Monday, June 30, 2014

Speedy (1928)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Ted Wilde
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, New Line Home Entertainment)

Harold Lloyd's last silent film is gag-driven with little in the way of plot or characterization. He's a working class fellow who can't keep a job. He takes his girl to Coney Island where they play games, ride rides and win a bunch of useless junk. Back in the city, Harold tries to save his girlfriend's grandfather's horse-driven streetcar business. There is a long chase through the streets of New York, where I noticed some back-projection sneaking into Lloyd's stunts.

Cobra (1925)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Joseph Henabery
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Image Entertainment)

Tedious melodrama with Valentino a sex-obsessed Italian count who continuously gets himself into compromising situations. He tries to escape it all by moving to New York and working for his new American friend in an antique business. It doesn't work. The women are soon falling all over him, poor fellow, including the new wife of his boss. A last minute lifestyle change rings hollow.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Kid Brother (1927)



Paramount Pictures
Directed by Ted Wilde and J.A. Howe
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, New Line Home Entertainment)

Harold Lloyd is the youngest brother in a family consisting of macho men in an old western town. He does their laundry and cooking while they chop the wood and other manly chores. A traveling medicine show provides him with an opportunity to gain his self-confidence. He falls in love with the daughter of the show's owner, prompting him to show off by hunting down the thieves who steal the town's treasury. Although this is a character-driven Lloyd film, he has plenty of opportunities to show off his well-choreographed stunt work. Lloyd does tend to go to the well a little too often, though, there is nothing here that we haven't seen in previous films, and the situations are starting to become contrived. Still, it's a lot of fun. Last appearance by Jobyna Ralston together with Lloyd.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley (1918)



Artcraft Pictures
Directed by Marshall Neilan
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Image Entertainment)

A poor, working class family in the big city scratches out a living doing laundry. The daughter, Mary Pickford, gets a new job as a cigarette girl in a swanky nightclub. She accidentally meets a playboy artist, and when she takes him home after a fight in the bar to be patched up by her mother, the neighborhood gossip mill links the two together. Her boyfriend dumps her, so she flirts with the playboy and is invited to a party in his mansion. His snooty mother and her society friends decide to use her as a "social experiment", leading to predictable complications and the inevitable happy ending. Mary Pickford is always worth watching and she does not disappoint with another irresistible performance.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

For Heaven's Sake (1926)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Sam Taylor
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, New Line Home Entertainment)

Lloyd is a dapper millionaire who can buy his way out of any mishap. He pays off an accident with a reverend who runs a mission for the poor with an extravagant check, who then renames the mission in his name. Lloyd doesn't like the publicity so shows up to complain, but ends up falling in love with the reverend's daughter, Lloyd regular Jobyna Ralston. After a short romance they plan a wedding, but Lloyd gets sidetracked with some drunk gangsters, leading to the famous crosstown streetcar and bus ride through the streets of L.A.This is a gag-driven film with little to no character development and the thinnest of plots to hold things together. Even the chase finale is a retread from Girl Shy.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Mishaps of Musty Suffer (1916-1917)


Kleine-Edison Feature Services
Directed by Louis Myll
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
(DVD, Undercrank Productions)

Harry Watson, Jr., was a vaudevillian clown and musician in the Ziegfield Follies. He made the jump to film in a series of one reel comedies for producer George Kleine. Those that survived are presented here in a nice compilation with new piano accompaniment. Musty is a downtrodden tramp who takes odd jobs as bellhop, waiter, cook, etc., leading to all sorts of mayhem. Watson and his supporting cast frequently make use of costumes, leading to some bizarre characters, including the scariest dentist I have ever seen. There are dream sequences, trick photography, men in drag, and Musty's ever present mug, perhaps the most expressive in all of silent slapstick.

