richard barthelmess

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

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The Noose (1928) | Jamie Daily

The Noose (1928)
1st Academy Awards 1929
Nominated for Best Actor (Richard Barthelmess).
Vaulted Film

 

Apparently The Noose is kept in the archives at the Library of Congress–essentially it is still in the Warner Bros. Vault and has yet to be released.  If anyone knows where or if I could find it, I would greatly appreciate it.  As it is, I assume that one day I will be able to watch this film but am very disappointed that I don’t get to watch Richard Barthelmess in action again quite yet.

 

In the first ever Oscar nominations, everything was different.  The winners were announced ahead of time, only silent films were nominated, the attendees purchased tickets, and the talent could be nominated for their body of work within the set date restrictions, not just for a single piece.  Barthelmess’ performance in The Noose was supposedly to complement his success in The Patent Leather Kid.

 

From a bit of research, it looks like it will be difficult to locate quite a few of the films from this year.  Even though this is upsetting and certainly upsets my goal of watching every nominated film… ever… there’s nothing I can really do about it.  So I will move on and stop complaining about it.

 

I found this review online (Alice Joyce on Standford.edu) and instead of summarizing a movie that I have not seen, I thought it would be interesting to share a review from 1928.

 

“From Variety, March 21, 1928

 

THE NOOSE

 

“First National production and release. Richard Barthelmess starred, Alice JoyceLina BasquetteThelma Todd, Montague Love and Robert T. Haines featured Scenario adapted from the stage play by Willard Mack and H.H. Van Loan. At Strand, New York, week March 17. Running time, around 75 minutes.

Nickie Elkins Richard Barthelmess
Buck Gordon Montague Love
Jim Conley Robert E. O’Connor
Tommy Jay Eaton
Dot Lina Basquette
Phyllis Thelma Todd
Seth McNillan Ed Brady
Dave Fred Warren
Bill Chase William Davidson
Mrs. Bancroft Alice Joyce
The Warden William Walling
The Governor Robert T. Haines
Craig Ernest Hilliard
Priest Emile Chautard
Judge Romaine Fielding
Cabaret Girls Yola d’Avril, Corliss Palmer,

Kay English, Cecil Brunner,

Janice Peters, Ruth Lord,

May Atwood

“”The Noose,” with Richard Barthelmess, gives First National a drawing program feature that will stand well up to follow Barthelmess’ great hit in “The Patent Leather Kid.” It’s an extremely well directed and played drama, with meller tendencies, a touch of the underworld with a real cabaret scene one of the standouts, but underneath the rest a virile story of suspensive qualities that are all taken advantage of. It’s in.

“This picture is said to have been taken under the natural light, or at least the cabaret scene was. Natural light is indicated throughout. If the first of that kind, its defects can be remedied if natural light is thought beneficial. While the trade may detect a different lighting scheme, it’s doubtful if the lays will. At times the photography is misty and not always uniform in light, a greyish tint often appearing. That followed into the cabaret scenes for the side rooms, employed there, but on the floor the lighting was evenly bright. At the Burbank studios when this scene was taken it was said that the heat form the big arcs was terrific on the people beneath them.

“Toward the finish of “The Noose” extraordinary suspense is maintained and it’s two-sided. First is whether Nickie Elkins will be hanged and he is walking toward the gallows for some time, while the other is whether the Governor’s wife will confess to her husband that Nickie is her son. Neither happens. What did happen was that Mrs. Governor phones the warden over her husband’s private wire ordering the execution stopped, and the Governor, when advised, calling the boy before him, to intimate that a pardon would be forthcoming.

“Nickie had shot and killed his father, Buck Gordon, within five minutes after Buck had told the lad who his parents were. His mother was the Governor’s wife, said Buck, and if he were sent away for killing another gangster, Nickie would have to appeal to his mother to save him. Upon Nickie’s refusal, Buck said he would shake down the Governor’s wife himself then for the freedom and the coin. Nickie said he wouldn’t and, to prove it, shot his father, who had brought him up from babyhood without Nickie aware of his father or mother.

“Other than the cabaret scene, no action of moment. A bit of shooting, but the play’s action very slight.

“Barthelmess’ Nickie a natural for him, although Barthelmess is more likable in action. That’s where he shines. Nevertheless, Barthelmess has a distinctive individuality on the screen, and it’s very valuable for few own it. He always suggests impulsiveness, and that’s suspense in itself, continually.

