Moving on to the final 6 entries of 2021 brings us to ….
The Mysterious Lady (1928)
Spies and love affairs go hand in hand. From the silent film era with Greta Garbo to 007 adventures that continue to this day. In this Fred Niblo directed effort, we find Russian spy Miss Garbo setting her sights on a young Austrian military officer portrayed by Conrad Nagel. It’s a whirlwind romance following a “chance” meeting at the opera. He’ll fall hard for the famous star of silent films and though she too has fallen in love, she’ll put her country above her personal feelings and make her way back to Gustav Von Seyffertitz. He’s not only her commanding officer but clearly she’s been pressured into a relationship with the older man.
Nagel for his association and loss of vital information has been thrown out of the military but will see a chance for redemption by going into Russia as a pianist to seek his revenge on Garbo and company. But one look upon her world famous face and he’s ensnared again. Our villain Gustav suspects something is amiss between Garbo and the new pianist leaving our lovers in peril and running for their lives.
Maybe I shouldn’t brush off Garbo as much as I have over the years. This was a superb silent war time drama and the camera work was masterful. Reminded me of how the movies in general took a step back once talkies moved in to ensure actors could gather around a microphone to say their lines forcing many productions to become stage bound and in many cases a bit on the boring side.
Hangman’s House (1928)
The legendary John Ford directs this superbly crafted effort taking place in his homeland of Ireland starring one of his most well known stock players, Victor McLaglen. It’s also got an unknown in the cast getting a couple of close-ups in a horse racing scene. None other than John Wayne himself.
McLaglen is a wanted outlaw in his homeland who returns from the French Foreign Legion to kill the man who deserted his sister and left her to die. He’ll come into contact with a young man played by Larry Kent who wants to marry Miss June Collyer. Problem is her father wants her to marry the same man McLaglen is looking to kill, Earle Foxe.
It would seem that Foxe is playing up his social standing and Collyer’s dying father believes he can offer her money and a title. Not likely once he’s exposed as a coward but they’ve already married and so the drama begins.
This proved to be a first rate production and expertly directed which should come as no surprise to fans of Ford. I’m just wondering why it took me so damn long to finally give this one a shot. Now I’m going to be digging for more of his early silent works.
Not one to watch silent films outside of the slapstick comedy legends? Give this one a try and thank me afterwards.
The Ace of Hearts (1921)
It’s a secret society of assassins out to save the world from Hitler like men who would do us all harm with none other than the Man of a Thousand Faces, Lon Chaney, leading the way. Chaney is one of seven men and one woman, Leatrice Joy, who are committed to assassinating the latest power hungry dictator.
Who will do the killing is decided by which member of the group draws the Ace of Hearts. That misfortune goes to Chaney’s rival for the hand of Miss Joy, John Bowers. Chaney once again is playing the man who longs for the leading lady but she’s just out of his reach. She’s in love with Bowers and the two marry before he is to set the assassination attempt in motion.
If he turns coward and doesn’t go through with it, he’ll be killed by a member of his own secret society. This one’s all rather obvious in where it’s going to lead us and will give Chaney the chance to see that love lives on through a sacrifice of his own.
can’t say this was one of my favorite Chaney films but on the other hand it’s nice to know it hasn’t been lost to time and deterioration like so many films of the era including his own, London After Midnight, a film that lives on in Horror fandom thanks to the wonderful look that Chaney achieved for the film.
The Bells (1926)
Aside from knowing that Boris Karloff appeared in this film as a Mesmerist when he was still relatively unknown, I really had no idea as to where the plot would take me. The film stars Lionel Barrymore as a kindly Innkeeper who is in line to become the next Burgomaster of his local village.
He’s always available for a monetary “touch” against the wishes of his wife and Father-in-law. It’s no wonder. The mortgage is due and he needs 6000 Francs to meet the deadline. Life could be so much easier if he’d just give the hand of his daughter, Lola Todd, to the lecherous Gustav von Seyffertitz who holds the paper on the property.
Now that’s a plot I can deal with. What I didn’t see coming is the plot twisting itself to a grisly murder and a guilty conscience.
