Tim Kelly is an orphan who runs away after his orphanage burns down. Presumed to be killed in the fire, he is able to roam the streets of New York freely. He meets Max Ginsberg, an old ... See full summary »
Tim Kelly is an orphan who runs away after his orphanage burns down. Presumed to be killed in the fire, he is able to roam the streets of New York freely. He meets Max Ginsberg, an old Jewish junk dealer with rheumatism, and the two strike a partnership and a close friendship. Written by
THE RAG MAN (Metro-Goldwyn, 1925), directed by Edward Cline, personally supervised by Jack Coogan, is a newly discovered silent film, long unseen in many years, that has made its world television premiere on January 30, 2004, on Turner Classic Movies, with a newly composed score by Linda Martinez. But more about that later.
Set in New York City ("A world within a city where anything can happen"), the story begins on the night of June 18th, on the lower East Side where a fire breaks out at St. John's Orphanage. With all the orphans accounted for, only one seems to be missing. The child in question is Timothy Kelly (Jackie Coogan), who escapes the flames by climbing down from the window on his bed sheets. Timothy, walking about the streets still in his night clothes, is spotted by a policeman who chases after him. The officer loses Timothy after he takes refuge in a junk wagon belonging to Max Ginsberg (Max Davidson), a lonely old man whose sole companion is his horse named Dynamite. After spending the night in the wagon covered with old clothes, Timothy acquires some of the used clothing for himself, including a derby, in spite the fact that they are a bit over-sized. When Ginsberg notices the boy in the back of his wagon, he chases him away. Only after Timothy notices the old man has dropped his wallet on the street and in good faith returns it does Ginsberg reward the boy for his honesty by taking him in, especially after much persuasion from Timothy. Time passes and the practical little Irish Catholic boy and the old but lovable Jewish man become partners, and when Ginsberg becomes ill, it is up to Timothy to take the wagon to the Fifth Avenue section of Manhattan and do the business for him, which he does, and does it well. It is learned that Ginsberg is an inventor who, years ago, had his patent stolen and was cheated out of a big fortune by his lawyer (Robert Edeson), now living in the kind of luxury that should have been rightfully Ginsberg's. From an old assortment of clothing Timothy had collected from a woman who happens to be the lawyer's wife, Timothy discovers a letter dated August 7, 1910, indicating Ginsberg's rightful claim. It is then up to the boy to take it upon himself to see what he could do, in spite that fact that Ginsberg's true happiness is not the money due him but the companionship and loyalty of Timothy.
The supporting cast features Lydia Yeamans-Titus as Mother Malloy, the middle-aged apple woman whose sole interest is Ginsberg, but keeps that secret to herself in spite of Timothy's hints; William Conklin as Richard L. Scott; among others, ranging from a little boy named Reginald whom Timothy mistakes for a little girl, but does some business with him anyhow, to the orphanage priest, whose names are not listed in the opening cast credits.
Discovered by the legendary Charlie Chaplin, with whom he made his initial success in THE KID (First National, 1921), Jackie Coogan immediately made it on his own with several little films to his name over the next few years, including PECK'S BAD BOY (1921) and OLIVER TWIST (1922), before moving from First National to the newly formed motion picture studio of Metro-Goldwyn. A little older and taller from his earlier days, Coogan continues to delight both the characters on screen as well as his movie going audience. But while his films for MGM are on a higher and more glossier scale, THE RAG MAN has become Coogan's first for the studio to resurface again. While enjoyable as well as predictable, THE RAG MAN, at length time of 68 minutes, is extremely a watchable item. While in recent years, newly scored silent films have ranged from mediocre to way below average, the newly composed score by Linda Martinez for THE RAG MAN ranks one of the finer orchestrations presented for a silent film in quite some time. Ranging from piano to violin backgrounds, among others, all the tempos blend in very well with the situations at hand, and the time, effort and hard work gone into this actually shows and should not go unnoticed. It is uncertain whether THE RAG MAN was filmed on location in New York City, which shows scenes ranging from Wall Street to East 63rd Street and Fifth Avenue, but watching the background of New York City of the 1920s is one from the time capsule.
The basis of the story to THE RAG MAN somewhat indicates that many of the Jackie Coogan silents of his day rely on the same type formula, in this case as an orphaned boy who changes the lives of those he meets, as in this case, Max Ginsberg, a lovable loser with unwise business judgment. It's a little known fact that this newly rediscovered THE RAG MAN did acquire an immediate sequel titled OLD CLOTHES (MGM, 1925) with Coogan and Davidson reprising their roles. What's more interesting about OLD CLOTHES is the support of a very young Joan Crawford in one of her first major screen roles. Let's hope some day that TCM will also take OLD CLOTHES out of moth balls and put it out on display, in fact, presenting it on as a double bill to THE RAG MAN.
For those who feel they have seen it all, and would love to have more silent movies available to enjoy and study, as well as watching little Jackie Coogan decades before he was a household name again playing the bald-headed Uncle Fester in the Gothic television sit-com of THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1964-1966), THE KID and THE RAG MAN should be good for starters. (***)
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