My Silent Movie Obsession
I've Been obsessed with Silent Films Since I First Saw Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik
In the early 1970s, I saw "The Sheik," starring the great Rudolph Valentino. Later on, I was thrilled to watch its sequel, "Son of the Sheik." I've been obsessed with silent movies ever since!
Give me Rudolph Valentino, Colleen Moore, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Clara Bow, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Gloria Swanson, Ramon Novarro, Joan Crawford (yes, she was a silent movie actress, too!), Lilian Gish, Lon Chaney, and Louise Brooks any day of the week. Some things just can't be improved upon.
Keep your high tech movies with 3 D, surround sound, computerized graphics, and mind-boggling special effects. I would rather watch a movie of the era when "actors had faces." Silent movies can be flickering, grainy, and even ghostly; but, as far as I'm concerned, that only adds to their charm. Silent movies--the ones that were created by true artists, are to be treasured, much like a da Vinci painting.
Photo credit: Amazon.com
"We didn't need dialogue. We had faces. . . ."
~Gloria Swanson (as Norma in Sunset Boulevard)
To Learn More About the Silent Movie Era, Read The Parade's Gone By by Kevin Brownlow
Written by Kevin Brownlow, the world's foremost authority on silent films and silent film restoration, The Parade's Gone By, is considered the "bible" of the silent film era. I own this book and love it! Be sure to check out the many buying options to get the cheapest price available.
The Silent Years of Slapstick Comedy - A Funny Collage of Wacky Scenes to Tickle Your Funny Bone
Favorite Silent Movie Poll
What is Your Favorite Silent Movie of All Time?
Clara Bow, the "It" Girl!
Follows the "rags to riches" life of the famous "It" girl, and her descent into oblivion following the advent of talkies.
Clara Bow Biography
It with Clara Bow--The Darling of the Jazz Age!
"It," a silent romantic comedy, and one of the first concept films, had its world premiere on January 14, 1927. Causing a sensation, the film broke box office records and made Clara Bow a major star. Bow would forever after be known as the "It" girl.
Paramount Pictures paid Eleanor Glynn $50,000.00 for the concept, credited her for her story and adaptation, and gave her a small part in the movie, in which she played herself. In February 1927, Cosmopolitan published a two-part serial story written by Glynn in which she defined "it": "That quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force. With 'It' you win all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man. 'It' can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction."
The movie has a universal plot--that of the poor shop girl who falls in love with a man above her station. The first time Betty Lou Spence (Clara Bow) sets eyes on her new boss, Cyrus Waltham, Jr. (Antonio Moreno), manager and heir to the world's largest store, she falls head over heels, enthusiastically proclaiming, "Sweet Santa Claus, give me him!" Betty doesn't wait for Christmas as she sets out to snag the boss for her very own. One small problem prevails: he is already engaged to socialite Adela Van Norman (Jacqueline Gadsden).
The boss doesn't notice Betty, but his silly friend Monty (William Austin) does; Betty uses his interest in her to get closer to the boss, who finally takes her on a date to Coney Island, where both have a grand time riding roller coasters and eating hot dogs. When the boss takes Betty home and tries to kiss her, she slaps his face, hurrying out of his car and back to her flat, which confuses him.
To further complicate matters, Betty pretends her sick roommate's baby is hers in order to protect her friend, Molly (Priscilla Bonner) from meddling welfare workers who want to take her baby away. Monty arrives at just the right moment, and, of course, tells all to the boss. In love with Betty, but shocked at what he mistakenly believes to be the truth, the boss proposes an "arrangement" to Betty in which she will be nothing more than a mistress. Enraged, Betty quits her job and vows to forget her boss.
When Betty learns that the incident with her boss was all a misunderstanding, she resolves to teach him a lesson. Upon learning that her boss is hosting a yachting excursion, Betty, masquerading as "Miss Van Cortland," goes as Monty's guest. When the boss discovers Betty on the ship, he plans to throw her off, but is overcome by her "it" factor. Will the boss propose? will Betty accept? Watch the movie and find out.
The Beginning of a Life-Long Love Affair
From the first time I ever laid eyes on a silent movie, I was hooked. As a child, I delighted in the bumbling antics of slapstick comedy, especially the Keystone Cops. I thrived on the irrational story lines and the ridiculous shenanigans of the instigators. My favorite comedy stars of the era include Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Colleen Moore, and the comedy team of Laurel and Hardy.
As a teen, I was introduced to dramatic silent films. The first one I remember watching was "The Sheik," in the early 1970s. There was no talking in this picture, but it wasn't needed; in a movie such as this, in my opinion, speaking would be detrimental to its artistry.
During the silent movie era, actors conveyed emotion through facial expressions, gestures, and body language; title cards did the rest. The music, beautifully played at the movie house by a live orchestra (in the larger theatres), pipe organ, or piano, coincided with action and mood as well as the location of each scene in the movie.
As I watched The Sheik, I felt myself being transported through time. I reveled in the melodrama and eccentricity of the story, the larger-than-life acting, and the outlandish costumes; I became wholeheartedly immersed in this decadent spectacle before me. I was the beautiful maiden--not Agnes Ayres-- who was being pursued by the gorgeous and virile sheik, played by Rudolph Valentino--swoon!
The Sheik Starring Rudolph Valentino and Agnes Ayres, 1921
"The Sheik" is based on the bestselling romance novel of the time, The Sheik, written by Edith Maude Hull. Produced in 1921 by Famous Players-Lasky and directed by George Melford, the movie stars Rudolph Valentino, Agnes Ayres, and Adolphe Menjou.
The Sheik centers on Diana, a headstrong English beauty (Agnes Ayres) who, after turning down a marriage proposal, plans a month long trek into the desert. Diana, disguised as a harem girl, boldly enters a local casino that women are banned from entering. Inside the casino, Diana is shocked to find men gambling for new wives. When Diana comes up as the next prize, Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan (Valentino) intervenes. Startled to find out she is white, an amused Ahmed decides to let her go.
