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Archive for the ‘Allan’s up to 1929 Countdown’ Category

by Allan Fish

(USA 1926 80m) DVD1/2

General hilarity

p  Joseph M.Schenck  d  Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman  w  Al Boasberg, Charles Smith  ph  J.Devereux Jennings, Bert Haines  ed  Sherman Kell  art  Fred Gabourie

Buster Keaton (Johnnie Gray), Marion Mack (Annabelle Lee), Glen Cavender (Capt.Anderson), Jim Farley (Gen.Thatcher), Frederick Vroom (Southern General), Charles Smith (Mr Lee), Frank Barnes (Annabelle’s brother), Joe Keaton (Union general),

What was the greatest Civil War film of the silent era?  The Birth of a Nation?  Nah, milestone in cinema history though it was and included in this list though it might be, there is only one truly, truly great Civil War silent; Buster Keaton’s crowning glory, arguably the funniest silent film ever made, The General.  It’s a great comedy, a great action film and a great film full stop.  It really doesn’t get much better than this.

            At the time of the Civil War’s outbreak in 1861, Johnnie Gray is an engineer on the Western and Atlantic Railroad and he loves his train nearly as much as his girl.  However, his efforts to enlist are turned down by the Confederacy as he’s too valuable to the South as an engineer.  His girl doesn’t think so, believing him a coward and promptly refuses to see him until he’s in uniform.  Dejected he returns to his train, but a year on fate makes him the sole potential rescuer of the girl when her train is hijacked by Unionist forces when she is on the way to see her injured father.  It becomes a race against time for Johnnie to rescue his girl and report back of the Unionist plans which he has overheard to the Southern generals and thus save the day.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USSR 1925 74m) DVD1/2

Aka. Bronenosets Potemkin

The lion roars

d/w/ed  Sergei M.Eisenstein  ph  Eduard Tissé, Vladimir Popov  m  Nikolai Kryukov (orig.Edmund Meisel)  art  Vasili Rakhals

Aleksandr Antonov (Vakulinchuk), Grigori Alexandrov (Chf.Off.Giliarovsky), Vladimir Barsky (Capt.Golikov), Levshin,

With the possible exception of Citizen Kane, is there a more critically revered movie than this?; topping all best film lists until Kane took its spot in the late fifties but still regarded as one of the most pivotal steps forward in the development of the seventh art.  Give or take twelve months Eisenstein was about the same age as Welles when he made Kane when he made his masterpiece, but even Kane cannot claim to have devised as many shots or been such a rich source for theoretical textbooks.  In short, it revolutionised the vocabulary of film unlike any other before or since. 

            Potemkin was commissioned to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Potemkin mutiny in 1905 and told the story from a purely aesthetic and propagandist point of view.  This is best exemplified by not only the heroic stances of the mutineers and the townsfolk of Odessa who back them but in the fact that the film ends prior to the actual putting down of the revolt.  Soviet propaganda did not allow such a noble failure to be documented as such, preferring to concentrate on the Tsarist regime that treated its sailors so despicably.  All authority figures represent the evil regime (“death to the oppressors!” cry the crew over Antonov’s body), and as in Dovzhenko’s Earth, one member of the clergy in particular is painted very blackly.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Germany 1929 132m) DVD1/2

Aka. Der Büchse der Pandora

Don’t bring Lulu

p  George C.Horzetzky, Seymour Nebenzahl  d  Georg W.Pabst  w  Ladislaus Vajda, George W.Pabst  plays  “Erdegeist” and “Pandora’s Box” by Franz Wedekind  ph  Günther Krampf  ed  Joseph R.Flieser  Peer Ruben  art  Andrei Andreiev  cos  Göttlieb Hesch

Louise Brooks (Lulu), Fritz Kortner (Dr Peter Schorn), Franz Lederer (Alwa Schorn), Gustav Diessl (Jack the Ripper), Carl Gotz (Schigolch), Alice Roberts (Countess Anna Geschwitz), Daisy D’Ora (Marie de Zarniko), Krafft Raschig (Roderigo Quast), Michael Von Newlinsky (Marquis Casti-Piani), Sig Arno (Stage manager),

