Discussion: What’s your favorite silent movie? And which is the worst?

So, I’ve posted my top ten and bottom five silent movie lists and now I want your opinion. What is your favorite silent movie? And which one is the worst you have ever seen?

This is all personal opinion, of course, and no two viewers will agree absolutely. My best (Michael Strogoff) and worst (Brute Island) are both comparatively obscure so don’t be shy if your choice is equally unknown. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to let your flag fly for famous movies like Battleship Potemkin or The General. We’re all here to share and have fun.

Feel free to only answer for either best or worst. No one says you have to share both. This isn’t the Spanish Inquisition. (I feel a Monty Python quote coming on!)

60 Comments

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t like Intolerance. ๐Ÿ˜‰ And Show People is a definite winner. Between Haines & Davies, I laughed my head off. What a talented pair!

  1. Christine Harrison

    The minute you mentioned this topic, my brain started working overtime to think of the best and worst silent films I’ve seen! So many favourites …. Vidor’s The Crowd, which I admire for its realism, Lang’s Metropolis, for the sheer visual power, Griffiths’s Intolerance, for its groundbreaking storytelling, Hitchcock’s The Lodger, for its glimpse into the workings of a genius director …. how to choose??? I finally decided on The Phantom of the Opera (okay, hardly an obscure choice, so sorry for being obvious!), because not only do I love the film, but I adore the sequence of the Masked Ball where Chaney appears as Death. The sequence is in colour and there is something so mesmerising about it , it draws me to it all the time. I just can’t explain it any other way! Going in the opposite direction, I disliked Sternberg’s The Salvation Hunters. I normally like the works of this director, but this was really boring. I read that, on its release, it provoked the same reaction from its audience, at which point Charlie Chaplin claimed it to be a masterpiece – legend has it that audiences revised their opinion and agreed with Chaplin thinking he must be right, only for him to say that he meant it as a joke to see what the reaction would and he did in fact find it boring all along. I don’t know if this is true or not …. and I still dislike the film.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      No need to apologize, The Phantom of the Opera is the movie you love and I certainly think it’s a good choice. Funny story about The Salvation Hunters. But at least Chaplin got Georgia Hale for The Gold Rush. For me, when Sternberg is good he is very very good and when he is bad, I’m catatonic.

  2. geelw

    It’ll change in a week or so, but for now SUNRISE is my best silent pal. The coin landed on its edge for Intolerance and yeah, Birth of a Nation (as historic as it be, it just ain’t for me. And I’ve seen it multiple times from a few perspectives). ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Oh yes, I change up my list of faves constantly.

      I feel it’s important to create a safe space for people who don’t like Griffith’s films. The cult of Griffith is weaker now than ever but it’s still around and, frankly, the fanaticism is very odd. People are allowed to like Griffith’s work and they are allowed to dislike it. I’m not sure why Griffith fans are so ready to bite heads off when someone mentions their discomfort with his problematic views. (And they were his views, make no mistake. This “poor little D.W. accidentally made a racist film” narrative is just the worst.) Good for you giving it a deep viewing. I have only managed it once, though I did see Re-Birth of a Nation and thought it was an excellent deconstruction.

  3. dlhartzog

    The Passion of Joan of Arc. Then, The Crowd. Pandora’s Box, Metropolis, Vampyr, Sunrise, The Big Parade. Thought Intolerance was not very good, and never cared for Birth of a Nation.

  4. Duchess of Prunes

    Ah! My favorite silent movie is Sumurun, directed by Ernst Lubitsch. I mean, there’s not much to the story but the film itself is so beautiful. The costumes, the backgrounds and even how the actors themselves move is beautiful. It’s basically a fairy tale….I should say Man with a Movie Camera was a film I did not enjoy….at all. I tried to like it….but it failed to entertain me. And I failed to understand it. It was nicely filmed though.

  5. mercurie80

    A favourite would be hard to choose, but I think I would go with The Crowd. I really can’t pick a worst. While I have probably seen more silent films than most people, none of the ones I have seen were bad. I really couldn’t pick a worst for that reason!

  6. Antony Gould

    I’m quite new to watching silent films but have found your site to be brilliant. I love the “let’s find out shall we” way you review the films. I very much like Janet Gaynor so I would say Sunrise and Street Angel as two of my favourites as well as Sparrows with Mary Pickford. I’ve seen both The Patsy and Show People recently because of your reviews and loved them both!
    Thanks!