When Mustapha Ali (Charles Brinley) informs Ahmed that Diana is the woman that he has been hired to guide the next day, Ahmed hatches a plan: sneaking into her room as she is sleeping, he removes the bullets from her revolver. Finding Diana riding alone in the desert the next day, Ahmed captures her and forcibly carries her away to his tent.
Will Sheik Ahmed force himself upon Diana? Will Diana escape? Watch the movie to experience the fascinating storyline and see the riveting conclusion.
The Sheik/ The Son of the Sheik DVD
I own this wonderful DVD that includes both "The Sheik," and its sequel, "The Son of the Sheik." Also included are three shorts: "Rudolph Valentino and His 88 American Beauties," "The Sheik's Physique," and Pathe' newsreel coverage of Valentino's funeral in 1926.
The Sheik, which was released in 1921, was unlike anything ever seen before. Women fainted in the aisles, and enraged men walked out of the theatre. The Sheik made Valentino a big star, and many men emulated him with their slicked-back hairstyles. "Sheik," became a term used to describe an attractive, virile man during this time and throughout the 1920s.
Rudolph Valentino Documentary
The turbulent life of Rudolph Valentino, ending in his untimely death in 1926 at the age of 31.
Camille with Alla Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino, 1921
I don't yet own this movie, but, thankfully, I've had the pleasure of watching it many times on YouTube. This version of Camille is deliciously different. I enjoy the lavish art deco sets and the flamboyant look of this Camille (played by Alla Nazimova) who sports a big hairstyle, and dramatic makeup and demeanor. Nazimova's gestures and facial expressions are exaggerated and over-the-top, which only adds to the charm of this melodramatic production. Nazimova delivers a very poignant and dramatic performance, which I greatly enjoy. I also found Rudolph Valentino's performance in this movie very endearing and touching.
Camille--a Study in Melodrama
"Camille" is a screen adaptation of La Dame aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas, fils. The original play opened in Paris in 1852; the first Broadway production was presented in 1853. Since then, there have been 15 Broadway revivals, and numerous screen adaptations.
In this version, the setting is moved to 1920s Paris. One of my favorite things about this movie are the lavish art deco sets, especially Marguerite's apartment. Natacha Rambova, who would later become Valentino's second wife, was the talented art director.
Armand (Valentino) finds himself drawn to Marguerite (Nazimova), who is constantly surrounded by suitors, whom she entertains at her lavish apartment. Tragically, the beautiful Marguerite isn't well; she is racked with consumption, suffering bouts of illness.
Armand pursues Marguerite, who at first rejects his advances, but eventually gives in. The two live together happily until Armand's father convinces Marguerite to give him up in order to save the family's reputation. Marguerite leaves a note for Armand (failing to tell Armand the real reason she left), then runs away with a wealthy client. Devastated, then furious, Armand takes up with another courtesan, Olympe, and pubicly denounces Marguerite when he runs into her at a casino.
Sick, alone, and in massive debt, Camille's courtesan days are over. As she lay dying, her belongings are reposessed. Camille begs the men confiscating her belongings to allow her to keep her most treasured posession--a book given to her by Armand. Upon learning of Marguerite's condition, Armand frantically rushes to her bedside. But, is it too late? Watch the movie to find out.
My First Foray into Silent Film Collecting
While in my early teens, I began collecting silent movies so I could enjoy them at my leisure. During the early 1970s, we didn't have DVD or even VHS players in the home. If you wanted to watch movies that weren't shown on television, the only alternative was to purchase movie reels and play them on a movie projector.
I saved up money from my allowance until I had enough money to purchase my first silent movies. I already had a movie projector, which I had received the previous Christmas from my parents. In a magazine ad, I discovered a company known as Blackhawk Films, who sold movie reels of all sorts of silent classics, from slapstick to drama. They sent me a catalog from which I selected five movies: "Sugar Daddies;" a 1927 Hal Roach comedy short featuring the famous team of Laurel and Hardy; "Kid Auto Races," and "A Busy Day" (both on the same reel), starring Charlie Chaplin; and "Rudolph Valentino and His 88 Bathing Beauties," as well as a couple of other movie shorts.
I whiled away many happy hours in my bedroom watching these silent movies, which were projected on an old 1950s folding screen borrowed from my parents. I also went one step further: I composed my own soundtracks to go with them, which made watching them all the more enjoyable. In order to do this, I played original records from that era on my antique 1920s era wind-up phonograph, which was essentially powered by a giant spring. Sometimes I had to wind up the phonograph in the middle of a song, or the song would end up going in slow motion. I got a kick out of hearing the song wind down, then suddenly speed up as the handle was turned.
I played the records that I felt refected the action of each scene in the movie, then recorded them on a reel-to-reel player, which I still own. After that, whenever I watched the movies, I would play the appropriate composition, enhancing my movie watching experience even more with my unique soundtracks.
My sister, Melanie, whom I shared a room with, was tickled pink about my new interest in silent movie collecting; in my effort to simulate a movie theatre, I actually cleaned up my side of the bedroom--YIPPEE!
Time Marches On--But My Interest in Silents is Still as Strong as Ever!
As the years went by, I grew up, graduated from college, got married, and had a child. When VHS came out, I was gifted with a humongous set of Charlie Chaplin movies in a VHS boxed set that contained ten volumes of movie shorts--twenty VHS tapes in all. The collection consisted of Chaplin's early shorts, such as "The Immigrant," "The Floorwalker," and "Mabel's Strange Predicament." I was entertained by this great collection of Chaplin slapstick comedies for many years.
When VHS bit the dust, and DVD came on the market, I became one of Amazon's best customers! I delight in adding new silents to my collection, most with which I gift myself on special occasions such as Christmas, birthdays, and Valentine's Day. My husband, who has no idea what to buy me, just leaves it up to me--I have the best time picking out my favorite silent movies!
My favorite method of collecting silent movies is to add anything that I'm interested in to my Amazon wish list. Then, when ready to buy, I simply browse my list, adding my selections to my shopping cart. One of my favorite methods of choosing silent movies for my wish list is to watch them on YouTube first, if possible. That way, I can decide if I like them before buying. If I happen to see a silent on TV I like that's available on DVD, I add that to my Amazon wish list, too.
"Adding sound to movies would be like putting lipstick on the Venus de Milo."
What is it About Silent Movies?
Silent movies seem to be one of those things that you either love or hate. You either connect with them, or you don't. The first time I watched "The Sheik," I was instantly smitten, falling head over heels in love.
Silent movies are a whole different ball game than the type of movies today's society is used to. The lack of a soundtrack required the viewer to pay more attention to the facial expressions and body language of the actors in order to interpret and understand the story unfolding before them. Title cards helped as well, providing the viewer with dialogue as well as descriptions of events. Music helped to pull it all together, prompting us to laugh, or cry, depending on the scene at hand. Through this interaction, The viewer in turn became much more involved, drawing upon her own well of imagination to fill in the gaps.
With the advent of "talkies," one can only imagine how shocked people must have been to hear their favorite actors speak for the very first time. The advent of sound was the death knell for this fleeting golden age, and for many of the actors as well.
Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush
"The Gold Rush," released in 1925, is the film Chaplin most wanted to be remembered for. Chaplin produced, directed, and starred in this silent comedy playing his famous Little Tramp character, who travels to the Yukon to take part in the Klondike Gold Rush.
After a bad storm, the Tramp ends up stranded in a cabin with two prospectors: Big Jim (Mack Swain) and Black Larson (Tom Murray). In need of food, they draw cards. Black Larson, who draws the lowest, must go for food. On the way, a couple of prospectors recognize him as a wanted man and try to run him in, but he shoots them both. He then returns to the cabin and tries to steal Jim's gold deposit. The two men fight, and Big Jim is knocked out by a blow to the head, resulting in amnesia, while Black Larson falls off a cliff to his death.
The Tramp enters a prospecting town, taking on the job of looking after another prospector's cabin. He soon meets and falls in love with Georgia, a pretty dance hall girl (Georgia Hale), whom he mistakenly believes feels the same way about him. He invites Georgia and her friends to the cabin he is staying in for New Years Eve, and they accept. Unbeknownst to the Tramp, Georgia is merely toying with him for her amusement, and has no intention of showing up.
The Tramp begs, borrows, and shovels snow to get money to entertain his friends with food, decorations, and presents. When New Years Eve comes and Georgia doesn't show up, the Tramp searches for her in the dance hall, while at the same time, Georgia and her friends decide to have fun at his expense, showing up at the cabin he is watching. With the Tramp gone, Georgia finds the Tramp's presents, food, and decorations meant for her and her friends. She realizes that the Tramp is really in love with her, and suddenly, picking on the Tramp isn't fun anymore.
Big Jim, who has been wandering around with amnesia, runs into the Tramp, suddenly recognizing him. Jim is elated, promising to make the Tramp a millionaire if he will lead him to the cabin so he can find his gold deposit.
Will the Little Tramp help Big Jim find his claim? Will they become millionaires? And, most importantly--will he get the girl in the end? Watch the movie to find out.
In 1942, the Gold Rush was re-released with a new musical score, which Chaplin composed himself. Some plot points were changed and narration was added. The film was the first of Chaplin's films to be converted to a sound version in this fashion.
My Favorite Chaplin Movie
The Gold Rush is my favorite Chaplin movie. I enjoy all the kooky gags, such as the Tramp turning into a chicken (when Big Jim is starving for a meal), the roll dance, and the see-sawing cabin. My favorite part, though, is when the Tramp, believing that Georgia is sincere about showing up New Years Day, works hard to make a special New Years for her and her friends. He buys presents for them, cooks, decorates, and lovingly sets the table for them, then no one shows up. The Tramp's look of dejection breaks your heart!
Watch Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush
The Gold Rush has something for everyone: action, suspense, humor, sentiment, and love. Enjoy the riveting performance of none other than the great Charlie Chaplin!
Our Dancing Daughters with Joan Crawford and John Mack Brown--The Quintessential Flapper Movie!
I bet you didn't know that Joan Crawford was the quintessential flapper back during the roaring twenties. I love her in the silents--her eyes are so expressive, and she's a fabulous dancer, to boot! I particularly love the opening scene in Our Dancing daughters when Joan as Diana Medford is cutting a rug while getting dressed. Talk about fabulous footwork!
Our Dancing Daughters, from 1928, is an American silent drama film about the declining morals of youth during the 1920s. The film stars Joan Crawford and John Mack Brown. Produced by Hunt Stromburg and directed by Harry Beaumont, the film made Joan Crawford a major star.
Diana falls hard for Ben Blaine (John Mack Brown), but her friend Ann (Anita Page) not only seduces him away from Diana, she gets Ben to marry her. It turns out Ann isn't in love with Ben--she only married him for his money. Soon afterward, Ann flaunts her lover Freddie (Edward J. Nugent) at Diana's party. Ben, who secretly attends the party, discovers the worst. An argument ensues, and an extremely intoxicated Ann ends up falling down the stairs to her death. Will the now free Ben reconcile with Diana? Watch the movie and find out.
Our Dancing Daughters Videos
Although the full movie isn't available on YouTube, I found some great clips that highlight some of the best moments in the movie.
The Crowd with James Murray and Eleanor Boardman, 1928
December 9, 2012
Last night, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) showed the silent classic from 1928, "The Crowd," for their "Silent Sunday" feature. The Crowd, directed by King Vidor, and starring Vidor's wife, Eleanor Boardman, is one of my favorite silent movies of all time. Although I'm used to going to bed fairly early due to my work schedule, I braved the late hours and stayed up to watch it. Unfortunately, I found myself nodding off a few times, but not because the movie is boring. Lol!
