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After a short split prologue showing riches as the root of evil in ancient and modern times, the film settles into 1914 France, where the Orient Express is about to be wrecked when a bridge washes out. Among those on board are Al and Travis, Americans who are traveling Europe spending Travis' money, and Marie, a German girl. The boys save Marie after the wreck and Travis falls in love with her. When World War I breaks out Al wants to enlist, but Travis can't, feeling loyal to Marie, a German. By 1917 Al has enlisted, and Travis follows him shortly after marrying Marie. Accused of being a German spy by a Russian agent, she is sentenced to die but is recognized by Travis, who is part of the firing squad. The town they are in is shelled and they are all trapped underground, during which a minister makes a lengthy parallel to ancient times when the King of Akkad persecuted his subjects and defied Jehovah, who finally sends a flood to wipe out mankind, except for Noah and his family, whom ... Written by
Ron Kerrigan <,firstname.lastname@example.org>
... was my reaction and my desire when I sat through the painful talking portions of this movie. The dialogue was uninspired if not just plain weird and Delores Costello has never sounded more ridiculous. I'll chalk that up to the dialogue coach, since so many early female vocal performances in films sounded similarly falsely aristocratic. She's supposed to be a singer/dancer in a vaudeville-like troupe and they have her speaking like she's the queen of England? See Ms. Costello in Magnificent Ambersons if you want to know what she really sounded like.
I still give this film an 8/10 though. As a spectacle film in the De Mille tradition done by Warner Brothers before they had truly emerged into the studio big leagues, it is a sight to behold. No special effects here - those are real buildings falling on real extras and real water pouring onto them. I know director Michael Curtiz had a reputation for holding in great disdain actors who required a lunch break, but you'd think that he at least realized they require oxygen.
The silent style of the players is pretty good. In fact, so good there are a dearth of title cards in the silent portion, since everyone is so adept at conveying their feelings through pantomime. The Vitaphone musical score accompanies the action well and the introduction to the film is particularly well done with water swirling around, sound effects, and the rather haunting musical introduction.
There's some historically interesting points of view being shown here too. Filmed in 1928 over a year before the stock market crash there is a rather prescient visual montage at the beginning of the film equating stock brokers and their obsession with money with the worship of the golden calf of biblical times. However, the end of the film has a moral that is not so prescient - basically equating World War I as that wasteful pointless war to end all wars when a much more horrible conflict was a little more than ten years away.
I'd highly recommend this one for two reasons. For the parts that are silent it is quite a work of visual art. For the parts that are talking it is a good example of how studios were so obsessed with sound that art was thrown out the window in the process, at least for a year or two. I'd rate this as one of my favorite although somewhat guilty cinematic pleasures.
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