  7. Stanley

    My all time favorite is City Lights. All the runners up change daily; mostly the standards. But, some that often are overlooked but bear mentioning in this crowded field: Sjostrom’s The Phantom Carriage and The Outlaw and His Wife. Also a big fan of the silent documentaries like Nanook of the North and Man With a Movie Camera. And, as one who actually LIKED Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, I do have to say that Griffith’s best movie Broken Blossoms.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Oh yes, I think most fans have an ever-changing list. It’s great because it means there’s more to discover.

      It’s okay, we welcome Griffith fans here. I only take issue with being ordered to like his films but I’m very happy to hear that people find joy in the silents, no matter what they are.

      1. Bob Duggan

        IIRC, Ramon Navarro is in Four Horsemen as an uncredited extra (thus building the relationship with Rex Ingram that would lead to Scaramouche), so he’s technically in the movie, but it’s still not his finest.

  8. nitrateglow

    Favorite: The General (Breathtakingly beautiful, funny, and Buster Keaton in his physical prime (and with long hair /swoon/)
    Least Favorite: Semon’s The Wizard of Oz

    Note on Intolerance, since others have brought it up: My opinions are extremely mixed. One one hand, I admire the ambition and the sheer scale of the Babylon segment. But the film is a mess on the whole and I disliked Mae Marsh’s performance as the Dear One. So I would concur with Orson Welles: maybe the film doesn’t work but it is fascinating in its flawed way.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Re: The Wizard of Oz. As Terry Jones once said, viewers have a much more difficult time forgiving bad comedy. Something about a movie promising to make us laugh and not delivering is infuriating.

      Yeah, Griffith could not make up his mind with Intolerance and the different sections just never jelled for me. What I found especially odd was shoehorning the traditional Passion narrative but then going off on a weird revisionist take for Babylon. (In the book of Daniel, the king of Babylon was guilty of gross blasphemy and was warned that his kingdom would fall.) So, like, are we biblical or not, Griffith? And the Huguenot massacre seemed to be an excuse for Griffith’s most favoritest topic: rape in close quarters.

      1. nitrateglow

        Totally agree with the Huguenot section. The moment that mercenary started eyeing the virginal young woman, we knew how that route was going to end. It’s like going to a Michael Bay film and being surprised at the explosions. Why do you think Griffith obsessed over that so?

      2. Fritzi Kramer

        As far as Griffith’s psychological makeup, I really don’t want to take a look in the basement. The lawn furniture is freaky enough. I just leave it at “he had this thing.”

  9. Paul Tennison

    This Week probably my favourite is ——–Lucky Star, my bottom pick would be Outside The Law, Didn’t really enjoy that one. I suppose with my top pick I’m just an old romantic at heart

  10. Dwight Davis

    I have quite a few favorites but I have to say my favorite is Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality. In repeated viewings my enjoyment of this film never declines.

  11. Michael Kuzmanovski

    Favorite, Nosferatu. It’s one of, and maybe the first silent movie I ever saw. (Of course I’ve found many good silent movies in the past few years.)

    Worst, Sherlock Holmes starring John Barrymore. It’s the only silent movie I’ve bought that I got rid of. Barrymore certainly looked the part, but the story was lame. Generally speaking, I’ve never cared for loose adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. I’m spoiled by Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes TV series, which I watched a lot of when I was in junior high.

  12. popegrutch

    Ack, lost my original post for taking too long to think about it. I’ll just list a few faves: “The Unknown,” with Lon Chaney, “Sunrise” by Murnau, “Der Golem” by Wegener, “Speedy” with Harold Lloyd, “A Trip to the Moon” by Melies. Don’t think I could pick a #1, though.
    Oh! Also, “Dementia” AKA “Daughter of Horror” from the 50s. That’s a silent, though, right? I mean, apart from the narration by Ed McMahon.

  13. richardsd3

    Fave: City Girl (1930), worst: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920). I wrote a paragraph of explanation, clicked ‘Post Comment’, and was told my session timed out, clearly a polite rejection notice of my post.

  14. richardsd3

    By the way, I’m disappointed “Michael Strogoff” hasn’t been Blu-rayed, or even DVDed. Based on your review, I bought from Flicker Alley “The House of Mystery” and was blown away.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Yes, it’s a shame. It’s just a really tough home video market right now. The best way to get these sort of films released is to do exactly what you and I are doing: buy the Mosjoukine films and spread the word. I would love for him to have the same name recognition as Lon Chaney, Louise Brooks or Conrad Veidt.

