Worst of the Worst

Open, general discussion of silent films, personalities and history.
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Great Hierophant

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Worst of the Worst

PostFri Feb 12, 2016 11:13 pm

Is there a silent film so bad, so offensive, so incredibly boring that you can name it among the worst films you have ever seen? A comedy that shamelessly steals routines from the masters but does not know what made them work? A movie as repugnantly racist as The Birth of a Nation but without any of its film making ability? Misogynistic trash perpetrated by ogres deserving of some oil of vitriol thrown at them by a suffragette? A melodrama with a plot so soapy that even yesterday's soaps would reject? A love story with leads that perform like mannequins and have all the chemistry of water and wax? A so-called "epic" that is a perfect remedy for insomnia? A mystery that a four-year old could solve faster than the screenwriter? A filmed play so dialogue heavy that you would gladly read the dog-eared, coffee-stained, taped together copy in the library before watching it again?

Ultimately, is there a film that survives what makes you question the Divine Plan (or any similar belief you may have in the inherent justness of existence) in the sense of "Why does this piece of garbage survive when [insert name of true classic] has been lost to the ages?"

Personally, I have not watched enough silent films to deem one of them to be wholly without merit. However, given the strong opinions that some members of this site hold, I would be very interested in what other people believe to be the worst that the era had to offer. I may want to sample some of them so I can better appreciate the true classics and great artistes of the age.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 6:21 am

The works of James White. He did actualities released by Edison. They fall into two categories: remakes of other catalogues' actualities and ones he shot on his own. The ones which can be said to be original show a lack of understanding of composition and movement that is nearly absolute and a fascination for the back of peoples' hats that suggests paraphilia.

He flourished (although "festered" might be a better word) from 1896-1902 with a brief outbreak in 1910. Thanks to the LOC's American History program, he lives forever on the internet, the shingles of world cinema.

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Tommie Hicks

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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 8:57 am

THE DIXIE MAD-CAPS (1918) with the Lee Sisters has to be seen to be not believed.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 9:33 am

Long ago, I had a VHS of a Silent life of Martin Luther; I believe it was probably the American release of either the 1923 or 1928 German production.

To be fair to the film, it was a VideoYesteryear "Accuspeed" cassette, which generally meant, "running too slow." But I do recall it as being pedestrian in the extreme, to the point of deadliness. In fact, maybe it would be better to say, "I recall absolutely nothing about it."

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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 9:36 am

Several years ago there was a Victor Fleming retrospective at Film Forum, featuring a number of rarities. I enjoyed most everything I saw, with the exception of the silent drama Mamma’s Affair (1921), starring Constance Talmadge. This was the story of a young woman who suffers from low self-esteem, oppressed by her overbearing mother. A fair enough topic for a good drama, but this wasn’t it. The movie itself was oppressive and overbearing, telling its story with an overabundance of title cards, no action, and no humor. It was the worst Fleming, the worst Connie Talmadge, and one of the worst silent dramas I’ve ever seen.

P.S. The infamous F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre attended a lot of the Fleming screenings. If you check his IMDb reviews you’ll find that, perversely to my way of thinking, he loved this movie but hated The Wolf Song. (Interestingly, the character played by Lupe Velez in the latter also struggled with over-protective parents.) To each his own, of course, but precisely the opposite of my response to these same films.
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Mike Gebert

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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 10:23 am

In my early days, when films were more readily read about than seen, I remember noticing from my intense study of Leonard Maltin's guide that it was a rare movie pre-1960 that ever got the dreaded BOMB. I had a couple of theories for this:

1) The very worst were simply forgotten forever.
2) The studio system had such basic competence that things might be dull, but rarely wretched.
3) Maltin liked anything in black and white, just for being old.
4) It took until the auteur theory for directors to figure out how to be truly, self-indulgently, pretentiously godawful (see: all attempts at making your own 8-1/2)

Years later, having seen so much more, I think there's something to all these theories:

1) I have seen the occasional silent or early talkie at film festivals that's so woefully misbegotten, so inept in every way, that it was genuinely terrible. And mostly they've managed to go down the drain of history, unless some collector saves them. (See also the theory espoused by Richard Roberts and others, that terrible silent comedies are more likely to survive in pristine condition than good ones-- because no one ever wanted them a second time back then!) Anyway, to cite an example:

MYSTERY OF THE 13th GUEST (*1/2) This Monogram mystery made all the other mysteries of the weekend look good-- hard to believe that a year after The Glass Key, people were still making the kind of movie in which 13 heirs are going to wind up dead in 13 chairs if somebody doesn’t simply follow the cord from the telephone that keeps electrocuting them and discover the secret passageway hidden behind the (you’ll never guess!) book case. With a host of lapses in logic (at one point a private eye orders the police to tail a dozen people, and no one bats an eye) the screenplay borders on malpractice, though the Charles McGraw-like Dick Purcell, as the detective, tries to give it a grittier noir credibility than it deserves.


2) I think this largely true, though there is Sh! The Octopus.

3) I can relate to this.

4) This speaks for itself:

“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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entredeuxguerres

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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 10:39 am

Mike Gebert wrote:...3) Maltin liked anything in black and white, just for being old...


Pa-lenty of exceptions to this rule...such as early talkies I loved, but he described as creaky, stilted, stagey, etc.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 11:08 am

True, he definitely comes into his preferred era circa 1933-4.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 1:44 pm

entredeuxguerres wrote:
Mike Gebert wrote:...3) Maltin liked anything in black and white, just for being old...


Pa-lenty of exceptions to this rule...such as early talkies I loved, but he described as creaky, stilted, stagey, etc.


I don't recall LM ever giving any early talkie less than a two star rating, despite the code words.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 1:56 pm

Harlett O'Dowd wrote:
entredeuxguerres wrote:
Mike Gebert wrote:...3) Maltin liked anything in black and white, just for being old...


Pa-lenty of exceptions to this rule...such as early talkies I loved, but he described as creaky, stilted, stagey, etc.


I don't recall LM ever giving any early talkie less than a two star rating, despite the code words.


From Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide (1996 edition):

Virtuous Sin, The (1930) 82 min. BOMB D: George Cukor, Louis Gasnier. Walter Huston, Kay Francis, Kenneth MacKenna, Jobyna Howland, Paul Cavanaugh. Laughably bad production with alluring Francis giving herself to Russian general Huston so he will exempt her husband from death sentence. A real turkey.

P.S. I haven't seen this one myself, but it stands out in my memory as a rare Maltin "BOMB" rating for anything from the early talkie era.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 2:10 pm

"L'Inhumaine" (1924) would be high on my list of unwatchable silents. I just did not have a clue as to what it was all supposed to be about and it just got sillier and sillier as it went on. I had to turn it off before the end because I couldn't stand watching any more of it.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 2:16 pm

I'd pick out "The First Auto" for this category, such an unbelievably draggy film, it was a real struggle to get through it. During the struggle of getting to the end, one was continually beaten about the head with the film's "progress is good!" message, heavy handed to say the least. Rare that I see a film I can't ever imagine wanting to watch again, but that's one for sure. Sorry if anyone liked that one!
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 2:17 pm

More a victim of timing than talent, I'd have to pick the several Helen Gardner films I've sat/slept through. As wooden as any tree in my back acreage, her pageants crawl along with an unmoving camera chronicling the arm-waving style of acting so prevalent in the earliest years of cinema. The 1912 edition of Cleopatra is a prime example. Gardner wracked up nearly 60 film appearances before the end of World War I.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 3:11 pm

Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:
Harlett O'Dowd wrote:
entredeuxguerres wrote:
Pa-lenty of exceptions to this rule...such as early talkies I loved, but he described as creaky, stilted, stagey, etc.


I don't recall LM ever giving any early talkie less than a two star rating, despite the code words.


From Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide (1996 edition):

Virtuous Sin, The (1930) 82 min. BOMB D: George Cukor, Louis Gasnier. Walter Huston, Kay Francis, Kenneth MacKenna, Jobyna Howland, Paul Cavanaugh. Laughably bad production with alluring Francis giving herself to Russian general Huston so he will exempt her husband from death sentence. A real turkey.

P.S. I haven't seen this one myself, but it stands out in my memory as a rare Maltin "BOMB" rating for anything from the early talkie era.


Pains me to agree with him, particularly since everyone in the cast is a favorite of mine, but this is the only Kay Francis picture I ever watched once only. But not because it was "creaky, stilted, stagey"! Because, rather, "the great" George Cukor decided about a third of the way into the story that he was bored, evidently, with directing an intense drama, and converted it into a wildly inappropriate comedy; must have disgusted Huston, too, because he appeared to be three sheets to the wind.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 4:12 pm

Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:From Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide (1996 edition):

Virtuous Sin, The (1930) 82 min. BOMB D: George Cukor, Louis Gasnier. Walter Huston, Kay Francis, Kenneth MacKenna, Jobyna Howland, Paul Cavanaugh. Laughably bad production with alluring Francis giving herself to Russian general Huston so he will exempt her husband from death sentence. A real turkey.

P.S. I haven't seen this one myself, but it stands out in my memory as a rare Maltin "BOMB" rating for anything from the early talkie era.


What do you know—Cinemania can still be handy! Here are the other pre-1940 titles that earned a "bomb" rating, rendered as "one star" in Cinemania. (These ratings reflect the 1997 edition only; some may have been revised and newly available early talkies may have received low ratings since then.) For films from the larger studios, I noted where they came from; the rest are low-budget exploitation or otherwise independent films that are easy targets for low ratings. My posting of these titles shouldn't be taken as evidence I agree with them--I virtually never do.

Check and Double Check (1930, RKO)
I Loved a Woman (1933, First National)
Night of Terror (1933, Columbia)
Maniac (1934)
Queen of the Jungle (1935) [feature version of serial]
The Cocaine Fiends (1936) [aka The Pace That Kills]
Frankie and Johnny (1936, Republic)
Marihuana (1936)
An Old Spanish Custom (1936) [aka The Invader, British film w/Buster Keaton]
Reefer Madness (1936)
Soak the Rich (1936, Paramount)
Forty Naughty Girls (1937, RKO)

There are 81 films from 1929-39 that were rated *1/2, so for brevity I'll stop at 1932:

1929
Behind That Curtain
Charming Sinners
The Cockeyed World
High Voltage
Say It with Songs

1930
The Bat Whispers
Doorway to Hell [this is actually quite a good one, IMO]
Doughboys
Fast and Loose
Just Imagine
The Medicine Man
One Romantic Night
Wild Company

1931
Delicious
East of Borneo
Her Majesty, Love [yes, really]
I Like Your Nerve
Illicit
Indiscreet
Ladies' Man
Never the Twain Shall Meet
The Speckled Band
Ten Cents a Dance

1932
Chandu the Magician
Merrily We Go to Hell
Rockabye
The Son-Daughter

-HA
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 5:06 pm

Harold Aherne wrote:What do you know—Cinemania can still be handy! Here are the other pre-1940 titles that earned a "bomb" rating, rendered as "one star" in Cinemania. (These ratings reflect the 1997 edition only; some may have been revised and newly available early talkies may have received low ratings since then.) For films from the larger studios, I noted where they came from; the rest are low-budget exploitation or otherwise independent films that are easy targets for low ratings. My posting of these titles shouldn't be taken as evidence I agree with them--I virtually never do.

Check and Double Check (1930, RKO)
I Loved a Woman (1933, First National)
Night of Terror (1933, Columbia)
Maniac (1934)
Queen of the Jungle (1935) [feature version of serial]
The Cocaine Fiends (1936) [aka The Pace That Kills]
Frankie and Johnny (1936, Republic)
Marihuana (1936)
An Old Spanish Custom (1936) [aka The Invader, British film w/Buster Keaton]
Reefer Madness (1936)
Soak the Rich (1936, Paramount)
Forty Naughty Girls (1937, RKO)

There are 81 films from 1929-39 that were rated *1/2, so for brevity I'll stop at 1932:

1929
Behind That Curtain
Charming Sinners
The Cockeyed World
High Voltage
Say It with Songs

1930
The Bat Whispers
Doorway to Hell [this is actually quite a good one, IMO]
Doughboys
Fast and Loose
Just Imagine
The Medicine Man
One Romantic Night
Wild Company

1931
Delicious
East of Borneo
Her Majesty, Love [yes, really]
I Like Your Nerve
Illicit
Indiscreet
Ladies' Man
Never the Twain Shall Meet
The Speckled Band
Ten Cents a Dance

1932
Chandu the Magician
Merrily We Go to Hell
Rockabye
The Son-Daughter

-HA


I Loved a Woman isn't a favorite of mine, but to place it in the same company with those (mostly) cheap exploitation pictures is idiotic, and though Eddie isn't at his best, Kay is very good, & Genevieve Tobin turns in an excellent performance.

