Raymond Griffith

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myrnaloyisdope

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Raymond Griffith

PostWed Aug 05, 2009 8:17 am

So I've recently discovered the films of Raymond Griffith, and I'm curious what the general consensus is on him. Is he considered a forgotten genius? Why has he been neglected for so long?

I'm aware that a good number of his films are lost, and his surviving films have been more or less neglected by Paramount which would help explain his relative obscurity.

But what I've seen is excellent (I've seen Night Club and Hands Up! so far). He's smooth and elegant, and his characters tend to have an awareness of their surroundings and of themselves that contrasts quite nicely with the silent comedy giants. The only person who I'd say is comparable in style and tone is the mischievous Chaplin, who uses wile and smarts to get over on the world, but whereas Chaplin is always the tramp, Griffith is well-to-do. I think that's part of the appeal of what I've seen so far, is that Griffith isn't being assailed on by the world (ala Lloyd and Keaton), but rather he is forcing himself on the world...and succeeding (where The Tramp fails).

I'm not yet convinced he belongs in the same category with the big 3 + Fatty, though I'd rather watch him than Langdon, but I'm definitely interested in seeing more, and trying to unpack his legacy a bit.
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PostWed Aug 05, 2009 8:42 am

He's also excellent in the Keystones I've seen. In some of them like THE SURF GIRL, he's a recognizable human being with real emotions, a standout in the crazies that inhabit that world. In others, like HIS FOOTHILL FOLLY, he is a clear burlesque of WILLIAM S. HART -- he looks like he mugged Bill and stole his clothes -- and, again, his canny, human underplaying makes him stand out, like Charles Grodin.

As for his relative obscurity, consider the fact that his acting career was basically over with the end of silents because of his voice, the unavailability of his films due to Paramount's malign neglect and the lack of someone to champion him. As much as I have issues with Raymond Rohauer's business practices, it is fair to say that without him -- and, of course, Walter Kerr's writings -- Buster Keaton would be about as obscure of Charley Chase, loved by the people who hang around here, but unknown by almost everyone else.

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Last edited by boblipton on Wed Aug 05, 2009 11:50 am, edited 1 time in total.
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PostWed Aug 05, 2009 9:07 am

Hello? Where is Mr. Calvert? He's the go-to guy on Mr. Griffith!
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Rob Farr

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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostWed Aug 05, 2009 9:57 am

myrnaloyisdope wrote:So I've recently discovered the films of Raymond Griffith...But what I've seen is excellent (I've seen Night Club and Hands Up! so far).


You've GOT to find a copy of Paths to Paradise.
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myrnaloyisdope

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PostWed Aug 05, 2009 10:00 am

You've GOT to find a copy of Paths to Paradise.


It's in the mail along with a copy of Open All Night. I'm really looking forward to 'em.
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PostWed Aug 05, 2009 11:34 am

boblipton wrote:As much as I have issues with Raymond Rohauer's business practices, it is fair to say that without him -- and, of course, Walter Kerr's writings -- he would be about as obscure of Charley Chase, loved by the people who hang around here, but unknown by almost everyone else.


I'd say he's more obscure than Charley Chase; I'd heard of Chase decades ago, but I'd never heard of Raymond Griffith until just a couple years ago, from the Silent Comedians and Nitrateville boards. And there's two (oops, now three) commercially released DVDs of Chase's films, and absolutely zero of Griffith's that I know of.
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boblipton

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PostWed Aug 05, 2009 11:49 am

Whoops, I meant Buster Keaton would be as obscure as Charley Chase. I'll go back and edit my previous post now.

Bob
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precode

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PostWed Aug 05, 2009 1:59 pm

Griffith was rediscovered at Cinecon in the early 80s, and nearly all of his surviving features have been shown there since then; CHANGING HUSBANDS and YOU'D BE SURPRISED are also winners.

The reason he is less well known than Charley Chase is, obviously, he made far fewer films!

The record should also note that when sound came in, he joined Zanuck at 20th Century, staying through the Fox merger, where he was a successful writer/producer.

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PostWed Aug 05, 2009 3:31 pm

The real problem is that Griffith was basically one film for a while-- the only thing available when I was programming in 16mm in college (also early 80s) was Hands Up. Kind of hard to have a really big reputation on only one comedy. It's also a fact that the films are much less accessible, due to where they were made (Paramount, the studio with no memory as to whether it ever even made silents or owns them now), than Chaplin/Keaton/Lloyd/Langdon.
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PostWed Aug 05, 2009 7:56 pm

Sorry to join this thread late, been packing and moving all day...

