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 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.

Lost Film Files #23: Burning Sands (1922)

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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.

(click to enlarge)
(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.

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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)

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(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!

(click to enlarge)
(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)

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)
(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

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.

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.

Theme Month! December 2013: Special to Me

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This month, I am going to be sharing silent films that are special to me personally in one way or another.

Review #1: The film that made me love silent movies

City Lights (1931)

Talkies were the rule but Charlie Chaplin wowed Depression-era audiences with his brilliant throwback.

Review #2: The first silent feature I ever saw

Sparrows (1926)

Mary Pickford’s slice of Southern Gothic is a creepy treat.

Review #3: The first silent movie I was obsessed with

The Lost World (1925)

A subject dear to any kindergartner’s heart: Dinosaurs!

Review #4: A film that made me love the pre-feature silents

The Sunbeam (1912)

A melodrama with its feet firmly planted in Victorian times. Know what else? It’s fantastic.

Silent Movie Bookshelf: Hollywood of the Rockies by Michael J. Spencer

hollywood-of-the-rockies-book-cover

Where were classic movies made? Most people will say “California!” while few will answer that the industry started in New York and New Jersey. But did you know that Colorado was the setting for dozens of films during the early silent era?

Hollywood of the Rockies:Colorado, the West & America’s Film Pioneers seeks to shed light on this forgotten legacy. As usual, let’s start with some particulars about the book itself.

This book is a 2013 release and is available in both print and digital formats. The physical book is a perfect bound paperback and retails for $19.99 and is available from most major online retailers. The Kindle edition of the book retails for $9.99. I personally like the print edition as I prefer to browse through books, flipping back and forth. However, I must admit that the digital version is quite a bargain.

Back cover of my copy
Back cover of my copy

What is it? This book tells the forgotten story of motion picture pioneers in Colorado. The cast of characters includes early cinema luminaries like Broncho Billy Anderson and William Selig, as well as colorful figures like Harry “Buck” Buckwalter. While this may seem like a rather narrow focus, the story of the movies in Colorado turns out to be a microcosm of the early film industry as a whole. In fact, I dare say that this is one of the most readable breakdowns of how the movies came to be.

The readers are treated to a gossipy take on the formation of the earliest motion picture companies and the interpersonal and legal battles that almost crippled the industry. Reading about patents, partnerships and profit sharing is not usually this fun. In addition, we are given details of the movie-going public’s love affair with westerns, quotes from vintage articles describing this new entertainment and some very interesting behind the scenes interviews.

Sample page
Sample page

Pictures: The book is filled with pictures from the Colorado film industry, as well as portraits of the major players in the story.

Writing style: The book is a light and entertaining read. Michael J. Spencer also makes an effort to make the early film industry relevant by comparing the short films to something familiar: YouTube videos. This is greatly appreciated, considering how difficult it is to get people to even look at a silent film.

All in all, a fun book about a forgotten topic. I enthusiastically recommend it.

You can read a sample of the book on its official website. (Thank you, Mr. Spencer for the review copy.)

***

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this film for free for the purpose of reviewing it on my blog. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Unboxing the Silents: Baby Peggy | The Elephant in the Room

BabyPeggy_DVD_Front_grande
I’m back with another installment of Unboxing the Silents. I usually reserve this feature for box sets of silent films but I decided that this single-disc release has enough content to warrant coverage here. As usual, I am reviewing the collection itself, not the individual films. Ready? Let’s go!

What is it?

The official DVD release of the acclaimed 2012 documentary on Baby Peggy, one of the first child superstars and one of the last surviving silent performers.

The disc also includes Baby Peggy’s charming 1924 feature Captain January (you can read my review here) and three of her short films. This marks the first time that Baby Peggy’s films have been made available to the general public in a high-quality, pressed DVD release.

Back of disc.
Back of disc.

 

Who released it?

Milestone Films

The Films:

Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room, documentary (2012)

Captain January, feature (1924)

Carmen Jr., short (1923)

Peg O’ the Mounted, short (1924)

Such is Life, Short (1924)

Slideshow of Baby Peggy photos set to That’s My Baby

Packaging

The disc comes in a standard plastic DVD case.

Navigation

Main menu
Main menu

The menu is animated but loads quickly and is easy to get around.

Music

Captain January features a piano score by Donald Sosin. The three short films have piano scores by Guenter Buchwald. The music for the slideshow is performed by Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton.

Price per Movie

Disc artwork.
Disc artwork.

The DVD has a retail price of $29.95 (though it can be found on sale from various online vendors). Counting the shorts as one film, that comes out to $10/movie.

Buy?

Yes! The documentary/movie combination is a great way to meet Baby Peggy. If you do not enjoy the child stars of the talkie era, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the charm of the silent kids.

Redskin (1929) A Silent Film Review

The surprisingly sympathetic tale of a Navajo man, Wing Foot (Richard Dix), who was taken from his family as a boy and raised in a boarding school. Insulted and referred to as “Redskin” by his college peers, Wing Foot also finds that he no longer fits in with his family, especially his extremely traditional father. Will Wing Foot be able to bridge the gap between the culture of his birth and the culture in which he was raised?
Continue reading “Redskin (1929) A Silent Film Review”

Fun Size Review: My Best Girl (1927)

(moviepostershop.com)
(moviepostershop.com)

Textbook Boy meets Girl. Fancy it ain’t but no romantic comedy has been sweeter than this one. Mary Pickford was never spunkier, Budder Rogers was never more adorable. An accomplished supporting cast rounds out this good-natured tale of a shop girl falling for the boss’s son. An ideal silent film for first-timers.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via cakestudent.com)
(via cakestudent.com)

Sweetheart Cherry Pies. Very classic, very cute, very irresistible.

Read my full-length review here.

Theme Month! November 2013: Color in Silent Film

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How do you get a color movie? Shoot in color, silly! In the silent era, however, there were a lot more options for getting color on the screen. For the month of November, I am going to celebrate the colorful world of silent film.

Here were the most common methods used:

Tinting & Toning: The entire frame is given a particular hue. Simply put, tinting affects the “whites” while toning affects the “blacks” and both techniques could be combined.

Hand Coloring: Color is applied by hand to portions of individual frames.

(via the-frame.com)

Stencil Color: A stencil is cut for each color that is to be applied. This allows for greater precision and faster duplication. Pathecolor was a stencil process.

Color Film (Technicolor): Yes, it did predate the talkie revolution. However, it only recorded blends of red and green. I am not a huge fan of the eyeball-searing Technicolor of the 30’s-50’s so this early process appeals to me. The limited palette gives the images a gorgeous watercolor feel. While some movies were filmed entirely this way, it was more common for movies to employ color sequences lasting a few minutes.

I will be reviewing movies that make use of each and every one of these color methods!

Review #1: Hand-colored

The Great Train Robbery (1903)

One of the earliest movie blockbusters, this classic also boasts of hand-colored sequences.

Review #2: Technicolor

Redskin (1929)

One of the last major silent films ever made, this race drama uses stunning color to tell its tale.

Review #3: Sepia Tone

The Wicked Darling (1919)

The first collaboration between Lon Chaney and Tod Browning features some sepia!

Review #4: Tinted

Upstream (1927)

This long-lost John Ford silent boasts some lovely tints.

Review #5: Stencil Colored

Cyrano de Bergerac (1925)

The famous tale given silent movie treatment, complete with gorgeous stencil color!

Silent Take: “Star Wars” circa 1915

Like most people in my age group, Star Wars was a huge part of my childhood. And like many others my age, I fell out of love with Star Wars around the years 1997-99, when the not-so-special editions and the prequels were being inflicted on us. Around the same time, I was starting to get into silent film. I had never really liked Cecil B. DeMille’s clunky sound epics but I decided to give his early silent work a chance.

Continue reading “Silent Take: “Star Wars” circa 1915″

Theme Month! October 2013: Reader Requests

2013-10Theme-Month-display-banner-GreenBack in June, I asked my blog readers to choose my reviews for the month of October. I was overwhelmed by the great suggestions and had trouble narrowing down my choices.

I really enjoyed the experience because it forced me out of my comfort zone and made me review films that were not necessarily on my to-watch list.

As promised, I will be linking to the websites of the folks who suggested these films.

Review #1

The Wizard of Oz (1925)

This film was requested by Tumblr user Nitrateglow, a silent film buff who was one of my first fans and the very first to respond to my reader request poll. The Wizard of Oz is widely considered one of the worst silent films ever made. Let’s see if it lives up to its reputation.

Review #2

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

This film was requested by the folks at the Toronto Silent Film Festival. If you happen to be in the Toronto area on April 3-8, 2014… well, why not enjoy some excellent silent entertainment? By the way, The Adventures of Prince Achmed is the earliest surviving full-length animated feature.

Review #3

The Red Lily (1924)

This film was requested by Comet Over Hollywood and Noir Dame. This is a dark tale of Parisian love gone sour. One star’s reputation has grown over the years (Ramon Novarro) while the other star is all but forgotten (Enid Bennett).

Review #4

Lizzies of the Field (1924)

This comedy short was requested by A Modern Musketeer. Two rival garages decide to settle their differences in a wacky endurance race. Real cars, real stunts.

Review #5

Silent Movie (1976)

This comedy was requested by True Classics and Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence. Popular director Mel Brooks decided to ressurrect the silent film in the 1970’s and hilarity ensues. Packed with cameos and sight gags.

Silent Movie Bookshelf: The Bad Guys, A Pictorial History of the Movie Villain by William K. Everson

Cover of my copy
Cover of my copy

A book after my own heart!

This book covers movie villains from the silent era through the 1960’s. Best of all, it is written by William K. Everson, a respected film historian and one of the most assertive defenders of silent movies.

This 1964 book is an oversized hardcover (though paperback versions are available). It is completely out of print and the prices are all over the place. I paid $14 for my copy, purchased from a Cinecon vendor. The dust jacket is battered but the contents are in perfect shape. I have seen other copies priced as low as $2 and as high as $120.

I think you can probably get a pretty good copy if you aim for the $8-15 price range. I highly recommend seeking out hardcover as oversized paperbacks tend to pull themselves apart.

What is it?: A book dedicated to movie villains. Rather than organizing it by era or by star, Everson chose to sort it by villain type. So we have a chapter on Master Criminals, one for Psychos, another for Western Outlaws, etc. It is a clever way of sorting the information and makes it easy to read about the type of villain you are interested in.

Sample page
Sample chapter header

Unlike many books of this type, the silent era villains are given equal attention. Everson even goes one better by explaining why some villains were more popular in sound and others reigned in silence.

My to-watch list is bursting at the seams thanks to this book!

Sample page
Sample page

Pictures: Tons of movie stills included, from both silent films and talkies. Each picture is carefully captioned with both the film title and the actors pictured.

Sample page
Sample page

Writing Style: Everson’s opinionated, persnickety prose is another selling point for this book. He takes occasional swipes at 1960’s whippersnappers and their aggressive, unladylike heroines. It’s grand fun to read, especially since his opinions are backed up by an enormous amount of film knowledge.

This book is perfect for reading or browsing. I consider it an essential title on any movie fan’s bookshelf.

The Great IMAGINARY Film Blogathon: The Golden Challenge (1926)

This is my contribution to the Great Imaginary Film Blogathon. Be sure to read the other posts for this event!

You know that I love silent films. What you may not know, though, is that I have an enormous weakness for the BIG films of the sixties. Lawrence of Arabia, Zulu, you know the kind. I also love those big, big comedies that seemed to star everyone in the entire world. The Great Race, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, etc.

Well, the concept behind this imaginary film is that one of those “starring everyone” adventure comedies was made in the silent era. An eccentric millionaire decided to finance a film and money was no object. The finest of everything, from stars to sets to Technicolor sequences. This millionaire wanted stars and the stars came, the biggest in the business. The whole thing was fourteen reels long and cost $3 to get in. It was the biggest film of the decade.

Here it is.

The Golden Challenge (1926)

United Artists

Director: Raoul Walsh

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

The Plot: The richest man in the world, Jabez Watertoast, passes away without heirs. Instead, he has left an eccentric will: He has buried the majority of his fortune (in emeralds and gold) in a secret place and has left clues as to its location. Four copies of the clues have been sent to four different married couples, all in desperate need of money. These couples must use their resourcefulness to find the treasure. Watertoast wanted his money to go to a bootstrapping pair of go-getters and this race is his way of finding the most worthy recipient.

So, four letters are sent out with strict instructions that the participants tell no one (especially the press!) about their mission.

The letter:

Dear sir and madam:

You have been selected as a possible recipient of the Watertoast emeralds. Your first instructions are included in this envelope. You will be given an allowance of $50.00 a week to cover your expenses but no more. If you tell anyone about this contest (especially the newspapers) you will be disqualified.

Yours,

Jabez Watertoast

Now it’s time to meet our four couples.

Note: I created a GIF for every main character but if you have a slow internet connection, they may not animated properly. If a GIF seems to be frozen, simply click it and you should be able to see it move.

The Cast

Ned and Amy Sheffield

Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford

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mary-pickford-title-card

The Sheffields were raised in an orphanage together. They grew up, got married and were able to buy the place with the proceeds from Ned’s wingwalking prize money and Amy’s secret gooseberry pie recipe. However, money is tight and an evil banker (who knows there is oil under the place) may take over if they don’t get enough cash to pay off their debts.

Prince Henri and Sylvia de Guise

Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson

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gloria-swanon-title-card

Henri is the heir to the throne of Carolingia, which was impoverished by the Great War. Accompanied by his American wife, Sylvia, Henri hopes to raise enough money to strengthen his army so that his country will not fall to anarchists. A former manicurist to the rich and powerful, Sylvia plans to use her business contacts to try to help her husband.

Robert and Phoebe Merriweather

John Barrymore and Marion Davies

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marion-davies-title-card

A pair of itinerant entertainers and semi-con artists, Robert and Phoebe are a comedy/illusion duo who pass themselves off as Russian refugees. However, when performing for a gangland audience, they made the dog of the boss’s moll disappear. The problem? It never reappeared. Running for their lives, they want enough money to start a new life far, far away from Chicago.

Erik and Velma Hardt

Conrad Veidt and Pola Negri

conrad-veidt-title-card

pola-negri-title-card

Erik and Velma were born into money but have long since spent it. However, they do have one advantage: Velma’s uncle was Jabez Watertoast’s lawyer and he means for his niece to win the money. Erik, meanwhile, is using his shadowy connections to try to trip up the competition. He was a spy during the war, you see, and has connections with the anarchist movement.

The four couples only have the first clue to work with. One clue leads to another and so forth as they race across the world at breakneck speed. On the way, they are met with numerous stars in cameos and character actors. But who will win the big prize?

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

My cameo ideas:

Clara Bow as one of the older, spunky orphans

Harry Langdon as the Merriweather’s hapless booking agent

Charlie Chaplin as himself, a helpful passerby in Paris

Dorothy Gish as a cab driver in Budapest

Nita Naldi as a tribal chieftainess

William S. Hart as a displaced cowboy in Morocco

Norma Talmadge as the scorekeeper for the treasure hunt

Richard Barthelmess as a country boy who gives the couples a lift in his old cart

Ben Turpin as a foreign legionnaire

Anna May Wong as the Hong Kong-based reporter who wants a scoop

Locations:

The race will start in New York and then head to Arizona (a little tip of the hat to The Great Race there). From there, the race heads to London, Paris, Budapest, Moscow, Hong Kong and then all the way back to Morocco. The treasure is hidden in the desert and guarded by a fierce tribe of warriors.

And who wins the prize? I’m leaving that up to your imagination.

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.