An ending in search of a story, The Last Command is gorgeous to look at but hasn’t a brain in its pretty head. William Powell and Emil Jannings try their darndest but the film simply isn’t as smart or as deep as it thinks it is.
Josef von Sternberg pairs with Emil Jannings to make a story of fiction overtaking reality. Also, the Russian Revolution. This film was one of the titles that won Jannings the very first Academy Award for best actor.
Continue reading “The Last Command (1928) A Silent Film Review”
John Barrymore is Sherlock Holmes, college student. Our callow detective is soon matching wits with Professor Moriarty and romancing Griffith loan-out Carol Dempster. Disjointed and a bit dull but it is interesting to see Barrymore’s take on the character and to catch a very young William Powell in his very first movie role.
[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for a spoiler)” ]Sherlock Holmes gets married (!) and heads off on his honeymoon, pausing only to arrest Moriarty.[/toggler]
If it were a dessert it would be:
Tapioca Parfaits. Looks good but it’s a bit on the dull side.
The oft-filmed tale of an Englishman who is branded a coward and spends the rest of the film proving that he most assuredly is not. This version (released at the height of the sound transition) was one of the very last silent movie hits. It also features William Powell and Fay Wray before they hit the big time and it is directed by a couple of guys mostly known for making a film about a really big ape…
Continue reading “The Four Feathers (1929) A Silent Film Review”
Bebe Daniels is a hypochondriac heiress who ends up staying on an island with a gang of bootleggers, who are led by a pre-stardom William Powell. Of course, Bebe is more interested in Richard Arlen, another gangster who seems a bit too nice to be a rum runner. Chaos ensues, obviously, and the film is a real corker in spite of a flabby middle section.
[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for a spoiler)” ]Bebe ends up saving her fella’s life from the rum runners. Feminism! Romance![/toggler]
If it were a dessert it would be:
Gin & Tonic Sorbet. Anything this fun was probably illegal at some point.
Professor Moriarty is up to his usual wicked tactics. This looks like a job for Sherlock Holmes! You know, that well-known college student. Wait, what? John Barrymore takes an unorthodox, romantic approach toward the famous sleuth in this long-lost silent film.
Continue reading “Sherlock Holmes (1922) A Silent Film Review”
Bebe Daniels stars as a hypochondriac heiress who is threatened with a move to a ranch in Texas. She flees to what she thinks is a convalescent home but finds herself trapped on an island with a gang of rum runners– led by a pre-fame William Powell. Bebe doesn’t realize the danger she is in until it is too late. Will she be able to save herself and her only ally, Richard Arlen?
Continue reading “Feel My Pulse (1928) A Silent Film Review”
It’s baaack! Another modern movie re-imagined as a silent. This time, it’s The Princess Bride and it is taking a little trip back to 1928. If you have only seen Mary Astor and William Powell in the talkies, you may be interested to know that in the silents, she was often the dainty princess and he was often a sneering villain. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. did not try his hand at swashbuckling until 1937’s Prisoner of Zenda (Astor was in that one too) but I crave your indulgence because I think he is a perfect Westley.
It’s time to give a little attention to one of my favorite screen teams, a couple so famous in the talkies that most people do not even realize that they started in the silents: William Powell and Myrna Loy.
Status: Missing and presumed lost except for the fragments found in the film’s trailer.
This is the very first film adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, filmed a mere four years after it was written. No need to make this a costume picture. The twenties were roaring away as the cameras cranked.
1926 was a banner year for silent film and The Great Gatsby, while praised, seems to have been a bit lost in the shuffle of Beau Geste, Old Ironside, What Price Glory, Night of Love, Flesh and the Devil…
Here are some vintage reviews:
Photoplay particularly praised Lois Wilson as Daisy Buchanan.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of the great war’s aftermath presented unusual film difficulties. Herbert Brenon, the director, has managed to retain much of the feeling of the story. Gatsby comes out of the war to achieve a fortune unscrupulously. He falls, of course, in the end, finding that happiness can’t be won that way. Lois Wilson runs away with the film as the jazzy Daisy Buchanan who flashes cocktails and silken you-know-she-wears-’ems.
The distributor magazine Motion Picture News had this to say:
Every good job has been done by this picture — an adaptation of the novel and play. It offered material which necessitated the intelligent handling of characterization so as to keep its spirit intact. In other winds, it depended upon the director emphasizing the central figure as he was emphasized in the novel and play to approach a “nearly perfect gentleman.” This Herbert Brenon has done and so well has Warner Baxter responded that his performance is quite the best of his career and one of the best of the season.
A tragic figure is Gatsby, a product of the gutter who comes up in the world and tries to assume the culture which only goes with long-established generations of ancestry. The manner in which Brenon works is in showing the mute pride and helplessness of the man in attempting to “belong.” Of course, Baxter has his work cut out for him, too.
It’s a sophisticated story, told with first-rate lights and shadows. The spirit of the original is there with plenty to spare. It has its dramatic moments, its romantic scenes, its contrasts and conflicts. And it is splendidly acted by every member of the cast, including Lois Wilson, Neil Hamilton, William Powell, Hale Hamilton, and Georgia Hale.
You read that cast right. William Powell, Lois Wilson, Georgia Hale…
The New York Times felt that something was missing from the final product:
The screen version of “The Great Gatsby” is quite a good entertainment, but at the same time it is obvious that it would have benefited by more imaginative direction. Although Mr. Brenon has included the tragic note at the end, he has succumbed to a number of ordinary movie flashes without inculcating much in the way of subtlety. Neither he nor the players have succeeded in fully developing the characters.
Zelda Fitzgerald was even less happy with the film (she and her husband walked out):
“We saw ‘The Great Gatsby’ in the movies. It’s ROTTEN and awful and terrible and we left.”
Unfortunately, we will never be able to judge for ourselves. The Great Gatsby is one of the more sought-after lost films of the silent era. It is a shame that it is gone since it would have provided a unique perspective on the novel, as played by the men and women who made up that Lost Generation.