But that display of ignorance is positively DWARFED by the ranking of Charming Sinners, one of my supreme favorites, one of both Chatterton's & Brook's best, & THE best thing Mary Nolan ever did. "Charming" is the operative word, as from the first moment of the first scene, through to the unexpected end, it's a masterpiece of charm, wit, style, sophistication, & pre-code raciness, all qualities lost on the know-nothings & airheads who, invariably, are the ones making up such lists.

Several others are favorites of mine, but as Harold implied, by placing such an unmitigated delight as Her Majesty on their list, the fools who compiled it have revealed clearly their own movie-IQs.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 5:39 pm

>2) The studio system had such basic competence that things might be dull, but rarely wretched.<

With respect, I think Sturgeon's Law is eternal, across all disciplines!

But human nature is also generally blessed with the ability to accentuate the positive, and minimize the negative, over time
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 6:16 pm

entredeuxguerres wrote:I Loved a Woman isn't a favorite of mine, but to place it in the same company with those (mostly) cheap exploitation pictures is idiotic, and though Eddie isn't at his best, Kay is very good, & Genevieve Tobin turns in an excellent performance.


Any film which feature Kay Fwancis as an opera diva who makes an international career by singing - and apparently only singing - "Home on the Range" is aces in my book.

And JUST IMAGINE is a wonderfully nutty film as well.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 6:32 pm

Harlett O'Dowd wrote:
entredeuxguerres wrote:I Loved a Woman isn't a favorite of mine, but to place it in the same company with those (mostly) cheap exploitation pictures is idiotic, and though Eddie isn't at his best, Kay is very good, & Genevieve Tobin turns in an excellent performance.


Any film which feature Kay Fwancis as an opera diva who makes an international career by singing - and apparently only singing - "Home on the Range" is aces in my book.


Singing "Home on the Range" had nothing to do with her opera career, but rather what she had to do to gratify the musical tastes of Eddie, her meat-packing benefactor...who put her on the opera stage. Her best part was telling him, much later, that he'd not been her only meat-packer. (Which any man who'd neglect Genevieve deserved to hear.)
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 7:14 pm

>2) The studio system had such basic competence that things might be dull, but rarely wretched.<

With respect, I think Sturgeon's Law is eternal, across all disciplines!


You miss my point. By mostly coloring in the lines, they could be dull, but it took more artistic freedom to finally make movies that made you go "Good God, what were they thinking?"
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 7:53 pm

Mike's comments reminded me of my IMDB review of Ken Jacob's Little Stabs at Happiness:

Sometimes When the Wrappings Fall, There's Nothing Underneath at All

Jean Cocteau once said that until film was as cheap as a pad of artist's paper, then it could not be art. In the late 1950s, the cost of hand-held cameras had dropped enough to make them affordable to a middle class willing to take home movies. So the chance arose for real artists to make films, not phony artists like those who made commercial films meant to be seen by Joe and Jane Q. Public.

On the now increasingly rare occasion when I go to a gallery and am asked if I appreciate what is on view, I do not express my opinion of how much of a poseur and a huckster the artist seems to be, but discuss technical issues or offer a brief "Not to my taste." When it is the latter, I often hear the haughty "Well, maybe it wasn't intended for you." Again, when I hear that I refrain from saying "Who was it intended for? Some one with a lot of money who can be flattered into thinking that he's a superior individual because he buys this stuff?"

As some one who has worked on being a writer for many years, I am aware that an audience must put in a lot of work, but it is the job of the artist to meet them at least halfway. Therefore, I wish to be clear in my appraisal of this work of art.

Ken Jacobs' early collection of random, bizarre, boring images is intended to Kuleshov Effect hapless people with too much time on their hands into thinking there is something deep going on. It is an example of someone who calls himself an artist putting all the burden on an audience and expecting to be applauded for his lack of effort. It is an artifact of narcissism masquerading as art. It is not even worth looking at to make fun of, like Edward D. Wood. It is complete and utter crap.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 8:28 pm

I thought this was about silents???
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 8:30 pm

Whatcha gonna do? Sic the admins on Mike?