Okay, so the tagline is unoriginal, but it’s so apt for this piece.  You may not want to bring this Lulu, but you’re intoxicated with her.  In all her films in Hollywood Louise Brooks seemed restrained, reserved and even, perish the thought, uninteresting.  Yet German director Pabst saw enough in her performance in Beggars of Life to warrant bringing her over from Hollywood to star in his long cherished adaptation of Wedekind’s deliciously melodramatic and seedy Lulu plays.  If her performance in the later Diary of a Lost Girl is probably stronger, that film doesn’t remotely resemble what it was originally.  Pandora’s Box, after painstaking restoration, does.  Furthermore, her appearance transcends mere performance, entering that too rarely glimpsed world of being.  She is a force of nature; a force of sexy, immoral, sluttish nature, but a force of nature nonetheless.  She is of course doomed, and Brooks never escaped the role for the rest of her career, but her place in cinema history and in immortality was beyond secure. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1928 88m) not on DVD

Long live Russia!

p  Adolph Zukor, Jesse L.Lasky  d  Josef Von Sternberg  w  Josef Von Sternberg, Herman J.Mankiewicz, John F.Goodrich, Lajos Biro  ph  Bert Glennon  ed  William Shea  m  Gaylord Carter  (video reissue)  art  Hans Dreier

Emil Jannings (Grand Duke Sergius Alexander/General Dolgorucki), William Powell (Leo Andreiev), Evelyn Brent (Natascha Dobrova), Jack Raymond (assistant director), Nicholas Soussanin (adjutant), Fritz Feld (revolutionary), Michael Visaroff (Serge),

A year after the release of avant garde classic The Life and Death of a Hollywood Extra, Josef Von Sternberg directed another film for whom the title would not have been inappropriate.  The final command of the title could be interpreted one of two ways, and could even equate to a euphemism.  Did it refer to the words of his last command, or rather to the last position of command he held?  I tend to veer towards the latter, and that’s what is so typically Von Sternbergian about the whole enterprise.  The great Josef was cinema’s great master of artifice, as showcased in his exquisite series of films with Marlene Dietrich, but people forget that The Blue Angel was a turning point, the changeover of the guard, with its two stars pivotal to Von Sternberg’s career.

            Command details the fortunes of a Russian general, also a cousin of Tsar Nicholas II, who is left in command on the eastern front despite awful conditions, supplies and lack of men.  Finally he disobeys imperial orders and takes a stand (“I would take any risk to prevent a needless sacrifice” he declares to seductress Brent), but fate takes the matter out of his hands when the Revolution sees the overthrow of the Tsar and his country’s withdrawal from the First World War.  All of a sudden, his general’s train quarters are overrun by revolutionaries and he barely escapes being hung, before being degraded over and over by the men he once commanded.  He is helped to safety by the sacrifice of a woman (Brent) who had previously hated him and, dazed and confused, he crosses the Atlantic, where “the backwash of a tortured nation had carried still another extra to Hollywood.” (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1916 177m) DVD1/2

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

p/d  D.W.Griffith  D.W.Griffith, Tod Browning  ph  Billy Bitzer, Karl Brown  ed  James E.Smith, Rose Smith, D.W.Griffith  m  Carl Davis (restored version…orig.Joseph Carl Breil)  art  Frank Wortman, Walter L.Hall

Lillian Gish (Rocking Mother), Mae Marsh (The Dear One), Robert Harron (The Boy), Miriam Cooper (The Friendless One), Howard Gaye (Jesus), Lillian Langdon (Mary), Olga Grey (Mary Magdalene), Bessie Love (Bride of Cana), Margery Wilson (Brown Eyes), Frank Bennett (Charles IX of France), Josephine Crowell (Catherine dei Medici), Maxfield Stanley (Anjou), Constance Talmadge (Marguerite de Valois/the Mountain Girl), Alfred Paget (Belshazzar), Carl Stockdale (Nebodinus), George Siegmann (Cyrus the Great of Persia), Sam de Grasse, Vera Lewis, Monte Blue, Tod Browning, Erich Von Stroheim, Eugène Pallette, Seena Owen, Tully Marshall, Elmo Lincoln, Mildred Harris, Nigel de Brulier, Douglas Fairbanks, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Pauline Starke,

D.W.Griffith’s response to the criticism for the apparent racism and brutality of The Birth of a Nation was this epic story of intolerance through the ages, a pacifist tract of startlingly original complexity that was always going to be a bum-number and poison at the box-office in its time.  It may be Griffith was feeling himself to be invincible, that he could make anything he wanted following the staggering critical and public approval for his Civil War epic.  If so, he was naïve in the extreme.  Yet for all that Intolerance remains the greatest film of its decade and one of the all-time great silent masterpieces.  Released at the same time as the Thomas Ince produced Civilization (which had its similarities), there’s no doubt which is superior.  Whether it was atonement for his sins, exhibit A for the defence against those decrying The Birth of a Nation’s racism, a homage of thanks to Pastrone’s Cabiria, or just long-cherished ambition, it’s Griffith’s greatest film.

