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Frankenstein (1910)
A cinematic treasure surfaces!
2 August 2004
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.
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The Kiss (1896)
A most indelible kiss!
11 January 2004
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.
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Cleopatra (1912)
Age cannot wither her...
30 November 2003
...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!
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A Timeless Treat
1 October 2003
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!
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The Biograph Girl Shines!
1 October 2003
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.
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A Most Worthy Remake
13 September 2003
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.
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I Married Joan (1952–1955)
The True Queen of Comedy, Joan Davis!
15 April 2003
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.
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Early Cinema with a Feminine Touch
12 March 2002
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.
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Carmen (I) (1915)
The Divine Farrar
29 March 2001
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.
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Another Golden Epic
29 October 2000
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.
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A gem from the archives!
18 September 2000
This is without a doubt the finest screen version of Joan of Arc. The multi-talented Geraldine Farrar brings this saintly woman to the screen in all her piety. This is DeMille's first epic and he laid the groundwork for his subsequent masterpieces. This film is not only important for the superb acting but also for the technical aspects such as composition and beautiful photography. These early years are generally classified as DeMille's "Visionary Period". This is a wonderfully restored film complete with the hand tinted frames and William Furst's musical score from the original 1916 release. A very elaborate production for the time brimming with artistry and compelling continuity. The use of early special effects such as double exposure, the tinted frames to depict certain moods, blues for subdued and bright oranges for fiery rage. Opera diva Geraldine Farrar proved she was as dynamic an actress as she was a soprano. She was every inch Jeanne d' Arc, beautiful, pious, gentle yet strengthened by her faith and patriotism in the face of battle. She breathed so much into this role, no one, not even Ingrid Bergman did it better. There is also fine support from Wallace Reid and Raymond Hatton as Charles VII. That noble actor Hobart Bosworth gives a fine performance as the faithful General La Hire. An all star cast for 1916 audiences. An edifying work of art.
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What Happened to Mary (II) (1912)
She's right here!
14 September 2000
I was fortunate enough to find an installment of this rare early serial on video. It is important to keep in mind that motion pictures at the time were still relatively new and plots and storylines were beginning to develop more continuity. Before Melies work and Porter's infamous "Great Train Robbery" 1903, film was mostly a novelty of presenting simple everyday things with no viable plot. This can be seen in the works of the Lumiere brothers and Edison's early kinos of the 1890's. By 1912, when this series was released, a greater fluidity of storytelling was evidant after the advent of D. W. Griffith and other pioneers. Although this isn't one of the great films of the silent period, its still an important piece of early cinema. This has the distinction I believe, of being the first serial designed to lure moviegoers back to the theaters every week. Many people think Pearl White's "Perils of Pauline" 1914 was the first, when in fact Kathlyn Williams starred in "The Adventures of Kathlyn" 1913 the year before and with the surfacing of "What Happened to Mary" 1912 we know that Mary Fuller was the first true serial queen. What did happen to Mary? or for that matter Who was Mary?? Mary was a young, attractive actress with a winsome smile and flowing dark hair, an ideal candidate who radiates sweet innocence in the face of danger. Not much else is really known about Mary. She spent most of her career with the Edison company and shortly after Edison folded in the late teens retired from the screen all but forgotten. Not much is known or written about her private life. That great heroine of early cinema died peacefully in her sleep in 1973 at the age of 85. Mary Fuller was not the greatest actress the screen has known nor was she the worst. Upon viewing this clip it is clear her histrionc skills were impressive enough to draw her faithful followers. There are many unsung people like Mary Fuller who played an important role in the development and history of cinema. Sadly these may be the only surviving images of Mary. Another reason film preservation is so vital.
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An edifying experience!
7 June 2000
This is a moving and warmhearted film. Though it may appear antiquated to today's audiences, the human element is very powerful and it still works after all these years. Charming stories like this are rare in this age of cynicism and elaborate special effects. Great performances by March and Scott carry the film nicely. A wonderful look at a gentler time.
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Passionate Pola
16 April 2000
A fine romantic drama starring the tempestuous Pola Negri as the Gypsy dancer Maritana who falls in love with Don Cesar de Bazan, a penniless nobleman played by Antonio Moreno. Pola's classic beauty is evident here and she gives a worthy performance. Other noble actors who would eventually have great success in talkies are Wallace Beery as the self-centered King Philip IV of Spain and Adolphe Menjou as the conniving Don Saluste. A young Dawn O'Day can briefly be seen who would grow up to be the adult actress Anne Shirley. One of the more outstanding performances in this film was given by the great actress Kathlyn Williams. Her portrayol of the domineering Queen Isabel of Bourbon in all her regal beauty and splendor was nothing but brilliant. It is fine early cinema like this which justifies the art of film preservation.
