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WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

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MichiganJ
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby MichiganJ » January 3rd, 2010, 4:14 pm

Been watching and thoroughly enjoying many of Hollywood's earliest musicals, most of them released on Warner Archives.

So Long Letty (1929)--Okay, wasn't expecting a musical about wife-swapping! (Thank god for pre-codes), this is a silly but entirely enjoyable vehicle for towering Charlotte Greenwood (who is 6'12" if she's an inch). Greenwood's Letty is a bit shrill but is quite affable and Greenwood's comedic performance is quite natural. Letty hates house work and loves to party but is married to a chubby home-body (Bert Roach). Next door is Grace Miller (Patsy Ruth Miller), who, naturally loves to cook and clean. She's married to Harry (Grant Withers) who (say it with me), likes to party. Swapping partners is the solution to all….or is it?

Show Girl in Hollywood (1930)--This is a fantastic film chock full of all of the "going to Hollywood to be a star" clichés before they were clichés (well, some of 'em were clichés even then). Alice White is gorgeous (redundant, I know), and she's quite good as the Broadway actress who is lured to Hollywood. But it's Blanche Sweet, as the "washed up" (at 33!) star who nearly steals the film.

On With the Show! (1929)--Okay, so not all of these films are great. Ugh, does this one crawlllllllll. It's a backstage musical with so much silliness going on both on-stage as well as off one doesn't know where to begin. The troupe are doing a Show Boat-esque play, that is simply dreadful, but of course is a huge success. It'd have to be with all of the performers they have on stage; not to mention horses running at a full gallop and….ugh, Joe E. Brown as the 'comedian' (nobody's perfect.). Betty Compson fairs pretty well as the play's temperamental star (and has a terrific line about her barely-there costume--I love pre-codes), but, c'mon, the film opens with the hat check girl (Sally O'Neil) telling her boyfriend that she knows all of the parts in the play by heart, so you just know what's gonna happen. Don't you? (And O'Neil's voice sounds quite a bit like Jean Hagen's in Singin' in the Rain.)

Paramount on Parade (1930)--the best of the all-star revue films, this one doesn't pay much attention to the "stage" and instead allows for actual scenes, including a mystery comedy sketch with William Powell as detective Philo Vance, Clive Brook as Sherlock Holmes and Warner Oland as Fu Manchu. Clara Bow sings a navy song, and she's pretty good (and oh so cute, too.) Too bad the print is truncated; there was a set up with Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur that looked to be a hoot….this needs an official release.

Golden Dawn (1930)--Hold onto your hats for this one. Ooo boy. A musical that is both racist and sexist (and racist again). Even for 1930, I cannot believe Warner Brothers made this. Insane, offensive, but dare I say, utter watchable, if only to see how far the film makers will go (and boy do they go). Noah Berry, in blackface (and body!), sings an ode to his whip(!) while Marion Byron sings about spousal abuse (she's for it and encourages her fiancée!). Star Vivienne Segal wears almost nothing (did I mention I love pre-codes), and is the beautiful white woman, who is not really white (but really is) who is being wed to a native god to bring rain and… Like I said, hold onto to those hats!

A bunch more to watch. Can't wait.
"Let's be independent together." Dr. Hermey DDS

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby Ann Harding » January 4th, 2010, 8:13 am

Yesterday, I went out in the freezing cold to see a silent at the French Cinémathèque.
L'angoissante aventure (Narrow Escape, 1920) directed by Yakov Protozanov with Ivan Mosjoukine and Natalie Lissenko.
Octave de Granier (I. Mosjoukine) helps his younger brother who has become prey of a music hall artist (N. Lissenko) by paying her off. In the process, he falls in love with her. He leaves his family to follow her and soon his life becomes a nightmare...
This film is the first French production of a group of Russian émigrés in France. They left Russia in turmoil with the Revolution and took a boat from Constantinople to Marseille. They included both cities in their script. We get some fantastic views of Marseille as the two leads are standing on suspended bridge above the harbour. The script of the film feels pretty uneven as if they had constructed it as they went along. It's a shame as Mosjoukine is a fabulous performer. I have now seen about a dozen of his films and he really stands out as one of the greatest silent actors I have ever seen. He can be playful, witty, charming, desperate or shy, equally successfully. Teamed with his life partner, Natalie Lissenko, he can show his skills. His Octave is at first a very shy man who falls in love madly with the actress, then endures humiliation after humiliation with her. Losing all contact with his father, he starts working as an extra in one of his wife's film. Just when his talent was rewarded, he loses everything again when he is accused falsely of cheating at cards in a casino. As the films is heading directly towards a tragic ending, we get a surprising end: Octave wakes up in his bed realising the whole adventure was just a nightmare. This happy end sounds like a concession to the public. Mosjoukine had a bags of charisma. I hope that one day the French Cinémathèque will release on DVD some of his best pictures such as La Maison du Mystère, Les Ombres qui passent or Kean. :)