The Freshman (1925)


Pathé Exchange
Directed by Sam Taylor and Fred Newmeyer
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Criterion Collection)

College freshman Lloyd will do anything to be popular. He buys his way to limited popularity through ice cream cones (welcome to the 1920s), but the real way to popularity is the football team. However, the only way he can get on the field is by accident. In true Hollywood fashion, he makes the most of his opportunity. Predictable and sentimental to a fault, but hard to root against such an endearing character. The best scene is Harold battling his disintegrating suit at the "fall frolic".

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Electric Edwardians (1900-1913)



Directed by Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
(DVD, Milestone Film & Video)

A collection of shorts featuring scenes of local people and places, mainly in the north of England, at work and at play. This was a gimmick by traveling showmen who would quickly develop the film and then show it the same day in a nearby theater. Popular spots were factory gates, where the working class could be filmed en masse as they showed up for or left their dreary jobs by the thousands. The workers, including numerous children, were encouraged to act up in front of the camera, so there is lots of hat waving and camera mugging. Other locations include seaside promenades, rugby and soccer matches, and the busy downtown streets of Glasgow and Manchester.

Hot Water (1924)


Pathé Exchange
Directed by Sam Taylor and Fred Newmeyer
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, New Line Home Entertainment)

Lloyd is a henpecked husband with in-law problems. In one scene, he wins a turkey at the market but when he takes it home on the streetcar chaos results. For the finale, instead of the usual car chase Lloyd is chased in his own house by what he thinks is his walking dead mother-in-law. Basically a series of long set pieces with little, if any, characterization or plot.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Intolerance (1916)


Triangle Distributing
Directed by D.W. Griffith
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Cohen Film Collection)

D.W. Griffith's towering epic weaves four plot lines: the fall of Babylon in ancient times, a few scenes from the life of Christ, an 18th century tale in the royal court of France and a contemporary story about a poor girl and her marriage. The emphasis is really on the first and last. In Babylon, a "Mountain Girl" falls in love with Prince Belshazzar and fights against the invading hoards of Cyrus. It features some of the most incredible battle scenes ever put on film: a full-size replica of the gate and wall of Babylon, the massive towers employed by the invaders to get inside and a huge cast of extras in hand-to-hand combat. This kind of imagery just cannot be duplicated by computers, and this illustrates how films such as The Lord of the Rings, which featured similar battle scenes, fail to make the same impact. The contemporary story pales by comparison and the "intolerance" connection is a stretch, since it is more about injustice than intolerance. The French story and scenes of Christ could have been left out entirely without much loss.

Girl Shy (1924)


Pathé Exchange
Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, New Line Cinema)

Harold Lloyd is an aspiring writer stuck in a small town. He works as tailor's apprentice by day and writes a "how to" book on love making by night, frequently getting lost in his own daydreams. In real life, he's shy, stutters, and deathly afraid of girls. One day he saves a girl's dog on a train and the two of them fall in love. He breaks it off when his manuscript is rejected by the publisher, but they both continue to pine for each other. Her upcoming marriage provides the opportunity for Lloyd to make a mad dash from his small town to the church chapel, in one of the best "chase" scenes ever put on film. This is leaps and bounds above Lloyd's previous films to this point in his career, with a cohesive story, characters you care about and a sly wit.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Flying Luck (1927)


Pathé Exchange
Directed by Herman C. Raymaker
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Undercrank Productions)

An inexperienced pilot signs up for the army where he falls victim to pranks and other other misadventures. A young Jean Arthur is the girl he falls in love with and tries to impress with his flying skills in the big "air polo" finale, which consists mostly of model airplanes. Monty Banks is a small man with an even smaller mustache, his brand of comedy completely derivative of Charlie Chaplin.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Cracker-jack (1925)


East Coast Films
Directed by Charles Hines
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Undercrank Productions)

A short order cook becomes a revolutionary hero when he heads to a fictional country south of the border to sell his stuffed pickle invention. Johnny Hines is the fast thinking go-getter, outwitting his foes with cheese bullets, well-timed cannon balls rolled down a staircase railing or just throwing tacks in the road where his barefoot pursuers can step on them. The fun is doused, though, with a healthy dose of early Hollywood political incorrectness and gags which tend to be overly contrived. The final fight scene in the palace is a lot of fun, though.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Salome (1922)