Here is a quick run-down of the movie: From the moment of his birth (the fourth of July), great things are expected of John Sims (James Murray). His father, who dies when John is twelve, has no doubt that his son will grow up to be important person.
At the age of 21, John leaves for New York City on a mission to become important. He gets a job at Atlas Insurance Company, becoming a small fish in a huge pond. Bert (Bert Roach), a fellow worker, introduces John to a girl named Mary (Eleanor Boardman), whom he quickly falls for. The couple soon marry, honeymooning in Niagara Falls. The marriage gets off to a rocky start; the couple quarrel and Mary leaves. When Mary discovers she is pregnant, the couple reconcile.
The next five years of marriage produces a daughter, and an $8 raise. Mary hounds John about his lack of advancement in his job, especially compared to Bert. Things finally begin looking John's way when he wins $500 in with an advertising slogan. John happily buys gifts for the family, but the joy is short lived. As he and Mary call to the children to hurry home for their gifts, their little daughter is run over by a truck. In critical condition, she dies.
John, devastated by the loss of his child, is unable to concentrate on his job. Berated by the boss for his poor performance, he quits his job. John gets other jobs, but loses them, one after another. Finally, Mary's brothers reluctantly offer John a position, but he turns them down, refusing to accept a "charity job." When a furious and fed-up Mary slaps John, he goes for a walk, contemplating suicide. But his little son has joined him in his walk. Will John self-destruct with his son in tow? Or will his beloved son be just the therapy he needs? Watch the movie and find out.
I'll be so glad when a properly remastered and restored edition of The Crowd comes on the market. Until then, I'll be patiently waiting. . . .
Metropolis--One of the Greatest Movies of All Time!
"Metropolis," released in 1927, and directed by Fritz Lang, is a German expressionist science-fiction film. The movie stars: Brigitte Helm, Gustav Frohlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, and Alfred Abel. The script for the film was written by Lang and his wife, Thea Von Harbou.
Set in a futuristic urban dystopia in 2026, this movie brings to mind ancient Egypt, where the workers endured hideous working conditions. The workers in this movie endure the same plight, only now they are ruled by powerful men in towering city complexes, while the opressed workers are relegated to live and work in the unforgiving depths below.
Freder (Gustav Frohlich), who lives a pampered life, is the son of Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel), the ruthless founder and ruler of Metropolis. While frolicking in his pampered paradise, he encounters Maria (Brigitte Helm), who rises from the depths with the children of the workers, so that they may look upon their "brothers."
Freder is intrigued with Maria, descending down into the depths of the worker's city to find her. When he witnesses several workers become injured after a huge machine explodes, Freder vows to help the opressed workers. When he informs his father of the tragedy, rather than being concerned about the workers, Joh is instead angered that Freder has entered the worker's city, where he doesn't belong. Incensed that he had to learn about the explosion from his son rather than his assistant, Josephat (Theodor Loos), Joh fires Josephat. Outside the office, Freder stops a devastated Josaphat from committing suicide, instructing him to return to his apartment and await his return.
Angered over his son's behavior, Joh sends his henchman, The Thin Man (Fritz Rasp), to tail Freder. Freder, in the meantime, descends into the depths of the worker's city, where he encounters a man, Georgy (Erwin Biswanger) collapsing at his post. Freder takes over the grateful man's job, switching clothes with him and inviting him to stay at Josephat's apartment. Freder offers Georgy the use of his car and chaufffer. On the way to the apartment, Georgy, distracted by the bright lights of the Yoshiwara (a licentious nightclub), goes inside, where he ends up staying all night.
When Joh discovers a paper with secret plans shared by the workers, he takes it to an old collaborator and scientist, Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), who discerns that the diagrams are maps to tunnels in the underground city. Rotwang, who was in love with Joh's deceased wife, Hel, drops a big bomb: he shows Joh a robot he is constructing in a deranged tribute to Hel.
Exhausted and hallucinating after manning Georgy's post, Freder enters the catacombs to hear Maria speak. Freder is captivated by Maria, who prophesizes a mediator between workers and rulers--a heart to join the head (rulers) and hands (workers). Freder, who declares his love for Maria, plans to meet her later at a cathedral. Joh and Rotwang, unknown to Maria and Freder, are lurking in the shadows and hear everything. The two plot to kidnap Maria and give the robot her face in order to discredit her. Unknown to Joh, Rotwang is actually devising an evil plot to use the robot with Maria's face to destroy his son, Freder.
When Georgy returns to the car, after a night of partying at the Yoshiwara, The Thin Man lies in wait, where he steals the instructions to Josephat's apartment from him, and orders Georgy back to his job, threatening him to keep quiet about everything. In the meantime, Freder enters Josephat's apartment looking for Georgy. Josephat, who is still there, tells him that Georgy hasn't arrived yet. Freder relays to Josephat his experiences in the worker's city. Just as Freder is leaving to meet Maria, The Thin Man arrives, ordering him to leave Metropolis. The two fight, and Josephat manages to escape, descending into the worker's city.
When Maria is a no-show at the cathedral, Freder searches for her. Hearing her cries coming from Rotwang's house, he attempts to rescue her, but to no avail. Inside, the evil Rotwanger is in the process of fusing Maria's face and body with that of the robot. Upon completion, Rotwang sends the robot--now with Maria's face--to meet Joh. Freder catches them embracing, faints and becomes unconscious for ten days, experiencing nightmarish visions.
The Maria robot enters Yoshiwara. With her seductive dancing, she causes men to lust for her, pitting brother against brother. Unaware that what they're seeing isn't really Maria, the workers latch on to her every word. The false Maria unleashes havoc on the city, urging the workers to rise up and revolt.
Will the Maria robot lead the workers to destroy the city? Will the real Maria escape and intervene to save the city? Who will be the mediator between the workers and rulers? Watch the movie and find out. . . .
The Complete Metropolis Trailer
The Complete Metropolis DVD
I own the restored Metropolis, and it's incredible! Not only for its amazing cinematography, but also for the story, the acting, and the beautiful musical score! This is the quintessential silent movie that everyone must see!
