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A Breezy Joy
Bookworms may be a short film (at little over twenty minutes long) but each individual second is jampacked with more charm, elegance, wit, and grace than you're bound to find in most full length flicks.
A young Leslie Howard plays Richard, a boy who falls in love with the neighborhood girl, Miranda (played by the fresh Pauline Johnson). The only problem is that Miranda's aunt and uncle (Henrietta Watson and Jeff Barlow) are trapped in a dried-out marriage, so to keep Miranda from making the same mistakes they made, she isn't allowed to become acquainted with any men. Miranda sits around all day, reading books and mending socks, trapped inside the monotonous life she's forced to endure. Richard, meanwhile, is coming up with several strategies to save poor Miranda from her stuffy relatives.
This is perhaps one of the most powerful nostalgic films I have ever seen. As I watched it, I got a full dose of what I've always believed the silent era is all about: a sort of innocence. Bookworms shows glimpses into a world that is long gone and I have to admit, it is almost overwhelmingly bittersweet. But it's such a darling film! Seek it out!
Stella Dallas (1925)
I was unfamiliar with the story of Stella Dallas, so when I first sat down and began to watch the 1925 version, I was expecting a simple, and light hearted silent; 'a fun way to spend an hour, but will soon be forgotten', type of film. By the very end, I had tears in my eyes, and I suddenly wanted to run up to my mother, hug her close, and never let her go. Stella Dallas took a completely unexpected twist, and turned out to be one of the most moving, and bittersweet dramas of the silent era.
A believable and extremely talented cast, molds this film into the finest it can possibly be. Belle Bennett absolutely steals the show from everyone else. Her performance is unforgettable and heartbreaking. Even though her character makes some mistakes in the beginning, she has a big heart, and lots of love for her beloved daughter. We cry and grieve with her, as she tries to set things right, and fights for her daughter's happiness and well being. Her daughter, Laurel Dallas, is played by the soft, sensitive, and purely pretty actress Lois Moran. She struggles between the love for her mother and her beau (played by a young and handsome Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Ronald Colman is a natural at pantomime, and brought his character (Laurel's father, Stephen, who lives away in New York) to glowing life. Alice Joyce is a great actress, it's always nice to see her, and in this she plays the true love of Stephen Dallas. Unfortunately, her part is just a tad too small, but very effective.
If mother-daughter stories touch you, be sure to bring at least one whole box of tissues, because you WILL need them. I guarantee you, that by the time The End appears across the screen, you'll have teared up at least once or twice. One deeply feels for the characters and their troubles; not to mention, the famous ending is haunting.
Ella Cinders (1926)
Good for a rainy day...
Months ago I hunted down this film for Coleen Moore since I had never seen her in anything before and I wish to give every silent film star a chance. Imagine my surprise! Not only was Coleen a completely wonderful entertainer but Ella Cinders also turns out to be a little forgotten gem of silent cinema.
Although nothing earth shattering, that's fine because nobody wants to be overwhelmed with huge epics all the time. Occasionally everyone wants to escape into an easy, breezy, cute comedy they can just laugh at and enjoy. Ella Cinders accomplishes this.
Basically a simple Cinderella story, Moore stars as Ella, a girl who's sadly mistreated by her step-family (a mother and two sisters). The only light in her life seems to be her good guy friend Waite (played by gorgeous Lloyd Hughes). When a Hollywood contest comes to town, looking for a lovely new girl to turn into a star, Ella is determined to win. Everything takes off from there and quickly the story twists, turns, and does cartwheels into one of the funniest comedies of the silent era.
Coleen makes the movie a riot with her comedic talent. She really shines during the scene when she goes to have her picture taken and a fly keeps landing on her nose whenever the impatient camera man tries to snap the photo. Priceless. Harry Langdon has a short appearance as himself and is funny as always.
The Grapevine video for this movie doesn't have the best print and the organ score doesn't fit the flow of the film at all - but unfortunately it is the only choice we have.
Have you had a hard day? Boss nagging you? Homework building up? Pop in Ella Cinders and forget it all. Let it take you away.