Four stories of human intolerance are inter-cut.  One set in Babylonian times prior to the overthrow of Belshazzar by Cyrus of Persia in 539 B.C..  The second set in the times of Jesus, leading up to his crucifixion.  The third set in the days leading up to the St Bartholomew’s Eve massacre in Paris of 1572.  The fourth set in the twentieth century, showing the hardship suffered by a young woman after her husband is wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to die. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1923 (made 1920-21) 270m) DVD1

Aka. The Wheel; Wheels of Fate

The music of light

Abel Gance, Charles Pathé  d/w  Abel Gance  ph  Léonce-Henry Burel (and others)  ed  Abel Gance, Marguerite Beauge  Arthur Honegger (Robert Israel)  art  unknown 

Severin-Mars (Sisif), Gabriel de Gravone (Elie), Pierre Magnier (Jacques de Hersan), Georges Terof (Machefer), Ivy Close (Norma),

Such was the cinema described by Abel Gance, as spoken by Kenneth Branagh in Brownlow and Gill’s superlative documentary Cinema Europe.  That this was the title of their episode about French silent cinema speaks wonders about Gance’s impact on his nation’s cinema.  Though the Lumières, Méliès, Feuillade and Bernard made lasting contributions, it was Gance who was their supreme silent cine-poet and one true maverick.  And it is La Roue, arguably even more than Napoleon, for which he is most fêted in his homeland.  “There is cinema before and after La Roue as there is painting before and after Picasso”, said Jean Cocteau at the time.  Time has only endorsed that statement. 

            Sisif the train driver rescues a small girl, Norma, from a train crash in which her parents are killed and decides to adopt the little girl as his own.  Fifteen years later, he finds that his girl is in love with his own son, Elie, but also finds himself growing dangerously obsessed with her.  When a rich man offers to marry the girl, he decides to take drastic action and crash the train taking her away, thus killing both he and his beloved, only to be prevented by his co-driver.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1928 107m) DVD6 (China only)

A little man the world will hear from

p  King Vidor  d  King Vidor  w  King Vidor, John A.Weaver, Harry Behn  ph  Henry Sharp  ed  Hugh Wynn  Carl Davis  art  Cedric Gibbons, Arnold Gillespie

Eleanor Boardman (Mary Simm), James Murray (John Simm), Bert Roach (Bert), Daniel G.Tomlinson (Jim), Dell Henderson (Dick), Lucy Beaumont (mother), Freddie Burke Frederick (Junior), Alice Mildred Puter (daughter),

One of the last classic silent films of the American cinema, King Vidor’s unquestioned masterpiece is probably the finest insight of its day into the daily rigour of modern urban living, a film whose visual and technical advances were revolutionary to the point of since becoming clichés, but which still stands fresh to this day.

            We begin in 1900 on Independence Day, where John Simm is born to happy parents, but twelve years later his father is killed in an accident and his son is told to be brave, as his father would have wished.  We next see him in 1921, slaving with thousands of others behind an office desk and living only for the five o’clock bell to get home and study.  However, one night he is persuaded by his friend, Bert, to go out with two women friends.  Paired off with Mary, John falls in love with her and, following a night at Coney Island, he proposes and they marry.  At first things are idyllic, with a honeymoon at Niagara Falls and two children, but when their daughter is killed after being run over by a lorry, John cracks up and things begin to enter a downward spiral. 

            There are sentiments (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1928 75m) not on DVD

The dreaded Norther

p  Lillian Gish, Victor Sjöstrom  d  Victor Sjöstrom  w  Frances Marion, John Colton  novel  Dorothy Scarborough  ph  John Arnold  ed  Conrad A.Nervig  m  Carl Davis  art  Cedric Gibbons, Edward Withers  cos  André-Ani

Lillian Gish (Letty Mason), Lars Hanson (Lige Hightower), Montagu Love (Wirt Roddy), Dorothy Cummings (Cora), Edward Earle (Beverly), William Orlamond (Sourdough),

This is the story of a woman who came into the domain of the winds” the opening captions read and, if ever a film could be described as tempestuous, it’s this one.  One of the last great silents of the American screen, along with The Wedding March, The Crowd and Docks of New York it represented the final zenith of that soon to be outmoded art form.  The coming of talkies seemed predestined to arrive in time for the post 1929 depression, and the cinema would once more push art aside in favour of entertainment.