There are several reasons for Griffith's obscurity, and Bob's already mentioned most of them. First of all, most of his best features were made a Paramount. Many of them are lost, and Paramount has not released any of them on VHS or DVD.

The survival rate of Griffith's shorts is really bad, only a handful of films from his Sennett and Triangle Komedy period survive. He started his career at Vitagraph, but I have not been able to find any films where he appeared there.

Griffith played supporting parts in features for several years when he left Sennett. He appeared in quite a few supporting dramatic roles in the early 1920s. So while many of his features are lost, some of them are just smaller parts.

When Walter Kerr wrote The Silent Clowns, he included a chapter on Griffith even though he could only see a few of Griffith's features.

Griffith's reputation rests mostly on Paths to Paradise and Hands Up!, but he has several other really good films that are still around. Although he probably doesn't appear for 10 minutes in Open All Night, he definitely livens up the film.

He lost his voice as a child from diptheria. And although sound killed his career, he was already making quite a bit of money doctoring scripts for comedy films. Paramount was not exactly the best studio to be making feature comedies during the twenties, as Roscoe Arbuckle and W.C. Fields discovered. The studio wanted to crank them out as fast as possible, and the quality could suffer. So Griffith broke his contract with Adolph Zukor in 1927 to strike out on his own.

I wrote an article a few years ago on Griffith for Classic Images. You can read it here, as well as browse through my Raymond Griffith photo collection.

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Annette DeFoe and Griffith in An Aerial Joyride, which still exists.

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Alice Lake, Lionel Belmore, Raymond Griffith, George Reed, and Marie Prevost in Red Lights (1923), which still exists.

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Raymond Griffith and Virgina Lee Corbin in Hands Up! (1926)

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Raymond Griffith, former comedy star and now an associate producer for 20th Century-Fox, discusses a portrait sitting with Simone Simon, who makes her American film debut in "Girls' Dormitory", which Griffith is handling. (1936)
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The Blackbird

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PostFri Aug 07, 2009 6:48 pm

Don't forget THE NIGHT CLUB, a neglected little gem. So much to enjoy in that one, especially Griffith's reaction to his wedding being derailed at the start.
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PostSat Aug 08, 2009 12:48 am

Griffith's career paralleled Field's second go-round at Paramount in the sound era. They both had to prove themselves backing up others as supporting players for a few years - stealing most pictures with their appearances. They were both rewarded with their own starring features but it was fairly short lived - Fields because of illness and Grifith because he was ill of management.

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P0L0- Zanuck LL0YD Fairbanks + SN0WY BAKER (1931)

PostMon Aug 05, 2013 11:26 am

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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostMon Aug 05, 2013 11:56 am

many of Raymond's best surviving performances have been mentioned already. "Paths to Paradise" is incomplete with the car chase (the best thing about that movie) ending abruptly in the desert. It ran(and maybe still is running) on Youtube in a fair print.

Griffith gave a poignant silent performance in "All's Quiet on the Western Front"(1930).

Another in-depth Ray Griffith silent performance is with Priscilla Dean, Matt Moore and Wally Beery in the 1923 Tod Browning feature "White Tiger".
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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostMon Aug 05, 2013 12:35 pm

We are showing "Paths To Paradise" in 35mm Friday Aug 9 at Library of Congress Packard Campus Theatre in Culpeper VA. Live accomp on theatre organ by yours truly…

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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostMon Aug 05, 2013 1:44 pm

Even though MISS BLUEBEARD is a Bebe Daniels feature, Griffith steals it in a supporting role.
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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostMon Aug 05, 2013 1:52 pm

THE SLEEPING PORCH is an amusing short, but Griffith couldn't have continued as a lead. He could have continued as a character actor but was doing so well off screen that he didn't need to.
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PostWed Aug 07, 2013 4:16 pm

The Blackbird wrote:Don't forget THE NIGHT CLUB, a neglected little gem.


And let's not forget another little gem, You'd Be Surprised, which is available from Grapevine (http://www.grapevinevideo.com/youd_be_surprised.html).
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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostThu Aug 15, 2013 1:13 pm

Now I gotsta see RED LIGHTS (1923). SilentEra.com says survival status is unknown, but our very own Bruce Calvert says it exists, and there's one user review of it at IMDB. Anyone know who's got elements on this one?
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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostThu Aug 15, 2013 1:32 pm

WaverBoy wrote:Now I gotsta see RED LIGHTS (1923). SilentEra.com says survival status is unknown, but our very own Bruce Calvert says it exists, and there's one user review of it at IMDB. Anyone know who's got elements on this one?


