Thursday, June 30, 2011


in the fading light of the St Loubes Cimetière,
lies The Man in the Silk Hat.

Distinguished in Europe,
damaged by the Great War,
disillusioned by America.

Tread softly,
for he is a Father of comedy
and deserves your respect.

For all he has done
and all he continues to inspire...

...merci toujours, Monsieur Leuvielle.   

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Seven Years Bad Luck (1921)


Max Linder, a groundbreaking early silent film star plays Max, a rich (and superstitious) playboy with no worries other than marrying his sweetheart (Alta Allen). Until he breaks his mirror, that is. Suddenly his life is consumed with avoiding the bad luck it's sure to bring him -- inviting loads of worse luck in the process!

Early in the movie, Max's valet (Ralph McCullough) tries to keep the broken mirror a secret, and when Max comes to get ready...they launch into an absolutely brilliant mirror-image sequence. You thought the Marx Brothers were good? Linder and McCullough mimic each other so perfectly, you forget it's two actors.

After seeing that, I had high hopes for this picture; but, while Linder was immensely talented - Chaplin himself called him "Professor" - something was missing for me. The gags are there, and they're funny, but I found it lacking a charm and warmth I've come to expect from Chaplin, Keaton, or Lloyd. (Not having seen a great deal of Chase or Langdon, I reserve opinion on them for another time.) Even the ending, albeit sweet, seemed empty.

Linder's career never took off in the US, but I can see sparks of why he was so immensely popular in Europe, and even though I wasn't thrilled with this picture, I would seek him out again. His daughter Maud produced a documentary, "The Man in the Silk Hat", that contains many clips of his work and would be worth tracking down.

I give this one (I had to use Frizotto!): 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

For Beth, An Italian Sonnet Cut Short

The world existed for her to devour;
Great Venus’ beauty put by hers to shame,
Nimble Reatha, lovely dancing flame
That only rested for two fleeting hours.

A child of speed, frivolity, a miss
Whose intellect and talent were unique;
Fast living cast a shadow on her cheek,
And Death placed on her brow a morbid kiss.

Barbara! We should have had much more
But you were harvested before your prime;
You remain a victim of your time,
An early casualty in stardom’s war.

Barbara LaMarr

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

An Eastern Westerner (1920)


What a fantastic little short this was! Harold Lloyd is The Boy (who else?), sent to his uncle’s ranch by his father to toughen up and stop his irresponsible playboy ways. Upon his arrival he’s greeted by two people: Tiger Lip Tompkins (Noah Young), rough and tumble leader of the local gang, and The Girl (Mildred Davis), whose father is being held hostage by Tompkins until she agrees to marry him. The Boy is instantly smitten, and jumps in to help her against Tompkins and his Masked Angels – even though he has no chance against them. Or does he?

Never has Lloyd’s “can-do” aesthetic been as clear as in this short! Young is genuinely scary and violent, and our hero must rely on the one thing city living has given him: sharp wits. Will he save the day (and the lovely Davis)? Not without a breakneck chase scene! My favorite part, though, was the poker game. Oh, and the very last thing The Boy does. Sweet.

It’s fun and fast, and Lloyd is at his best – keep in mind, too, that this was made right after the accident that blew off his right thumb and index finger; I defy anyone to see a difference in his stunts. Amazing!

I give this one:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Even though I know she was Greek, I chose a Welsh form of poetry -- the cyhydedd hir -- to celebrate her.  We are who we choose to be. 

A realtor's sign -
his name is now mine!
The chorus girl's line
gave me a start;
then Hearst came one night,
my future seemed bright!
It all seemed so right
(God bless his heart).

Oh, life was so blessed!
We had all the best
and shared with each guest
at the estate;
we partied and sang
with Hollywood's gang
way past when clocks rang
"it's very late".

A rumor, you know,
started long ago
saying I had no
skill, just money.
So they watched, those fools,
and fell off their stools -
I wasn't just jewels,
I was funny!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Old San Francisco (1927)

That's right, boys.  I'm ready for stabby times.

