What's The Last Silent Movie You Watched? [2017]

Open, general discussion of silent films, personalities and history.
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Re: What's The Last Silent Movie You Watched? [2017]

PostFri Aug 11, 2017 4:05 pm

I am in the process of trying to watch several films on home dvd of Constance Talmadge to see her later characterizations (ie Duchess of Buffalo, The Primitive Lover, Her Night of Romance, and Her Sister from Paris so far) that are far different than her roles in The Microscope Mystery and Intolerance. Different perspective to her career if you compare her films after 1920 to before then.
Mark Hamilton (I) is on imdb.com
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Re: What's The Last Silent Movie You Watched? [2017]

PostFri Aug 11, 2017 5:59 pm

Watching "The Iron Horse" (1924) came at a good time for me as the new Michael Portillo railways series has just started playing in Oz and this time he is doing the railroads of the U.S. There is also another reason to watch the film as it lends history to the journey I did back in May of '58 when, with my parents, we took the Sante Fe "Super Chief" from Chicago to Los Angeles. But as usual, I digress, now, where was I?

Ah! Yes, I have never had the opportunity until quite recently to look at this picture - only having previously read a bit about it, so I was naturally quite eager to have a look. I was not disappointed because the print I have is quite pristine and the accompaniment has been scored by the late John Lanchberry. He was an Englishman who had settled in Oz and whom I had seen play the piano to "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", but, I am wandering away again.

"The Iron Horse" is, for a lot of the way, a series of vignettes that present the historical facts concerning the building of the two railroads which crossed America from East to West finally meeting in the middle and uniting the nation. This I suppose is the part of the film which allows the producers to get away with the title card "a completely true story"; for I doubt there is much semblance of fact in the other story or stories tacked on to give a bit of love interest, some comical touches and general excitement.

The picture stars George O'Brien, a likeable enough chap. I don't remember ever seeing him in a talking picture and having a look through his repertoire I think it is mainly because he concentrated on Westerns, a genre I don't much care for. He doesn't come in until quite a few reels in - his role is first played by Winston Miller as a young boy. The young boy's father has a dream of building a railroad - but he is killed by a white man posing as an Indian.
We then leave that story and go on to scenes of Abraham Lincoln (Charles Edward Bull) talking about railways. Then it is Thomas Marsh (Will Walling) who finally gets started on building one. He has a daughter (Madge Bellamy) who later provides some love interest for George. There has to be a bit of soppyness in every picture.

Anyway, the picture then goes on with the trials and tribulations involved with building railways and we get to see what life was like in some pretty wild frontier towns. Justice apparently was carried on by pub-owners who turned their bars into court houses when warranted and dispensed law and order without much clue as to the pertaining official rules and regulations. In this picture we are introduce to one Judge Haller (James A. Marcus) a rather amusing fellow by way of the intertitles which suggest that he did not have the benefit of a law degree and may have left school at the age of five.

In addition to this little bit of nonsense brought in from time to time, we are also introduced to a party of three workers - who were Irish immigrants and the dialogue titles seem to confirm this. The trio is "led" by J. Farrell MacDonald who had the knack of being able to raise one eyebrow - the others are Francis Powers and Jim Welch.

The "Injuns" are a bit of a bother and we see scenes of them attacking the railroad builders from time to time - leading to a big battle towards the end of the picture. Another part of the story has a crooked property owner trying to divert the track laying to property he owns so he can make a profit. Yes my son, they were just as bad in them old days.

George's love interest is engaged to another bloke - a Mr. Jesson (Cyril Chadwick) - who is a surveyor for the railroad company - but he is a bit of a twerp as he agrees to do a bit of dirty business for the property owner in exchange for a pile of the folding stuff - but - he gets his come comeuppance naturally as the picture has to end happily ever after.

This is quite a long picture, but it is skillfully put together by John Ford. There is quite a bit of detail which I suppose could have been glossed over - but it is interesting in consideration of the historical aspect. Two of the actual locomotives of the time were used in the film. It held my attention throughout and apart from the excitement in a lot of the scenes which is engrossing, I was quite amused by those parts that formed the comedy element.
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Re: What's The Last Silent Movie You Watched? [2017]

PostFri Aug 11, 2017 11:25 pm

Got around to watching two more films from Flicker Alley's Early Women Filmmakers set the other night, both rather short but roughly feature-length. The first was a silent, the second was a talkie but with some long silent sections and a music score.

