonus. Lightweight but well worth the view.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via ghirardelli.com)

Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans. A bundle of energy wrapped in a sweet package.

Read my full-length review here.

That villain must die, Animated GIF

mabels-dramatic-debut-1913-mack-sennett-the-villain

Mack Sennett stars in one of his own comedies. He is a rube whose ex has become a film star. Being a bit thick, he believes that the villainous Ford Sterling is really threatening his erstwhile love. Sennett was a much better producer than he was an actor but this scene really cracked me up. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of The Musketeers of Pig Alley? In any case, enjoy.

(This is from Mabel’s Dramatic Career)

The Silent Life: Make yourself a hug-me-tight!

Why wouldn't they want a hug-me-tight?
Why wouldn’t they want a hug-me-tight?

If you have seen the D.W. Griffith/Lillian Gish melodrama Way Down East, you may recall an early scene in which Lillian presents a handmade hug-me-tight to her sophisticated city cousins. Ever wonder just what a hug-me-tight is?

It’s basically a shawl meant to tightly wrap around the wearer that fastens on a sweater-like back. The design was meant to go over a corseted chest so it may not hang well on a modern body. However, it looks as warm as the dickens.

I have included two vintage patterns from the 1910’s, one for knitting and one for crochet. No gauge is given. I have not worked these patterns so you are one your own! But do tell me if you succeed in making one.

The knitting pattern is from the Priscilla Knitting Book (1912). The abbreviation knit pl or k pl means “knit plain,” in other words, garter stitch (knit every row).

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

The crochet pattern is from the Sunlight Book of Knitting and Crochet (1915). It is a little bit more elaborate but I really like the back detail.

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

The pattern calls for an “old afghan” stitch. I have included instructions.

hug-me-tight-pattern-03

So, now we know what a hug-me-tight is and we know how to make one if we need it!

Lost Film Files #22: The Face in the Dark (1918)

face-in-the-darkness-mae-marsh-1918-lost-silent-movie-image-01The Face in the Dark (1918)

Status: Missing and presumed lost

Mae Marsh is remembered as one of D.W. Griffith’s most vulnerable actresses. Her tragic roles in The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance have been named again and again as the very essence of the art of pantomime. And yet for all her talent, Marsh’s career sputtered after she struck out on her own.

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

The Face in the Dark was one of Marsh’s vehicles when she was signed on with the Goldwyn (before Metro and Meyer joined the party) motion picture company. An experienced and famous tragedienne, Marsh welcomed lighter fare.

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

It’s a tearless Mae Marsh in “The Face in the Dark,” her Goldwyn production, from the story by Irvin S. Cobb. It doesn’t follow that “The Face in the Dark” is not without sad moments. In fact, as Jane Ridgeway, a motherless girl. Miss Marsh has one of the most appealing roles she has yet been called upon to portray.

“I welcomed the opportunity to go through a play without shedding tears,” remarked Miss Marsh, to whose eyes tears can easily be brought. “I don’t mind playing parts where tears are necessary, but it’s a relief when you don’t have to cry.”

Moving Picture World praised the cast:

Strong Goldwyn cast in “The Face in the Dark”

face-in-the-darkness-mae-marsh-1918-lost-silent-movie-image-03For the drama of the secret service, “The Face in the Dark,” in which Mae Marsh appears April 21, Goldwyn has assembled an uncommonly interesting cast of contributing players. A leading man new to Goldwyn pictures plays opposite Miss Marsh. He is Niles Welch. He has played with practically every star, his last production before supporting Miss Marsh being Metro’s “Her Boy,” in which he was co-starred with Effie Shannon.

Alec B. Francis essays the role of Miss Marsh’s father, a retired secret service man who chooses to sacrifice his daughter’s love rather than reveal the truth about himself. Harry C. Myers, another screen favorite, adds to the excellent ensemble in the Irvin S. Cobb play. Mr. Myers plays a gentleman crook. Isabelle Lamon emerges from several years in a convent school to resume her work before the camera. She was a great favorite before she began to grow up, and now that she is again among personalities of the screen some of the stars will have to look to their laurels.

Others in the cast are Donald Hall, Willard Dashiell, Gladys Fairbanks and Inez Marcelle.

The story involved a secret service man, a bank robbery and a girl detective (I wonder who?):

Did you know Mae Marsh was dubbed "Girl of a Thousand Faces?" (click to enlarge)
Did you know Mae Marsh was dubbed “Girl of a Thousand Faces?” (click to enlarge)

To weave more tightly the net of the law around a gang of counterfeiters Charles Ridgeway, a secret service man, becomes one of them. The crooks do not suspect he is spying. The country bank in which Richard Grant, the sweetheart of Jane Ridgeway, is employed as paying teller, is robbed, and circumstances so shape themselves that the young man is convicted and imprisoned. Jane makes a startling discovery, and it would now seem that Ridgeway himself is the thief. Jane denounces her father, who at the next council of the thieves puts the situation before the leader, who is known as “the face in the dark,” because at conferences of the counterfeiters he has his face shielded by a shadow. Ridgeway is offered money to get out of the country when suddenly the secret service man throws the light on the face of the master mind of the gang. The crooks are taken prisoners, Richard is released, and Jane learns that her father was a secret service man all the while. Feature Mae Marsh as Jane Ridgeway and Niles Welch as Richard Grant.

