1st academy awards 1929

The Dove (1927) | Jamie Daily

The Dove (1927)
1st Academy Awards 1929
Nominated for 1 award, which it won.
Won Art Direction (William Comenzies).

 

The Dove is another film held in the vaults at the Library of Congress, but it is an incomplete version. Please find below an excerpt from a review written January 3, 1928 by Mordaunt Hall.  I found the article here, on the New York Times site.

 

“The Dove (1927)

 

“Although there is fully one adventure too many in the screen version of Willard Mack‘s play “The Dove,” it is, up to the last sequence, an excellent picture. Courage and imagination have entered into its direction and it is a pity, indeed that the producer, Roland West, should have been so prodigal with Johnny Powell’s experiences.

“While Norma Talmadgc supplies the necessary beauty and actual raison d’étre to this agreeable yarn, the player who comes out with flying colors is Noah Beery, largely because a part has fallen to his lot that is suited to his vigorous but flexible face. It is the rôle that Holbrook Blinn acted on the stage, that of Don José Maria y Sandoval, “the bes’ dam caballero in Costa Roja.” Plots may mean, little to picture producers, but the geography of a yarn means even less. Hence, it has been decided to pluck forth Mexicana from Mr. Mack’s original effort, call it Costa Roja and then fling it over into the blue Mediterranean, where it will stay, so far as the film conception of “The Dove” is concerned.

“Taking it by and large, José is perhaps a screen character to which the Mexican Government might have objected, for he is greedy, sensuous, boastful, cold-blooded, irritable, and quite a wine-bibber, but he does dress well. His top boots are always like a mirror, his riding breeches are spotless and he is a good figure of a man. He hates to have his luncheon spoiled by a noisy victim of his shooting squad. He adores beauty, but is inconstant.

“It is a pleasure to see Miss Talmadge in this film after the frightfully poor picturization of “Camille,” which her grace and talent could not save. Here she is the guitar girl, who emphasizes her utterances with “You betcha my life.” For some strange reason she speaks in broken English when conversing with José, who, one gathers, is one of her own people. There are a goodly share of close-ups of Miss Talmadge, and many of them are much too blurred.

“In the introduction to this series of adventures, Mr. West has the temerity to keep his camera going without a soul on the horizon. It is a fine idea, for it creates quite a nice illusion, that of the audience being taken over the byways of Costa Roja to where the story is laid. You fly along the rough roads, over a mountain or two and then come to a place which has been smoothed over by José’s minions or some other caballero’s sons of toil.

“Mr. West is brave enough to tell his story without asking Miss Talmadge to put in an appearance before she ought to. This in itself creates a neat suspense, and the suspense would be sustained if Mr. West had not insisted on Gilbert Roland, as Johnny Powell, trying to outdo Fairbanks. Those who want to save themselves this series of spilled exploits can close their eyes once Johnny Powell grips a rope and swings to the roof of a building opposite.

“The story—caramba! It is just one of those affairs with a don who loves a beautiful girl in his own way and a young American with whiskers who adores the same maiden. It is strength versus skill, and skill wins out.

“There is a touch of gambling in this picture, and at the end Don José strikes one as a half-brother of “The Bad Man,” for he guffaws his departure by informing you of his further appreciation of himself, which is:

“Dios, what a man I am!”

“Mr. Beery does occasionally make Don José just a bit too deliberate and one might also say demonstrative. The portrait, however, is a good one, nothing you would probably see in less than a hundred years of life, but nevertheless an interesting person. Mr. Roland is quiet, looking more like a Don Zalva than a Johnny Powell. There are too many close-ups of him mumbling affectionate phrases to Dolores, the “Dove.” Harry Myers, the actor who triumphed in the picturization of “A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur,” is remarkably fine as the owner of a gambling saloon. To fill the rôle he shaved the sides of his head so that it looks as if he were wearing a toupee.

