Fascinating, but I'd rather watch early Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.
I watched a definite rarity last night, "The Incorrigible Dukane" (1915), the earliest surviving film of John Barrymore. Lasting only about 40 minutes, I'm pretty sure that the film was once much longer, as several places, including the beginning, are seemingly truncated. Nevertheless, the film played out just fine, and certainly enough is there to make out the entire theme. It's a comedy - probably the description at the beginning is accurate - a melodramatic comedy, which it really is! - more like very early Chaplin with slapstick and all, plus a very melodramatic story that makes it rather raucous by today's standards. Barrymore is the son of an engineer, one who builds dams and other things, and this son goes out west to build a dam and gets into all kinds of trouble along the way and while there. To explain all his trouble would take you through the film's entire story; suffice it to say he extricates himself from his troubles only at the end. The resolution is actually nicely done. The rest of the film is definitely not what I'd call high class, and I certainly don't mean that statement from any kind of snobby viewpoint. The film is supposed to be a laugh riot, but I'd rather watch the early Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. instead. PLUS: my print was definitely rough, rough, rough. It nearly gave me eye strain, although I've watched much worse.
By early standards, probably a fine comedy, but strictly rough horse, rough house stuff, funny, but not side-splitting, and plenty of action and melerdram stuff, too. This was more like a feature made from a serial than anything. Great to see early Barrymore, though. He looks so young at times you almost don't recognize him. Looks like Lionel half the time, too - at that age. Barrymore was 33 when he made this picture. Others in the picture with him were William T. Carlton playing his father, Helen Weir playing the love interest, William MacDonald and Stewart Baird.
I'll finish with one more comment regarding early Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. His films were very much like this film, although they contained a huge amount of athleticism. The only athletic ability Barrymore exhibits here is his patent raising of his eyebrows at several moments. Throughout his career this was a trademark of his. For those who have seen "The Royal Family of Hollywood", you may remember that Fredric March parodies this well.
Worth seeing, but beware it's certainly not "Hamlet" by any stretch of the imagination!
I must conclude with one more note: the piano track that accompanies this film on my print was not bad, but it WAS incredibly raucous, the kind of slapstick piano that my cousin's grandmother used to play at our house - she'd been a silent moviehouse accompaniest when she was young - and it always drove me bananas after fifteen minutes. Forty minutes of the stuff was definitely enough! However, this was possibly the kind of accompaniment that outlying country theaters would have had in 1915, so I guess I got what should have been expected.
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