Metropolis was one of the first silent movies that I acquired on DVD. Unfortunately, that first version was missing 25 minutes of footage, which really compromized the story line. Although I still enjoyed watching the movie, it didn't really make a whole lot of sense.
Shortly after Metropolis was released in 1927, due to its long running time and footage that sensors found questionable, the movie was brutally butchered. The beautiful musical score was replaced with music that didn't coincide with the movie at all. In other words, this beautiful masterpiece that Fritz Lang put his heart and soul into was destroyed. You can just imagine how devastated Lang was to witness this atrocity.
Now, after discovering a complete cut of the movie in Argentina in 2008, the movie has been restored to its original glory, the way it was meant to be seen. After I watched the restored version of Metropolis the first time, I said, "Ah--now I understand!" Now the movie makes perfect sense to me, and I'm completely bowled over by the addition of the original musical score by Gottfried Huppertz which was created for the film's 1927 Berlin debut.
If you buy just one silent movie in your lifetime, buy this one; I guarantee you won't be sorry.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans with George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor, 1927
"Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans," is an American silent film directed by German film director F. W. Murnau and released in 1927. It was adapted by Carl Mayer from the short story "Die Reise nach Tilsit" ("A Trip to Tilsit") by Hermann Sudermann. To produce the movie, Murnau utilized the new Fox Movietone sound-on-film system, making Sunrise one of the first movies to boast a soundtrack of music and sound effects. Although the original negative was destroyed in a fire in 1937, thankfully, a new negative was created from a surviving print.
The movie stars George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor as a Man and Wife living a simple life in the country with their baby. When a wicked Woman From the City (Margaret Livingston) comes to the country on a vacation, she lures the Man away from his home, where they join in the moonlight. The Wife, aware that she is losing him, becomes distraught over their crumbling relationship.
The Woman From the City asks the Man to sell his farm and return with her to the city. She convinces him to eliminate his wife by drowning her, and hands him bulrushes to help him stay afloat when the boat overturns. When the Man informs the Wife they are going on an outing, the Wife is happy, thinking that her husband is being romantic. Happiness quickly turns to horror when the Wife realizes that her husband is out to kill her. In the middle of the lake, the Man stops rowing, gets up, then suddenly takes on the look of a monster, looming over his wife menacingly. Realizing he can not kill her, he dejectedly sits back down. When the Wife realizes what her husband was planning to do, she cries uncontrollably.
When the boat reaches shore, the Wife gets out and and boards a trolley where the husband joins her, apologizing profusely and begging her not to be afraid of him. The woman continues to cry, and the Man begs her forgiveness, trying to placate her by buying her flowers and cakes. Watching a bride enter a church, they decide to go inside to watch the ceremony. Overcome with love and sentimentality, the Man and Wife reconcile, continuing their adventures in the city.
When darkness falls, the couple take the trolley to their boat, intending to return home. At first, all is calm on the lake, with the two conducting themselves like newlyweds in the moonlight. Before long, a raging storm turns their boat into splinters. The Man calls and calls out for the Wife who has vanished in the storm.
The Man returns home, gathering a search party to help find his Wife; they return home empty-handed. The Woman From the City watches the commotion hidden from view, thinking that the Man has killed his Wife. Unknown to the Man, an elderly man who is familiar with the tides goes back to search one last time. Will he find the Wife? And, most importantly, is she still alive? What will become of the Woman From the City? Watch the movie to find out.
Sunrise won an Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. Sixty years later, Sunrise was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the United States Library of Congress for films that are culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans--Watch the Complete Movie
In my opinion, "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans," is one of the greatest movies of all time. Unfortunately, when it was released, it was hardly noticed by the public, for it was overshadowed by the "The Jazz Singer" (considered to be the first talking film, with a mere two minutes of syncronized talking), which was released a few days later.
The Toll of the Sea with Anna Mae Wong, 1922
As a lover of melodramas, "Toll of the Sea" is one of my very favorite silent movies. I first had the pleasure of viewing this gem on TCM a few years ago.
Toll of the Sea, directed by Chester M. Franklin, was produced by the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation, and was released in 1922 by Metro Pictures. It was the eighth color feature film, the second technicolor feature, and the first color feature made in Hollywood. It was also the first color feature that did not require a special projector to be shown.
Loosely based on the short story, Madame Butterfly, by John Luther Long, the movie stars Anna Mae Wong as Lotus Flower, and Kenneth Harlan as Allen Carver. In the movie, the action takes place in China, rather than Japan.
When Lotus Flower finds a man floating unconscious in the ocean, she quickly gets help. The two increasingly enjoy one another's company, spending much time together. Lotus Flower falls in love with Carver and erroneously believes that he is in love with her, too. Lotus marries Allen in a bogus ceremony, thinking she has married "American style." Carver fills Lotus's head with promises that she will be returning to the States with him as his wife. Ecstatic, Lotus visualizes a fine life in America with the man she loves. When Carver prepares to return to the states, Lotus is packed and ready to go. Lotus is devastated by Carter's revelation that he can't take her with him this time, but he promises to return for her soon.
Lotus waits day after day for Carver's return, gazing out to sea. The neighborhood gossips cruelly make fun of her, especially when she delivers Carver's son.
Years go by, and finally there is word that Carver has returned--Lotus Flower prepares herself for a Chinese wedding. Looking radiant, she meets Carver, thinking he has come to take her away. Carver drops a bombshell--he presents his new American wife to Lotus Flower. When Lotus, hanging onto her dignity, introduces hers and Carver's son, Carver and his wife convince Lotus Flower that the boy would be better off with them in America. Lotus acquiesces. Her reasons for living gone, Lotus Flower is called by the sea. Will Lotus Flower end her life? Watch this gripping drama and find out.
