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The Red Kimona (1925)
Interesting Effort Undone By Uninspired Acting
"The Red Kimona" is a laudable attempt at addressing a social problem that, alas, is undermined by the cliched performance of its leading lady. It's a rare and interesting effort, produced by actress Dorothy Davenport Reid as part of her ongoing series of dramas addressing societal ills such as drug addiction and prostitution. But, while I believe Priscilla Bonner's performance in the leading role is sincerely felt, she uses almost every expression that's come to represent silent-film acting at its most mechanical. (She's also a dead ringer for Colleen Moore, but, alas, lacks that lady's natural acting instincts.) Her acting actually dates the film more than the settings or subject matter. While the film is certainly worth a look due to its historic import, it won't bear up under repeated viewings.
The Others (2001)
I See Dead People, and They're Looking for a Script....
Derivative claptrap, undermined further by a weak performance by its marginally talented leading lady. Kudos to the supporting cast for crafting strong performances out of paper-thin material, particularly the underrated Fionnula Flanagan. Their fine work, however, will not alleviate the viewer's growing frustration and boredom with this piece. Its director shamelessly rips off every suspense classic from "The Uninvited" and "The Haunting" to "The Innocents" and "The Sixth Sense", but does so without skill or coherence. By the time the "surprise ending" rolls around, you'll be groaning louder than a house full of restless spirits--over your wasted time and money.
Witness for the Prosecution (1982)
God Bless Sir Ralph Richardson
This remake of the Laughton/Power/Dietrich film is quite enjoyable, owing to skillful casting, top production values, and, of course, Dame Christie's cracking good story. Sadly, the only liability is the performance of Sir Ralph Richardson (It's almost unspeakable to say this; I feel like Brutus plunging the knife into his Caesar). This was one of his last performances, and his immense skill simply cannot overcome his advanced age. (Granted, his character is supposed to be aged and ill, but Sir Ralph is unable to act intrigued and energized by his last case the way Laughton was in the original.) Still, his presence alone delivers barrels full of audience goodwill, and the piece is anchored by fine performances from Diana Rigg in the Dietrich role, Deborah Kerr in Elsa Lanchester's part (a fun bit of off-casting!) and by Beau Bridges, who stretches himself beyond his normal nice-guy blandness and convinces in the Ty Power role. A nice movie for a rainy afternoon or a boring holiday!
The Scarlet Letter (1926)
There Just Aren't Enough Words.....
There just aren't enough words to describe the beautiful performances in this film....not that words are needed, then or now. Victor Seastrom's lovingly crafted scenes provide perfect visual frames for the transcendent performances of Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson. An artistic triumph for everyone concerned, and a bittersweet reminder of what was lost with the death of the art of the silent film. (The Turner restoration is alas, also bittersweet, as prints of wildly differing quality had to be "married" in order to create a substantially complete copy of the subject. Thus, viewers move from scenes that shimmer with pristine beauty to muddy, contrasty dupes. It's a tribute to the art of all concerned however, that this is not the distracting issue it might be with a lesser film. Like any work of art, you won't notice the cracks and flaws after a while if you're paying attention as you should. It's just a shame that the entire film isn't as mint-fresh as some of its scenes.)
The Garden of Allah (1936)
Whatever was Selznick thinking when he wasted so much gorgeous Technicolor photography on so much tripe? For a producer renowned for elevated the level of adult entertainment in the 1930's, it's shocking to see him select a script designed to appeal to the 3-year-old romantic in all of us. Not even the powerhouse leads can save this sandblown mess: Boyer's customary sincerity and craft is subverted by the preponderance of pretty-boy glamour shots that rival even those of Dietrich, and by the script's demands that he engage in silent-film "face acting" which was wildly inappropriate in the mid-30's, albeit even for characters experiencing spiritual crises. (However, the manful and professional way in which he handles these indignities is quite admirable.) And, Marlene's contempt for the proceedings fairly radiates from her porcelain mask of a face (which is no mean feat!); all the diaphonous gowns in the world can't disguise her phoned-in performance. She reportedly hated the sweltering location filming, causing her to fix her hair with bottles of hairspray, improbably turning it into a rigid helmet in the desert winds! (In all fairness to her, though, this must have been a difficult film for her, for she was in the midst of grieving for John Gilbert, who was to have taken the Boyer role.) Bottom line: savor the glorious, original Technicolor shots, and chuckle at the tacky dramatics.
London After Midnight (1927)
User Ratings for a Lost Film....?
Hey, wait!! Hold it a second, guys....how can a film unseen by the general public for 75 years get any User Ratings? Granted, there may be some seniors around who saw the film as children, but are they the ones rating this film on IMDb? Or, are these merely false ratings made by silent film fans based on the reputations of Chaney and Browning and the existence of some tantalizing surviving stills from the film?
