The One Where the Train Has to Get Through The Fire
THE NINETY AND NINE was one of the workhouse melodramas of the early 20th century, in which a plot involves a mysterious stranger, a beautiful and virtuous local maid and a village idiot (as most of them did), ending in a spectacular set-piece moment of high risk. In BEN HUR it is the chariot race. In BLUE JEANS its the girl tied to the railroad tracks. In this one, Mysterious Stranger Warner Baxter is hiding out to avoid family scandal as a murder suspect on the turkey farm owned by Colleen Moore's mother. Things are falling apart, but eventually a neighboring hamlet is ablaze and it's up to Mr. Baxter to drive a locomotive through the flames and rescue the innocent; after which all plot points are resolved instantly.
Like far too many silent movies, this one seemed to vanish utterly. However, recently a Pathe home movie 10-minute cut-down turned up and Ben Model has released it on DVD, in his latest compilation of ACCIDENTALLY PRESERVED, No. 4 in the series, along with seven other Pathe cut-downs. I urge you to buy the set.
This one doesn't preserve much of the movie, which is a shame, given that Colleen Moore was a superstar of the late silent era, and Mr. Baxter was no slouch either. He won an early Best Actor Oscar for IN OLD ARIZONA, appeared in such well-remembered movies as 42ND STREET and PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND, and worked well through his death in 1950. However, what is present is what people wanted when they wanted THE NINETY AND NINE and it is nicely done, with some lovely point-of-view shooting by Steve Smith, with enough of the other scenes to give you the story -- and the village idiot.
We may still hope that the full movie will turn up, but until it does, this is a fine place-marker and a souvenir of a time when people wanted big, simple thrills out of the movies. Judging by Michael Bay, I guess they still do.
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