Photoplay, however, was unimpressed:

Just another Goldwyn movie; Mae Marsh needs a good director; the story — Irvin S. Cobb at his movie worst.

face-in-the-darkness-mae-marsh-1918-lost-silent-movie-image-07

Owch!

The film sounds like a fun little thriller to me. I hope it turns up so I can judge for myself.

Questions from the Google: Why do people like silent movies?

Welcome to another installment of Questions from the Google, a periodic series in which I attempt to answer some of the search engine queries that bring people to my site. This time around, I will be discussing some basic queries about famous silent films and the time period itself.

How does the 1925 Wizard of Oz end?

You couldn’t finish it either, huh?

Me? I only wish I hadn’t finished it.

Were there color silent movies?

redskin-1929-richard-dix-tully-marshall-silent-movie-image-04

Yup. Hand-colored, stencil-colored, Technicolor, tinted and tone. Name your poison, kid.

What is the music in Charlie Chaplin’s show A Night at the Show?

Whatever the accompanist chooses to play.

The Battleship Potemkin, content and contest?

(via Wikipedia)

Theory A: Someone wants the answer to a homework question and their autocorrect misspelled “context”

Theory B: There is a Battleship Potemkin contest! Whoever takes over the most Czarist battleships wins! Onward, большевики!

I think I’ll go with Theory A.

A Trip to the Moon vs. The Great Train Robbery

(via moviemail.com)

This is a bit of a tough one. You see, A Trip to the Moon has a bigger cast but they are mostly decked out in heels and satin hot pants. Most powerful weapon? An umbrella. On the other hand, The Great Train Robbery has a smaller cast but they are armed with revolvers and dynamite and are sensibly dressed for adventure.

My guess is that the cast of Train will dominate for the first three quarters but will finally be worn out by the sheer numbers and goofiness of the Moon crew. Melies for the win!

What did they call movie theaters in 1916?

They called them theaters or moving picture theaters.

Why do people like silent movies?

I don’t know. Why do people like to Google about people liking silent movies? Maybe you could try watching one and see for yourself.

Dialogue from silent movies

I should be merciful. I really should be.

Be really nice.

La la la la.

Oh forget that! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

I’ll let Norma Desmond finish things off.

Recommended

The Silent Life in 1925: Bobbed hair or long tresses? You can have both!

By 1925, bobbed hair had established itself as the most stylish way for ladies to wear hair. But the ladies of the twenties soon discovered that short hair could be a bit limiting. Suppose you want an up ‘do but your hair is all clubbed?

Photoplay magazine provides the answer. Wigs to the rescue! The comfort of a bob but the elegance of long hair! And no need to spend hours curling those Godiva locks because you can take them right off again. So, to live the silent era life, a wig is a must.

On a side note, I think we should bring back piquant as an adjective for hair.

silent-life-1925-photoplay-wigs-1

Click to enlarge.

Recommended

Fun Size Review: The Mark of Zorro (1920)

mark of zorro poster

Zorro slashes his Z onto the silver screen for the first time and Douglas Fairbanks is the man who created the role. Funny, energetic and jam-packed with clever stunts. An ideal lightweight action/comedy and a perfect introduction to Fairbanks.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via bhg.com)

Mocha Tres Leches Cake. Caffeinated, wildly popular and with a somewhat complicated pedigree. But nothing can change the fact that it is delicious!

Read my full-length review here.

So long, you nuts. Animated GIF

musketeers-of-pig-alley-lillian-gish-dw-griffith-so-long-suckers

Another wonderful Elmer Booth moment from The Musketeers of Pig Alley. Lillian Gish is the tomato of his dreams but she just wants to be pals. Oh well, plenty more fish in the sea, I guess.

Booth played Gish’s loving brother in An Unseen Enemy, her movie debut, and Mary Pickford’s ex-con husband in The Narrow Road. He would have likely been in demand during the gangster boom of the 20’s but tragically lost his life in a 1915 car accident. The driver, director Tod Browning, had been driving while intoxicated and was seriously injured.

While he did not make his mark on feature films, we still have Booth’s signature role to remember him by.

Fun Size Review: The Sea Hawk (1924)

sea hawk poster

The New World doesn’t have a monopoly on piracy, as this film shows. Starts out as an Elizabethan romance and then takes a wild turn toward Algeria and the Barbary pirates. Milton Sills owns the hyper-masculine lead role, Wallace Beery chews scenery as an unscrupulous skipper and Enid Bennett is the charming leading lady. Full-size ships, battles and duels make this film epic in every sense of the word.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via Sweetapolita)

Neapolitan 5-Layer Cake. Distinct layers combine into an elegant and harmonious whole.

Read my full-length review here.