Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Comin' Thro the Rye (1923)
Alma Taylor in Superb Melodrama
This is the film that bankrupted Cecil Hepworth, one of England's first great filmmakers. Over budget, under financed, the film was dealt a major blow with when leading man Shayle Gardner contracted typhoid fever. Production stopped for a few months, but Hepworth eventually released the film with Gardner's role slightly reduced.
As it stands, the film is a superb melodrama of the old school with blameless heroine (Alma Taylor) caught in the web of deceit cast by a crazed rival (Eileen Dennes) for the attentions of Gardner.
Shot against the beautiful English countryside, the film meanders with the story of two young women and their beaux. Scheming Sylvia (Dennes) goes after every man in the county while innocent Helen (Taylor) is a victim. So is a would-be suitor who kills himself (Francis Lister). Steadfast George (Ralph Forbes) hovers about, trying to undo the damage caused by Sylvia. Even after Sylvia seems to have lost Paul Vasher (Gardner) to Helen, she continues to scheme after he goes to Rome on business.
Sylvia will stop at nothing. She places a spying maid in Helen's home. She intercepts mail. She even places a phony story in the newspaper about the engagement between Helen and George and mails a forged letter to Paul in Rome.
Implausible? Over the top? You bet. But it makes for a grand story and gives us an epic villainess to hiss and boo. And on top of that are the stunning visuals of rye fields and country villages.
Despite its excellence the film flopped in England and again in the US in 1924. Co-stars include Hepworth regulars James Carew, John MacAndrews,and Gwynne Herbert, as well as Nancy Price (as Mrs. Titmouse) and Christine Rayner as the sneaky maid.
Sweet Devil (1938)
Jean Gillie Steals the Film
Surprisingly good comedy with a song thrown in and starring Bobby Howes and Jean Gillie in a screwball marital mix-up about business partners and their fianeces at a big party where the couples inadvertently pair up with the wrong intended. Gillie is terrific as the secretary who gets bombed on champagne and caviar after jumping into a river. Howes has one of his best roles as the absent and absent-minded business partner engaged to a snobby aristocrat in an ugly dress (Glen Alyn). William Kendall is the other business partner, Syd Walker is the butler, Ellis Jeffreys is the snob's mother. Song is "You Should Be Set to Music." Gillie steals the film, but Howes and Miss Alyn are fun to watch.
Mist in the Valley (1923)
Alma Taylor Asleep on the Moor
Stirring melodrama from Cecil Hepworth features a courtroom battle and uses the English countryside less than other Hepworth films like TANSY, HELEN OF FOUR GATES, and COMIN' THRO' THE RYE, but is a solid film nonetheless.
G.H. Mulcaster plays Denis Marlow, man who has lost his money and fiancée. He's about to jump off a bridge when a stranger talks him out of it. He hops a train and wakes to find himself in Devon, a stranger in a new land. While walking the countryside he comes upon a sleeping woman (Alma Taylor) who has a secret. He calls her Heather Moreland and they soon marry.
Time passes and we learn through several flashbacks, that "Heather" is really Margaret Yeoland and is wanted by the police for the murder of her father. Raised in a convent, she finally went home to meet her father and creepy cousin (James Carew) but learned a terrible secret and fled to wander the moors.
After she confesses her true identity to her husband, he finds a newspaper with headlines about the search for Margaret Yeoland. She's soon arrested and tried for murder. Her cousin has conveniently dispatched a servant to Torquay to visit a dying daughter and has been sworn to secrecy by the cousin. But during the trial, the truth and the woman's secret are revealed.
Alma Taylor was Hepworth's biggest star and appears in all his feature films (at least the four that survive). It's easy to see why she was England's biggest silent film star. Mulcaster and Carew are excellent. Other Hepworth regulars also appear: Gwynne Herbert as Mrs. Grick, John MacAndrews as the servant Pennyquick, and Charles Vane as the father.
