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A cinematic treasure surfaces!
This film, at once thought to be long lost, is a real gem. Seeing stills in books and motion picture periodicals piqued my interest in this early gothic flick. It was sheer delight to have found it on DVD. This film is the work of director and film pioneer J. Searle Dawley. While his name may not be familiar to many, he was an integral part in the development of motion pictures. Though this film was shocking for its day, innovative productions such as this must have aroused the interest of 1910 audiences. Shortly after this, the Edison company reached an apex in its productions. Three great players of the Edison company can be seen in this early example of the horror genre. Augustus Phillips as Frankenstein. Charles Ogle gives an eerie performance as the monster. I understand he also designed the make-up for the creature. An added bonus is the wonderful and talented actress Mary Fuller as Elizabeth, Frankenstein's fiancee'. Sadly Miss Fuller is mostly forgotten now, but she was very popular in early cinema and her star shone the brightest of the Edison lot. That alone makes this film a real treasure.
The Kiss (1896)
A most indelible kiss!
This very small piece of film history is a real cinematic treasure. We are very fortunate it is still with us to be enjoyed and appreciated, for a kiss has become almost synonymous with the birth of cinema. When one thinks of the movies' beginning, the image of May Irwin and John Rice come to mind. These very early films were typical of the period, the decade of the 1890's. Very short films lasting under a minute designed for the Edison kinetoscope to be viewed in "peep show" parlors. This film is not only important for its historical value, but we get the rare privilage of seeing the fabulous Broadway actress, May Irwin repeating for the camera a scene from the popular play "The Widow Jones". Miss Irwin was a very prolific actress of the late 19th and early 20th century. To my knowledge she made only one other film, 1914's "Mrs. Black is Back". Though her presence in "The Kiss" is very brief, we get a big glimpse of an eminent actress.
Age cannot wither her...
...nor custom stale her infinite variety. - Wm. Shakespeare
How fortunate we are that this early first feature epic survives in near entirety. It stands as a testimonial to one of the greatest and overlooked actresses of early cinema, the divine Helen Gardner. Miss Gardner was a prolific actress of the stage and early screen. She taught pantomine and was possibly the first star to form her own production company, the Helen Gardner Picture Corporation, of which this film was produced. Now granted this film seems stagey and it lacks some of Griffith's techniques but it boasts some fine performances and is important for its historical value. In my opinion Miss Gardner is the finest Cleopatra the screen has ever had. She is every inch the Queen of the Nile, beautiful, majestic, sexy. She had a strong screen presence and talent that is almost forgotten due to the fact that so many of her films are gone, which is why this film is of great importance. This film is based on the play by Victorien Sardou and was directed by Miss Gardner's husband Charles L. Gaskill. Miss Gardner also designed her costumes for this as she did for many of her roles. I had always wanted to see the 1917 Theda Bara version but as long as that film remains lost, Helen Gardner is the quintessential Cleopatra of the screen. Long live the Queen!
Betrayed by a Handprint (1908)
The Biograph Girl Shines!
This is a real gem in that it is an early effort made by the "Father of Film", D.W. Griffith and featuring the first movie star, Florence Lawrence. Naturally it would appear very antiquated to modern audiences but it is of great historical value. Griffith was beginning to master the narrative and hone his filmmaking skills. Miss Lawrence was wonderful in the lead portraying Myrtle Vane, a society lady who turns thief after losing at cards, but is caught when she leaves a palm print at the scene of the crime. She had a strong screen presence and mastery of histrionics, it is no wonder she was dubbed the "Biograph Girl", drawing people into the theaters with her magnetism. This was at a time when actors were not being billed, lest they demand more money, and Miss Lawrence would eventually be one of the first actresses to be credited in films, creating the star system.
The New York Hat (1912)
A Timeless Treat
A wonderful old film that is still enjoyable ninety years later. One of the better shorts from Griffith's Biograph period with fine performances from Lionel Barrymore and Mary Pickford. Miss Pickford always seems to brighten up a film. Wonderful actress!
The Blue Angel (1959)
A Most Worthy Remake
There are not many remakes that can hold a candle to the original but this one is an exception. A well made production with fine performances from Jurgens and May Britt, who shines as showgirl Lola Lola. Ms. Britt did a wonderful job recreating the old Dietrich role and in my opinion was much better.
I Married Joan (1952)
The True Queen of Comedy, Joan Davis!
I still contend that Joan Davis is the greatest female comic of all time. This overlooked and highly underrated program of the fifties is one of the best sitcoms of all time. A lifelong performer since childhood, Ms. Davis brought her great timing and knockabout style of comedy which she mastered so well in her movies of the 30's and 40's to the small screen and really makes this show work. Lucy has gotten more exposure over the years and this is the reason she has maintained her popularity but in my opinion Joan is the superior comic actress. A real gem that still shines on home video.
How Men Propose (1913)
Early Cinema with a Feminine Touch
An interesting early short film directed by pioneer filmmaker Lois Weber. The story simply surrounds a woman who conducts research about male courtship rituals. There may have been more footage that was lost but the surviving print carries the story. Its kind of silly for today's standards but an interesting piece of early cinema nonetheless. It is also worthy in that it features a rare surviving performance of Margarita Fischer, a matinee star of the silent era.
The Divine Farrar
This early screen version of the famous French tragic grand opera is worth viewing, if nothing else, for the grand performance and exquisite beauty of opera diva Geraldine Farrar. However this is a worthy piece of early cinema. The great DeMille was honing his craft and his innovativeness was evidently seen in the various techniques and tinting of certain scenes. These were very effective to create a certain ambience necessary to the story. I think all these elements peaked the following year with the great epic "Joan the Woman." I would still have to count this as the best screen version of the celebrated Merimee story. Through the years there have been various adaptations, one being 1954's "Carmen Jones", with Dorothy Dandridge. This was set with a contemporary black cast of the time. But to me there is no other Carmen but Farrar. The role, the whole story just seems tailor made for her. The fine 1997 score featuring Bizet's famous compositons were ideally synchronized to accompany the appropriate scenes. I highly recommend this film. Ms. Farrar is fabulous.
Uncle Tom's Cabin (1927)
Another Golden Epic
This is perhaps the best film adaption of the classic Harriet Beecher Stowe novel. One of the more expensive films for the time, a price tag of $1.8 million, it is brimming with brilliant photography and fine performances. A film beautifully restored with the original movietone score and one of the few surviving works of director Harry Pollard, a lesser known name in the annals of cinema history but nonetheless an innovative filmmaker. Mr. Pollard successfully captures the mood of the old pre-war South while emphasizing the horror and immorality of slavery. James Lowe gives a fine performance in the title role, obedient yet not lacking integrity. Some characterizations may seem degrading to today's audiences, but this film was groundbreaking for its sympathy for African-Americans of the time. This film is also important in that it features a great actress of the silent period and wife of the director, Margarita Fischer. I had seen many striking photos of Ms. Fischer in Daniel Blum's Pictorial History of the Silent Screen and was delighted to find one of her few surviving films on video. She stars as Eliza, a fair skinned servant who eventually falls into the hands of the sinister Simon Legree, played by George Siegmann. Ms. Fischer gives a powerful performance of a young woman defying the evils of a cruel world and there is a memorable scene of her flight to freedom across the ice flows with her son. This was this lovely actresses' swan song, for she retired prematurely after this film and lived many more years. An early appearance of Virginia Grey as Little Eva, Harry Pollard's mastery of filmmaking, and Margarita Fischer's beauty and talent all combine to make film preservation an important cause.