Allied Producers & Distributors 
Directed by Charles Bryant
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Image Entertainment)

Herod ignores his wife and lusts after his stepdaughter Salome. He keeps the prophet Jokaanan locked up in a well. Salome falls in love with Jokaanan, but he resists her temptations, infuriating her. When Herod offers Salome anything she desires to dance for him, she takes up his offer and demands the head of Jokaanan as payment. The entire film takes place on one set, and in that respect is more like a staged play, if that play took place in a hallucinatory world of a fever-dream. Alla Nazimova is perfectly cast as Salome, her slim, athletic body exuding the sexuality of a temptress but the beauty of a ballerina. However, things do get a bit silly when the midgets show up for the big dance scene.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Big Parade (1925)


MGM
Directed by King Vidor
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Warner Bros.)

The privileged son of a wealthy businessman hears the call of patriotism when the nation goes to war with Germany in WWI. He befriends a bartender and a laborer at training camp, then they are all sent to France. The films bogs down for about an hour in his romance of local girl Renee Adoree, with several interminable scenes of their awkward courtship. Finally, the company is called to the battlefield for the rousing action scenes. The special effects are somewhat crude, and it is obvious at times that there are no men actually walking through epic landscapes filled with smoke and explosions. However, the smaller scenes that take place in fox holes and trenches pack a powerful emotional punch.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bardelys the Magnificent (1926)


MGM
Directed by King Vidor
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Flicker Alley)

French aristocrat and lady killer John Gilbert is challenged to win the hand of the beautiful Eleanor Boardman, or lose all of his property. When he is mistaken for another man, he assumes his identity and uses it to pursue the girl. However, when they fall in love for real, the other man's traitorous acts towards the king sends him to the gallows before they can marry. He makes a daring escape from the hangman in a very well-staged action sequence, and of course eventually gets the girl. Starts off slowly, but the last half really shines.

Why Worry? (1923)


Pathé Exchange
Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, New Line Home Entertainment)

Bored millionaire and hypochondriac Harold Lloyd goes to a tropical resort town that looks a lot like Mexico for rest and relaxation. He befriends a giant while in jail, and together they suppress a revolution. He falls in love with his nurse along the way. A couple of good gags, like the coconut-shooting cannon (sort of), but it is hard to relate to the dimwitted, spoiled Harold. It's his first pairing with Jobyna Ralston, taking over for Mildred Davis who retired to become Mrs. Harold Lloyd.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monte Cristo (1922)


Fox Film
Directed by Emmett J. Flynn
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Flicker Alley)

A sailor is framed for political treason by three men who are jealous of his recent promotion to captain and his upcoming marriage to the prettiest girl in town. He ends up in the dungeon of a French prison for the next 20 years. He befriends another prisoner and has an ingenious escape. He is also given a map which leads him to a treasure and gives him enormous wealth. He assumes a fake identity and heads to Paris, where he tracks down the men who framed him and plots his revenge. Briskly paced and never boring, John Gilbert is fine in the lead role.

Crainquebille (1922)


Films A. Legrand (France)
Directed by Jacques Feyder
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Home Vision Entertainment)

An aging cart pusher on the streets of Paris is misheard by a police officer and arrested. After a lengthy court trial, he is sent to jail for two weeks. However, he finds it more comfortable than his usual life, with a clean bed and food to eat. After his release, he is stigmatized by his usual customers which leads him to become an alcoholic. Soon he is homeless and contemplating suicide, until he is saved by an unlikely friend. Simply told story which exposes a corrupt justice system and the plight of the homeless, topics still relevant nearly a century later.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dr. Jack (1922)


Associated Exhibitors
Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, New Line Home Entertainment)

Harold Lloyd is a country doctor who "cures" his patients more often than not with something other than medicine. When a rich girl shows up in town, he is hired as a consultant to "cure" her as well. It turns out her real doctor is just milking the family for every dollar and all she really needs to do is open the windows and get out a bit. Lloyd's best bit takes place on the top of a train.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Grandma's Boy (1922)



Associated Exhibitors
Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, New Line Home Entertainment)

Meek Harold Lloyd confronts the town bully, and a criminal tramp on the loose, with the help of a "magic idol" given to him by his grandmother. This leads to the usual car chases and fist fights. The best scene, though, has Harold and bully accidentally eating moth balls, and then trying to hide it. Enjoyable if thoroughly predictable slapstick.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Salt for Svanetia (1930)


Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Flicker Alley)

Life in a primitive Russian village cut off from civilization is shown in detail. Barley is harvested by hand, wool is spun into yarn for clothing and stone is cut from the mountains for building materials. However, an accidental death reveals that religion reigns supreme, including barbaric animal sacrifices, shown in graphic detail. Another Soviet propaganda piece, this one meant to inspire the building of a road into the remote region, to satisfy their intense craving for salt, of all things.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

City Girl (1930)


Fox Film
Directed by F.W. Murnau
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Eureka Video)

Country bumpkin Charles Farrell travels to Chicago to sell the family wheat crop. He hangs out in a busy restaurant where he catches the eye of waitress Mary Duncan. After a couple of more meetings, he proposes marriage and with nothing better to do, she accepts. Back home in Minnesota, Mom welcomes her with open arms but Dad is skeptical. They argue and he strikes the girl, but Farrell can't bring himself to hit his own father and the two begin having second thoughts. Meanwhile, harvesters arrive to bring in the new crop, and one of them decides to try to steal away Mary, leading to more problems. Moves along briskly, but the ending is a let down. Beautifully shot by cinematographer Ernest Palmer.

Turksib (1929)


Directed by Victor A. Turin
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Flicker Alley)

Another government-sponsored documentary from Russia, this one designed to promote the building of a rail line from Turkestan to Siberia. In the south, cotton is king, but the fields are being used instead to grow grain. In the north, they have grain to spare, so the idea is to bring in the grain by rail and grow more cotton for mother Russia. The mammoth undertaking utilizes all of the latest machinery, but also requires a healthy amount of human labor. According to history, the rail line was completed on time in 1930 and continues today, so in that respect the film was successful.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

L'Atlantide (1921)



Aubert (France)
Directed by Jacques Feyder
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Home Vision Entertainment)

Two French military officers discover the lost kingdom of Atlantis in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Not sure if they are guests or captives, they browse its extensive library, are waited on by personal servants and generally treated well. Ruler Queen Antinea, who has a collection of ex-husbands mummified in gold in a special room, sets her eyes on one of the men, but he refuses her advances, infuriating her. One of the Queen's slave girls falls in love with the other man. One night, the Queen drugs him and he murders his friend. Racked with guilt, he manages to escape by camel with the slave girl, but one of them will not survive the long trek through the desert. Spectacular sets and exotic desert scenery... but the main problem is the Queen herself, a miscast Stacia Napierkowska, who is anything but seductive.

Stride, Soviet! (1926)


Directed by Dziga Vertov
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Flicker Alley)

Government propaganda piece designed to motivate reconstruction and patriotism in the years after WWI. The new socialist government replaces ruined cities, wrecked locomotives and starving kids with new factories, tram lines and plenty of food to eat. Peasants are shown on collective farms while in the city workers laugh and smile while attending to their machines. In fact it is the chronicling of the industrial revolution in Russia that is the most interesting today, not necessarily the political one, since we know that failed in the long run.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Faces of Children (1925)



Pathé
Directed by Jacques Feyder
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Home Vision Entertainment)

A young boy struggles to get over the death of his mother. When his father remarries, he fights with his new stepsister. It gets so bad that he sends her out in the middle of the night in search of a doll. She gets caught in an avalanche and has to be rescued. Rocked with guilt and believing the whole family hates him, he tries to commit suicide by jumping in a stream. Don't worry, there is a happy ending. Swiss mountain locations are the main appeal of this rather predictable and overlong family drama full of religious overtones.

