Dangerous Traffic (1926) A Silent Film Review

An eager reporter must scoop his rivals and cover government agents raiding liquor smugglers or he’s out of a job. This low budget picture stars Francis X. Bushman, Jr. as the reporter, Mildred Harris as his love interest and Jack Perrin as a hapless government agent.

Home Media Availability: Released on DVD.

No Atom Splitting Here

I am a huge fan of low-budged filmmaking. While the results can be inconsistent, the lack of funds can spark enormous creativity and result in lean, smart crime pictures. And then there are times when the film’s low budget is matched by a rushed screenplay and that’s what we have here with Dangerous Traffic.

Hello, junior.

Francis X. Bushman, Jr. was part of the “junior” trend of the 1920s. The first generation of major film stars had children who were coming of age and studios were eager to feature the younger versions of famous names, much to the chagrin of their still-working fathers. They didn’t necessarily want it known that they were old enough to have adult kids, you see. (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. later wrote that he didn’t fully understand that he was being used for his name, he just needed to money to help support his divorced mother.)

After appearing in Our Hospitality under his real name, Ralph Bushman rechristened himself as his father’s junior and made eight films in 1925 and 1926, coinciding with his father’s comeback role in Ben-Hur. Midnight Faces was a riff on the then-hot Old Dark House genre and the same writer, director and co-star, Jack Perrin, were involved with Dangerous Traffic.

I won’t go into too much detail regarding the plot because it’s very much a skeleton to hang stunts and chases on. However, I won’t entirely let it off the hook because the plotting is absolutely abysmal. I am all in favor of pulp and action for the sake of action but I have my limits.

Ned Charters (Bushman) is a reporter who is about to be fired if he is scooped one more time. He intends to break open a story about government agents battling smugglers in a seaside resort town and he gets a big break when one of the smugglers drives into a local garage with a government agent bound and gagged in the back seat.

I think there might be a story in this.

Harvey Leonard (Hal Walters) is the hapless g-man-in-peril and he is whisked away by his captors but his sister, Helen (Mildred Harris), and his fellow agent, Tom Kennedy (Perrin), are racing to his rescue. Ned grabs a spare motorcycle and follows along, which turns out to be fortunate because Tom is shot and his car tumbles off a cliff and into the sea.

While Ned is diving in to save Tom, Helen finds her brother. The smugglers just kind of forgot about him after wounding him and he wandered off but he managed to catch a glimpse of their secret entrance and he tells his sister where to find it before he dies.

Secret entrance? Can’t be all that important.

Helen looks around for a second or two, decides the whole thing is hopeless and goes undercover as a cigarette girl at the gang’s main watering hole in order to discover where their secret hideout is. But her brother pointed it out and nobody actually looked there… Oh, never mind. The guy dies to get that information out and everyone just ignores him. What a way to go.

Meanwhile, Tom has been kidnapped by the smugglers and they decide to kill him by tying him to a rock and waiting for the tide. A gang with no qualms about kidnapping government agents willy-nilly seems to draw the line at actually shooting anybody, apparently. (“But that would be against the law!” they presumably cried.)

Rescuing Tom.

Will Ned and Helen rescue Tom? Will Helen bother to spend more than six seconds looking for the secret entrance? See Dangerous Traffic to find out.

Now, I wasn’t too impressed with Midnight Faces and I should have expected more of the same with Dangerous Traffic but my hopes were raised by the presence of Mildred Harris. I think she is one of the most underrated talents of the silent era and her status as the first Mrs. Charlie Chaplin has kind of hijacked her legacy. I loved her in The Power of the Press, The Cruise of the Jasper B and Beyond the Border.

Helen flirts with the crooks.

Unfortunately, she isn’t given much to do here. Her character is supposed to be motivated by the death of her brother but she basically seems to forget about him by the time the next scene rolls around. I’m not saying that I expected some kind of heavy, tearful scene but some acknowledgement of her loss would have been nice.

Francis X. Bushman, Jr. is handsome but he lacks the swaggering, braggadocious charm that was his father’s stock in trade. Jack Perrin was clearly meant to be the hero of the thing but was pushed back in favor of the bigger cinematic name. Not that Perrin could have saved the thing, it’s all too silly for that.

Credit where credit is due, I did like this shot.

The film has very little in the way of finesse, though there is a very nice overhead shot of the stairwell in the gang’s hideout. There’s also an impressive stunt involving a motorcyclist racing an automobile. But for the most part, it’s just a lot of awkward punching and all the actors looking like they just read the screenplay for the first time that morning. (They may have, for all I know.) Bennett Cohn took on both writing and directing but neither one was very successfully.

Dangerous Traffic is one of those films in which the characters do things because the story needs to get them from Point A to Point B. It’s a shame because crime films really lend themselves to low budgets and a little bit of care could have resulted in a much stronger picture. As it is, there isn’t much to recommend the film and if you want to see a better silent film featuring a Jr. (Douglas Fairbanks, in this case) as a reporter and Mildred Harris in a supporting role, check out The Power of the Press instead.

Where can I see it?

Released on DVD by Grapevine.

☙❦❧

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