First, we have
The Mark of Zorro (1920)
Most folks already know the mythos, since it's been remade so many times: a masked, Robin Hood-style character defends the common people against corrupt government officials. Because it's such a familiar story, parts of it that were probably interesting in 1920 come across a bit dull. However, and this is a BIG however, once Douglas Fairbanks takes over, it's anything but dull! He plays Don Diego (the daytime alter-ego of Zorro) as strange and effete, constantly pulling little magic tricks in an attempt to impress
This was the first time I got to see the legendary Fairbanks in action, and oh, those stunts! Amazing! At one point I wrote in my notebook "grandfather of parkour". I was duly impressed by his strength and finesse. (Hey, that rhymed!)
Silly little thing that I loved: watch Marguerite de la Motte's hands in the closing scene. Hee!
I give this one:
Next one up is
The Ace of Hearts (1921)
A drama with an interesting premise: a Secret Society exists to rid the world of those who make the world worse instead of better. The soldier of the Cause, as it were, is chosen via a deck of cards - he who chooses the Ace of Hearts must kill "the man who has lived too long".
The Society is composed of nine (in numerology, a number of completion) - one woman, Lilith (Leatrice Joy), and eight men, two of whom (Lon Chaney and John Bowers) are in love with her. She feels no affection for anything but the Cause, until Forrest (Bowers) draws the "lucky" card. She warms to him and they marry, much to the anguish of Farallone (Chaney, who is just heart-rendingly pathetic in his scenes on the steps). Love changes a person, however, and suddenly both Forrest and Lilith are unsure of what they're about to do. Will they still carry out the assassination? Will Farallone help them, or will his bitterness cause a rift?
I really liked this movie. Yes, it was predictable, and hugely overacted (especially by Joy), but it was different than the usual "boy meets girl" plots, and the ending is terrific. I especially enjoy when Chaney gets to play a man rather than a monster, and uses that beautiful face of his to tell the story just as well as when he's in prosthetic makeup.
I give this one:
The last film I watched before the power went out (of course) was
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
Aaaaaaand then the lights went out.
At the top of my notebook in big block letters: CREEPY.
The plot has so many twists and turns that you will get dizzy (in a good way) so I will just say this: Dr Caligari (Werner Krauss) has a booth at the annual carnival, presenting Cesare the Somnambulist (which literally means "sleepwalker", but in this movie is more like a zombie). He sleeps day and night but is still able to tell your fortune upon a command from Dr C. Two young men (Friedrich Feher and Hans Heinrich v. Twardowski) visit the booth and one asks when he is going to die. "Before dawn tomorrow," replies Cesare (a very young Conrad Veidt). Sure enough, Alan (Heinrich) is found dead the next morning. Francis (Feher) rushes to tell Jane (Lil Dagover, who looks like a cross between Theda Bara and Siouxie Sioux), the woman they are both madly in love with, then off to the police. Meanwhile, we see Dr Caligari feeding a still-sleeping Cesare, sitting up in his cabinet/casket...
So much has been said about the German Expressionist sets, but they really are striking and heighten the sense of eerie claustrophobia. (An aside: "crooked" is often used to describe the occult.) They make the film, hands down.
I can't describe any more. You have to see this. If you are a fan of modern fare by Tim Burton, you will love the sets. The plot blows away most of today's "horror thrillers". It is spooky, nightmarish, and absolutely riveting. Look for the scene where Caligari staggers through the streets while chased by his own horrible thoughts, quite literally.
I give this one: