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THE LOST ZEPPELIN (1929) a Tiffany Studio release (who ever they were)
features a typical service triangle with the romance of early aviation.
Zeppelins (ie Dirigibles) were hot stuff at this time popularized by
their successes during World War I (WWI) and commercial traffic
developed by Germany postwar.
The best part of the film is the second half that concentrates on the Antartic flight of the titled character, it's wreck and the rescue of the survivors. There is some references to the disaster of the Scott expedition (1912) where the entire polar party died on the way back from the pole. For those unfamiliar with the story read the Roland Huntford book 'The Last Place on Earth' for the triumph of Amundsen and the defeat of Scott.
The film is technically adapt for the time but you can see the problem the actors where having with the early sound equipment. The actors freeze and will not move even their heads in case they miss their marks and the microphones. In many scenes voice overs were used to cover multiple actors. To show how fast things improved in just two (2) years watch DIRIGIBLE (1931) Columbia Pictures, Frank Capra directing. Pretty much the same stuff, romance triangle and Antartic expedition though this time with AeroPlanes (Ford TriMotor) and two (2) Zeppelins. Balloons, Blimps and other period aircraft were also featured. The picture benefits from two (2) years of technical advancements and we would rate it six (6) stars ******.
Dated adventure film about an attempt to be the first to fly a zeppelin
over the South Pole.
The film is essentially two movies. The first is a long drawn out sequence at the start showing how the wife of the head of the expedition is in love with the second in command. This runs for about 25 minutes as they dress go to a send off party and then have guilt over the whole thing. Despite some good dialog this part of the movie is deadly dull. The rest of the film concerns the expedition and is much more interesting. Here we follow the flight as we see the airship fly to toward the Pole and eventually run into trouble (this isn't giving anything away because one need only look at the title to see what happens). This part of the film has some fantastic effects work with the shots of the zeppelin in flight and the Antarctic landscape with all its dangers over powering any feelings that this film is anything less than spectacular. What we see on screen is truly amazing since it was done with out computers and comes across looking oh so more real for it. The films flaws are for the most part limited to the fact that this film was made in the early days of sound and so we either have very talky sequences or ones that are very quiet.
If you want to see some stunning effects in a good adventure you might want to try this, though you'll want to fast forward through the first 25 minutes since they really can be dull. (This would make a good double feature with the Red Tent the true story of similar attempt to fly an airship over the North Pole a few years before this was made, and which was probably the inspiration for this film)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Virginia Valli had been a stenographer who broke into films in 1915.
Her beauty found her fame and she made many films during the twenties.
With talkies though, her voice was too high pitched for the primitive
microphone technology - she only made a few before retiring for
marriage with Charles Farrell. In "The Lost Zeppelin" she does play a
very whiney woman, Miriam, who while married to Commander Donald Hall
(Conway Tearle) is desperately in love with Tom Armstrong (Ricardo
Cortez). The scene on the couch where she is imploring Armstrong to
tell her the truth about her husband's bravery would have most people
running from the room holding their ears!!
Both Tearle and Cortez play their parts with a stiff upper lip: if you have ever seen Tearle in movies you know it is his usual acting style but Cortez I think was still finding his talkie feet and within a year would be his usual relaxed charming self in films like "Behind Office Doors" and "The Maltese Falcon".
Even though Hall is devastated by seeing his wife in the arms of another man the show must go on - the show being an expedition to the South Pole and, you guessed it, Hall and Armstrong are going together!! Even though Tiffany ("the better entertainment") was the top of the tree as far as independent studios went, it is an amazingly ambitious epic. The first 20 minutes did drag but it may have been to lure patrons in for some talk, for once in the air it really took off! The South Pole was very topical at the time as Admiral Byrd was making his first expeditions. The visual effects are terrific, the zeppelin in the air looked pretty realistic as it puttered through the clouds and above the polar naval base. Kenneth Peach Sr. A.S.C. was the cameraman and Jack Robson was a specialist in mechanical effects.
A storm disables the zeppelin and it crashes through the ice. Hall and Armstrong explore the surrounding area but the man with them dies in an avalanche and they return to find the rest of the crew dead. The sound effects do get tedious but try watching Paramount's "The Studio Murder Mystery" thunderstorm scenes and you will find this movie isn't so bad. Primitive sound effects was a great leveller of studios both big and small. Meanwhile Miriam is brought up to date by constant newscasts and it is only at the end with the inevitable drawing room showdown that the film becomes static and betrays it's early talkie status. Even the clichéd scene where Hall forces Armstrong to return to base and a hero's welcome while he faces the unknown is spruced up with a twist in the last few minutes.
"The Lost Zeppelin" is a fascinating story when you think about it.
Although the sound effects are a bit crude (such as the droning
engines), the sound quality is actually very, very good for 1929.