LA SOURIANTE MME. BEUDET (1922) (THE SMILING MADAME BEUDET) ***
Germaine Dulac’s very interestingly made but not terribly compelling story of a depressed upper middle-class French housewife dissatisfied with her life and seemingly workaholic, controlling husband is especially notable for the visuals presenting her state of mind. The film's title appears to be mainly ironic and the story takes place over only a couple of days. At 43 minutes the movie packs a lot of psychological study within a quick enough period not to wear out its welcome. The Blu-ray in Flicker Alley's "Early Women Filmmakers" set is a very good transfer of what looks like either a good 16mm print or a softish 35mm preservation dupe with minor wear. The piano score by Judith Rosenberg is good but should have included themes from Bizet's FAUST and Chopin at appropriate times during the film to match what's on screen.

LE ROI DES AULNES (1929) (THE ERLKOENIG) ***
Another interesting film in the "Early Women Filmmakers" set, this early French talkie by Marie-Louise Iribe is a visually inventive drama inspired by Goethe's famous German poem "The Erl King" and the classic Schubert song of it. The film is full of beautiful imagery with lots of superimposures and dissolves, sometimes several at once showing characters like the Erl king, fairies, and real people at different sizes, visions seen by the sick little boy followed by what his father explains they really are. Taking place over a single day and night, the film is nowhere near as emotionally affective as a good performance Schubert's artsong and tends to drag at times during its 45-minute running time, but captures the mood well. This Blu-ray transfer is from a very sharp 35mm print, although there are lots of scratches and sections of film damage and decomposition. The audio is surprisingly robust for a 1929 European recording, but naturally has the limitations of that early talkie era.
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Re: What's The Last Silent Movie You Watched? [2017]

PostSat Aug 12, 2017 2:02 am

boblipton wrote:
earlytalkiebuffRob wrote:A real oddity from the Eastman House, and partially based on a real disaster, THE WRATH OF THE GODS (1914) is a Japan-set drama about a family supposedly cursed by Buddha for a killing committed in a temple, a curse which has been going on an awfully long time, When the last female in the line is being wooed by a young fellow, he is immediately deterred when an ancient prophet tells of the curse. Soon after, a ship is wrecked nearby, and the sole survivor falls in love...

The religious side of THE WRATH OF THE GODS is hard to swallow, as no sooner does the daughter (who has renounced Buddha) speak of the Curse, than the young sailor (Frank Borzage) tells her that it is all nonsense, but his god is the one to go to. This after his shipmates have all presumably perished, and one later sees the father (SPOILER) convert, only to be slaughtered by a mob of crazed Japanese. A slightly muddled, rather illogical tale, partially salvaged by a lively finale. Sessue Hayakawa plays the father, in this, his debut, and later married the lady who played his daughter - shades of Old Mother Riley!



I don't know in what order they were released elsewhere, but there were four of films with Hayakawa issued before this one, in the US, at any rate.

Bob


My fault for looking on Wiki. THE WRATH OF THE GODS was said to have been started in January 1914, a few days after the volcanic eruption. Release may have been delayed due to the special effects, although it does seem quick work for four films to come out inbetween! Saying that, the ones listed as earlier on IMDb are all shorts. And don't think William Beaudine had started making features then!
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Re: What's The Last Silent Movie You Watched? [2017]

PostSat Aug 12, 2017 2:38 pm

Miss Bluebeard (1925) never quite got going. At 54 minutes out of the original 62, it's likely an entire reel is missing. Bebe Daniels stars as a French actress who accidentally marries a man (Kenneth MacKenna) posing as his friend (Robert Frazer), who is a famous songwriter tired of women chasing him. Of course he changes his mind when (after the missing reel, I suspect) the newly married couple arrives at his flat. The marital mixup goes from there with predatory women (Martha Madison, Florence Billings) and a hapless friend (Raymond Griffith) caught in the crossfire as the men jockey for Bebe's attention. Of course MacKenna's fiancee (Diana Kane) also shows up, and of course she's Bebe's old friend from convent school. Griffith shows a few flashes of real humor and MacKenna is good. Frazer is not so good. Bebe Daniels is gorgeous in a variety of hairstyles and clothes, but it never seems to come together as the farce it's meant to be. Maybe a snappy music score would have helped.
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Re: What's The Last Silent Movie You Watched? [2017]