Gösta Berlings saga (1924)
The Saga of Gosta Berling is without a doubt one of the most beautiful and haunting films I have ever seen in my life. I was lucky enough to only see the improved Kino version, however. Trust me, if you long to see this incredible film, please just save up and buy the elegant Kino version. You won't be sorry you did! No other cheaper version will capture the story and it's just not worth it...
The film is long (three hours) but every second is precious. Perhaps it could have been cut shorter to make the plot more simple but who would want that? Hopefully I'm not the only one but when the words "The End" come across the screen my heart aches and I truly want more. Despite how long the film is, many elements from the book by Selma Lagerlöf had to be cut out in order to avoid a ten-hour-long drama. Be sure to hunt down a copy of the story and read it for yourself. Each and every character is so complex and interesting and every chapter is like a moving short story.
The acting is absolutely superb. Hanson and Garbo have such amazing chemistry that you literally feel as if you'll melt when they simply stare at each other with their expressive, longing eyes. Besides the two main stars, everyone gives great performances, besides Torsten Hammarén. He seemed to have the same annoying facial expression the whole time. Maybe that's just the way his character was suppose to be (Henrik Dohna) but I doubt it, since I recall his character in Erotikon (1920) having that same, stupid look.
The main reason I encourage everyone to see the Kino version is for the soundtrack. The soundtrack for the Kino version of The Saga of Gosta Berling is soaring, gorgeous, and completely wonderful. It's the greatest soundtrack I have ever heard for a silent film. I literally get goosebumps on my arms when I feel the melodies run through me. Matti Bye has created a score that fits the story so perfectly that it's unbelievable.
Everything and everyone in this film is stunning visually. We get to see many shots of the magical country of Värmland and its ravishing scenery. Many lovely actors and actresses were chosen and they absolutely glow with beauty. Lars Hanson and Greta Garbo are both hauntingly beautiful, along with the actress Mona Mårtenson, who plays Ebba Dohna.
Honestly, I can't come up with anything to say except, please watch this film and read the book too. The story will never leave you.
The Patsy (1928)
TCM will be showing this gem on April, 29th 2007. So be sure not to miss it!
This little silent film is very dear to my heart. When ever I am feeling down or crying over some problems at school; I always pop in The Patsy. It never fails to erase all the sorrows from my heart and I feel as good as new. This film is the perfect medicine.
The story is simple enough: Marion Davies plays Patricia Harrington who lives in an average, modest house with her normal everyday family. She crushes really bad on her sister's boyfriend Tony (Orville Caldwell) and she will stop at nothing to get him. Along with Pat's quest for her man, there is another side to the plot. Pat is sadly mistreated by her mother (Marie Dressler) who seems to prefer her sister (Jane Winton). Even though Pat has the sure love of her wonderful and sensitive father (Dell Henderson) she craves for her mother's love as well. So, as always, Pat picks a hilarious and clever way to finally get her mother's attention....
The Patsy's print looks brilliant and it has a flawless soundtrack by Vivek Maddala. His score for this film is even better than his score for Wild Oranges. Lots of the title cards are really funny and witty - I have so much fun reading them!
If you want to introduce somebody to silent films, show them this one, especially if they're a lady. Everybody loves comedy, the print is in good shape, the story is still common today, and there are no "over-the-top" acting styles that have turned people off silent films before in the past.
The Affairs of Anatol (1921)
One of my favorites...
I know some may find me an oddball for this but I consider The Affairs of Anatol a masterpiece of silent cinema.
Gloria Swanson is one of my favorite actresses and she's remarkable as always in this one. But I wouldn't see Affairs for just her alone, her part is rather small compared to the ones she had in Don't Change Your Husband and Why Change Your Wife? However, even though she doesn't get as much screen time, she's still amazing and in my honest opinion, she steals every scene she's in. Her elegant wardrobe and sophisticated aura makes her the star. Wallace Reid is great too and watching him, you never would have guessed he was towards the end of his life. He seemed very strong and handsome to me, although I haven't seen him in much (sadly).
Anatol (Reid) and his wife, Vivian (Swanson) are a pretty happy married couple until Anatol starts developing the habit of wanting to rescue women with no morals from their fate. This film is long but it HAS to be to fit it all in! We travel with Anatol and Vivian through many adventures that continuously test their marriage and happiness.