The Toll of the Sea with Anna Mae Wong--Watch the Complete Movie
"Beware of this stranger! The sea is treacherous. His coming bodes no good!" A forewarned Lotus Flower pays no heed to this prophetic warning, enduring the tragic consequences of her selfless actions.
This was the beautiful Anna Mae Wong's first movie role. Wong's performance is truly magnificent! I find myself completely mezmerized by Wong's poignant performance, which is made even more so by her dignity and reserve.
Flaming Youth with Colleen Moore and Milton Sills
Unfortunately, "Flaming Youth" is a lost film of which only one reel survives in the Library of Congress. The movie, unfortunately, perished along with the majority of Colleen Moore's films. Even though I have seen only eleven minutes of footage, I absolutely love what remains. I can't help hoping that somewhere out there (wishful thinking, I know) a long lost copy will surface so that I might enjoy this charming film in its entirety. You never know, miracles happen every day! ;-)
Flaming Youth is a 1923 silent film produced by Associated First National and directed by John Francis Dillon. It stars Colleen Moore and Milton Sills. The movie touches upon some racy subjects at the time, topped off by a skinny-dipping scene in silouette. Although the movie was intended to be a dramatic film, the injection of humor to soften potential negative backlash made it appear to the public as a burlesque of the entire flapper movement. Even though there were many films before that touched upon the flapper, Flaming Youth, which was based upon a scandalous book of the same name, was the flapper film that best captured the imagination of the American public.
The plot of the movie centers upon Patricia Frentiss (Colleen Moore), who has been entrusted into the care of her mother's confidante, Doctor Bobs (Elliott Dexter), after her mother dies. Pat, who was raised in an unconventional household (her mother had a much younger lover, and her father had his own lover on the side), attracts the attention of her mother's former lover, the much older Carey Scott (Milton Sills).
When Pat tempts fate with her wild ways, she almost loses her virtue to a musician on board a boat. A gallant Carey comes to the rescue, saving Pat from certain demise. Pat suddenly realizes that Carey is the man for her, and the two enter into an experimental marriage.
The beginning of the Flaming Youth trailer reveals an ebullient Pat adorning her hair with a huge decorative hair comb, a common practice at the time. She applies false beauty marks, known as "patches," which were "the bee's knees" with flappers. When Pat beholds a virtual smorgasboard of perfume, she begins acting like a kid in a candy store. Overjoyed by so many choices, she ends up trying everything, even to the point of dabbing perfume in her hair and on her lips. The piece de resistance? Pat finishes it all off by covering herself in a cloud of dusting powder.
In watching these old films, we can learn a lot about fads and fashions of the time, as well as how people conducted their lives. We also discover what people found entertaining and amusing.
Pandora's Box with Louise Brooks, 1929
The 1929 film, "Pandora's Box," starring Louise Brooks and directed by G.W. Pabst is truly a work of art. Brooks, a former dancer, commands attention throughout the film with her graceful movements and large, expressive eyes. Brooks is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful women of the silver screen, which still holds today.
According to Wikipedia "to open Pandora's box" means to perform an action that may seem small or innocuous, but that turns out to have severe and far-reaching consequences." This is precisely what the movie, Pandora's Box is all about.
The movie centers on Lulu (Brooks), a prostitute, dancer, and mistress of newspaper owner, Dr. Ludwig Schon (Fritz Kortner). When Schon tells Lulu that he plans to marry Charlotte Marie Adelaide v. Zarnikow (Daisy D'Ora), the irresistible Lulu persuades him to marry her instead. After walking in on Lulu at their wedding party and finding her partying with two men in their bedroom, Schon orders Lulu to shoot him with his pistol. The two grapple; when the smoke clears, Schon is lifeless on the floor.
A few months later, Lulu goes to trial for the murder. Despite the testimony of her friends, Dr. Schon's son Alwa Schon (Francis Lederer) and Countess Anna Geschwitz (Alice Roberts), the judge convicts Lulu to five years in prison. When her friends create a ruckus, allowing Lulu to flee, she sets off for Paris, accompanied by her friends. On the train, she meets up with a crook, Marquis Casti-Piani (Michael von Newlinsky), and has a change of plans. Thus, begins her downward spiral, culminating in Lulu's ill-fated meeting with Jack the Ripper (Gustav Diessl).
Pandora's Box Trailer
Pandora's Box Videos
Louise Brooks Documentaries
Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful and talented actresses to ever grace the silver screen, Louise Brooks was willful, stubborn, impulsive, uncompromising, and brutally honest. Brooks lived life her way--to the very end--as is shown in these fascinating documentaries.
I own this DVD which includes my favorite Buster Keaton feature, Seven Chances, as well as a couple of other feature shorts. The movie soundtrack, composed by Robert Israel from the original score, is superb!
Seven Chances with Buster Keaton and Ruth Dwyer, 1925
My favorite Buster Keaton movie of all time is "Seven Chances," based on a 1916 David Belasco production, written by Roi Cooper Megrue. The talented Buster Keaton not only starred in the 1925 silent, he also directed it. The opening scenes of the movie were shot in early Technicolor, very rare for its time.
Buster Keaton plays Jimmy Shannon, junior partner of a brokerage firm (Meekin and Shannon) on the brink of financial ruin. After Shannon's grandfather dies, a lawyer (whom Shannon has been avoiding, mistaking him for a debt collector) drops a bombshell: Shannon's grandfather has left him seven million dollars in his will. But, there's a catch--Shannon must get hitched by 7:00 p.m. on his 27th birthday, and that is today!
Shannon rushes to propose to his sweetheart, Mary Jones (Ruth Dwyer). But, the bumbling Shannon botches it, making it seem as if he is asking for her hand out of necessity rather than love. An insulted Mary turns him down flat. Rejected and desperate, Shannon seeks advice from his partner, Meekin, who suggests that Keaton ask perfect strangers to marry him, resulting in rejection after rejection, as well as comical relief for the observers. Finally, a girl agrees to marry Shannon; but the underage girl, dressed up to look older, is dragged off by her mother before she sets foot in Shannon's car.