It was shown at Capitolfest back in 2009 - I missed it but Jack Theakston might know about it.
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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostThu Aug 15, 2013 2:37 pm

FrankFay wrote:
WaverBoy wrote:Now I gotsta see RED LIGHTS (1923). SilentEra.com says survival status is unknown, but our very own Bruce Calvert says it exists, and there's one user review of it at IMDB. Anyone know who's got elements on this one?


It was shown at Capitolfest back in 2009 - I missed it but Jack Theakston might know about it.

I'm pretty sure RED LIGHTS was also shown at a Cinecon and/or Cinefest sometime in the past 10-20 years.
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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostThu Aug 15, 2013 3:11 pm

The Red Lights listing, from a decade-old FIAF CD-ROM:

FI: RED LIGHTS (US, Clarence C. Badger, 1923)
PC: Goldwyn Pictures Corp.
CA: Prevost, Marie; Griffith, Raymond (Ray); Walker, Johnnie (John) (Johnny); Lake, Alice; Godowsky, Dagmar; Worthington, William; Elliott, Frank; Belmore, Lionel; Hersholt, Jean; Reed, George; Murphy, Charles B.; West, Charles
AR: Cinémathèque Royale (Bruxelles) [BEB]
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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostThu Aug 15, 2013 5:18 pm

Image
The train butcher proves to be none other than the crime deflector. Alice Lake, Lionel Belmore, Raymond Griffith, George Reed, and Marie Prevost.

Red Lights (1923) was shown at Cinecon in 1991. I've heard that it is really good.
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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostThu Aug 15, 2013 11:43 pm

I think you mean 2001, I saw it, and I wasn't going to Cinecon in the 1990s.
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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostThu Aug 15, 2013 11:56 pm

Griffith's scenes are the only thing saving this film, otherwise it's pretty terrible.
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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostFri Aug 16, 2013 6:36 am

The Cinecon website says 1991. It definitely wasn't 2001, as I attended that year.
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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostFri Aug 16, 2013 8:08 am

silentfilm wrote:The Cinecon website says 1991. It definitely wasn't 2001, as I attended that year.


I just checked ams, it was shown at Cinecon 42...what year was that?
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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostFri Aug 16, 2013 8:53 am

This year is the 49th, so that was seven years ago, 2006.
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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostMon Aug 19, 2013 12:44 pm

Cinecon ran it twice, so that's the source of the confusion. (We repeated it partly because a scheduling snafu caused some people to miss it.) The print came from Warners; whether they still have it is anybody's guess.

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Re: Raymond Griffith

PostThu May 10, 2018 11:46 am

Dave Glass posted a clip of an unidentified Alice Howell film to YouTube a couple of years ago. It's a short clip from THE GREAT SMASH (1916), which was probably Griffith's most elaborate film at L-KO.



“The Millionaire’s Son” [The Great Smash]

L-KO Company Turns Out a Very Successful Comic in Three Reels, Featuring Ray Griffith and Alice Howell.

Reviewed by Robert C. McElravy.

SUCCESSFUL nonsense is one of the hardest things to achieve in moving pictures, and it is not often that a company gets the side-splitting effects that are found in this three-reel offering. In purely comic creations, such as this, there is usually a threat of vulgarity running counter to the humorous effort, and the two forces are found to conflict.

This particular number is full of clean merriment from start to finish. It is low comedy without any great offense, and resembles more than anything else an animated series of comic newspaper cartoons. The characters are really “caricatures,” subject to all sorts of exaggerated human impulses, burlesqueing life in every movement and yet close enough to bring the desired laugh. It is a clever variation of the ordinary slapstick and knockabout acting, and if anything more difficult to get over satisfactorily.

Ray Griffith appears as the son of a millionaire, whose father decides to make a man of him. He goes to work on the section and falls in love with a hashhouse lady, impersonated by Alice Howell. She is already beloved by the section foreman, a hardy individual with a black mustache and a bad disposition.

The rivalry is intense from the beginning and, seeing that fair play will not win for him, the foreman determines to have the lady’s life. He and his accomplices tie her to the railroad tracks, immediately in front of a drawbridge. The hero leads a rescue party.

The closing reel is full of tense situations, in which laughter mingles with genuine thrills. The substitution of the miniature bridge and engine for the real thing is cleverly managed. The engine climbs up the bridge, just as the draw is swung open and plunges into the water below. The hero then, of course, saves the girl and the villain perishes in an appropriate manner.

The offering as a whole is one of the best of the type yet offered by this company. The photography is good throughout.
-- Moving Picture World, April 1, 1916, page 102
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