Ethel Barrymore's & silent movies

Open, general discussion of silent films, personalities and history.
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Ethel Barrymore's & silent movies

PostTue Jun 06, 2017 3:48 pm

We recently watched Ethel Barrymore in the highly suspenseful Kind Lady (1951), in which she presents a singularly restrained yet riveting performance, much of which is without dialogue.

I had to wonder if any of her silent film work has survived, and if so, what's out there and available? I'm particularly interested in studying:

Life's Whirlpool (1917, directed by Lionel Barrymore)
The Awakening of Helena Ritchie (1916, directed by John W. Noble, and said to be her favorite film role)
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Mike Gebert

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Re: Ethel Barrymore's & silent movies

PostTue Jun 06, 2017 5:35 pm

Don't know about that, but TCM sometimes shows the 1936 version, which is quite different— Basil Rathbone as the thief, who basically thinks he's owed a living, and Aline MacMahon much more tortured as the "kind lady." Both good, but curiously there's more of a modern noirish feel to the '36, while the '51 is played more for slightly tongue in cheek Victorian thrills and chills.
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Re: Ethel Barrymore's & silent movies

PostWed Jun 07, 2017 12:21 am

Mike Gebert wrote:Don't know about that, but TCM sometimes shows the 1936 version, which is quite different— Basil Rathbone as the thief, who basically thinks he's owed a living, and Aline MacMahon much more tortured as the "kind lady." Both good, but curiously there's more of a modern noirish feel to the '36, while the '51 is played more for slightly tongue in cheek Victorian thrills and chills.


I fund the 1936 version more disturbing, since surprisingly MacMahon is unrelentingly terrorized for the whole movie. Ethel plays a cagier and more resourceful victim, which for me made for a more entertaining film.

I thought i saw some of Ethel's silent film footage on a documentary on TV but i don't know what it was from.

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Re: Ethel Barrymore's & silent movies

PostWed Jun 07, 2017 8:15 am

2 Reel wrote:We recently watched Ethel Barrymore in the highly suspenseful Kind Lady (1951), in which she presents a singularly restrained yet riveting performance, much of which is without dialogue.

I had to wonder if any of her silent film work has survived, and if so, what's out there and available? I'm particularly interested in studying:

Life's Whirlpool (1917, directed by Lionel Barrymore)
The Awakening of Helena Ritchie (1916, directed by John W. Noble, and said to be her favorite film role)


I just checked the FIAF database, which lists three silent films featuring Ethel Barrymore: The Awakening of Helena Richie (1916), The Call of Her People (1917), and The White Raven (1917). The Library of Congress holds a print of the first listed, while the George Eastman House holds prints of the other two.

FIAF, in case you're not familiar with it, is a master list of holdings from major film archives around the world -- it doesn't include prints in private hands. And the fact that a film is listed in FIAF is no guarantee that it's complete, or in "projectable" condition.
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Re: Ethel Barrymore's & silent movies

PostWed Jun 07, 2017 11:59 am

The Awakening of Helena Richie, The White Raven and The Call of Her People were shown in Pordenone 2014. If I remember correctly, The White Raven was the most interesting.
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Re: Ethel Barrymore's & silent movies

PostWed Jun 07, 2017 4:40 pm

Thank you for the information! Glad to know that at least a few have survived. How lucky you were, Murnau, to have seen them at Pordenone 2014, in a theater, on a big screen, with music, and with an audience, the way silent movies are meant to be seen. I tip my hat to you (which is no easy feat!).
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Re: Ethel Barrymore's & silent movies

PostSat Jun 10, 2017 12:58 pm

Don't forget The Final Judgement(1915). Her earliest surviving feature. MGM randomly had preserved this after 1924 merger. Thanks MGM!
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Re: Ethel Barrymore's & silent movies

PostSat Jun 10, 2017 3:52 pm

Murnau wrote:The Awakening of Helena Richie, The White Raven and The Call of Her People were shown in Pordenone 2014. If I remember correctly, The White Raven was the most interesting.


This is what I wrote three years ago:

The next film highlight has to be the discovery of the great Ethel Barrymore. It is amazing that for such a prominent American actress only three films are known to exist, of which two are fragmentary. The one complete film, THE WHITE RAVEN (1917), proved to be a revelation. Ethel Barrymore, while far from being a classical beauty, has a presence that transcends such categories. In this she resembles Asta Nielsen. Both actresses have the most expressive eyes. THE WHITE RAVEN could also have been an Asta Nielsen film: Ethel plays a saloon singer that dreams of becoming an opera star in the East. A stranger finances her move there but she has to sign herself over to him in return, the IOU to be cashed in at a later date. Of course she succeeds marvelously and also manages to exact her revenge on the man who had ruined her father.
Of THE AWAKENING OF HELENA RITCHIE (1916) only a mouth-watering reel survives, and the last reel is missing from THE CALL OF HER PEOPLE (1917). The latter film is a ludicrous case of miscasting, as Ethel plays a gypsy girl torn between her wild and dangerous people and her wealthy adoptive father. The role does not give her much chance to shine.
Altogether I got the impression that it was a great misfortune for the cinema when Ethel Barrymore abandoned her film career at the end of the 1910s. Philip Carli, David Mayer, Jay Weissberg and Catherine Surowiec talked expertly and entertainingly about the Barrymores in one of the lunchtime collegium dialogues.
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Re: Ethel Barrymore's & silent movies

PostSun Jun 11, 2017 5:23 pm

I'd love to see her silent films, especially Helena Richie. Barrymore gives wonderful performances in both None but the Lonely Heart and Kind Lady, but go to YouTube and catch her 1952 appearance on What's My Line. The audience greets her entrance with a 30-second ovation, and when she smiles in exhilaration and takes a bow, you can momentarily see the radiant young woman with whom Winston Churchill fell in love a half century earlier. Moderator John Daly and the panel (all four of whom stand for her at the end) adore her too: she's a total charmer.
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Re: Ethel Barrymore's & silent movies

PostWed Jun 14, 2017 3:47 pm

I agree with you! We also recently watched the excellent The Secret of Convict Lake (1951). She's capable of saying more with one look than everyone else in each scene that has a page of dialogue. She has a presence about her that draws your attention, and after studying several of her films recently, I feel safe in saying that her magnetism springs from her thinking . . . strongly . . . in the moment, while others, you can tell, are just hitting their marks and reciting well-rehearsed dialogue.
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