'The Marines Are Coming': Gay star's final movie
The Marines Are Coming was a last-minute substitution for the 1936 version of M'Liss, starring Anne Shirley, which was originally scheduled but didn't arrive in time for Cinesation 2009.
Gay actor William Haines' last film, The Marines Are Coming follows Haines' usual formula: a cocky, womanizing soldier (Haines) vies with his superior officer (Conrad Nagel) for the hand of beautiful girl (Esther Ralston). Inevitably, Haines' character later proves his worth when he saves his fellow American officers from a band of Mexican bandits.
Though hardly a good film, The Marines Are Coming isn't bad either. Many former silent film stars ended their careers with much worse. And it's nice that Haines (right) left films more or less happily and found an entirely new and equally successful career as an interior decorator.
The Marines Are Coming (1934). Dir.: David Howard. Scr.: James Gruen; from Colbert Clark and John Rathmell's story. Cast: William Haines, Esther Ralston, Conrad Nagel, Armida, Edgar Kennedy, Hale Hamilton.
'The Raven': Early Edgar Allan Poe biopic
Starring The Birth of a Nation actor Henry B. Walthall, The Raven is an Essanay feature depicting the life of Edgar Allan Poe, starting with his childhood and going all the way to his marriage to his cousin (played by the little-known Warda Howard).
Charles Brabin's direction is uneven: at some points it's stagy and rudimentary; at other points, Brabin creates some remarkably striking and eerie visual effects, including a bravura scene for Walthall in which he descends further and further into madness following the death of his wife. Brabin visualizes this with a barrage of well-handled trick photography and double exposure.
Henry B. Walthall, for his part, gives a commanding performance.
The Raven (1915).
Dir.: Charles Brabin.
Scr.: Charles Brabin. From George Cochran Hazelton's play The Raven: The Love Story of Edgar Allan Poe.
Cast: Henry B. Walthall. Warda Howard. Ernest Maupain. Eleanor Thompson. Marian Skinner. Hugh Thompson. Harry Dunkinson. Grant Foreman. Peggy Meredith.
Ibsen and social hypocrisy
Pillars of Society is a film about hypocrisy, having its basis on a play by Henrik Ibsen. Henry B. Walthall plays the son of a Norwegian shipping company; in his youth, he goes to Paris to study and has an affair with a married Bohemian actress. However, his brother-in-law is falsely accused of having said affair with the actress; he protects Walthall by accepting the blame and leaving for America.
Years later, the brother-in-law returns and demands that Walthall clear his name. Fearing that if the truth comes out it'll ruin his position in the community as one of its leading citizens, Walthall conspires to kill his brother-in-law by allowing him to sail on one of his ships that he knows is faulty.
Pillars of Society was somewhat disappointing. Despite the talent involved – Henry B. Walthall in the leading role and Raoul Walsh directing* – as well as the spicy subject matter, the film never quite gets off the ground even though it boasts a remarkably well-done race-to-the rescue sequence towards the end.
* Raoul Walsh is best remembered today for gangster dramas such as The Roaring Twenties (1939), High Sierra (1941) and White Heat (1949).
Pillars of Society (1916).
Dir.: Raoul Walsh.
Scr.: From Henrik Ibsen's play The Pillars of Society.
Cast: Henry B. Walthall. Mary Alden. Juanita Archer. George Beranger. Josephine Crowell. Olga Grey.
The Raven movie cast info via the IMDb.
Pillars of Society movie cast info via the IMDb.
Ad showing Henry B. Walthall as Edgar Allan Poe in The Raven via Classic Movie Hub.
'The Devil's Claim': First Japanese movie star Sessue Hayakawa in 'excellent drama'
In The Devil's Claim, Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa plays an Indian (!) novelist who uses his experiences with women as inspiration for his novels. Next, he encounters a young American woman (Rhea Mitchell) who tells him a story about Satan-worshipping societies and evil talismans. Her real motive, however, is to reunite the novelist with Indora (future 1920s superstar Colleen Moore), a young Persian girl whom he had abandoned.
Directed by Charles Swickard from a screenplay by J. Grubb Alexander, The Devil's Claim is an excellent drama – and so is Hayakawa's performance. Much of the plot is told in the “story within a story” mode, as the film brings to life the sensational chapters of the author's latest novel.
As a plus, The Devil's Claim was screened in a gorgeous 35mm print from the George Eastman House.
The Devil's Claim (1920).
Dir.: Charles Swickard.
Scr.: J. Grubb Alexander.
Cast: Sessue Hayakawa. Rhea Mitchell. Colleen Moore. William Buckley. Sidney Payne. Joe Ray (as Joe Wray).
'O Mimi San': First film starring Sessue Hayakawa
The 20-minute O Mimi San is historically important as Sessue Hayakawa's first film. In it, Hayakawa plays a prince who goes to a retreat after an attempt on his life is made; once there he falls in love with a young woman, O Mimi San (Tsuru Aoki, Hayakawa's own future wife), but then finds himself torn between love and his duty as a leader of his nation. Compounding matters, an arranged marriage (to child bride Mildred Harris – future wife of Charles Chaplin – in East Asian make-up) awaits him.
Directed by Charles Miller and allegedly written by Thomas H. Ince (a studio head best remembered for his “mysterious” death in 1924), O Mimi San is a somewhat primitive film. That said, it offers some striking imagery.
Sessue Hayakawa, for his part, does well in the role, though at this stage he hadn't yet developed his trademark “quiet” style of screen acting that he would display the following year in his landmark vehicle The Cheat, directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
O Mimi San (1914).
Dir.: Charles Miller.