Three Maxims (1936)
Love in High Places
Odd film about a trio of trapeze artists trying to make the bigtime in Paris. Anna Neagle stars as Pat who is the object of affection of both her partners: Tullio Carimnati as Toni, and Leslie Banks as Mac.
Trouble ensues after Banks expresses his love for Neagle and she rejects him. He hits the bottle and blames Carminati for his failure to win her. As they as practicing (with a net) Banks (who is the catcher) drops Carminati who falls into the net. The manager (Horace Hodges) is alarmed but no one else seems to be bothered.
On the night of the big show, Banks, who has overheard Neagle, gets very moody. As Carminati makes his jump, Banks catches only one hand. With Carminato dangling over the stage (no net) Neagle collapses in a faint on her perch and nearly falls. When the men see her in danger, they quickly get over their spat and race to save her before she falls.
The act is a big hit, but it wasn't part of the act. How will they resolve things? Neagle looks great and performs some of the aerial work. She also gets to dance a little. Banks and Carminati seem too old for their parts but are otherwise good. Hodges is fine as the manager, and Nicholas Koline is good as the comic with a duck.
Not the usual Neagle film, but certainly worth a look.
Sleeping Car (1933)
Ivor Novello, Madeleine Carroll & Kay Hammond Shine
Charming romantic comedy with Ivor Novello as a train conductor who's quite the lady's man with a girlfriend in several cities where the train stops. One rich passenger, Madeleine Carroll, seems able to resists his charms. That is until she runs afoul of French law and must marry a Frenchman or be deported to England.
They marry as a "formality only" so she can stay in Paris where she has a house. But an old girlfriend (Kay Hammond) won't give up so easily and complications ensue when she's found in his bed in the guest room. Who will win Novello? Familiar plot, but the stars are very good and seem to be having a good time. Co-stars include Laddie Cliff and Stanley Holloway as fellow train employees, Claud Allister as a silly baron, Ivor Barnard as the lawyer, and Vera Bryer as the maid.
The Years Between (1946)
Michael Redgrave and Valerie Hobson Star
Subtle drama about war and marriage. Valerie Hobson plays uppercrust wife who gets a telegram during WW II stating her husband (Michael Redgrave) has been killed. To get her out of her deep depression, friends persuade her to take her husband's seat in Parliament. She is surprised to learn she liked it. The years go by.
She's about to married a local dullard when she gets another telegram. Redgrave is alive after all, and has been a prisoner of war for all these years. When he returns, things are very unsettling. He expects everything to be the way it was, but much has changed, especially the wife.
He expects her to give up her seat, but she refuses. As the postman (Edward Rigby) keeps telling everyone, nothing will be the same after the war. He's right. Hobson finds she's indifferent to Redgrave after all these years. He keeps complaining about all the changes.
The kicker is what he really did during the war, what he couldn't tell anyone, even his wife.
Redgrave and Hobson are terrific in their roles, even if they are written rather narrowly. Flora Robson is also solid as the "nanny" who seems to have more common sense than either the husband or the wife. Others include James McKechnie as the dullard, Felix Aylmer as a politician, Dulcie Gray as Judy, Esma Cannon as the cook, and Wylie Watson as Venning.
Worth a look.
Shoot the Works (1934)
Dorothy Dell in Her Final Film
This Ben Hecht story is a bit uneven but showcases Jack Oakie and Dorothy Dell, so how bad can it be? Oakie plays a showbiz conman, hawking a stuffed whale exhibit on 42nd and doing anything to get noticed. He has stooge Roscoe Karns doing a flagpole sitting bit, while Arline Judge snags the unwary old men. It's all a con. Alison Skipworth sells the tickets.
Oakie runs into Dell in a talent agent's office. He's trying to sell a song. Dell hears the song "With My Eyes Wide Open" and suggests they do an act. That brings Dell into the gang. But Dell is discovered one night singing with Ben Bernie's orchestra. She becomes a star, Oakie becomes a bum. Familiar story.