Hope Hampton appears charming and graceful as the wearer of many fashions, the costumes being all the more interesting because this subject has been filmed by the Technicolor process.
“Dios, What a Man!”
THE DOVE, with Noah Beery, Norma Talmadge, Gilbert Roland, Eddie Borden, Harry Myers, Michael Vavitch, Brinsley Shaw, Kalla Pasha, Charles Darvas, Mlchael Dark and Walter Daniels, adapted from Willard Mack’s play of the same name, directed by Roland West; “A Fashion Revue,” in Technicolor, with Hope Hampton; “Ko-Ko’s Earth Control,” an Inkwell cartoon. At the Rialto Theatre.”

 

Sources: Silent EraNY TimesStanford

Sadie Thompson (1928) Review | Jamie Daily

Sadie Thompson (1928)
1st Academy Awards 1929
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards.
Nominated for Best Actress (Gloria Swanson) and Cinematography (George Barnes).
Watched October 4, 2012.

 

I have mentioned films not standing the test of time several times on this blog, and expect to mention it several times over, but I believe this is the first time I will say it in reference to a silent film.  Although Sadie Thompson does indeed deserve both of its nominations, the story is reminiscent of something you know is a nightmare but are unable to wake up from it.

 

It starts well, with an island and a group of marines who have not seen white men, or more importantly white women in months.  In comes a ship, carrying a reformer (Lionel Barrymore) and his wife, a tourist couple, and a single woman (Gloria Swanson) who is a breathtaking beauty and a flirt right from the beginning.  All of the serving men are taken, especially the bashful Sergeant O’Hara (Raoul Walsh).  Unfortunately, it turns out that Sadie’s “connecting” ship is quarantined for small pox and she has to stay on the island, much to the chagrin of the reformer, Mr. Davidson, and his wife.  Immediately he assumes that she is a whore because she comes from San Francisco.

 

Using his incredible influence over the governor, he won’t allow her to proceed onto her final destination, but forces her back to San Francisco.  Terrified and angry, she uses all of her whiles, every trick in the book, but Mr. Davidson will not budge.  He believes that in order for her to repent, she must return home.

 

Although Swanson occasionally falls into the trap of overacting, she does very well at communicating through only body language.  You can tell that she is a free spirited, energetic woman that cannot be tied down, and her chemistry with Walsh, who is also the director, is wonderful.  The cinematography is remarkably better that the other silent films I have reviewed so far, without counting Sunrise.

 

The storyline, as well as Barrymore, are the two aspects of the film that were unbearable.  It is supposedly a testament to hypocrisy, but really all I saw was a power hungry, crazed man whose actions and religion were both portrayed very negatively.  Any Oscar-nominated film seems as if it should be making a statement, but I just felt hate toward the man and saw little connection with the alluded hypocrisy.  Barrymore did fairly well with what was given to him, and he really is a terrifying villain, but his end does not seem fitting.

 

Toward the climactic finale, Sadie falls under Mr. Davidson’s spell, but eight minutes before the end, all that we see are still images stitched together to replace the corroded film.  As saddening as this always is, it was a bit of a relief for me not to see the final scenes, although I know I lost of lot of analysis and understanding because of it.  It almost feels like they created an ending because theoretically there has to be an ending to the story, but in reality the result seems disjointed from the rest of the story.  However, my belief that it is disjointed doesn’t hold much water because I haven’t actually seen the final minutes of the film.  I will give Walsh the benefit of the doubt and say that the actual ending of the film was probably much better and conclusive.

 

As far as films go, this isn’t one that I would eagerly recommend.  If you are looking for a more energetic and engaging silent film than the romances I have reviewed so far, this could be an option for you.  My favourite part was the very endearing character that Walsh himself played.

 

Sources: Doctor MacroBarewallsIMDBRotten TomatoesSilents are Golden

Sunrise (1927) Review | Jamie Daily

Sunrise (1927)
1st Academy Awards 1929
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 4 awards, of which it won 3.
Nominated for Art Direction (Rochus Gliese).
Won Best Actress (Janet Gaynor), Cinematography (Charles Rosher and Kart Struss), and Unique and Artistic Picture (Fox).
Watched September 23, 2012.

 

Please stop what you are doing right now and watch Sunrise.  If you have been searching for the perfect silent film, this is it.  Starring Janet Gaynor and George O’Brien (who has a star on the Walk of Fame), this tale of love conquering all is a beautiful and extraordinary feat from director F.W. Murnau.  An artistic director, he was given free reign in terms of creativity–so much so that at the time, the film did not do very well in the box office and he needed to be tamed in order to direct more films.

 

The story begins with an affair between The Man and The Woman from The City (there are no names in this film).  The Wife (Janet Gaynor) knows as soon as he has left the house where he has gone and with whom.  The maid says, in the few title cards used in the film, that they used to be such a happy couple they laughed all of the time, but now he ruins his life with That Woman (Margaret Livingston).  That Woman convinces O’Brien that he should kill his wife and then the two of them can move to the city to be together.  The man is reluctant, weighed down by his choices.

 

The next day, he takes his wife on a boat trip.  She is ecstatic and dresses in her best, expecting to go to the city.  That is not what the husband is expecting, and he nearly goes through with the city woman’s plans.  Gaynor shrinks from him, sensing the intent behind his eyes, but her terror brings him back to his senses and he quickly rows them to shore.  Gaynor flees from him.  If this movie had been created today, there is no way that Gaynor would have gone back to O’Brien, but in the lovely, romantic movies of the 20s, after many tears, apologies, and flowers, the couple rediscovers the love and happiness they once had for one another.

 

Everything was shot on set, which meant that the budget was huge!  This stems from Murnau’s background in expressionism.  The critics loved him.  The farm and the swamp at the beginning of the movie are incredibly dark and twisted, whereas the city is bright and promising.  His incredible use of special effects are mind boggling.  Nothing was done in post, but rather he used several techniques in camera, such as shooting a scene, and then reusing the film and superimposing another scene on top of it.

 

The film falls into so many categories: mystery, suspense, romance, comedy, drama.  If you don’t believe that the comedy of silent films can be anything but exaggerated movements or Charlie Chaplin-type stunts, you would be proved wrong by Sunrise.  To whet your appetite, imagine a drunk pig.

 

Jeffrey M. Anderson from Combustible Celluloid said that, “if Hitchcock had made Sunrise, the murder itself would have been the climax of the movie.”  When I was watching the film, at first I thought the beginning completely out of place, and yet somehow it ties back into the end and what feels like two films is actually only one.  This is my one negative about this film, which is why I only gave it four stars.  However, everything else was exquisite.  It is such a simple plot that was executed so well, I think many filmmakers today could learn from Murnau.

 

 

Sources: FeminémaDaily PlasticIMDBRotten TomatoesReel ReviewsCombustible Celluloid

Street Angel (1928) Review | Jamie Daily

 

Street Angel (1928)
1st Academy Awards 1929
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Actress (Janet Gaynor).
Watched September 17, 2012.

 

Yet another Frank Borzage film starring none other than Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell.  Perhaps Gaynor’s true talent was in playing a small waif of an innocent street walker in Italy, and Farrell’s in playing the dreamer who falls in love, because this film, very similarly to 7th Heaven, is another romance between the two.  Ironically, it is a Hollywood followup, as the original romance between director and actors must be recreated.

 

Janet Gaynor has done it again, but in this film, she is a vivacious vixen from the beginning.  In the opening scenes in Naples, her mother’s health leads her to regrettably and desperately walk the streets, attempting to earn money for medicine.  When her wiles fail her, she resorts to theft, but in being caught is sentenced to a year in the workhouses.  Desperately, she flees and is helped in her escape by circus performers.  Having a natural talent (or I should say almost flawless balance), she joins the troupe easily.  It is while traveling and performing that she meets Gino the painter (Farrell).  He is taken in by her fiery personality immediately and decides to travel with the group, insisting that he must paint her.  Initially, she is very put off by him and insists that love is silly, but really, who can think that for very long when Charles Farrell is around?