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby charliechaplinfan » January 4th, 2010, 2:04 pm

I'm glad you've had chance to see another of Mosjoukine's pictures, even if you did have to brave the cold, it's been pretty cold here too. I've seen stills of Mosjoukine and read things about him, he looks and sounds a very interesting man. I hope the Cinematheque release some of his films, they'd have a market here.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby charliechaplinfan » January 5th, 2010, 3:03 pm

I started a thread on Borzage and have just watched Farewell To Arms the review deserves to be posted here too, it's very definetly a precode.

Before I say how wonderful Borzage is in directing this movie I have to admit that I can take or leave Gary Cooper apart from in his early films when I think he's so breathtakingly handsome. It's his earlier films I prefer, partly because of his looks but mainly because of the men he portrays and Lieutnant Frederic is incredibly subtle and romantic. I didn't think the casting would work with Helen Hayes but they are superb together, something in the chemistry of the film really make them a great screen coupling. If there is any flaw it is Helen Hayes who is sometimes just a little too cool for me.

Helen Hayes plays Catherine Barkely a nurse , we first see her eavesdropping on a nurse who has got pregnant and is being shipped back home, each of the nurses have their own view on the situation but Catherine is generous and understanding. Next we are introduced to Lt. Frederic Henry an American who has enrolled in the Italian ambulance service he is back from the front for a bit of R&R, on his first night out he gets drunk and in the middle of an air raid mistakes Catherine for a woman he'd been chatting to before the alarm was raised. The next night out with his Italian friend Major Rinaldi he has a double date, Rinaldi's date is Catherine but they soon switch and they disappear into the night. What follows is that she gives herself to him, he's going to be gone in the morning, Borzage directs it so subtly, it's very charged, emotional and for the time erotic, Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper are superb playing their roles.

The next day the Lt returns after leaving for the front to tell Catherine 'that he couldn't just go away, last night meant something' (now I'll be a Cooper fan forever) they are in full view of everyone in the hospital when he says that, he couldn't possibly have said it any better, she gives him a medal to keep him safe. The Lt returns to the front and is injured, he goes to hospital and Catherine is there to nurse him, they have to keep their relationship secret but they do confess it to the Lts padre friend who conducts a marriage ceremony under his breath to bless them. Again this scene is so beautiful.

When the Lt gets better he is off again but they do have a chance to spend a bit of time together before he goes. Their parting, she crouches at his feet and he slowly departs. Once he's gone she leaves and goes to Switzerland and stays in the closest place to the Italian border to have her baby, the Lt knows nothing of the baby. Whlist the Lt is at the front his well meaning friend Major Rinildi sends back his post from Catherine, not realising their depth of feeling for one another. Not hearing from Catherine the Lt goes AWOL to track her down, the major finally tells him where she is. When the Lt gets to her she has lost the baby and is losing her fight for life, she won't let him know of course and their final parting had my eyes wet with tears. Her death comes with the armistice and as she dies, peace finally falls over Europe. The final scene is very famous, Cooper picks Hayes up off the bed and holds her in his arms with his back to the camera as the light floods in through the window.

In casting Hayes and Cooper, he cast another tall man with a small framed woman, I don't know if this was a Borzage standard, I'm thinking Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor, it works very well when he does use it.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby feaito » January 9th, 2010, 6:08 pm

I have watched two more episodes of Kevin Brownlow's amazing documentary "Hollywood" (1980): Out West and The Man with the Megaphone. Documentarists should see this one to take lessons in making a neat, perfect product. Wonderful.