Oakie is quite good here since Karns gets the goon role. Dell, in her final film, is excellent. It's hard to believe this 19-year-old would be dead within a few months (car crash). Lew Cody, who plays the agent, would also be dead within a month of the film's wrap.
Skipworth, Judge, Cody, Karns, and William Frawley as a Walter Winchell type as all excellent. Cody gets the best catchphrase with his "Goodbye, please!" comment. Worth a look.
Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937)
Eddie Cantor and the Peters Sisters
Bright musical comedy with Eddie Cantor as a hobo who wanders onto a movie set and gets hired as an extra. He falls asleep and dreams he's back in ancient Bagdad.
In ancient Bagdad he's taken as a relative of Ali Baba and gets involved in the palace intrigue where the Sultana (Gypsy Rose Lee as Louise Hovick) and her allies are plotting to overthrow the Sultan (Roland Young). Cantor cracks an endless stream of one-liners about Roosevelt's "New Deal," which of course no one understands. The plot then has Cantor running for president against the Sultan. But it's all a dream.
The two show stoppers are the extended "Swing Is Here to Sway" with Cantor joined by dancer Jeni Le Gon and the fabulous Peters Sisters, and the "Twilight in Turkey" number by Raymond Scott and Quintet and danced by the Pearl Twins. Great stuff.
Co-stars include Tony Martin, June Lang, John Carradine, Virginia Field, Alan Dinehart, Stanley Fields, Warren Hymer, and Lynn Bari as a harem girl. The Peters Sisters, Mattye, Anne, and Virginia, just about steal the show from Cantor, who discovered them at a local nightclub and put them right in his movie.
One of Cantor's best.
Helen of Four Gates (1920)
Wild and Wonderful
The wild and wonderful scenery of England's Pennine Moors is a gorgeous backdrop to Cecil Hepworth's excellent melodrama HELEN OF FOUR GATES, based on the 1917 novel by Ethel Carnie Holdsworth.
Alma Taylor stars as Helen, raised by a brutal father (James Carew) with a secret. He's set out to make the daughter as unhappy as he has been since he found out his bride was already pregnant.
She falls in love with a man (George Dewhurst) but he is driven off by the father with tales of family lunacy. He then cruelly bribes a tramp to marry the girl. But the father is dying and the boy comes back. How will it all end? Taylor is sensational as the wild child Helen with her gypsy beads and long hair blowing in the endless wind. Perched beside a brook or on a rocky crag, she is the personification of the countryside, and Hepworth superbly films the rolling hills and dales as a backdrop.
As noted, the intertitles are taken from the book and are in a dialect a little hard to read, but the viewer will catch on. Sadly this may be one of only four surviving features from Hepworth's silent film career. The film is a true treasure.
Alma Taylor Is Tansy
Cecil Hepworth was a major British filmmaker of the early days. Only a few of his feature films have survived. TANSY is a straightforward story of a country lass (Alma Taylor) who is taken in at a sheep farm where she becomes the romantic target of two brothers. Neither brother seems to realize the other's attraction for Tansy. Nor do they realize the secret she has.
Set against the beautiful Sussex Downs, Hepworth's simple style may seem flat even to seasoned silent film buffs, but his art is in telling a story and not in fancy camera angles and editing techniques. Indeed, his camera never moves. Each scene is set up and the actors go through their paces. Next set up.
But Hepworth captures an England of long ago, ancient farming techniques, and simple lifestyles that even in 1921 must have seemed quaint. In some ways, Hepworth was a British version of D.W. Griffith, but he seems to have lacked Griffith's energy and innovation.
Alma Taylor, a major star of her day, is quite good as Tansy and was Hepworth's most frequent leading lady. Gerald Ames is good as Clem. Hugh Clifton and James Carew are the feuding brothers. And Rolph Leslie is Tansy's pathetic grandfather.
Worth looking for to see Cecil Hepworth's work, the beautiful countryside, and Alma Taylor.