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26 March 2000
A beautiful and sensitive film of a Quaker family whose peaceful existence is disrupted by the Civil War. Beautifully photographed with superb performances by Cooper and McGuire. Anthony Perkins gives an exceptional performance as the son who wrestles with the notion of fighting over his pacifistic views. William Wyler's direction is brilliant. A real gem!
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Powerful drama
21 February 2000
A compelling production with a strong anti-war statement. Fine acting by De Niro, Walken and Streep. Cimino's brilliant direction faithfully displays the juxtaposition of the homefront with the harsh realities of war. One of my top all time films!
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Sparrows (1926)
Pickford in all her poignancy
21 February 2000
Mary Pickford once again shines in this late silent cinematic gem. The somber photography and storyline suggests a strong influence of the then German expressionist movement. A fine production nicely directed by William Beaudine. Still youthful looking, this is I believe Pickfords' last juvenile role and she plays it with that same girlish vitality. One of the finer films of the silent era.
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The Third Man (1949)
Superior thriller!
10 January 2000
This is one of the best thrillers in the history of cinema. I've seen it three times and it never seems to lose its fascination. Graham Greene's story of black marketeers in post World War II Vienna remains intriguing to this day and Carol Reed's direction is wonderful. Combine that with excellant acting and that haunting zither music and you have a true film noir classic. Joseph Cotton portrays an American writer of dime store westerns who is in search of Harry Lime, a shadowy, mystery man as only Welles could play it. I want to spare the details for those who have not seen it but I highly recommend this fascinating tale of mystery. The great zither score was a nice touch. An excellant film!
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Anna Christie (I) (1930)
2 January 2000
The magnificent Greta Garbo is in top form in this, her first talkie. She gets fine support from the rest of the cast which includes Charles Bickford the rugged sailor who captures her heart. Ms. Garbo gives a great performance as she usually does as the estranged daughter of a sea captain who returns after fifteen years. Also in the cast is that great actress Marie Dressler. A great movie!
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The Inimitable Theda Bara!
29 December 1999
This is a wonderful early cinematic gem that we are fortunate to have survived. The strong screen presence of the legendary Theda Bara is its greatest attribute. I don't think her talent gets the recognition it deserves and this is sadly due to the fact that this and one other film, 1925's "The Unchastened Woman" actually survive to my knowledge. Ms. Bara was the ultimate femme fatale and this is clearly seen in this film, her first starring role. Her film career was relatively short and many of her films were the tragic result of deteriation that so many of the early nitrate films were subject to. This makes film preservation a very vital movement so that many movie icons, such as Ms. Bara can be preserved for posterity.
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D. W. Griffith the Master
29 December 1999
The genius of Griffith is in full swing with this classic epic. Mr. Griffith laid the groundwork for cinema composition and structure. He was perhaps the first director to give the camera more movement and incorporate into the art form it is today. I realize that many of today's audiences would be offended by the subject matter but one must understand times were different. I believe the main point they were getting across was the ruthlessness of the carpetbaggers and other reconstrucionists imposing their will on a peoples' society and ideals. I don't believe Mr. Griffith was the terrible racist many think he was. This film should be based on its contribution to the technique and artistry of the cinema and not its political content.
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Coquette (1929)
America's Sweetheart Speaks!
27 December 1999
As with most early talkies, some of the performances will appear insecure and the dialogue may seem either flat or overracted. For many actors the transition to sound was not an easy one. The early recording devices of the late twenties were not refined until many years later. So to modern audiences much of this will seem crude amidst this age of digital technology. This film is certainly not one of Mary Pickford's best work. I think its true to say her silent era was her golden age.

Upon viewing this film it becomes evident of the transition period in the film industry. The actors are speaking but there is the hint of gestural expressions that became common in the silent era. Its by no means a cinematic work of art, but there are some redeeming qualities. I happen to have got a tape taken from a good print so as to observe that some of the photography and lighting was somewhat decent but not too brilliant. Some of the acting takes a back seat but it is Miss Pickford's presence that saves what would be a forgettable film. This was a whole new concept. Mary Pickford speaks for the first time and her personna was altered by her trendy apparell and short, shingled hairstyle. In my opinion she was worthy of the Academy Award. Not only was she one of greatest actresses of the century but she was very instrumental in the deveopment of the film industry. But still her talkies don't compare to her silent films. It is these more than anything that secures her status of the icon she truly was, "America's Sweetheart".
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