Tag Archives: Silent film

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Cover of "Laurel & Hardy (Sons of the Des...

Cover via Amazon

Directed by Lloyd French
Produced by Hal Roach
Starring Stan Laurel
Oliver Hardy
Charlie Hall
Tiny Sandford
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date 7 October 1933

This is another fine Laurel & Hardy short film from the early 1930s. It features lots of funny slapstick and is perhaps one of their funniest movies. A lot of the film plays out like a silent film, despite being made in 1933, with Stan in particular showing off his pantomime skills. The film gave me a few good chuckles and doesn’t seem to have dated too badly.


On the Loose

Directed by Hal Roach
Produced by Hal Roach
Starring Zasu Pitts & Thelma Todd
Distributed by MGM
Release date 1931
Country  United States
Language English

This is an interesting short film from 1931 that features a cameo appearance from Laurel & Hardy. Of course the real stars of the film are Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd.

The other day I was reading about the untimely death of Todd and the rumours surrounding it. Rumour has it that the gangster Lucky Luciano murdered her because she vocally opposed him setting up am illegal casino. The official line is that she committed suicide, but police bungled the investigation completely.

The other star of the picture, Zasu Pitts is also interesting. In the silent era she was a dramatic actress but was relegated to comedy roles in the talky era due to her highly distinctive voice. In fact Mae Questal modelled her characterisation of Olive Oyl on Zasu Pitts, and in watching this film you can see the origins of that.

Overall the film is quite amusing in that 1930s way an interesting to watch.


Metropolis

Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by Erich Pommer
Written by Thea von Harbou
Fritz Lang (uncredited)
Starring Alfred Abel
Brigitte Helm
Gustav Fröhlich
Rudolf Klein-Rogge
Music by Gottfried Huppertz (original version)
Cinematography Karl Freund, Günther Rittau &Walter Ruttmann
Distributed by UFA (Germany)
Paramount Pictures (US)
Release date 10 January 1927 (Germany) [1]
6 March 1927 (US)
Running time 153 minutes/24 frame/s
(German premiere cut)
114 minutes/25 frame/s
(1927 US cut version)
Country Germany
Language Silent film
German intertitles

Metropolis is a film that features some incredible visuals. The art-deco inspired backgrounds look very stunning as well. As for the content of the film itself, well I am not so sure. A lot of the time I wasn’t exactly sure of what was going on, and a lot of the characters seemed to be really quite stupid, especially Joh Frederson the industrialist/dictator. I did enjoy some of the facia; expressions shown by the actress Brigitte Helm when she was the Machine Man, intent on causing chaos and destrucion and the scenes of her dancing as well. One thing that helps make these sort of scenes look amusing is the fact that silent films run at a different speed to talkies, so the action goes a little faster


The Great Dictator

Directed by Charlie Chaplin & Wheeler Dryden
Produced by Charlie Chaplin
Written by Charlie Chaplin
Starring Charlie Chaplin
Paulette Goddard
Jack Oakie
Music by Charlie Chaplin & Meredith Willson
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) October 15, 1940
Running time 124 min.
Country United States
Language English
Mock-German

Chaplin speaks!

I explained the other day the trouble that I have been having in the last few days. Things have been a bit difficult and I have fallen a little behind on my schedule. I am endeavouring to catch up as quickly as possible. It should be three weeks before my roof is repaired after the damage that it received after being battered by last week’s storm. I’ve still been watching movies but not been blogging about the experience so I am a little behind. It will take me a little while to catch up.

The Great Dictator was the first ‘talking picture’ that Charlie Chaplin made, over a decade after the Jazz Singer. Chaplin was the last person to make an (almost) silent film with Modern Times in 1936 but by 1940 he knew that he had to have characters talking. I think the reason why Chaplin took so long to speak (legibly) on film was because he was afraid that his Tramp would lose his mystique and charm. Many people claim that this film is the first Chaplin comedy that doesn’t feature the little Tramp yet the Jewish barber character is really the Tramp even if he’s not wearing the baggy pants and bowler hat.

The real comedy character in this film is not the Jewish barber, as every scene he is in is much too sentimental and schmaltzy, but the character of the dictator, Hynkel, proves that Chaplin could do verbal comedy as well as anyone else at the time (Groucho Marx and W.C. Fields included), as well as his brilliant physical comedy. I especially like where the dictator is addressing the crowd in faux German and some nonsensical English comes out. Brilliant.

This is a very funny film for the most part though it does get a little bit bogged down with the sentimentality. The film feels as though it is about half an hour too long as well as it does seem to drag a little towards the end. The film parodies quite effectively the idiotic thinking of the Nazis and Hitler that they were racially superior and the Holocaust, although Chaplin said that if he knew the full extent of the horrors of the concentration camps he would not have made the movie at all. I am glad that he did because future generations need to see just what a fool Hitler and his moronic cronies were and to take this as a lesson so that these sorts of horrors never happen again.

One good thing is that just last week Chaplin’s feature films were rereleased onto DVD after being out of print for 5 years. These DVDs, including The Great Dictator, Modern Times and City Lights are available at Big W for $13 (or $30 for three DVDs).


The Immigrant

Directed by Charles Chaplin & Edward Brewer (technical director)
Produced by John Jasper
Written by Charles Chaplin (scenario), Vincent Bryan (scenario) & Maverick Terrell (scenario)
Starring Charles Chaplin
Edna Purviance
Eric Campbell
Cinematography Roland H. Totheroh & George C. Zalibra
Editing by Charles Chaplin
Distributed by Mutual Film Corporation
Release date(s) June 17, 1917
Running time 20 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles

By 1917 Charlie Chaplin had starred in several successful short comedies, yet it was this film that shot him to superstardom. It features a tale of a poor immigrant who travels to America to seek his fortune through the boundless opportunity provided in the land of the free.

Charlie was still refining his art so this film feels a lot like the typical silent slapstick film of the early part of last century. The Tramp character had started to develop into a character, more than just a gag. Chaplin started to use emotion and pathos in his comedies at this time which helped to distinguish them from their contemporaries.

This short may not be as great as The Kid, City Lights, The Goldrush or Modern Times but it is funny and shows Chaplin just as he was before he became his most creative.


The Gold Rush

gold3Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Produced by Charlie Chaplin
Written by Charlie Chaplin
Starring
Charlie Chaplin
Georgia Hale
Mack Swain
Tom Murray
Henry Bergman
Malcolm Waite
Music by Charlie Chaplin,
Carli Elinor, Max Terr &
James L. Fields
Cinematography Roland Totheroh
Editing by Charlie Chaplin
Distributed by United Artists
Release date June 26, 1925
Running time Taken at 24 frame/s: Original cut 96 min.
Cut version 82 min.1942 reissue 82 min.
Country United States
Language English

Today I decided to watch Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, which is perhaps his most referenced film that features some of his (and cinemas) most well-known scenes. Whilst the film has undoubtedly dated quite a bit since it was first released in 1925, it still contains many giggles for the viewer. This is of course the film that features the famed scenes of Chaplin eating the old boot, the dancing bread rolls (which was parodied by Grandpa Simpson) and the cabin balancing perilously on the edge of a cliff while the tramp and Big Jim try to scramble out before it topples over.

I found this film to be quite amusing and interesting, but there weren’t as many ‘laugh out loud’ moments as I had when I watched The Circus, which was released three years after The Gold Rush. Perhaps the reason for that was because even though I had never seen the Gold Rush, I had seen all the above mentioned famous scenes and had some familiarity with the film. (Much like Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr.) I felt I knew the film before I had even seen it. The film did not have the sentimentality or warmth of 1931s City Lights either.

All this is not to say that The Gold Rush The Gold Rushis a bad film, it is actually very good, as it keeps the viewer’s interest right through to the end. The version I saw was the 1942 re-release with Chaplin’s added music and narration, which made me wonder how the film could have functioned at all as a silent movie. I found that the narration enhanced my enjoyment of the film greatly, as Chaplin seemed to have a poetic way with words, however I would not like to see this sort of thing added to all silent films.


City Lights

Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Produced by Charlie Chaplin (uncredited)
Written by Charlie Chaplin
Starring Charlie Chaplin
Virginia Cherrill
Florence Lee
Harry Myers
Music by Charles Chaplin
Cinematography Rollie Totheroh, Gordon Pollock & Mark Marklatt (uncredited)
Editing by Charlie Chaplin (uncredited)
Distributed by United Artists
Release date January 30, 1931 (US)
Running time 87 minutes
Country United States
Language English (original title cards)

By 1931 everyone in the movie industry had given up on making silent films and were now making talkies. Everyone that is except for Charlie Chaplin. Sound came to film in 1927 with Al Jolson‘s The Jazz Singer, but Chaplin continued to shun talkies until 1940 when he made The Great Dictator. In that intervening 13 years he made three of the greatest comedies of all time. I have already watched The Circus, which I thought was very funny. Both of his 1930s films, City Lights and Modern Times are masterpieces.

City Lights is a romantic comedy from 1931. At times it seems to be more like a melodrama than a comedy, as it does feature a huge helping of Chaplin’s famed sentimentality, but at other times there is some great and very funny slapstick moments that can still make the viewer laugh out loud. The scenes with the Tramp‘s ‘friend’, the drunken millionaire whom Charlie saves from committing suicide are particularly funny as is the boxing match. W.C. Fields once said that he thought Chaplin was more a ballet dancer than a comedian, albeit the best ballet dancer he ever saw. This comedic ballet is on view here in the boxing match scene which seems very cartoonish. In fact it seems that both Walt Disney (Mickey’s Mechanical Man) and Chuck Jones (Rabbit Punch) both were influenced by this scene when they made their boxing cartoons as the influence are plain to see in these cartoons.

The main plot of the film revolves around the Tramp’s relationship with a blind girl who he is smitten with, and how he goes about raising money for her to have an operation which will restore her sight. This of course puts Charlie in a bind, the girl thinks that he is a well-to-do gentleman and if she regains her sight she will see him for who he really is. This leads to the finale of the film which features perhaps the greatest and most recognisable closing shot in all film history. It is here that we realise that love is blind to prejudice and poverty and that kindness and charity will win out in the end.

City Lights is a great film that I really recommend everyone to see at least once in their lifetime. It is beautiful and shows that sometimes talking is unneccessary when it comes to telling a great, funny story.


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