When Gaynor’s character Angela is injured in a fall, Gino immediately volunteers to take her to Naples for a doctor.  Through her healing process, Angela learns to love Gino and we see a relationship as sweet as can be.  This relationship, unlike that in 7th Heaven, requires much less of a suspension of reality.  It is still romanticized, but in a more realistic way.  We can be pulled in and believe that their love is true.  The moments of tenderness as well as of irritation are expertly done, and Farrell’s continued use of puppy-dog eyes don’t hurt along the way.

 

Inevitably, the police recognize Angela and cart her away, leaving Gino a shell of the man he used to be.  If you know Borzage, however, you won’t fear too much that there will not be a happy ending.

 

Technically, the film is not a master, however, there are several key follow shots that are breathtaking.  My favourite in particular is when Angela is taken to jail. Gino wanders the streets, at first frantically searching, and eventually he is merely dejectedly dragging his feet as he navigates the crowds, finally ending to lean against a wall in despair.  The acting is superb and the characters are lovable.  The writing is a bit unoriginal, but that could also be because this is the original, and all the films after it are only chasing greatness.

 

If you are looking for a cute romance, a strong female character, or a look into Naples in the past, I would highly suggest this film!

 

 

Sources: IMDBRotten TomatoesSenses of CinemaCinema SightsSilent Hollywood

The Last Command (1928) Review | Jamie Daily

The Last Command (1928)
1st Academy Awards 1929
2/5 Stars
Won Best Actor (Emil Jannings).
Watched September 12, 2012.

 

This film received a lot of recognition in its time, specifically for the performance of Emil Jannings, who won the first ever Best Actor award.  Had I seen this performance before I had seen that of Richard Barthelmess, his running mate, I may have been more impressed.  If you have seen The Last Command, you may disagree with me.  He is indeed powerful and controlled, and his impassioned speech at the end of the film is wonderfully done.  I almost felt a hollowness to his character, as if he was merely an actor playing a role, not the true cousin to the Czar.

 

The Last Command is the story of Grand Duke Sergius Alexander, “a decorated, aristocratic Czarist General [who] is reduced to penury after the collapse of Imperial Russia. An old adversary, now a successful director hires the general to re-enact the revolution which deposed him” (IMDB).  The film opens as the director is going through a stack of photos and comes across that of the General.  He recognizes him and tells his assistant director to call him.  The Duke comes to set with a constant shake of his head, almost as if it is a symptom of Parkinsons but attributed to “a great shock” he had once.  After being teased and laughed at by the extras, he looks into his makeup mirror and ironically reflects on his past.

 

It is the Russian Revolution.  They are at war, although the General seems to see very little of it.  He rides around in a nice car wearing a large fur coat and constantly smokes cigarettes.  At one town, they encounter two dangerous radicals.  We recognize one immediately as the director featured in the first scene.  The other is a beautiful woman, Natalie Dabrova (Evelyn Brent).  Typically, the General sends the director to jail and even though he is advised that Dabrova is the most dangerous of them all, he keeps her at his side and treats her as a guest.

 

Much of the film is spent at dinner tables or writing desks, but at the end there is a bit of action when the General’s train is overrun by activists.  Here Dabrova shows her true colors, but whether it is to be a true blooded revolutionist or a love-sick woman, I will let you find out.

 

I like some scenes very much.  From the train sequence to the end, I truly enjoyed the film and wished the best for the General.  I wasn’t sure that I agreed that what happened would have put him in such a shocked state for the rest of his life, but this might be because I had difficulty connecting to his character.  At the very end, when the Duke finally makes it onto set, dressed in his former General glory, and in the very same fur coat he once wore to inspect his troops and entertain the Czar, I felt a little terror regarding what the director was going to do to the man he had once wished to see hang in front of all of Russia.  That being said, the very end, which I won’t give away, seemed very inconsistent with the director’s character and I felt as if the director of The Last Command wanted more to end on a positive note than to remain consistent.

 

This is a short, 88 minute film, so if you have been curious about silent films but haven’t wanted to commit the time, this might be a good one for you!  There is history, war, romance, and killer costume design!

 

Sources:  IMDBRotten TomatoesNew York TimesSensesOfCinema