Barrymore seizes the opportunity to murder a traveler in the midst of a snowstorm. One with a heavy money belt full of gold that will deliver our leading player from poverty and seeing his family put out on the street. I won’t spoil the film for those who may be interested in this journey back through time or the Boris fans out there. For the record, Boris, had plenty more screen time than I expected and plays an integral part to the story as it unfolds.
At just over one hour in length, the film is easy to shoehorn into your schedule and is available on home video if you can locate it.
Two Arabian Knights (1927)
This Lewis Milestone picture has me convinced it served as a template to the eventual Road pictures starring Hope and Crosby. It stars a pre Hopalong Cassidy, William Boyd, a very Victor McLaglen like, Louis Wolheim and Mary Astor long before she famously found herself in the hunt for “The Black Bird.”
Boyd and Wolheim begin their adventure in the trenches of WW1. Not only are they fighting the Germans but each other in a mud pit of a trench. With death looming the pair turn their aggressions on each other in a slugfest that ends with them surrounded atop the pit by German soldiers.
I must say this is one expertly directed visual. So much so that I called in my son to check it out for himself. It proved to me once again that many of these silent efforts were strides ahead of the early talkies and beyond in scope and camera work. Mainly because talking pictures were so stage bound due to the the need of recording the actor’s voices.
Not surprisingly, Milestone, was awarded a directing Oscar for this thoroughly enjoyable action adventure.
The boys will find themselves in a snowbound German P.O.W. camp before escaping to an ocean liner where it’s off to an Arabian adventure where they’ll vie for the love of a beautiful princess, Miss Astor, in what would become the Dorothy Lamour part in the Bob and Bing comedies if my assumptions are remotely correct.
Villains and plenty of heroism follow to keep us entertained at the fadeout. A winning effort by all and film buffs keep your eyes peeled for the ship’s purser, Boris Karloff. Thought to be a lost film, a print was apparently discovered in the vaults of Howard Hughes following his death. We can all be thankful for that.
The Lodger : A Story of the London Fog (1927)
My first Alfred Hitchcock silent. While the film itself starring Ivor Novello is both stunning in it’s delivery and style, through no fault of it’s own it had me comparing it to the absolute horror classic of 1944 that starred Laird Cregar as The Lodger.
From the outset one can tell that there’s a sure hand directing this thriller. From the art design on the title cards to the way Hitch ingeniously moves the plot along with the use of an antiquated teletype machine, we are truly in the hands of The Master.
While there’s no mention of Jack The Ripper in this silent version as there is in the 1944 version as well as the Jack Palance film of 1953, The Man in the Attic, it’s the Ripper that is front and center here known as The Avenger. Novello stars as the Lodger looking for a room in the foggy streets of London during the time that a killer is stalking the ladies of the night.
Specifically ones with golden curls.
It won’t be long before our Landlady, Marie Ault, suspects that her Lodger, Novello, is the killer. Worse still is the fact that her daughter and the Lodger seem to have taken a shine to each other. Thrust into the story is a love triangle and just who is the third wheel you ask? None other than the inspector tracking the killer. He too has a desire to claim the lovely, June Tripp, as his own before Novello steals her away …. or worse.
Again this is technically a superb Hitchcock effort that gives us all an insight into what was to come but the pressures of the public that are put upon the producers due to Novello’s popularity apparently forced an altered storyline that differs from the original source novel unlike the Cregar and Palance versions. It does more harm than good over the final thirty minutes.
Of all the silents I chose to watch, this is the one that left me a bit perplexed and again, no fault of it’s own but that Cregar version is such an iconic thriller of the 1940’s that I just couldn’t help myself from coming away from this one a tad disappointed.
In closing I can’t help but stress what a fun adventure this proved to be watching one silent per month throughout 2021. I’d encourage one and all to take the time and seek out a title that maybe I’ve mentioned or one entirely different. They’re a window to the past and while it may be hard to fathom, they’re all nearing 100 years of age if they haven’t already.
Here we are in 2022 and Nosferatu, one of the screen’s most lasting images is himself turning 100 this year. Never seen it? Then do not pass Go or collect $200 until you’ve made the effort.