This picture follows the aristocratic Vasquez family from its first settlement in San Francisco to its threatened demise. Dolores Costello is Dolores, the lovely granddaughter of Don Hernandez de Vasquez (Josef Swickard), and the apple of her grandfather’s eye. Money-hungry speculators try to take away the old man’s rancho – home to the family he once protected and avenged through murder – but the young one, Terrence O’Shaughnessy (Charles Emmett Mack), is smitten with Senorita Dolores and refuses to play along. This drives the older of the two back to his partner, Chris Buckwell (Warner Oland), leader of the Asian underworld, for assistance. Will Dolores be able to defend her family’s honor against such criminals? Or will she be able to count on help from Terrence, the Lord, and some old-fashioned luck?

I have to give Costello credit here. I know in the past I’ve been a little rough on her acting ability, and for the first part of the picture it looked like she was going to offer more of the same: teary gazes to the rest of the cast, a confused little bird. However, when the main point of the plot kicks in – and it’s time for Dolores the character to take over as head of her family – Dolores the actress grows strong, emotional, dare I say…good?! Her lovely eyes flash and she becomes Joan of Arc, fierce and powerful in the face of her enemies.

Oland does his best with (unfortunately) another yellowface role, complete with hidden Mongolian temple in the basement. He manages to imbue some humanity into what is basically racist caricature. The same must be said for Anna May Wong, Oland’s partner and “a flower of the Orient”. Even though her role is small (and typical), she still commands the screen with her ferocity and great physical beauty.

One of my favorite things about the picture, though, is a peripheral character: Chang Loo, the dwarf brother of Chris Buckwell (Oland), played by the great Angelo Rossitto. His lines are few, but spoken with proper vitriol towards his cruel brother (who keeps him in a cage. I am not making this up.) When Buckwell meets his fate towards the end of the film, Chang Loo gleefully steps on his head climbing over rubble – ah, karma. Rossitto was discovered by John Barrymore, and was very much in demand – working steadily from his first film in the late 20s until his death in 1991. He’s known best for his role in “Freaks” or as Master Blaster from “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”.

A note about the earthquake sequence: don’t hold your breath. The special effects are only passable, even for the time.

I give this one:

As always, Chris Edwards' review deserves a mention -- you can check it out here, at Silent Volume.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Unknown

So now she was Joan Crawford.

She hated the name, but what was one more?
She was already a kaleidoscope of a girl,

Billie with the rough start,
whose body was her ticket
(before she even knew the cost)

Lucille, diamond-hard beauty,
eyes focused like lasers
behind a pinup smile

and now Joan, flaming youth extraordinaire.

Which one was the real her?

She smiled to herself.

"The one that would make it big."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Doorway to Hell (1930)

See?  I can be tough too, baby.

Lew Ayres plays Louie Ricarno, crime kingpin who organizes the various gangs into one syndicate, then “quits the racket” to rest on his laurels and enjoy his new wife (Dorothy Mathews). All is not as agreeable as it seems, and as soon as Louie is gone, warfare breaks out. Best pal and right-hand man Mileaway (Jimmy Cagney, in his second movie role) does his best to keep the peace but eventually the mob lures Ricarno back through a twist with his beloved little brother Jackie (a young Leon Janney).

Interesting early talkie that suffers from poor casting: it’s obvious to even the most casual film buff that Ayres and Cagney’s roles should’ve been reversed. Ayres does a commendable job, but is a bit too pretty, a bit too gentle. He doesn’t have the coiled menace that Cagney has, the sense of danger that’s just behind everything he says or does. You can’t believe “the boys” would be afraid of him. Mileaway, now, there’s someone I wouldn’t cross. (William Wellman thought the same thing – Jimmy’s performance here got him his breakout role in The Public Enemy.)

The Doorway to Hell is slow and ponderous in spots, and needlessly wordy (Hollywood was still in love with the sound of its own voice), but it has its moments – especially those involving Jackie. Cagney is, as always, electric anytime he’s on screen, and Ayres deserves credit for a genuinely moving ending.

I give this one: