Fun Size Review: The Road to Yesterday (1925)

We're going to kill that little so-and-so.

Terrible script? Check! Terrible title cards? Check! Weird plot? Check! Tons of fun? You bet! Cecil B. DeMille’s wacky time travel romance makes absolutely no sense but that is all just part of the fun. A modern flapper is on the outs with her minister boyfriend (he is just ruining her reputation!) and it looks like all is lost until a train crash catapults them to… sixteenth century England? William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd’s first starring role under the DeMille banner.

road-to-yesterday-1925-excuse-me-reverend

[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for a spoiler)” ]Everyone dies in the past but then wakes up, having learned their lesson. Love all around![/toggler]

You can read my full-length review here.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(via Kraft Recipes)
(via Kraft Recipes)

Chocoflan. Caramel AND chocolate AND cake? Sometimes too much is just enough.

Availability: Received bargain release from Alpha. The print quality is pretty good but a few snippets are missing. Still, when you can grab a copy for just a couple of bucks…

Silent Movie Rule #5: Always date a woman with a mean right hook

eves-leaves-double-punch-silent-movie-animated-gif

Leatrice Joy and William Boyd show Walter Long what’s what in Eve’s Leaves. Poor Bill was kidnapped by pirates but Leatrice was on hand to save the day. The pair fell in love over a mutual love of apples and a talent for punching villains. The movie is not politically correct by any means but features one of the most empowered heroines of the silent era.

(You can read my review here.)

Availability: Released on DVD.

Silent Movie Rule #2: The key to surviving a peasant uprising? Good skin care.

volga-boatman-cecil-be-demille-william-boyd-silent-movie-bullet-through-skin-rework

Life lessons from the people of silent film. Disclaimer: I am not responsible for any consequences you might suffer from actually following this advice.

So you are a princess and the peasants are revolting (and they’re rebelling too! rimshot!). What to do? Well, if you were a smart princess and moisturized properly, you have nothing to worry about. After all, how can the handsome young man sent to shoot you possibly put a bullet through your lovely skin? The movie is not specific, though, as to how nice your skin must be before your life is spared. If your skin is so-so, do you get off with a jail sentence? We may never know.

(This rule comes courtesy of The Volga Boatman. You can read my review here.)

Availability: The Volga Boatman is available on DVD.

In the Vaults #14: Her Man o’ War (1926)

her man o war 1

Her Man o’ War (1926)

Status: 35mm print held by the Cohen Media Group. 16mm print held by private collector. An incomplete version of the film (missing most of the third act) has been circulating on home video for a while and sometimes surfaces on sites like eBay. It is quite battered and blurry.

Back to the trenches with another vaultie that I would love to see released. First, a little background on how Her Man o’ War came to be.

Boyd and Goudal get all mushy.
Boyd and Goudal get all mushy.

Cecil B. DeMille went into independent production in 1925 after being forced out of Paramount, a studio he had helped found. As was typical for any motion picture studio, the films that DeMille’s new concern produced were divided into program pictures and specials. The specials had large budgets and the programmers were cheaper films that would pay the bills. At least that was the theory. DeMille’s talent was working behind the camera, not poring over ledgers.

A vintage ad for stars in DeMille's stable. William Boyd and Elinor Fair were newlyweds at the time.
A vintage ad for stars in DeMille’s stable. William Boyd and Elinor Fair were newlyweds at the time.

Her Man o’ War was one of these programmers. While it was not directed by DeMille personally, it still was very much a family affair.

DeMille’s assistant director, Frank Urson, was charged with solo direction. William Boyd, a DeMille discovery who was fresh off a smash hit, The Volga Boatman, was tapped to star. The leading lady was the talented (but notoriously temperamental) Jetta Goudal, who had her own battles with Paramount behind her and was a personal friend of DeMille’s daughter.

Before discussing the film further, I must explain my viewing experience a little. I saw this film as a battered, faded and incomplete print. Therefore, I do not feel it is right to categorize my coverage of the picture as a review.

Vintage review snippet.
Vintage review snippet.

While other war pictures of the period took pains to portray the Germans as misunderstood or at least human, Her Man o’ War could have been made at the height of the anti-Hun fervor. The plot concerns two Army guys (Boyd and Jimmie Adams) who are given a dangerous assignment. They must locate a powerful German cannon hidden in a castle in Alsace. Then they must get the information back to the Americans so they can destroy the dread machine.

How can this be accomplished? Boyd and Adams pose as deserters and intend hang around behind German lines to see what they can see. The problem? The Germans immediately see through their ruse but decide to let the Americans have a certain amount of freedom, hoping to find out what they are really after.

Jetta Goudal in German military garb. Or something.
Jetta Goudal in German military garb. Or something.

Boyd and Adams are given work assignments on the farms of two Alsatian women, played by Jetta Goudal and Kay Deslys. The women are not told that their new workers are suspected spies and they treat them like the POWs they believe them to be. At one point, Jetta takes a bullwhip to Boyd.

How to tell you have seen too many silent movies: If you have only seen a few, that last line will probably make you say, “A bullwhip?!!?” A more jaded silent film veteran will yawn and say, “That old chestnut again?” The silent era was rather into that kind of thing. No, I do not care to discuss why.

Anyway, the local German countess and owner of the cannon castle is also a voracious maneater and she has her eye on Boyd.

(Who wouldn’t?)

This sort of thing happened to Boyd with alarming frequency during the silent era. The ladies just could not resist snatching him. Here he is as Leatrice Joy's guest in Eve's Leaves.
This sort of thing happened to Boyd with alarming frequency during the silent era. The ladies just could not resist snatching him. Here he is as Leatrice Joy’s guest in Eve’s Leaves.

Boyd finds himself bundled off to the castle, dressed in a tux and prepared as the, er, companion for the evening.

Jetta is not about to let another woman take advantage of her prisoner. He was on her work detail, darn it, and she has the receipt! She follows Boyd to the castle and positions herself under the dinner table. Boyd has used his feminine wiles to convince the Countess to show him the cellar. Eureka! The cannon! The Countess has played nice up till now but she expects a bit of romance in exchange for her efforts.

Never mess with Jetta's work detail.
Never mess with Jetta’s work detail.

So we have Boyd needing to get out with his information, the Countess not about to give up her prisoner and Jetta under the table and about to stick the Countess with a fork if she tries to play footsie one more time and…

I am not leaving you at a suspenseful point on purpose. This is really where the missing footage occurs. Grr! We get the last ten minutes of the picture but I have a feeling that a lot of fun stuff is contained in the lost section.

Lukewarm praise from Motion Picture Magazine.
Lukewarm praise from Motion Picture Magazine.

Her Man o’ War is not a great picture. The script is as silly as anything. However, I very much enjoyed the reversed gender tropes and the wackiness that was starting to get really amusing when the missing footage ruined everything.

The film was pretty much ignored upon its initial release. It didn’t even merit a review in many of the major fan magazines. I think it deserves a second look. Especially since I want to know if Jetta really does stab the countess with a fork!

The offending hat.
The offending hat.

And now I wanted to discuss something that always gets brought up whenever Her Man o’ War is mentioned: That gigantic bow hat that Jetta Goudal dons to impress William Boyd. It has been called ridiculous, zany, goofy… That crazy Jetta and her hats.

The film is set in Alsace. Here is a painting of a woman in traditional Alsatian garb.

Ahem.

Alsace 2

“But paintings always exaggerate!”

Okay. A photo then:

Alsace 1

So, the hat is 100% authentic Alsatian headgear. I mention this incident because it gives me an excuse to write about one of my favorite topics: Film costuming.

I have always been obsessed with costuming. As a child, I consumed book after book on the subject. I stripped my local library’s shelves bare and was always looking for more. No sheet or pillowcase was safe as I was liable to snip it to pieces and make a costume out of it. (My mother was incredibly tolerant.)

I took sewing lessons and began to create true historical reproductions. I haven’t sewn in ages but seeing gorgeous costumes always gives me itchy fingers. I still like to thumb through costuming books, seeing how historical garments were constructed.

Jetta seemed rather proud of her hat.
Jetta seemed rather proud of her hat.

Of course, with great power comes great responsibility and I blush to confess that, for a time, I was one of THOSE people. You know the ones. “During this time period they would have used a 1/4 inch stitch but the stitching of her left sleeve is clearly 1/3 inch and it’s the wrong color too. It should be chartreuse, not lime.”

Look, I still cringe when I see set-in sleeves in ancient Greece but what changed my attitude toward costuming in general? Reading books about the actual theory of costume design for the stage and screen, as opposed to straightforward reproduction. Before that, I had always subscribed to the theory that a costumer should endeavor to be 100% accurate, no exceptions and no excuses.

What I realized, thanks to these books, is that costuming is not about recreating the perfect farthingale. It’s about creating a mood, an illusion. The simple fact is that there are times when a truly authentic costume would actually detract from that carefully constructed atmosphere.

Monster or perfectionist?
Monster or perfectionist?

We have the example of Lillian Gish and Erte to illustrate that. Erte was hired to make the costumes for La Boheme and he wanted accuracy. So, he ordered the ladies of the film to wear period corsets and he personally chose cheap cotton fabric to show the poverty of Lillian Gish’s character. The problem was that Renee Adoree could not breath in her corset and abandoned it, spoiling the line of the dress. Lillian Gish pointed out (quite correctly) that new cotton would not look cheap on the screen but crisp and fresh. Silk makes better movie rags. Erte was insulted and bashed the actresses wherever he could, claiming that he was bullied and oppressed. But you know what? He was wrong and they were right.

(Many articles on the topic take Erte at his word and make Lillian out to be a spoiled star. I have read Gish’s incredibly reasonable explanation in her autobiography and she made excellent points. Erte is iconic but that does not translate into every medium. Team Lillian!)

Think Lillian's fragile? Just try messing with her performances.
Think Lillian’s fragile? Just try messing with her performances.

This is where we come back to Jetta Goudal’s bow hat. Was it accurate? Yes. Was is correct? Yes. Was it an appropriate costume? No.

You see, your average American moviegoer (then and now) likely has very little knowledge of the traditional garb of Alsace. When Jetta shows up in her giant hat, they are not thinking, “At last, Alsatian traditional hats done right!” They are thinking, “My word, what is that on her head? That bow is wearing her.”

There are times when a particular article of fashion will have to be eliminated for the sake of censors, a performer’s physical mobility or because audiences will find it silly, distracting from the tale and spoiling the mood.

I think these decisions are best explained by Milena Canonero, who won the Academy Award for best costume design for her work in Marie Antoinette (2006). Ladies of the period wore lace on lace on lace on lace, it was a status symbol then. Nowadays, too much lace looks matronly. Canonero knows her stuff and she was aware that perfectly accurate costumes would not fit the tone of the film, which portrayed a youthful Marie Antoinette. So, she decided to cut back on the lace. Was it 100% accurate? No. Was it appropriate for the costuming? Yes.

That’s why I also don’t sweat it when I see a movie set in the teens or twenties that has decidedly unfuzzy hair and un-Cupid’s bow lips. I may know that teens and twenties gals had fuzzy hair and darkly rouged lips but John Q. Public would just wonder if the actress neglected to comb her hair that day. And in the end, John Q. Public is who the movie is for.

This post was for the Snoopathon. Be sure to check out the other reviews and articles.

Recommended

Oh, and I suppose you’re going to pay her chiropractor bill, Mr. Boyd. Animated GIF

volga-boatman-cecil-be-demille-william-boyd-silent-movie-whiplashThe sweeping movie smooch has never held much appeal to me. I keep thinking things like, “Doesn’t that hurt her neck?” or “Aren’t his arms tired?” or “Watch that pistol, sonny, you might shoot yourself.” I’m just not cut out for these overblown romantic gestures, I guess.

That being said, there is something really wonderful about seeing William Boyd do the honors. Maybe it’s because he is best known as Hopalong Cassidy, who, as far as I know, only kissed one girl in his entire onscreen life. Lovely Evelyn Brent was the tough chick who enjoyed the smooch, though she had to die to get it. (The movie in question is Hopalong Cassidy Returns, if you are interested.)

This romantic sweep is from The Volga Boatman and Mr. Boyd’s kissing partner is Elinor Fair, who would soon be the third Mrs. Boyd. He’s a bolshevik and she is a princess. Naturally, they find one another irresistible. It’s all kitschy fun.

Availability

The Volga Boatman was released on VHS by Kino. There is also an out-of-print DVD version.

“Excuse me while I slug this creep,” said the reverend. Animated GIF

road-to-yesterday-1925-excuse-me-reverendThe Road to Yesterday features William Boyd as a two-fisted minister who is wooing a flapper. This does not sit well with her current fiance and there is a bit of a scuffle between the boys. This was Boyd’s first major role and he is rather charming (in spite of the silly story). I love the way he asks for Vera Reynolds’ indulgence before walloping his opponent.

Why were there not more love stories about flappers and two-fisted ministers? This is great!

On a side note, I do think that Boyd’s character had a touch of wish fulfillment for director Cecil B. DeMille. His father had been educated as an Episcopal minister and DeMille was quite the outdoorsy type.

The Road to Yesterday (1925) A Silent Film Review

Cecil B. DeMille’s first feature from his shiny new studio, The Road to Yesterday is the epic tale of two couples, marital strife, a fiery train wreck, flappers, ministers and a touch of time travel. You know, keeping things simple. It is also notable as the film that started William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd on his path to stardom.

Continue reading “The Road to Yesterday (1925) A Silent Film Review”

Questions from the Google: On the Boyds and the bees

(via dorothysebastian.com)

William Boyd and his films have been cropping up in my search queries lately so I figured I had enough material to write a whole post on the topic.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Boyd, he was the hero to a whole generation of children: Hopalong Cassidy! And I make no secret about my appreciation for his silent work.

Here are some of the queries I have received:

William Boyd in silent films? Early films of William Boyd?

Biography of William Stage Boyd

In which movies was the theme of the Volga boatmen used? Was William Boyd in The Volga Boatman?

Did William Boyd work exclusively for Paramount Pictures?

So, take out your cap guns and your black hats because we are going to be taking a look at William Boyd.

(via Time Magazine)

William Boyd in silent films? Early films of William Boyd?

Yes, William Boyd was indeed in silent films. In fact, you can catch glimpses of him in some early Cecil B. DeMille titles like Why Change Your Wife? and The Affairs of Anatol. He also had bit parts in some Rudolph Valentino vehicles such as Moran of the Lady Letty and The Young Rajah.

(via Doctor Macro)

After spending much of his early career at Paramount, Boyd followed DeMille when the director jumped ship for his own production company. DeMille had taken a liking to Boyd and gave him his big break, a two-fisted minister in The Road to Yesterday. That was followed up by the biggest hit of Boyd’s silent career, The Volga Boatman.

Boyd continued to work for DeMille Pictures, starring in such nautical fare as Eve’s Leaves and The Yankee Clipper. He also starred in D.W. Griffith’s last silent, Lady of the Pavements. He successfully jumped over to sound and was Carole Lombard’s leading man in High Voltage, one of her early starring roles.

Biography of William “Stage” Boyd

William Stage Boyd
The other William Boyd

The name William Boyd is and was quite common in the entertainment industry. William “Stage” Boyd took his middle name to emphasize his stage experience and to differentiate himself from the William Boyd who was making a name for himself as a leading man.

Unfortunately, the press did not make such distinctions and when “Stage” was caught in the midst of scandalous doings, the papers printed a picture of the wrong Boyd. Both Boyds suffered career damage as a result and William Boyd started to go by Bill Boyd to avoid further confusion. Stage Boyd died in 1935 from ailments related to his alcohol and drug abuse. The same year, William Boyd was hired to play the role that would define his career, Hopalong Cassidy.

Not a lot of information is available about Stage Boyd. If he is mentioned at all, it is usually in relation to William “Hoppy” Boyd. Sorry to leave you empty-handed but there it is.

In which movies was the theme of the Volga boatmen used? Was William Boyd in The Volga Boatman?

volga boatman

The Song of the Volga Boatman has been used in dozens, maybe hundreds of films. Even if you don’t know it by name, you will recognize it immediately.

It is sometimes used to create Russian flavor but is more commonly used comically to accent a character toiling. One of my favorite uses of this song is in the opening credits of the 1966 comedy The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, where it used as part of a medley of patriotic American and Russian songs.

And yes, William Boyd was indeed the star of The Volga Boatman. It’s a silly DeMille spectacle but quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, the only high-quality release it received in the USA was on VHS. (It was available as part of a bargain basement DeMille box set but that product has been pulled from the market.)

The Volga Boatman (film)
The Volga Boatman (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did William Boyd work exclusively for Paramount Pictures?

No. While he spent a large part of his career at the studio, he also signed on with RKO, DeMille Pictures, and United Artists, among others.

If the guy you like won’t visit your place– even when HIS place is being attacked by pirates– it’s safe to assume he’s not interested. Animated GIF

Eve's Leaves Animated GIF

Eve's Leaves Animated GIF

Me? Go over there with you? No, thank you!

Poor Leatrice Joy’s attempts to be a player are met with utter failure in Eve’s Leaves. The object of her affections (William Boyd) considers her pesky and would rather risk piratical attack than spend one more minute with her. I would call that a bad sign. The worst.

Of course, you know they are going to end up together, right?

Bonus! This is a great GIF for turning down invitations. If you don’t mind burning bridges with the host, that is.

Availability

Eve’s Leaves has been released on DVD-R by Grapevine.

If you get insulted, just do this– on second thought, don’t. You’ll get arrested. Animated GIF

volga-boatman-cecil-be-demille-william-boyd-silent-movie-other-blood

More Bolshevik trash talk from the one and only William Boyd, aka Hopalong Cassidy. In case you didn’t already notice, I find this casting to be infinitely amusing.

The setup is as follows: Aristocrat Elinor Fair thinks William Boyd’s muscly peasant is pretty easy on the eyes. Her fiance, Victor Varconi, realizes this is true and, spurred by jealousy, messes with Mr. Boyd’s face. Boo! I mean, Boyd doesn’t end up like Gwynplaine or anything but still!

In any case, the “Our blood now, your blood later” thing is some splendidly over-the-top threatening!

Availability

The Volga Boatman was released on VHS by Kino. There is also an out-of-print DVD version.

“Curse you and your flawless complexion, tempting me away from my deep-held political beliefs!” Animated GIF

volga-boatman-cecil-be-demille-william-boyd-silent-movie-bullet-through-skin-rework

Well, you can’t accuse silent films of being all romance and honey, right? William Boyd has just saved Elinor Fair from being shot (he was supposed to do the shooting). She asks him why he saved her. He is not too happy with the situation so his answer is a bit brusk.

I mean, here he was, minding his own business, starting the Russian Revolution and now he’s stuck with some Czarist dame. See, the problem is that she is just too good at moisturizing and exfoliating and her skin was too nice to put a bullet hole through. It strikes me that perhaps the other Czarists should have considered some mud packs and body butters. It would have saved a whole lot of them from being shot.

(This is from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1926 hit The Volga Boatman.)

Recommended

Seriously, if anyone did this to me, I would slug them, Animated GIF

volga-boatman-cecil-be-demille-william-boyd-silent-movie-song-of-love-rework

Cecil B. DeMille was known to use… odd romantic gestures in his films. In this case, Elinor Fair is groovin’ to some boatman music supplied by William Boyd and her fiance, Victor Varconi, is jealous. So what does he do? Make his hands into earmuffs, of course. And she is fine with it. In fact, she thinks it’s pretty wonderful.

The Volga Boatman is stuffed with moments like this, which is why I love it so.

Recommended

A bouquet of guns, Animated GIF

volga-boatman-cecil-be-demille-william-boyd-silent-movie-bouquet-of-guns-revised2

About 73% of the fun in The Volga Boatman comes from the overblown intertitles. In this case, William Boyd (yes, that William Boyd) is leading a Bolshevik uprising (this was back when a Hollywood hero could lead a Bolshevik uprising) and he is calling on his followers to storm the castle. (Have fun with that!)

Recommended

Fun Size Review: Eve’s Leaves (1926)

Raised as a boy aboard ship, Leatrice Joy feels it is high time to get a fella. Armed with magazine relationship advice, she goes ashore and sets her cap at the first man she sees, William Boyd. He is annoyed by the over-eager Leatrice and rebuffs her. Leatrice shanghais him and soon he is beginning to think this kidnapping thing is not so bad. Boyd and Joy are a delight in this breezy adventure-comedy.

Continue reading “Fun Size Review: Eve’s Leaves (1926)”

Fun Size Review: Two Arabian Knights (1927)

William Boyd and Louis Wolheim are frenemy  POW’s who escape and make for warmer climes. They meet Arabian princess Mary Astor (um…) and decide to save her from an unsavory arranged marriage. Producer Howard Hughes hoarded this film in his vault, the villain. One of the best wartime bromance pictures of the silent era. Nice balance of action, comedy and romance. Worth seeking out.

two-arabian-knights-hows-it-going

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

Boyd and Astor ride off into the sunset in a carriage driven by Wolheim. A trio!

If it were a dessert it would be:

S’mores Brownies. Too much of a good thing is wonderful.

Read my full-length review here.

Availability: Alas, not on DVD but it airs on TCM sometimes.

Why Change Your Wife? (1920) A Silent Film Review

It’s Gloria Swanson’s turn to be the offending party in this DeMille marital comedy. She is a lovely young prude who moralizes her husband right into the waiting arms of another woman. Only then does Gloria realize that she has made a mistake and a little romance helps in marriage. Armed with this knowledge- and a wild wardrobe- she sets out to win back her man.

Continue reading “Why Change Your Wife? (1920) A Silent Film Review”

Two Arabian Knights (1927) A Silent Film Review

Buddy comedies do not come better. During the Great War, two squabbling soldiers are captured by the Germans. They escape, rescuing an Arabian princess in the process. Cute film with a strong cast and a lively pace. One of the early silents produced by Howard Hughes.

Home Media Availability: This film has never been released on DVD or made available via streaming.

Continue reading “Two Arabian Knights (1927) A Silent Film Review”