            Letty Mason is travelling from her Virginia home to her cousin’s small ranch at the desert post of Sweet Water (did this influence Leone’s like-named ranch in Once Upon a Time in the West, where Claudia Cardinale is travelling by train in the opening sequence?).  Arriving, she immediately causes her cousin’s stern wife to grow jealous, the latter accusing her of trying to lure her cousin from his wife.  Letty is proposed to by two local hicks, Lige and Sourdough, though she rather prefers the attentions of scoundrel Wirt Roddy (anagram of ‘dirty word’).  But when she shows up to marry him, he tells her of his previous marriage and she is forced to marry Lige.  However, in refusing to allow him to consummate their marriage, Lige is driven to desperate measures to raise money to send her off back where she came from.  Roddy, meanwhile, has designs of his own. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1928 156m) DVD2

Aka. Money

A dash of sauce Lindbergh          

p  Jean Sapene  d  Marcel l’Herbier  w  Marcel l’Herbier, Arthur Bernède  novel  Emile Zola  ph  Jules Kruger, Louis Berte, Jean Letort  ed  Marcel l’Herbier  art  Lazare Meerson, André Barsacq  cos  Jacques Manuel

Brigitte Helm (Baroness Sandorf), Marie Glory (Line Hamelin), Yvette Guilbert (La Méchain), Pierre Alcover (Nicolas Saccard), Alfred Abel (Alphonse Gunderman), Henry Victor (Jacques Hamelin), Pierre Juvenet (Baron Defrance), Antonin Artaud (Mazaud), Jules Berry (Huret), Raymond Rouleau (Jantron), Armand Bour (Daigremont),

Such did Marie Glory describe the special ingredient to Marcel l’Herbier’s legendary late silent, and there is indeed a distinct feel of the left over euphoria from Charles Lindbergh’s famous Trans-Atlantic crossing.  What is perhaps most ironic is that not only does his film take an unwieldy novel and update it to the present, he also presents a film that would prove all the more potent a year later, when the Wall Street Crash banished forever the world l’Herbier preserved in cinematic aspic. 

            The film concerns the business rivalry of Alphonse Gunderman and Nicolas Saccard.  The latter tries to finance his plans by means of a publicity stunt to send share prices rocketing, in which he persuades pilot Jacques Hamelin to fly to Guyana to help their oil interests, much to the pain of Hamelin’s wife, Line, who Saccard has sexual designs on and, when Hamelin’s plane is reported crashed into the ocean in flames, he makes his move on her, to the chagrin of his mistress Baroness Sandorf.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1929 20m) DVD1/2

O tannenbaum!

p  Hal Roach  d  James W.Horne, Leo McCarey  w  H.M.Walker, Leo McCarey  ph  Art Lloyd  ed  Richard Currier

Stan Laurel (himself), Oliver Hardy (himself), James Finlayson (3rd house owner), Tiny Sandford (policeman), Lyle Tayo (woman),

Stan and Ollie are probably the most beloved comedy duo in world cinema history, their films still regularly showing on BBC2 during holiday periods and video releases of their films still selling out amongst their fans.  However, only their talkies are seen on television these days, which has resulted in many people forgetting that they were also previously a hugely successful silent comedy duo and in these films their humour was different.  If I had to make a conscious decision to pick my favourite Laurel and Hardy silent it would be quite tough to choose, yet I feel that the silent film that showed them at their best was undoubtedly Big BusinessTwo Tars, in which they play sailors on leave, came very close (see separate listing), but Big Business edges it perhaps because its unconscious subtext still resonates today.

            Stan and Ollie have has a brainwave and have come up with another get rich quick plan; they aim to sell Christmas trees to Californians.  After a refusal from one woman, they attempt to win over a man with a “positively no peddlers or solicitors” sign by his door.  Ollie says “it’s personality that counts…” before being hit over the head twice with a hammer.  Forced to go elsewhere, they soon come across another customer who gets progressively more annoyed by their knocking and they retaliate in a progressively childish manner until they have destroyed the man’s house and garden and he has destroyed their trees and car. (more…)

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