A few years back, silent film accompanist Ben Model successfully crowdfunded a DVD release of silent films that are only known to exist as 16mm home theater editions. The release proved to be so successful that it spawned sequels and this is the fourth volume in the series. And there’s a twist! Instead of 16mm, the films in this collection are preserved in the European 9.5mm format.
(By the way, thanks to Mr. Model for providing an early screener!)
9.5mm films were designed for home use and so they were non-flammable (always a plus). The pictures that were released in the format were often cut down in order to minimize the number of reels required to tell the story. Available films could include the biggest European blockbusters, American comedies and abbreviated Hollywood dramas. In fact, some movies only survive in this format.
Accidentally Preserved Vol. 4 is a collection of eight 9.5mm films, some of which have been unseen by the general public since their original release.
I am going to break down every film in the collection but as a (moving) picture is worth a thousand words, you can see samples of each picture in the trailer embedded below:
Nonsense (1920): Jack White directs this knockabout comedy starring Sid Smith and Jimmie Adams. Contains some of the punniest, most groan-inducing intertitles I have ever seen!
The Ninety and Nine (1922): Colleen Moore with long curls! Warner Baxter sans ‘stache! Like Blue Jeans and Way Down East, this picture is an adaptation of a hoary stage melodrama. The plot was drastically abbreviated but this release provides a handy synopsis at the beginning. The climactic rescue involving a locomotive plowing through a burning forest is quite spectacular.
Meet Father (1925): A Bobby Ray comedy that makes hilarious use of its canine co-star, Pete. Seriously, pet owners can all sympathize with Ray’s predicament when Pete decides to wander into the road.
The Wages of Tin (1925): Yay! A Hal Roach comedy starring Glenn Tryon. Like Meet Father, this film features jokes that can still be universally appreciated. Tryon is learning to drive, you see, and has to make sure that his rented Ford doesn’t get so much as a scratch. I think just about everyone can relate to that.
Tides of Passion (1925): One of the last Vitagraph films, this is a gorgeous melodrama that looks like a Madame Butterfly ripoff but then jackknifes around and makes the story all about the women. Mae Marsh is the wife, Laska Winter is the other wife and both actresses act the heck out of their roles. Director J. Stuart Blackton makes the most of his La Jolla location and the whole thing is just top notch from beginning to end. I won’t spoil the ending but if Madame Butterfly and its variations have you spitting nails, this film will be a welcome change. (The film is based on the 1904 novel In the Garden of Charity by Basil King. It’s quite good. You can read a public domain copy here.)
A Man’s Size Pet (1926): This western comedy stars Jim Corbett and Pee Wee Holmes as dueling ranch hands. The comedy has a strong Coyote vs. Roadrunner vibe to it.
Walter’s Paying Policy (1926): The only British film in the collection, this is a workplace comedy starring Walter Forde. Walter is a hapless insurance salesman who must sell a policy to a vase collector who hates insurance. Naturally, all those vases will not survive to the end of the short.
‘Morning, Judge (1926): A cheery little live-action picture from the Fleischer brothers. This film stars Peggy Shaw as a chorus girl and veteran comedienne Flora Finch as a sour social reformer. Complications include a burglar, a grease fire and a mad fire department.
Without a doubt, Tides of Passion is the showstopper of this collection. I heartily approve of its feminist retelling of Madame Butterfly and the performances of the two leading ladies are astonishing.
My other favorites in the release include The Wages of Tin (love me some Hal Roach!) and Meet Father. I also quite liked The Ninety and Nine and ‘Morning, Judge.
Obviously, a big advantage of this project is that each film receives a polished, professional piano score from Ben Model.