The cast is absolutely fabulous! Many, many good actors and actresses here. Obviously, Gloria Swanson and Wallace Reid. Then we have delightful Bebe Daniels as Satan Synne, a vampish woman with a heart of gold deep down. Also, there's the wonderful, unique and sadly underrated Raymond Hatton who has a short appearance as a violin teacher. Pretty and talented Agnes Ayres plays a country "good girl" and the great character actor Theodore Roberts plays a mean ol' millionaire. Others in the cast worth mentioning are Monte Blue, Wanda Hawley, Elliott Dexter and Theodore Kosloff.
This movie is stunning visually and is gorgeous to look at. Beautiful tints and a score that works with the film like butter works with bread. The costumes and sets are to die for and the whole thing just screams DeMille. TCM shows this film every now and then but I wouldn't wait that long. For Gloria and DeMille fans this is a MUST.
Quality Street (1927)
I just adore Marion Davies and if you do too, you'll deeply love this film!
Marion plays Phoebe, a beautiful young girl who is in love with the handsome Dr. Brown (Nagel). Brown fails to propose to Phoebe before he leaves to go off to the war. When he finally returns, many years later, he finds that Phoebe has become an "old-maid" school teacher and has let herself go. He shallowly rejects her and Phoebe is heartbroken and offended. To get her revenge, she disguises herself as "Phoebe's niece; Miss. Livvy", a younger and livelier version of herself.
Marion is a cute and bubbly, comic queen as always but she also gets to show off some of her amazing acting abilities in this one. Her reaction as she watches the soldiers marching down the street is very well-acted and unforgettable. Conrad Nagel? What can I say? I'm sure all the ladies here will agree with me when I say, he certainly was a dashing and attractive man. I certainly enjoyed watching him, that's for sure. ;)
If you hunt down the DVD for this one, be sure to also watch The True Story of Marion Davies documentary that comes with it. You'll learn a lot more about the wonderful, kind, complex woman that was Marion Davies AND you'll get to see many clips from her other films.
See for Marguerite...
This film isn't anything too special but it's a fun way to spend an hour. The fact that it stars the beautiful, sweet, and charming Marguerite Clark automatically makes it a must-see. So few of her films survive, what a shame.
This movie is available through Grapevine and even though their tapes aren't usually in good shape, this one certainly is. I was shocked by how good the print looked. There were nice tints, and everything.
The story reminds me of a Mary Pickford film in a way. Lovely Mary (Clark) is an orphan at an orphanage. She takes care of a young boy there and raises him as her own. When the boy's mother comes back to claim him, Mary takes the young boy and elopes. She ends up living in the care of a kindly old woman named Mrs. Wiggs. I will not say too much about what happens next, I encourage you to see it for yourself! You won't be sorry.
Lots of light-hearted funny moments, make this a perfect film for when you're feeling a little blue.
Wild Oranges (1924)
Wild Oranges is a true delight! Seek out this treasure and watch it if you can.
John Woolfolk (Mayo) is devastated after his beloved wife is killed in a freak accident. After her death, he becomes an aimless wonderer who sails the majesty of the seas with his friend Paul (Sterling). He and Paul come across a beautiful and mysterious island while sailing. They choose to stay for a while but they have no idea that the island is inhabited by Lichfield Stope (Brulier) and his granddaughter, Millie (Valli). The Stopes suffer from an extreme case of...fear. They're afraid of everything, especially other people. Also, living on the island with the Stopes, is a gross, vicious, homicidal maniac named Nicholas (Post). John meets Millie and tries his hardest to resist falling in love with her but with her pretty face and sweet innocence, he just can't help himself. He tries his hardest to save Millie from the clutches of the evil Nicholas and from her own fear...
The new score for this silent film by Vivek Maddala is wonderful. Lots of pretty melodies drift within the score. This helps add a new dimension to the film, along with several lovely tints here and there.
The only negative thing about this film is the overly long fight sequence towards the end. It dragged out way too long for my taste and not to mention it got pretty violent. Other than that, Wild Oranges is as good as gold. When watching this film, one can actually smell the intoxicating aroma of wild oranges and orange blossoms. One can hear the rushing of waves from the ocean against the sand. One can feel something strange stirring inside themselves; they begin to wonder about the mystery of life. At least it was that way for me. Will this film do the same to you? Go find out! :)