I think we need a reality check here: this film is lost, folks, and it's going to stay lost. All efforts to flush a print out of hiding have failed, including those of Turner, who owns the rights and have the most to gain by the film's recovery. (TCM will broadcast a stills-only re-creation of the film in October '02. Translation? Even the rightful owners of the film have given up hope! Does this tell you anything?) And, yes, while someone may have a print in a private collection, or in their attic, etc., it's a real longshot.
Don't get me wrong; the loss of this film is lamentable in the extreme. (The loss of any film is lamentable. The loss of any SILENT film is most lamentable. The loss of any CHANEY film is truly awful. And, the loss of any Chaney film featuring the coolest vampire get-up EVER is unspeakably awful!!!) But, I believe film fans need to let go of this one and move on. The reputations of Chaney and Browning will survive without this film. I believe our energies would be better spent putting pressure on archives and film libraries to release their long-held treasures to the viewing public, as there is a huge amount of silent material that HAS survived, but which goes unseen by all but scholars and the privileged few.
Not Bad for a Silent Mini-Compilation
I've seen many shorts featuring clips from silent films, and this one isn't bad; in fact, it's quite enjoyable. The clips are well-presented, with a minimum of the "Aren't these corny!" wisecracks one sadly finds in many silent film clip shows. The action is underscored nicely with lively music and those classic Warner Brothers cartoon sound effects, which fit quite well into the Sennett universe. And, as the films weren't terribly old at the time this film was compiled, the source material is quite good. Best of all, the comics are given due credit for their work; the film could even serve as a nice mini-introduction to this era for the film student. All told, the film is a fond look back at Sennett comics of the 20's, and captures the outrageously zany gag-making of the time.
Die Augen der Mumie Ma (1918)
Egregious waste of talent
What an egregious waste of talent!! It's poorly acted, indifferently directed, and badly written; too bad THIS film survived when so many other more worthy silents didn't! It's hard to believe this was made in 1918--technically and artistically, it's more like 1909. This is the sort of film you should definitely NOT show to someone unfamiliar with silent film, as it confirms every awful stereotype about them--clownish makeup, hammy gestures, and cheesy plot--and, it's boring to boot. The great Emil Jannings looks more like Othello in search of Desdemona instead of an Egyptian in search of his captive, and this time his habitual overacting is annoying rather than bravura. And, you have to be a pretty maladroit filmaker to take Pola Negri, with her angular Gypsy beauty, and make her up to look like a pint-sized Little Egypt. Take it from a die-hard silents fan who will watch ANY silent film, simply because they are silent: skip this one.
The Ice Follies of 1939 (1939)
Leo emits a giant yawn at this assembly-line junk
This patched-together pseudo-musical-on-ice isn't even fun as camp; it's just a deadly dull example of MGM assembly-line junk. As always, the production values are excellent: this film is just as well-mounted as any Metro "A" product, with the added bonuses of a lavish Technicolor sequence and pleasing ice performances by the Shipstad-Johnson Ice Follies. But, it's heavy going as the miscast stars are shoved about in a silly plot in an underwritten script, and no amount of MGM gloss can compensate for the audacity of casting three non-skating actors as skating stars! Especially jarring is the sight of Joan Crawford in a jet-black Hedy Lamarr "do"; this is one instance where Joan's Madonna-like talent for following trends misfired.(She very nearly achieves a Carolyn Jones-as-Morticia look!) JC fans do get a consolation prize in the color sequence, in which Joan's natural coloring is seen to lovely advantage. Viewer Alert: watch Sonja Henie on Fox instead!!
No More Ladies (1935)
Tiresome romantic comedy
You've seen it all before, folks--another tiresome romantic comedy, unredeemed by an accomplished cast and the trademark MGM gloss. Joan Crawford is especially wasted in the airy proceedings; her dramatic intensity has no outlet here, and she is forced to rely on her lesser skills as a sophisticated comedienne. This is Carole/Claudette/Irene territory, and, although Joan can give these ladies cards in spades when it comes to glamour, she lacks their lighter touch. I suspect two forces were at work here: the Production Code of 1933, which forced out earthy drama and bawdy comedy and pushed stars like Harlow and Crawford into fluff, and the "Norma" syndrome at MGM, which forced Crawford to take Norma's castoff parts. (No wonder Joan ended up "box-office poison" shortly after pictures like this alienated her fan base!) If you'd like to see Joan in comedies more suited to her persona, check out her splendidly bitchy Crystal in "The Women", or as the clueless Susan in "Susan and God".