The House on Trubnaya Square (1928)


Directed by Boris Barnet
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
(DVD, Flicker Alley)

A peasant girl (with duck) leaves her country home for the big city of Moscow. After a few close encounters with a streetcar, she ends up as a maid for a tyrannical hairdresser and his self-absorbed wife. Her luck changes when she is recruited to become a member of the workers union. At a social gathering, the union members put on a play of the French Revolution, and her boss just happens to end up playing a French aristocrat, leading to their falling out. However, after the girl is elected to the city council, he uses it to enhance his social status with their neighbors. It all turns out to be a misunderstanding, but like any good Soviet film, the boss gets his just dues in the end. Despite the political overtones, it is often hilarious and very well shot, incorporating many of the editing techniques made famous by Russian directors, but here at least it is at the service of the story.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (1927)


Directed by Esfir Shub
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Flicker Alley)

Russian documentary shows the sharp class divisions between the bourgeoisie and workers in the years before WWI. As war clouds gather in Europe, the workers head to the factory to manufacture the machines of war, only to die as they are sent off to use them. After the war, provisions are short and daily life miserable, leading to revolution on the streets of Petrograd. Soldiers begin to desert the front lines, giving the revolution the needed muscle to succeed. The old royal guard is ousted and the long rule of the Soviets begins. Interesting glimpse at Russian history as it was actually lived, but hard to say how much is "history" and how much is "propaganda" ten years or so after the fact.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

By the Law (1926)


Directed by Lev Kuleshov
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Flicker Alley)

Gold prospectors in the Yukon finally make a strike, but one of them goes amok with a gun. The survivors, a man and his wife, tie him up and argue over whether or not to kill him. She uses religion and the law to win the argument. Meanwhile, the snow melt has begun and their hut is surrounded by rising water. Cut off from civilization, they spend an agonizing few weeks together. Eventually, they hold a mock trial under the watchful eye of a portrait of the Queen of England. Aleksandra Khokhlova gives another memorable performance as the wife, but the story tends to drag and even Aleksandra's acting is a bit over-dramatic. Based on a Jack London story, it is refreshingly free of the usual Soviet politics.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Old and New (1929)


Directed by Grigori Aleksandrov and Sergei Eisenstein
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Flicker Alley)

Russian peasants struggle for survival when their land is divided by fences and everyone is out for themselves. However, a young Bolshevik shows them another way: start a coop farm! Soon, they are reaping mounds of wheat, buying a prize bull and living in nice houses instead of crumbling huts. They have trouble buying a tractor from the big city bureaucrats, but that is eventually sorted out. The final montage shows an army of tractors plowing over those dividing fences. Socialist propaganda aside, it is brimming with stunning visual imagery, the directors certainly know how to capture and frame faces of the workers, bad teeth and all. Despite the imagery, it lacks a compelling story and we never get to know any of the characters, not to mention numerous scenes of animal suffering.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924)



Directed by Lev Kuleshov
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Flicker Alley)

American John West, along with his cowboy bodyguard and girlfriend, travel to Russia to see for themselves the Bolsheviks they have only read about in magazines. West, with his ever-present luggage, is kidnapped by some crooks who have a mock trial and send him to a fake prison. They fleece him of his money during a fake rescue. Luckily for West, some real Bolsheviks show up at the last minute to save him. He is given a tour of Moscow and immediately becomes a follower of Lenin. Bizarre "comedy" that plays on both Russian and American stereotypes for its effect. Aleksandra Khokhlova, the director's wife, gives a spirited performance as one of the crooks.

A Sailor-Made Man (1921)


Pathé
Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, New Line Cinema)

Harold Lloyd proposes marriage at first sight with a socialite, but her father demands that he gets a job first. He walks into a Navy recruiting office... and so begins the usual Lloyd shenanigans. He befriends a tough guy, fights with the Navy boxing champion and takes a long shore leave in a fictional Arab country, populated with Hollywood stereotypes.

