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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
A fine drama of religion, love and death, 7 January 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Parson's Widow" is one of the best silent films that I have ever seen. Its images, its pace, and its themes all blend together into one fine production from the young director Carl Theodor Dreyer.

Since the plot of the film is well-covered by other reviewers, I will focus on other elements of the film. The photography of the film is rich and subtle, just what one would expect of the film's director. The opening scene of a waterfall is one of the many refreshing Norwegian country images that enliven this film. In some cases, the photography also reveals the characters' inner states of mind. The scene where the young minister gets drunk is photographed through a diffuser; the images look fuzzy and indistinct. This diffuser is removed and the image becomes clear again when the minister sobers up. Again, the photography of the film is quite clever and contributes greatly to experience of watching the "The Parson's Widow".

The period flavor is also excellent. The film was produced in the historical village of Lillehammer, Norway. The film exudes the feeling of life in seventeenth century Europe. Churchgoers are herded into stall-like pews, and the elders are instructed to tap them on the shoulder with a stick when they fall asleep during the sermons. One can almost feel the environment where the drama plays itself out.

Perhaps the only flaw in "The Parson's Widow" is its performances. The performances are pretty good, but the fast pace of the film (it is about seventy minutes long) makes it difficult for any of the performers to shine brightly. "The Parson's Widow" is definitely story-focused;little time is allowed for the actors and actresses to establish bits of business that might deepen their characterizations.

All the same, "The Parson's Widow" is a small masterpiece and I recommend its viewing to all persons interested in the themes of love, death or religion. Enthusiasts of Carl Theodor Dreyer should be doubly pleased by this remarkable drama.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Tepid Drama of Arms Smuggling, 6 January 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Arms and the Gringo" is a two reel silent melodrama. Directed by William Christy Cabanne and starring Dorothy Gish and Wallace Reid, the film is truly poor.

For instance, the editing of film seems to show Griffith-like techniques at their most over used. The director cross cuts constantly between scenes without any emotional or thematic significance. The only really powerful scene is the last, where Dorothy Gish is manhandled by arms smuggler and is rescued by the handsome American soldier Wallace Reid.

The one surprise in "Arms and the Gringo" is a Mexican-American character. The character is quite stereotypical in keeping with the attitudes of the time, but he does manage to get Wallace Reid's attention at the end of the film and so that he can save Dorothy Gish. This Mexican character may have been inspired by another nameless character in the Griffith Biograph "The Battle at Elderbrush Gulch".

Normally I am very kind to silent melodramas, but "Arms and the Gringo" lacks the direction or the heart to capture my attention. I would not recommend it as viewing for a person who has never seen a silent film.

20 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Powerful Drama Told With Restraint, 4 January 2006

We may never know exactly how good or bad a director William C. de Mille was. Only a handful of his films survive and only one of the surviving films, "Miss Lulu Bett", is revived with any regularity. But if a director is going to be known by one film, he or she could do much worse than "Miss Lulu Bett."

The film is a fine example of film-making on a small scale. Little touches remind audiences of the simple beauties of the moving image art form. There is the image of the lonesome and shy Lulu (played by Lois Wilson)unfurling her hair on a staircase. There is the image of Lulu and her lover Neil Cornish (Milton Stills) talking under a bower strewn with flowers. These images of delicate beauty show what carefully chosen props and settings can do to make a film with a modest budget look classy.

The story is interesting and it is not as old fashioned as some on-line reviewers have suggested. Lulu is not physically abused or held in captivity. She is abused psychologically by her overbearing brother-in-law, and her captivity is a matter of economics: she simply has no money to live on her own. The belittling of women and economic inequalities are still important issues for women.

Some people may object to certain stylistic qualities of "Miss Lulu Bett". The film has a fast enough pace, but much of the story is told through title cards. I presume that the overuse of language is a hold-over from literature: "Miss Lulu Bett" was originally a popular stage play and novel. These title cards, however, are pithy and straight-forward; they never seem to interfere with the pace of the film in any way. Film critics who ignore the device in silent films may want to watch "Miss Lulu Bett" as an example of title cards used well.

In all, "Miss Lulu Bett" is a fine drama about a female survivor of abuse. The artistry is touching and low-key, but captivating all the same. It is truly a fine work from William C. de Mille, a director whose career is now almost erased from film history.

Victorine (1915)
Dorothy Gish in a Fine Comedy/Drama, 4 January 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Victorine" is one of the most charming American two reel films from the mid-teens that I have had a chance to see. It has some features in common with the Griffith Biographs, especially its careful technique and the focus on living a simple life.

Dorothy Gish plays Victorine, a waitress in a cheap restaurant who yearns for a glamorous job. A carnival sideshow man (Ralph Lewis) finds Victorine and offers to put her in his knife throwing act. Victorine accepts the offer, but complications result when she discovers that the knife thrower is a heavy drinker. I could give away more of the details, but I don't want to spoil it. Suffice it to say, Victorine gets out of show business and settles for a happy life with the sideshow's financial backer (William Hinckley).

The film is nicely crafted, but it has a few moments of unconvincing editing. The knife throwing is achieved by filming a close shot of Ralph Lewis tossing a knife and then cutting to a close view of Dorothy Gish with a knife already stuck in a board. The producers would have done better by getting a real knife thrower.

Otherwise, the film is very nicely made. The final image of Gish and Hinckley embracing is quite memorable, and the film is smoothly made throughout. I recommend it as an excellent example of short film-making.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A well-crafted drama, 3 January 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As an enthusiast of early cinema stylistics, I tend to find "Gretchen the Greenhorn" even better a film than other critics claim. The film has its weak moments, but it is handled with deft touch.

To avoid spoilers, I will avoid discussing too much of the plot and focus on the exquisite photography. There are exquisite seascapes of the Pacific Ocean, wonderful lighting during a wedding sequence and a number of attractive tints that include blue and orange.

A viewing of the film only confirms the talents of the Franklin Brothers. Sidney and Chester Franklin worked well together on a number of dramas and comedies produced by Majestic Studios, Fine Arts/Triangle, and Fox. Their ability to handle child performers is evident from the portrayals of the 'McGarrity children'. The children never cloy and they craftily help the leading characters, Gretchen (Dorothy Gish) and her father Jan (Ralph Lewis), when they are abducted at sea.

In my opinion, the only point against the film is Dorothy Gish's performance. Dorothy was the sister of Lillian Gish, but her performance style is often a little flat. Although very few of Dorothy's solo performances are known to survive, I have had the good fortune to see four of them - Victorine (1915), Old Heidelberg (1915), Gretchen the Greenhorn (1916) and The Country Flapper (1922). Dorothy was never a bad actress, she is not annoying in any way; but she lacked the expressive eyes that her sister used to her advantage. A comparison of Dorothy's performance in "Gretchen the Greenhorn" with Lillian's performance in another immigrant drama "Sold For Marriage" (1916) shows how very different these two sisters were as performers.

(In all fairness to Dorothy Gish, I have never seen her performance in the British drama "Nell Gwyn", released in 1926. That film is supposed to show Dorothy at her best.)

"Gretchen the Greenhorn" is well worth watching. The careful craftsmanship and the fine juvenile performances make up for the occasional flatness of Dorthy Gish's so-so performance.