“Lina Basquette does Dot, the cabaret girl, nicely. In the prison and Governor’s room scenes, Miss Basquette was admirable. She’s in love with Nickie, who was about to be regenerated by a “nice lady from uptown” just as he bumped off his suddenly discovered dad. Thelma Todd as the nice lady only had to see that her very blonde hair was marcelled.

“Alice Joyce had a difficult emotional role as the governor’s wife. She looked the part, excepting when opposite Barthelmess, when she appeared too young, but Miss Joyce will probably not be miffed over that. She had to express extreme heart anguish and yet refrain from confessing to her husband even for a commutation or pardon that the condemned boy was her own son. That made it quite a serious moment of acting for her and also an unreal character, but she got by well enough under the conditions.

“Jay Eaton as Tommy, the stager of the floor show, minced it up a little for a laugh; the girls behind him displayed good coaching and legs. William Walling as the warden had but one chance, but made that bit look very good. Montague Love did the heavy Buck. That was soft for him, doing his best in looking the role. Robert T. Haines was another who perfectly looked the Governor, giving the part all the dignity it called for.

“Barthelmess’ backward leap into the front rank of the male b.o. cards will be helped along by this one.”

 

My favourite bit was when the author said that the show girls had “good coaching and legs.”  What was yours?

Sources: B+ Movie BlogAlice Joyce on Stanford.edu

The Patent Leather Kid (1927) Review | Jamie Daily

The Patent Leather Kid (1927)
1st Academy Awards 1929
4/5 Stars
Nominated for Best Actor (Richard Barthelmess).
Watched August 28, 2012.

 

I took a break from loving the 20s film movement, but now I’m back on board after watching The Patent Leather Kid.  One thing is for sure: Richard Barthelmess could teach today’s actors a thing or two about acting with nothing but their face.  For some who think that silent films are overacted, Barthelmess might be the one to change your mind.  His costar and love interest Molly O’Day falls into this trap on more than one occasion, but the Kid more than makes up for her excessive movements.

 

Barthelmess and the Kid are two cinematic characters of history that many of today’s actors are attempting to live up to.  One of two men nominated for the best actor award, I can see fully and completely why this is considered the best performance of his career.  A story that is typical these days, one should note that this is the story that it originates from–a cocky fighter who only thinks of himself and his career learns that life is more meaningful, and that his courage is only a front for the fear that hides beneath.

 

It is 1917 in New York and Curley Boyle (O’Day) is going to a fight with the wealthy Hugo Breen (Lawford Davidson).  Everyone is cheering for anyone but The Patent Leather Kid because he is so cocky.  We see immediately that Curley is a fiery personality.  A lone woman among men spectators, she heckles the Kid ruthlessly.  After knocking down his opponent, he shouts at her to meet him outside.  Driven by curiosity, she does, and a few minutes later he’s told her that she is his girl and no one else’s.  Their strong personalities, as well as a constant comedic tension between Curley and the Kid’s manager populate the first half of the film well.


As is a common theme among the early movies of the twentieth century, America goes to war.  This is when we see the true colors of the Kid.  He can be in the ring and knock down his opponents over and over, but the prospect of guns and bayonets terrifies him.  He refuses to salute the flag, and despises the love that Curley has for the men in uniform.  Finally, after Breen shows up as a Lieutenant, and the Kid’s trainers join the fight, Curley tells the Kid that she’s going to France to dance and nurse so that she can cheer up the boys.  Still, his fear rules him, and he only goes to war when he is drafted.

 

Inevitably, this is where he finally finds his courage.  Placed on the front lines, he is forced to overcome the walls he has constructed and pull off a rescue mission only the Kid could do.

 

Despite O’Day’s exaggerated movements, she plays her difficult character well and makes her witty gumption very powerful and endearing.  She is a fitting costar for Barthelmess, although I wish Janet Gaynor had played the role.

 

The only negative side of this beautiful film was its length–well over two hours, no matter which version you watch.  If you have the time and the patience (I watched it in two sittings), please add The Patent Leather Kid to your repertoire!

 

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Sources: IMDBRotten TomatoesNew York TimesCin-EaterA Certain Cinemaall posters