In the meantime, Mary, persuaded by her mother to change her mind about not marrying Shannon, hands a note to the hired hand to deliver to Shannon. On the way, a multitude of unfortunate circumstances delay the hired hand's journey. In the meantime, Meekin, unknown to Shannon, prints an article in the local newspaper about Shannon's predicament (and inheritance), inviting all potential brides to appear at Broad Street Church at 5 p.m. to get hitched.
At 5 p.m., there is a stampede of veiled women, in all shapes, ages, and sizes, descending upon Broad Street Church, in search of the "groom," who has fallen asleep in a pew there. When Shannon finally wakes up, the women begin to fight over him. Then the clergyman shows up, informing the women that they are victims of an apparent practical joke--there will be no wedding. Enraged, the jilted "brides" come after Shannon, forcing him to run for his life!
While in hiding, Shannon finally gets Mary's note. He frantically rushes to Mary's house to wed her before the 7:00 p.m. deadline. But, will he make it on time? Along the way, Shannon encounters one obstacle after another, which results in hilarious slapstick antics, one of my favorites being the avalanche of boulders chasing Shannon and pursuers down a steep hill. Will Shannon make it on time, and in one piece? Watch the video and find out.
One of the important things about this feature, which has been remastered by Kino International, is the soundtrack, composed by the extremely talented Robert Israel. Soundtrack is very important to me when I watch silent movies, and Robert Israel gets it right every time. I have watched many silent movies in which a pitiful new soundtrack has been tacked on, rudely distracting from the movie. The music is either from the wrong time period (1960s music added to a 1920s movie, for example) or just totally out of sync with the movie. Robert Israel's Seven Chances soundtrack, on the other hand, just adds to the merriment, polishing the silent movie viewing experience to perfection.
Buster Keaton Documentary - The artistry, life, and times of a comedic genius
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg with Ramon Novarro and Norma Shearer, 1927
"The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg" is not only my favorite Ramon Novarro movie of all time, it's one of my favorite silent movies of all time. The sound track, beautifully remastered by the talented Carl Davis, perfectly fits the film, enhancing the excitement, joy, and emotions of the film. The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg was made in 1927 by Metro-Golden-Mayer, and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. It is based on the 1901 play "Old Heidelberg," by Wilhelm Meyer-Forster.
In the film, Ramon Novarro plays Karl Heinreich, heir to the kingdom of Karlsburg. As a boy, Karl (played by Philippe De Lacy) is brought to live with his stern uncle, King Karl VII (Gustav von Seyffertitz), who dismisses the boy's beloved nanny (Edythe Chapman) without telling him. The one bright spot in Karl's life is his appointed tutor, Dr. Friedrich Juttner (Jean Hersholt), who provides the boy with much-needed love and attention.
Upon passing his high school examination in 1901, Karl (Ramon Novarro) is thrilled to learn he is going to Heidelberg with Juttner. Arriving at the inn of Ruder, Karl's servant is appalled at the condition of the room provided, angering Ruder's niece, Kathi (Norma Shearer) with his criticism. Kathi angrily defends the centuries-old family business, entrancing Karl in the process and unknowingly beckoning him to stay. Carl is quickly made a member of Corps Saxonia (a student society) by its enthusiastic members, sharing many happy times with them.
When Karl tries to kiss Kathi, she resists, telling him that she's engaged. After wearing down Kathi's resistance, she finally confesses to Karl that while her family approves of her fiancé, she's not so sure about him. Both Karl and Kathi eventually profess their love for one another, with Karl promising to let nothing separate them.
Karl spends many happy times in Heidelberg with Kathi and Corps Saxonia. Unfortunately for Karl, these days are coming to an end. Juttner has just received a letter from the King, stating that he has chosen a princess to wed Karl. But Juttner, who can't bring himself to tell Karl, keeps the letter under wraps. That same day, Prime Minister von Haugk (Edward Connelly) arrives with news that the King is ill; Karl must return and take the reins of government. While Karl is sad to be leaving Kathi, he believes that he will soon return; unbeknownst to Karl, the King is on his deathbed.
Karl's world falls apart when Juttner informs him of his uncle's matrimonial plans. The King dies, followed by Juttner, and Karl is quickly crowned king. Time marches on, day after lonely day, until one day, Kellermann, a man from Heidelberg who Karl had jokingly promised to make his majordomo, shows up to take him up on the offer. When Karl asks about Kathi, he learns that she's still waiting for him.
Karl returns to Heidelberg to see Kathi, one last time. Upon his return, Karl is disappointed to see that Heidelberg isn't the town he remembers, and has transformed from a bustling, fun-loving town into almost a ghost town. Karl is saddened to see that the students no longer congregate there, and the Corps Saxonia has changed from the gregarious, fun-loving group he remembers to cold and distant strangers.
The ending is bitter-sweet. While Kathi is thrilled and hopeful that Karl has returned, she must once again endure the pain of losing him, one last time. In the ending scene, Karl rides in a carriage with the bride chosen for him by his uncle while an onlooker remarks, "it must be wonderful to be king!"
Sparrows with Mary Pickford, 1926
"Sparrows" was produced by Mary Pickford and directed by William Beaudine and Tom McNamara (uncredited). It was released by United Artists May 14, 1926.
Sparrows is my favorite Mary Pickford movie, although Pickford starred in several outstanding movies such as "Poor Little Rich Girl," "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," "Stella Marris," and "Pollyanna," to name a few, Sparrows especially fuels my love of melodrama, characters who overcome adversity, triumph of the underdog, and the triumph of good over evil.
The story centers around a depressing baby farm in an alligator-infested Louisiana swamp run by Mr. Grimes (Gustav von Seyffertitz), a heartless and greedy old man, and his wife (Charlotte Mineau). Molly (Mary Pickford), the oldest, looks after the other children, most of whom are orphans and call her "Mama Molly." The children are mistreated and starved by Grimes, and a sick baby even ends up dying, despite Molly's pleas to Grimes for help. Molly holds steadfast to her promise to the children that God will come and rescue them. Still in dire straights after a month of waiting, one of the boys asks why God has not yet rescued them; Molly replies that he is busy attending to "sparrows" (a biblical reference).