Silents were on their way out, but the quality of sound was still very
poor and the fact that you can actually clearly hear the dialog is a
major plus--this is NOT the case today when you see many 1929 flicks
(such as "Coquette"--an Oscar-winner but with horrible sound). It also
has awfully nice special effects for 1929. While today they could do
much better, for 1929 it was nice.
Unfortunately, while the film has its technical merits, the story itself is only fair. Part of the problem is the subplot involving the unfaithful wife and the captain--it just didn't make any sense--especially his reaction when he caught her with one of his officers. The other problem is that despite being an action story, it's all rather slow and dull. It's not terrible...it's just not all that good. In many ways, the film is highly reminiscent of the Leni Reifenstahl film, "S.O.S. Iceberg"--a film that debuted several years after "The Lost Zeppelin"--and I am pretty sure the Reifenstahl film was inspired by "The Lost Zeppelin".
I struggled to stay with this film to see it to the end. I give it two
stars just for a try at a plot. Besides some very good silent films of
the 1920s, I've rated about a dozen talkies of 1929 from 7 to 10 stars.
Those were all produced by Paramount, MGM, Warner Brothers and a
"The Lost Zeppelin" was made by one of the 80 or so poverty row studios that existed in the early years of movie making. Tiffany-Stahl lasted longer than most, from 1921 to 1931, and turned out 70 films in that time. This was one of its last. And this film is a good example of why it and the host of poverty row studios didn't last. The few good directors and technicians that started in the lower echelons eventually made it into the big studios or went with a successful independent that would later make it big or merge into one of the other studios.
Normally, I wouldn't bother to review a film I rate so low. But since this is now out on DVD, I thought prospective viewers might like more comment than has been posted on IMDb to this time. I won't urge folks not to watch this but you should know what to expect before you plunk down cash to buy or rent it. Indeed, I had some inkling of what it was about, but I wanted to see it for myself. And, I'm glad I did because I now know what the very cheap poverty row films were like.
Everything about this film is poor, with the possible exception of the sound from the dialog. The sets are very amateurish and poor such as an airplane door that slides open. No kidding just like a sliding door in a house. Then, when a crew person opens the door, it starts to fall out of its track and he shoves it back. The airplane engine noise is some strange irritating sound created by sound effects, and doesn't sound anything like a plane engine. The film quality itself is barely watchable. The script is something that a third-grade student might create today. But the directing and acting are the very worst.
Conway Tearle and Ricardo Cortez had small movie careers through the 1930s. But those were mostly in B films. The rest of the cast are actors who couldn't make the transition from silent to sound. Virginia Valli had made more than 60 films in the silent era; but after this, she made only two more before retiring from films at age 35. That's when many of the best actors begin to shine. The acting is very hammy in this, and one can see long pauses and long glances at the camera techniques used in the silent films to allow subtitles to show. While the voices of all this cast were OK, they apparently couldn't transition to real acting. There were many silent film stars who didn't succeed in sound films because their unusual voices didn't fit their images in the minds of the movie-going public.
So, this isn't likely to be very entertaining; but if you want to see an example of the hundreds and even thousands of early films that aren't around anymore and of the type of films put out by the short-lived and over-night cheap studios, then you may enjoy watching "The Lost Zeppelin."
I found this bit of trivia that movie buffs might enjoy. Apparently, MGM bought Tiffany's original film library and used it for fuel in "Gone with the Wind." It went up in flames in the scene of the burning of Atlanta. I doubt if it was very expensive kindling.
That this exsists at all is probably a minor miracle. Legend has it that David Selznick purchased all of the Tiffany-Stahl studio's negatives to utilize for the burning of Atlanta sequence in Gone With The Wind. Extant prints of films from this studio are rare, indeed. That aside, The Lost Zeppelin shows that the little studio was indeed trying to be up-to-date in marketing all-talking pictures. The dialouge delivery in the first section of the picture, before we get to the meat of the story, hearkens back to The Lights of New York (1928). Pregnant pauses and actors unsure about how to properly deliver dialouge are apparent. When the story gets to the dirigible party and their problems, the pace picks up and there are some pretty neat (for their time) effects. The studio must be praised for putting forth a story that is at once novel and original. This was released at Christmastime 1929 and it seems to have been successful in some quarters. In it's premiere in St.Louis, for example, the ads reported a take of $30,900 for the Christmas weekend. Pocket change today, but we must remember the time in which it was released. Conway Tearle and Virginia Valli are the top-billed players. The opening credits proclaim that this was "Synchronized by RCA Photophone". The print on the Alpha DVD was acceptably clear. In all, a film which will probably appeal to those who enjoy the early talkies. There are plenty of 20s fashions, hairdos and a huge radio in the living room of the heroine. Radio, in fact, is utilized throughout the film as a way to chart the progress of the Zeppelin. The Zeppelin itself is neatly represented by stock footage and the use of some neat miniatures. This is not an expensive film to buy and will be entertaining to those who enjoy film history.
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