      Glad you liked House of Mystery!

      PS, have you checked out Flicker Alley’s Russian Emigres in Paris box set? It has three great Mosjoukine titles.

      1. Siri

        There are so many brilliant silents, it’s hard to pick a favorite one. Wonderful films like “Safety Last” (1923) or “Lonesome” (1928) come to my mind. But the ones I can watch over and over again are usually no masterpieces but often just entertaining as “The Nut” (1921), “The Temptress” (1926), “Road to Perdition” (1925) or “Der Adjutant des Zaren” (1929).
        However, I found “The Indian Tomb” (1921) to be one of the most boring silents – in spite of Conrad Veidt an a nice setting. To me the movie was too lengthy and somehow wooden. I didn’t like it at all.

  15. Le

    It’s difficult to choose one favorite, but I’d go with either The Last Command, Metropolis, Ben-Hur, The Big Parade or Pandora’s Box. I said it was a difficult choice.
    The worst? Definetely The Wizard of Oz. I’ll forever have nightmares with that duck vomiting.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      I wonder how that story meeting went…
      Larry: This scene needs something. Ideas?
      Writer: How about vomit? Everyone loves vomit!
      Larry: Brilliant! But what shall do the vomiting?
      Writer: A duck! Everyone loves ducks.
      Larry: That’s it! That’s the answer! This is going to be comedy masterpiece!

      1. nitrateglow

        Writer: Oh and don’t forget the boring political dialogue! The kids will eat that up!
        Larry: And creepy lolita scenes for the parents!
        Writer: … Let’s get that vomiting duck.

      2. Fritzi Kramer

        Are you kidding? Kids love political dialogue! Ask any kid. Naturally, their favorite part of The Phantom Menace is where the characters discuss trade negotiations and senate protocol.

  16. Linda Luther-Veno

    I am still learning about and watching new-to-me silent movies, but so far my favorites are City Lights and Sparrows. My least favorites have been Intolerance and the Wizard of Oz.

  17. Carter Burrell

    My favorite silents so far are: SUNRISE, STELLA MARIS and THE ACE OF HEARTS. SUNRISE has been praised deservedly – brilliant direction and cinematography, great acting, a simple, touching story, and the movie is an emotional journey from tears to laughter and everything in between. It’s what we watch movies for. STELLA MARIS was an amazing, beautiful experience, highlighted by a downright brilliant dual performance by Mary Pickford (one of the greatest in film history, IMO) and ravishingly beautiful cinematography, with sensitive direction by Marshall Neilan. THE ACE OF HEARTS is more of a sentimental favorite to me, since it was the first silent movie I ever saw. It hasn’t gotten a lot of attention but it has a good down-to-earth role for Lon Chaney and some nice visual touches. Check out the TCM version with a wonderful score by Vivek Maddala. I also loved Harold Lloyd’s SPEEDY – lots of heart and lots of laughs, with some awesome camera work portraying 1920’s New York City as a character in its own right.
    ย 
    So far, I haven’t seen too many duds. Generally if I don’t think a movie is very good I’ll stop watching. That said, the worst silent I’ve seen (so bad I just couldn’t continue) is DW Griffith’s DREAM STREET.ย It featuresย a ludicrously contrived, melodramatic story with ham-fisted and obvious allegory,ย lumbering direction (and way too many long and unnecessary closeups), and scandalously bad histrionic acting. After abour 45 minutes I just started fast-forwarding…and it didn’t get any better. Granted, I haven’t seen THE WIZARD OF OZ or BRUTE ISLAND, but I have a hard time imagining anything worse.
    ย 

  18. Bill

    For favorite, I’m going to disqualify all the great silent comedies and landmark favorites. I’m going with one that I enjoyed much more than I expected, which is “The Man Who Laughs.” For worst, it’s hard to think of a real stinker, but I will say that I was especially disappointed in Lon Chaney’s “The Monster.”

  19. Ron Stone

    My favorite list keeps changing…..at the moment I am loving The Penalty with Lon Chaney.
    The worst may be any film with Larry Semon.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Yes, I always say my top ten list expires in a week or so ๐Ÿ˜‰ But Larry Semon… yeah, how did that guy have a career again? Not even counting the Big Four, putting him up against, say Charley Chase, Ford Sterling or Louise Fazenda, the difference in quality is shocking. He simply isn’t funny.

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