PostSun Aug 13, 2017 7:30 am

I watched "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1915), a Thanhouser silent recently restored by the Library of Congress. Ben Model did the accompanying music, and it's wonderful. Starring Harris Gordon as Dorian, he does a very creditable job in a straightforward way. The film is about 2000 feet, or a 2 reeler shown at 22 minutes, 26 seconds. Helen Fulton as the actress for whom Gray falls at the outset is also quite good. Others in the drama are Ernest Howard, W. Ray Johnston, Morgan Jones, Claude Cooper, Arthur Bauer, and N. Z. Wood. The story is told straight on; editing is the same; direction perfunctory, but fairly well done. Photography is boring, but story makes up for it. For 1915, pretty good, but a lot better was being done. Still, it's fun to see this restored piece back in the repertoire to compare the Thanhouser company with all the others. For the most part, they do a creditable job. Many of their actors and actresses were stage presences, fairly easily accessible because the company itself was in New Rochelle, New York.
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Re: What's The Last Silent Movie You Watched? [2017]

PostSun Aug 13, 2017 2:45 pm

Two this weekend at Capitolfest stand out: NAUGHTY BABY with Alice White was a fun and fast moving flapper comedy. Two little surprises: 1. Andy Devine was not bad looking as a slender youth. 2. Jack Mulhall had tattoos.

HAIL THE WOMAN (1921) was a very strong film with fine performances from Florence Vidor and the whole cast.
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Re: What's The Last Silent Movie You Watched? [2017]

PostSun Aug 13, 2017 5:14 pm

"Hey Boss?"
"Yeah?"
"You know that musical "Show Boat" that's playing the Ziegfeld?"
"Yeah, sure I do."
"Well I think we should make it into a silent picture!"
"What! Are you nuts? How can you make a musical with all those songs into a musical already? You're a schmuck!"
...

I don't know if the above scenario played out - but make a silent picture they did. Well, put it this way. The picture was started off as a silent and then later, some talking passages were inserted and finally a prologue was added featuring some of the songs from the stage version.

This is the 1929 version of "Show Boat", a film interpretation I have been longing to see for ages and ages. "Show Boat" is one of my favourite musicals and I have seen it on the stage a number of times - a memorable performance in Sydney had one reviewer write - "Show Boat" sailed into Sydney Harbour last night and sunk". Of the film versions I think I liked the 1935 version the best.

Now I have a completely different version as the storyline has been altered. We concentrate more on the relationship between Magnolia and Gaylord Ravenol - everyone else is just peripheral to their story. As such, we have only the one basic theme to follow and this of course works in a silent picture as otherwise it could have been too hard for an audience to follow, relying as they did on the odd title card to let them know what's going on. A drawback to this simplification is that the inter-race implications and relationships which made the story so powerful, are gone. What we are left with is a basic romantic drama in a novel setting. Nevertheless it all seems to work and that is in no small part due to the players.

Laura La Plante is everything one could wish for as "Magnolia" whilst Josef Shildkraut, who was still playing matinee idols before he took on character parts, is "Ravenol". he gives the part its necessary flair for the debonair whilst maintaining an undercurrent - that of being an absolute bounder.

Magnolia's mother is given more prominence and the wicked witch of the West would have nothing on the character brilliantly portrayed by Emily FitzRoy. She must go down as portraying the ultimate harridan - yet she does so by conjuring up facial expressions that seem to convey more than the one interpretation. Whilst there is the look that could kill at ten paces, there is at the same time, a look of sorrow in the eyes.

Otis Harlan plays Captain Andy in the usual and familiar manner whilst Alma Rubens plays a cut down and re-written part as "Julie".

The unfortunate thing is that with the passage of time, there are elements of the film that are missing. There are two main sound sequences in the story part of the film - which don't feature any of the songs but merely replace the dialogue titles. The second of these sequences has the sound drop out at one stage with the dialogue represented by sub-titles, then these disappear and we are left with total silence accompanying opening and closing mouths. Lip-readers should be able to do alright. I know I could pick up a few words here and there. I believe also that some of the musical items as featured in the prologue have now shown up.

