Theme Month! August 2017: 100 Years Ago… The Films of 1917

Time for another theme month! This time, it’s my annual look at century-old cinema. That’s right, every single movie I review this month will be from 1917.

By 1917, it was clear that the feature film was there to stay, that the industry’s future was on the west coast and that the star system applied to directors as well as actors. In the years surrounding 1917, many of the pioneering American film studios were dead, dying or on life support. Venerable names like Biograph, Lubin, Edison and Selig shuttered, were sold or focused on re-releasing old films. Famous Players-Lasky (proto-Paramount), Universal and Fox were all on the rise. Prestige studio Triangle (Griffith, Ince, Sennett) was on the verge of being swallowed whole.

The Great War was raging in Europe and the United States joined the fray in April of 1917, which meant that war picture and propaganda production went into overdrive. The frenzied anti-Hun films remain jaw-dropping in their sheer audacity and many seem to have been produced entirely as a censor-proof way of including graphic violence against women.

There was still a market for lighter fare during the war years. Chaplin’s star shone ever brighter, Harold Lloyd donned his trademark glasses for the first time in 1917 and Buster Keaton entered the movies. Mary Pickford dusted off her pinafore to play a child in The Poor Little Rich Girl and Marion Davies made her motion picture debut in Runaway Romany. Theda Bara’s vamping antics were still a going concern and she made her most famous picture, the long-lost Cleopatra. William S. Hart continued to win at the box office with his mature westerns and John Ford finally made his leap from shorts to features. We haven’t even scratched the surface of 1910s cinema but I hope this sample was illuminating.

For whatever reason, movies from 1917 are a little bit thinner on the DVD ground than films from other years. Oh well, I think I still managed to build a selection of fascinating films from multiple studios and genres. I will be primarily focused on mainstream American fare but I hope you enjoy the films!

As an appetizer, here are the 1917 films I have already reviewed on this site:

’49 – ’17: Ruth Ann Baldwin wrote and directed this modern take on the western.

Bucking Broadway: John Ford constructed a rom-com around Harry Carey losing his girlfriend to a city slicker.

The Immigrant: Charlie Chaplin’s short comedy masterpiece deftly blended humor and sympathy.

Judex: Louis Feuillade’s addictive serial concluded in 1917– and spawned a direct sequel.

The Little American: Mary Pickford and Cecil B. DeMille teamed up for a fairly squicky propaganda picture.

A Little Princess: Another Pickford, this time based on a beloved YA classic.

The Merry Jail: Ernst Lubitsch dipped his toes in the rom-com. It’s sassy fun.

A Modern Musketeer: Douglas Fairbanks vs. the Grand Canyon.

Over the Fence: Harold Lloyd debuted a very famous pair of glasses in this baseball-themed short.

The Polish Dancer: Pola Negri played a junior vamp in this rare Polish production.

Polly of the Circus: Mae Marsh played a circus rider in love with a small town minister.

Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman: John Barrymore took on the popular Raffles character.

A Romance of the Redwoods: Pickford and DeMille again, this time she played an eastern girl in love with a western bad boy.

Seven Keys to Baldpate: George M. Cohan’s popular stage play finally made it to the silver screen.


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