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby Birdy » January 10th, 2010, 11:06 pm

Alison,
It sounds like you were really moved by Farewell to Arms. I remember the first time I saw it, 15 or so years ago and was deeply affected. Now I watch it rarely; I have to really be in the mood or I'll just start crying from the beginning. Gary Cooper was so handsome and I prefer to think of him that way and I don't care for his looks in his movies later. I want him to never change in my heart.
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby charliechaplinfan » January 11th, 2010, 3:22 am

Birdy, I understand about Gary Cooper, I sometimes feel like he was a different person in his earlier movies. Farewell to Arms is a lovely film, now I'll never watch the remake because I just can't see it touching the original.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby Ann Harding » January 12th, 2010, 5:51 am

Ludwig der Zweite, König von Bayern (1930, Wilhelm Dieterle) with Wm Dieterle
This silent biopic of the tragic King of Bavaria, Ludwig II, directed by Wm Dieterle is now available on DVD (from German FilmMuseum). Being familiar with the 1972 Visconti film (Ludwig), I was rather intrigued by this earlier feature. Wilhelm Dieterle plays the title role extremely well. He is totally convincing and understated. Cleverly the film concentrates on the last years of his reign when he was dethroned by court intrigue. We discover a king who suffer from melancholia and depression, but who isn't 'mad' as such. But the ministers and court officials cannot stand any longer his spending in vast castles. One title card states: 'If he had spent vast amounts of money on wars rather than building castles, nobody would have declared him mad.' It rings very true. The actual death of the king remains a mystery to this day. Did he commit suicide? Was it an accident or a murder? He was found drowned (with his physician) in Lake Starnberg, in only 2ft of water. In the film, Dieterle manages this scene very well. The film is rather static and slow moving, but it uses cleverly the actual settings where the King lived. I was somewhat disappointed by the piano score on the disc. The pianist used quite a bit of Wagner (Lohengrin, Tannhauser, Wesendonk Lieder) where it was absolutely obvious, but the rest of the time the tempo felt wrong and didn't reflect the melancholia of the King. He really missed an opportunity there, especially for a character who was so fond of music. Overall, an interesting feature. I need now to watch the second film on the DVD: Das Schweigen am Starnbergersee (The Silence at Lake Starnberg, 1920) by R. Raffé which is also about Ludwig II.
Last edited by Ann Harding on January 13th, 2010, 4:21 am, edited 2 times in total.

feaito

Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby feaito » January 12th, 2010, 7:24 am

How interesting Christine. I didn't know that this film on Ludwig II existed. Thanks for sharing your views.

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby Ann Harding » January 13th, 2010, 4:35 am

Das Schweigen am Starnbergersee (The Silence at Lake Starnberg, 1920) by R. Raffé is the second German silent on Ludwig II published by the German FilmMuseum. The print is extremely sharp and clear, clearer than that of the Dieterle picture. But, alas, the acting looks antediluvian. We are in the best tradition of stagey 'stand up and deliver' with a bit of windmill action of the arms. :mrgreen: It's a real shame as this film use far more locations footage than the Dieterle and natural acting is better suited to outdoors. The film starts with the young Ludwig, aged 18, becoming King of Bavaria and calling his hero R. Wagner to the capital. Then follows the break-up of his engagement, the Court plotting to remove him from the throne and his ultimate death. I find it hard to find a way to compliment this film as the director didn't seem to know anything about editing. He filmed everything in long and medium shots. Watching it, I find it hard to believe that it was a 1920 picture! Even some earlier Feuillades look more sophisticated. And the trick photography is very awkward: in one split-screen sequence, the camera is misaligned. :roll: Gosh! When you think what Charles Rosher achieved that same year in Little Lord Fauntleroy! The only aspect that makes it interesting to watch is that it was mostly shot on the actual locations, particularly in castles Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee and Neuschwanstein.