Foolish Wives (1922)


Universal Film Manufacturing Company
Directed by Erich von Stroheim
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Kino Lorber)

In Monte Carlo, a group of fake Russian aristocrats scheme of ways to exchange their counterfeit money for the real thing. Their leader, von Stroheim, sets his eyes on the wife of a visiting American diplomat. He plans to seduce her to gain her sympathy, and her money. Meanwhile, he scorns several other women in his life, one of whom becomes consumed with jealousy and plots her revenge. Long and melodramatic, with a conceited leading character that grows tiring, but made watchable by a couple of interesting scenes, such as the raging rainstorm, and a good eye for cinematography.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Last Performance (1927)


Universal Pictures
Directed by Pál Fejös
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Criterion Collection)

Magician and hypnotist Conrad Veidt is in love with his teenage assistant, the lovely Mary Philbin. One night a hungry, homeless man breaks into his hotel room to eat. Veidt takes pity on him and hires him as another assistant. Naturally, he falls in love with the girl. Veidt becomes violently jealous and plans to frame him for murder during a trick in which swords are pushed through a box containing the assistant. It works, but in the following court trial the girl tricks him into revealing the truth. Veidt, in heavy mascara, is perfectly cast as the magician, frequently glaring directly into the camera to great effect. Director Fejös pulls off a few tricks of his own, with several impressive tracking shots during a banquet feast and the same innovative fast-paced editing techniques that he used in his better known film Lonesome.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Lonesome (1928)



Universal Pictures
Directed by Pál Fejös
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Criterion Collection)

Jim and Mary are busy New Yorkers slaving away in their mundane jobs. While their friends go out and have fun, they feel left out and fret away their nights at home alone. All of that changes on a Fourth of July weekend at Coney Island. Jim and Mary meet and fall in love among the carnival revelry. They get separated when a roller coaster ride goes awry and spend a couple of frantic hours searching for each other. Don't worry though, it has a happy ending. Predictable but never boring, there are a couple of talking scenes and occasional flourishes of color, though both come off somewhat gimmicky and are not essential to the plot.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Phantom Carriage (1921)


Svensk Filmindustri (Sweden)
Directed by Victor Sjöström
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Criterion Collection)

A drunkard dies on New Years Eve and is visited by his old drinking buddy, now "Death's driver", who has come to take him away in his run-down carriage. In a series of flashbacks, we learn how drinking ruined his life. He is given an opportunity at redemption by a kindly woman who runs the Swedish version of the Salvation Army. She sacrifices everything to reunite him with his wife and family. It's basically a variation of Dickens' Christmas Carol, with Death (or, more precisely, Death's driver) standing in for Dickens' ghosts. Instead of a miserly Scrooge we get a drunk "David Holm", equally despicable, but also with enough humanity to realize the error of his ways when shown how they impact other people.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)


Directed by Jean Epstein
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, All Day Entertainment)

A man compulsively paints portraits of his wife in a remote French castle. She gradually withers away and dies. Her husband, their butler, a doctor and a visiting friend carry her casket across the countryside to her tomb. Back at the castle, the husband fears they have buried her alive. Superb Gothic interpretation of the Edgar Allen Poe story, with experimental touches and an atmosphere of absolute despair. A neglected horror classic that easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder with its more famous silent German peers.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Throw of Dice (1929)


Directed by Franz Osten
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Kino)

An Indian king plans to assassinate a rival while hunting tigers in the jungle. He is shot by an arrow and taken to a nearby doctor. He survives, and falls in love with the doctor's daughter. The day of their wedding he loses his kingdom to the same king in a fixed dice game. He becomes a slave and his fiance given away to the rival. However, when the fixed dice are discovered, the people of his kingdom race to save him and demand justice. A simple tale, simply told, shot on location in India.