Bob
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 10:20 pm

N_Phay wrote:I'd pick out "The First Auto" for this category, such an unbelievably draggy film, it was a real struggle to get through it. During the struggle of getting to the end, one was continually beaten about the head with the film's "progress is good!" message, heavy handed to say the least. Rare that I see a film I can't ever imagine wanting to watch again, but that's one for sure. Sorry if anyone liked that one!


Well, it was sorta campy, but I enjoyed the story completely. A very good cast and a good plot, with actual autos and real race car drivers for good measure. Charles Emmett Mack played the son Bob Armstrong and we watch him racing a car that's been sabotaged to blow up.
In real life, Mack's career ended before this film was completed. Driving to the set for last minute filming, another car slammed into him and ended his life.

Ironic to watch a film where in the film, the character survives a crash and then learn in real life, he was killed when someone smashed into him while driving to work.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSat Feb 13, 2016 10:58 pm

I thought this was about silents???


I actually spent a good little while looking for a silent I saw Cinesation or -event (it was a would-be Mary Pickford thing about some girl loved by all the children, played by a pretty young woman who could act about as impressively as a telegraph pole). But I couldn't find it so you got the Monogram movie instead. The end.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSun Feb 14, 2016 5:41 am

Since we have wandered into sound films can I add "Marius" as a film that I find rather pointless.

I used to think it was the heavily accented French dialect, which I strained to follow, sheltered me from its worth. Having recently seen a version with French subtitles on Arte, I now know that I find the film tedious rather than marius. Other than a few shots of the harbour, not worth bothering with. Yet it has reputation as a masterpiece.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSun Feb 14, 2016 6:51 am

Harlett O'Dowd wrote:
entredeuxguerres wrote:I Loved a Woman isn't a favorite of mine, but to place it in the same company with those (mostly) cheap exploitation pictures is idiotic, and though Eddie isn't at his best, Kay is very good, & Genevieve Tobin turns in an excellent performance.


Any film which feature Kay Fwancis as an opera diva who makes an international career by singing - and apparently only singing - "Home on the Range" is aces in my book.

And JUST IMAGINE is a wonderfully nutty film as well.


Yes, agree that I LOVED A WOMAN shouldn't be on the list. I recorded this umpteen years (at about the same time as 1932's SILVER DOLLAR) ago on TNT and found it a very pleasing film, as did a friend I lent it to. And (despite a so-so copy) JUST IMAGINE was a lot more entertaining than reports (such as in Ethan Mordden's book on film musicals) would have one expect, save a rather flat passage in the second half. Similarly, another friend (who provided me with the film) also found it worth seeing.
Last edited by earlytalkiebuffRob on Tue Jun 13, 2017 2:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSun Feb 14, 2016 6:54 am

Two off the top of my head were the Frank Benson RICHARD III (1911) and FROM THE MANGER TO THE CROSS (1912), both of which were a struggle to sit through...
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSun Feb 14, 2016 7:03 am

I agree From the Manger to the Cross is no walk in the park. Nor will you find anyone with a lower opinion of Sidney Olcott than I. However, in 1912, no one had any idea of how to make a feature movie, so I think we should cut it some slack.

Bob
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Re: Worst of the Worst

PostSun Feb 14, 2016 7:42 am

earlytalkiebuffRob wrote:Two off the top of my head were the Frank Benson RICHARD III (1911) and FROM THE MANGER TO THE CROSS (1912), both of which were a struggle to sit through...

Years ago I bought one of those VHS copies of "From the Manger to the Cross." It was only partially there and the image was quite poor as was the music (if there was any, I cannot remember). So much for the cheap VHS videos that were for sale on Ebay.
Fast forward to the 21st Century and the 100 anniversary.

The film was restored and released on DVD by David Shepard. It's actually two early Sacred Films. The 1905, hand tinted Pathe' film, "The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ" has also been carefully restored and each are accompanied with a carefully made organ score. The multicolored stenciled images are quite thrilling to see.
"From the Manger to the Cross" is mastered from a print of the original negative. It was made on location in Egypt and Palestine for the Kalem Company.

For quality religious films, these are right up there with "King of Kings" now that they have been presented properly.
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