When a new baby girl (Mary Louise Miller) is brought to the farm, Molly falls head-over-heels in love, "adopting" her for her own. The baby girl, who has been kidnapped for ransom money, has a wealthy father. But when the kidnapping becomes highly publicized and published in the paper, Mr. Grimes gets cold feet and decides to chuck the baby girl in the swamp. When Molly gets wind of this, she rescues the baby and sets out with the children to escape. At first, Grimes doesn't take her seriously, confident that all will perish in the unforgiving swamp. Along the way, the children are pursued by Mr.Grimes' vicious dog and several hungry alligators while navigating through thick brush, across scary log bridges and over quicksand.
Meanwhile, the kidnappers come back for the baby, lead by Grimes. Splutters (Monty O'Grady), one of the children who has recently been "adopted," is found by the search party that has been searching for the kidnapped baby. He spills the beans about Grimes' baby farm.
Molly and the kids miraculously emerge from the swamp. They hide in a boat, unaware that it is owned by the kidnappers, who begin fleeing from harbor patrol. Mr. Grimes, police in hot pursuit, falls into quicksand and dies. The criminals, attempting to escape in a dinghy, are run over, dying in a watery grave.
The happy father (Roy Stewart) is reunited with his baby girl and all are happy. Or are they? The baby girl refuses her milk, crying for Mama Molly! Oh, what is a dad to do? He fires the nurse and hires Molly to care for the baby--but on one condition--that he take in the other children, too!
A heartwarming ending to a tearjerker of a story!
Sparrows with Mary Pickford Trailer
Mary Pickford Biography
The Freshman with Harold Lloyd, 1925
"The Freshman" is a 1925 comedy distributed by Pathe and produced by Harold Lloyd. It was directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor.
The movie is about a naïve young man named Harold Lamb (Harold Lloyd) who is going away to college. Harold wants to be popular and figures the best way to do it is to emulate his favorite movie idol, The Football Hero. Harold mimicks the corny little jig he uses to greet people and also adopts his nickname, "Speedy." Harold is convinced that his wit and charm will knock everyone dead at college.
At college, Harold thinks he's popular; in reality, he's the laughingstock of the entire school, especially when College Cad (Brooks Benedict) makes him the butt of an ongoing joke. His only true friend is Peggy (Jobyna Ralston), who turns out to be the landlady's daughter.
When Harold tries out for football, the coach in unimpressed. After Harold destroys the tackling dummy, the coach substitutes Harold for the dummy. Tackled until he's black and blue, Harold's enthusiasm never wanes, impressing the coach. The coach starts to dismiss Harold, but changes his mind when Chet Trask (James Anderson), the captain and star of the team convinces him to keep Harold as a water boy, all the while making him think he has made the team.
Harold, who has been elected to host the annual "Fall Frolic" dance, has a suit made for the occasion. Unfortunately, his tailor was unable to finish Harold's suit on time, and it's barely basted together. The tailor warns Harold to be very careful while wearing the suit, but the suit starts coming apart anyway. The tailor secretly attempts to repair the suit, but to no avail. Harold tries to carry on with hilarious results. When the College Cad becomes too forward with Peggy (who is working as a hatcheck girl), Harold sees red and knocks the Cad down. Furious, the Cad humiliates Harold, telling him what everyone really thinks of him. Peggy, Harold's one true friend, advises him to stop acting and just be himself.
Harold wants to prove himself by playing in the big football game, although he's not really part of the team. When the opposing team injures a slew of Tate College's players, a desperate coach finally puts Harold in the game. Harold makes a mess of things, but then slowly starts turning things around. Just when it looks like Harold is going to win the game for his team, he drops the football like a hot potato at the sound of a (non-football) whistle, which he thinks is a warning from the referee to stop. To the chagrin of Harold's teammates, the opposing team snatches the ball away with only a minute left to play. Will Harold save the day, gaining the respect of his teammates and, most of all, Peggy? Watch the movie and find out.
The Freshman--My Favorite Harold Lloyd Movie!
The Freshman is my favorite Harold Lloyd movie. His "Speedy" routine is hilarious, and I love all the slapstick antics in the movie. The plot is great fun--I love the idea of the guy who is the butt of jokes making a mockery of those who make fun of him. You can't help but cheer for Harold--he's the underdog who finally gets the girl in the end.
I own this Harold Lloyd comedy collection, which includes: The Freshman, The Kid Brother, Bumping Into Broadway, Billy Blazes Esq., Dr. Jack, Feet First, Grandma's Boy, Now or Never, and High and Dizzy.
Includes commentary by Leonard Maltin, director Richard Correll, and film historian Richard W. Bann as well as Harold Lloyd's granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd.
This DVD provides hours of uproarious entertainment. Great fun for the kids!
Watch Harold Lloyd in The Freshman
Kodak 1922 Kodachrome Film Test - Featuring Hope Hampton, Mary Eaton, and Mae Murray
Two-Color Kodachrome, one of the first subtractive color motion picture processes, used a twin-lens to record two color separations through red and green filters onto a single strip of film, which was advanced two frames at a time. Each color record was printed on a film with emulsion on each side, combining them into a single color image.
Silent Movies Are My Sanctuary
Silent movies are my sanctuary. Whenever I need a respite from life, I can retreat into my silent world and emerge with a whole new outlook. While watching the silents, I feel as if I'm taking a trip back in time, traveling to another world and dimension. I experience a life that is so much different from my own, yet very much like it at the same time.
Way back then, they had the same problems too--romance troubles, money troubles, problems with life in general. Watching the silents is very soothing to me, and in a strange way, familiar. Until time travel becomes available, watching the silents is the next best thing to bringing back a very magical and special era in time that is forever gone.