Friday, September 24, 2010

A Pillar of Society

An elegant person,
a renaissance man.
He held the whole world
in the palm of his hand.

He excelled without question
at all that he tried,
sports, music, acting -
all brought him great pride.

Griffith and "Nation"
secured his career.
The role of a lifetime
made everything clear:

That his was a talent
sharp as a knife.
He kept his gift honed
'til the end of his life.

Of equals to Henry,
there really were none.
Well done, Little Colonel!
Well done!  Well done!

Henry B Walthall

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gilbert-O-Rama #4: Flesh and the Devil (1926)

Ulrich von Eltz (Lars Hanson) and Leo von Harden (John Gilbert) are lifelong best friends serving in the army together.  At the station during leave, Leo sees Felicitas (Greta Garbo), and it's love at first sight.  Unfortunately, her husband discovers their budding romance, and after Leo kills Felicitas' husband in the resulting duel, he is sent away to Africa for five years.  He asks Ulrich to please watch over her while he's away (you see where this is heading).  Without giving away the rest of the plot, suffice it to say their friendship is torn apart...but something towards the end of the film changes everything. 
You have to see this film.   Yes, it has a good story, and the entire cast does a fantastic job (including Barbara Kent as Hertha, Ulrich's little sister who is hopelessly in love with Leo), but the main reason to watch it?  Jack and Garbo.  Both are absolutely gorgeous in this film, and when in each others' embrace...WOW.  I always doubted it before, but now, after seeing it for can see the explosive chemistry between them.  Especially Jack - he looks positively bewitched by Garbo.  They were NOT acting.  Jesus, that scene in the garden with the cigarette was one of the sexiest things I've ever seen in my life.
I give this one: 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hoop-La (1933)

The plot is simple:  Lou (Clara Bow) is a cooch dancer who takes a bet: if she get the barker's naive and innocent son Chris (Richard Cromwell) to fall in love with her, she'll earn $100 from Carrie (Minna Gombel), a fellow performer furious at the barker (Preston Foster) for choosing said son's welfare over their relationship.  Along the way, Lou finds herself actually falling in love with Chris, and must deal with the resulting fury from his father, but she eventually proves herself worthy of his son's love.  (An interesting aside:  this is a remake of 1928's The Barker, which earned Betty Compson an Oscar nomination.)

A predictable yet fun film, with affable characters (if not a little one-dimensional - Cromwell gives off the impression that he had a head injury as a kid); but its highlight was the new, hard-boiled Clara.  I could see her fitting in beautifully with the fast-paced gangster films of the 1930s.  Closeups reveal her to be as lovely as ever, and that she still had the vivacious charm and heart-stopping gaze that made her such a success in silents.   The extra half in my review is purely for her performance.

I give this one: 

I must thank the generous Bill Cramer of The Clara Bow Page for providing me with a copy of this picture.  If you click the link, you can read his reviews of both "Hoop-La" and "Call Her Savage".

Gilbert-O-Rama #3: Gentleman's Fate (1931)

An MGM film that almost feels like a Poverty Row production, spare and dingy.  Jack plays Jack Thomas, a man seemingly on top of the world - he has money, he has a lovely fiancee (Leila Hyams) - until one day he receives word that his father (he thought himself an orphan) is dying and wants to see him.  Dad reveals on his deathbed that Jack is really Giacomo Tomasulo, part of a bootlegging family, and his brother Frank (a very good performance by Louis Wolheim, who sadly died before the film's release) wants him in the business.   There is genuine pathos as Jack fights with the two selves he's forced to become - ironically, Gilbert's best scenes are the ones in which his character is intoxicated.  Good acting all around, with a slight but pleasant performance by Anita Page (as the girlfriend of a key character) and some comic relief from the always adorable Marie Prevost (I wish they didn't make her eat all the time, though).  It's one of Jack's lesser shown pictures, and at times it's a jumbled mess, but one that deserves more attention - for his emotional performance.

I give this one: 

Note:  You can find another great review of this film at Jenny the Nipper's terrific blog Cinema OCD.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Gilbert-O-Rama #2: He Who Gets Slapped (1924)

"What is Death? What is Life? What is Love?"

I can't remember who said (if it was you, please tell me!) that Victor Sjöström was the forerunner to Ingmar Bergman, but boy were they spot on.  This is a surreal, sadistic, dreamlike film about Paul Beaumont (Lon Chaney), an inventor who is wronged by both his mentor and wife, and becomes a clown to wallow in his cynicism and torture - "HE", who relives his betrayal and is slapped every night.  There is only one bright spot in his new life:  Consuelo (Norma Shearer), the beautiful new bareback rider, who unbeknownst to her is being sold by her horrendous father to the highest bidder (a man with whom "HE" is quite familiar).  Bezano (Jack Gilbert) is the daredevil rider and the man Consuelo falls in love with, and with whom, after much sorrow, "HE" is dead set on saving Consuelo from a cruel fate.

Lon Chaney is one of my favorite actors, and becomes more wonderful with each film.  Even though this could easily become a syrupy melodrama, he makes it work with heartbreaking intensity.  You can feel the knife's edge he walks on, between madness and pain.  The scenes with Shearer are particularly touching, with Chaney doing what he does best - loving from afar.  Other scenes are nightmarish, with deliberate overcranking enhancing the terror; you are trapped in the automaton of Beaumont's broken dreams.  An absolutely fantastic and highly recommended film.

I give this one: 


Gilbert-O-Rama #1: The Busher (1919)

A sweet little film, but one that couldn't hold my attention.  It's a shame, because Charles Ray gives a lovely performance as Ben Harding, small-town boy with a big talent for baseball who, through twists and turns, gets the opportunity to show the big leagues what he's got.  Colleen Moore is charming as Maizie, whom he loves but must compete for with a more self-assured Jim Blair (Jack Gilbert).  The story is rather predictable - country mouse goes to the city and is corrupted; will he be able to get back to himself again in time to help win the big game?

I enjoyed the scenes at the box social; a glimpse into a simpler time peppered with the same complex emotions of love and loss.  Not a bad movie by any means, but it fails to keep the steam with which it begins, and even with the exciting (yet expected) ending, I felt disconnected, even a bit bored.

I give this one: 

For a much more astute and in-depth review, hop on over to Chris Edwards'  blog Silent Volume, which you should follow (if you're not already).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Changing the Format

When I watch these movies, I take notes.  On actual paper.  So when it comes time to review online, I have to wade through all my strange comments like "Jack is weird - mustache - lunch".  This is why my reviews never seem to make it up.   I have two Jack Gilberts and a Clara Bow in my notebook, which doesn't do any of you any good. 

From now on I'm going to scribble less and blog more!  Also, I need to come up with a basic symbol for my reviews, instead of getting a different object every time.  What to pick?  Aha, I've got it!

Because nothing says "classic film" like Clara Bow's disembodied head.

Next week:  The Busher, He Who Gets Slapped, Gentleman's Fate, and Hoop-La.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


A different story, seldom-told
amongst these pages mine,
about an actress of the screen
who turned out well and fine!
Her childhood was idyllic; her
performances on stage
enraptured audiences with
her beauty, poise, and range.
In Hollywood she did quite well
playing roles Pickfordian,
and at her peak she chose to leave
for farm life, which she gloried in.
Walt Disney based his Snow White on
her version, warm and sweet;
a smile, a kiss, for our young miss -
the darling Marguerite!