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby Ann Harding » January 15th, 2010, 8:42 am

L'enfant de Paris (A Child of Paris, 1913) by Léonce Perret
ImageImage
This very early feature film (lasting 2h) follows the destiny of a young little girl who loses both her father and mother. She can't stand her boarding school and decides to escape. In the street where she fell asleep, a crook called Edmond the bachelor picks her up. He thinks he can make money with her...
Léonce Perret is certainly one of the greatest director of the early teens with Victor Sjöström. This film looks hardly dated in its narrative and in its beautiful cinematography. We are in 1913 and this film is already extremely sophisticated, far more than some contemporary Griffiths. Perret is a master at story telling; his actors are totally relaxed and natural. He uses brillantly locations (Paris and Nice) as well as studio sets. The film has an undeniable poetry thanks to the sense of composition of the director. Some of the actors are regulars from Feuillade serials and it's interesting to highlight the differences between the two major directors of the Gaumont company at the time. Feuillade creates serials with incredible twists and suspense with a large number of characters while Perret manages to weave a real narrative for a feature-length film. It's a real shame that the print offered by Gaumont and the CF is so lacking in contrast, it looks like a dupe. Thanks so much Ollie for your generosity! :D

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby charliechaplinfan » January 15th, 2010, 3:25 pm

It looks a haunting film from the stills you've posted. A 2 hour long film is quite long for 1913, thanks for sharing with us.
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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby Ann Harding » January 16th, 2010, 4:30 am

Yesterday I went to a screening of a rare silent: The Hun Within (1918, Chester Withey) with Dorothy Gish, Douglas McLean and Erich von Stroheim.
As you probably guessed with the title, it took place during WWI when America was on the verge of joining the war and some nasty German spys were doing their best to blow up the first ship transporting troops. The script had been allegedly written by D.W. Griffith (credited as Granville Warwick) and it was a typical story warning the Americans of the spys that could be among them. But the film was very enjoyable thanks to the presence of the charming and delightful Dorothy Gish who just illuminated the screen each time she appeared in one scene. The film centers round a German-born family where the father has pledged complete loyalty to his new country America while the son has become a spy for the German Kaiser. In the middle, there is Dorothy Gish, the adopted daughter, who discovers the treachery. She is helped by Douglas McLean who is a government agent searching for spys (and her former suitor). And the film ends with a race to the rescue as the ship is in danger of blowing up while they drive at full speed to reach the harbour in time. The film felt like a serial full of action and movement. If the beginning was slow and wordy, it became better in the second part with some pretty hair-raising stunts. When Douglas McLean is captured by the spys, he falls over a cliff as the car gives a jolt. He drops from a tremendous height but seems unscathed with just a few cuts. Dorothy shows her determination by driving a car and fighting the nasties. A very young and very thin Erich von Stroheim appeared in a few scenes as a prototype German spy, squeezed a tight jacket, with monocle, gloves and spats. It was an enjoyable feature.

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby Ollie » January 16th, 2010, 10:34 am

I love seeing how these war-adversary films have been constructed in the 20th Century. Obviously, this was an earlier theme in literature so they're a natural for films - even better, probably, because Actions Scenes are difficult in text-form.

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Re: WHAT SILENTS & PRE-CODES HAVE YOU SEEN LATELY?

Postby Ann Harding » January 17th, 2010, 12:22 pm

Le Mystère des Roches de Kador (The Mystery of the Rocks of Kador, 1912) By Léonce Perret with Suzanne Grandais & Léonce Perret
ImageImage
The Count of Kéranic (L. Perret) would like to marry his cousin Suzanne (S. Grandais) to get hold of her fortune. But she is in love with another man. he decides to get rid of her to get her fortune...

This charming 45 min film is again incredibly ahead of its time in its composition, acting and cinématography. Léonce Perret, himself an actor, plays the villain who wants to eliminate his cousin. The héroine is played by Suzanne Grandais who was one the first real movie stars in the world. She is slim, vital and full of live. Alas, she met a very tragic end in 1920 in a car accident. She was only 27. I read a book about her recently. Very little is known about her, but she had enough screen appeal to have very devoted fans. I loved the use of locations, here in a very striking rocky coast in Western Brittany. It's not as such a murder mystery as we know the killer. But the film manages to have a very modern perspective when a doctor is called to rescue the heroine (who survived) from her amnesia. He has revolutionnary methods. He shots a small film of the dramatic events so that he can project it to his patient to bring back her memory. It's very striking in such an early feature. Again the settings, acting and compositions are really remarkable for 1912. Really worth investigating. :)


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