In all, I was quite taken with the film and found it an entertaining experience - which was the whole point of the exercise I suppose in making it.
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Re: What's The Last Silent Movie You Watched? [2017]

PostMon Aug 14, 2017 1:08 pm

Nice to see a note of praise from Donald re the 1929 SHOW BOAT, which I saw some years back. I, too found it much better than its reputation might allow, although I thought the section which was completely mute could have been filled with suitable music from Kern's score. In any case, good to see it risen from the ashes.

My silent for last night, THE ADORABLE CHEAT (1928) has Lila Lee in a none-too-original. plot, but is a pleasant way to spend just under an hour and is an interesting example of a silent from the Chesterfield studio. Lee plays the daughter of a kitchenware magnate, who is despairing of his scapegrace son, a rather weak fellow. Pop's remark that he wishes she were a boy prompts her to find work (incognito, of course) in his factory, and of course finds romance as well, in the shape of the shipping clerk played by Cornelius Keefe.

What follows is a comedy of classes, with the clerk's nice, but ordinary, parents being humiliated by Lee's toad of a former boyfriend, who is up to all sorts of nasty tricks and deserves to be flung into the nearest sewage farm. Rather plainly filmed, but quite agreeable of its kind. Lee's best friend is played by another Lee, Virginia, who gives a lively likable performance as the only decent one of her 'friends'.

Another I'd not heard of, THE THIRD ALARM (1922) struck me as a very soggy affair, aside from some lively action scenes. Ralph Lewis plays a long-serving fireman who is miserable when the service becomes motorized and the horses are taken away. Worse is to come when he finds he can't handle the new engine and is pensioned off early. His miseries are compounded when he realises he can't afford to send his son (Johnnie Walker) to medical school and there is more trouble when he finds his old horse has been bought by a bully.

Much of this sort of stuff probably seemed familiar in 1922, and the film staggers from one crisis to another without generating much interest. Needless to say there is a whacking great fire at the end, with Walker's girlfriend trapped in the blazing building having gone back to rescue her puppy. Oh, and her father is the doctor whom Lewis blames for the death of one of his children several years back. For something rather better (though still sentimental), I would recommend THE SONG OF THE ROAD (1937) with Bransby Williams playing a similar part. Oh, and I forgot to mention, there is a crippled (to use the contemporary term) child whom Walker promises to cure....
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Re: What's The Last Silent Movie You Watched? [2017]

PostTue Aug 15, 2017 6:21 pm

It was interesting to see what might have been one of the original films about submariners stuck on the bottom of the ocean in a busted submarine. There have been so many similar stories on film since Frank Capra's "Submarine" of 1928.

The beginning of the film introduces us to the two male leads - Jack Holt and Ralph Graves. Both are rollicking, boisterous Navy men. Holt is a deep sea diver and Graves is han hofficer. We follow their on-shore adventures and by the fourth reel we are asking "Where is the bloomin' submarine?"

Eventually Holt settles down with a wife, but she is bored at home and when he is away, she goes orf to the local Palais de Hop and whilst there meets other men. One happens to be Graves - and of course the inevitable happens. Holt finds out about it and the two former friends are estranged.

Finally we get on board a submarine which is sent to the bottom of the ocean during a run-in with a destroyer during exercises. Graves is on board. The crew are running short of the breathing substance and divers are trying to get an air hose down to them - but - there is only one man who can dive to the depth required - but Holt is at home on leave and doesn't care much about saving his former friend until, for the sake of the picture, he has a change of heart just when the oxygen is running out.

I suppose we have to endure all the soppy business which takes up a lot of this picture in order to set up a story which might involve us more - knowing the backgrounds of the two men involved. It is only really when we get to the submarine part that the picture gets genuinely exciting and we become very interested spectators on the edge of our seats, biting our nails, wondering if the men will be saved.

The scenes on board the submarine are very well handled and the claustrophobic nature of it all is well conveyed as is the sense that breathable air is running out. Here Clarence Burton as the submarine captain and Arthur Rankin as a junior rating, give believable performances.

Jack Holt always seemed to me the perfect choice to play any gung-ho military type - and let's face it - he played numerous similar parts. He is therefore well-suited here.

I enjoyed this film. The only drawback I had was that the accompaniment was by way of someone's selection of "suitable" gramophone records. It's a hard task - been there, done it myself, so it is at best only going to be a hit and miss affair. In this case it is more of a miss than a hit. I can only hope that one day the film may have a proper orchestral score added to it. It certainly deserves it.
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