Scr.: Thomas H. Ince (unconfirmed).
Cast: Sessue Hayakawa. Tsuru Aoki. Mildred Harris. Kisaburô Kurihara (as Thomas Kurihara). Chick Morrison. George Osborne. Miss Lyons. Charles Edler.
The Devil's Claim and O Mimi San reviewed at Cinesation 2009.
The Devil's Claim movie cast info via the IMDb.
O Mimi San movie cast info via the IMDb.
'Rich Man's Folly': Early talkie star George Bancroft in Charles Dickens tale
Directed by the respected John Cromwell and based on Charles Dickens' Dombey and Son, Rich Man's Folly features George Bancroft as a ruthless, egotistical shipping tycoon whose only concern is his work, all the while grooming his young son so he'll one day take over the family business. In the meantime, the rest of the family is completely ignored.
That is the kind of role Bancroft did best: driven, arrogant, and larger-than life men who usually meet a towering, humbling defeat in the final reel.
Also in the cast is beautiful Frances Dee (Little Women, I Walked with a Zombie), who is heartbreakingly excellent as Bancroft's older daughter, desperate for her father's love and approval.
Rich Man's Folly (1931).
Dir.: John Cromwell.
Scr.: Grover Jones and Edward E. Paramore Jr. From Charles Dickens' novel Dombey and Son.
Cast: George Bancroft. Frances Dee. Robert Ames. David Durand. Juliette Compton. Dorothy Peterson. Harry Allen. Gilbert Emery. Guy Oliver. Anne Shirley (as Dawn O'Day). George MacFarlane. Uncredited: Wilfred Lucas (unconfirmed).
'Crooked Streets': Early film star Ethel Clayton as white woman in perilous China
In Crooked Streets, beautiful Ethel Clayton, a major star in the 1910s,* plays a young woman who takes a job as secretary to a professor of antiquities about to embark on a trip to China. Clayton, however, has a secret motive for wanting to get to China.
Crooked Streets is an excellent action-packed drama with a particularly impressive lengthy chase sequence in which Ethel Clayton rides alone to a dangerous part of Shanghai and is attacked by a massive crowd of locals. The film also offers a great fight sequence between Jack Holt and a Chinese thug who lusts after Clayton.
William Marshall's cinematography is beautiful, while director Paul Powell handles the proceedings with a stylish and assured hand. Cinesation ran a gorgeous 35 mm print from the Library of Congress.
* Ethel Clayton's star vehicles include movies with titles such as The College Widow, The Orgy, and The Unmarried Husband.
Crooked Streets (1920).
Dir.: Paul Powell.
Scr.: Edith M. Kennedy. From a story by Samuel Merwin.
Cast: Ethel Clayton. Jack Holt. Clyde Fillmore. Josephine Crowell. Clarence Geldart. Fred Starr (a.k.a. Frederick Starr).
Rich Man's Folly movie cast info via the IMDb.
Crooked Streets movie cast info via the IMDb.
'M'Liss': One of the best Mary Pickford movies
Directed by Marshall Neilan and written by Frances Marion, two frequent Mary Pickford collaborators, M'Liss is one of Pickford's very best films.
In this comedy-drama, she plays a spirited and unruly mountain girl – that's the M'Liss of the title – who falls in love with the new schoolteacher (Thomas Meighan), later falsely accused of murder.
Mary Pickford, by then already a superstar, gives a sterling performance. She is ably supported by (future star) Thomas Meighan as the schoolteacher, as well as a fine collection of character actors, including Theodore Roberts as M'Liss' drunken father, Tully Marshall as the town judge, and Charles Ogle as the stagecoach driver.
M'Liss also boasts beautiful outdoor cinematography thanks to Walter Stradling's lenses.
Note from the editor: Walter Stradling died of pneumonia at the age of 43 in the same year M'Liss came out (1918). His movie credits include several other Mary Pickford films, including The Little Princess (1917), Stella Maris (1918), and Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley (1918).
Dir.: Marshall Neilan.
Scr.: Frances Marion. From Bret Harte's story.
Cast: Mary Pickford. Thomas Meighan. Theodore Roberts. Tully Marshall. Charles Ogle. Monte Blue. Winifred Greenwood. Helen Kelly. Val Paul. William H. Brown (a.k.a. W.H. Brown). John Burton. Charles A. Post. Guy Oliver.
'The Pony Express': Rousing Western directed by the largely forgotten James Cruze
The Pony Express is a rousing James Cruze Western depicting the founding of … the Pony Express. As its backdrop, the film features a senator's political ambitions to get California to secede from the United States so he can build his own empire.
A great cast and James Cruze's direction keep this one interesting – even though Ricardo Cortez in a period film seems woefully out of place and pretty Betty Compson's role is more or less that of an ingenue, merely requiring her to look good while reacting to the things going on around her. Ernest Torrence, George Bancroft, and Wallace Beery score highest.
The Pony Express (1925).
Dir.: James Cruze.
Scr.: Walter Woods. From Woods and Henry James Forman's story.
Cast: Betty Compson. Ricardo Cortez. George Bancroft. Ernest Torrence. Wallace Beery. Frank Lackteen. Johnny Fox. William H. Turner. Al Hart. Rose Tapley. Charles Gerson. Uncredited: Toby Wing.
M'Liss movie cast info via the IMDb.
The Pony Express movie cast info via the IMDb.
Mary Pickford M'Liss image via Movies Silently.
Constance Talmadge, whose extant films are hard to come by, is always a delightful comedienne. In Her Night of Romance, Talmadge plays Dorothy Adams, a wealthy young woman who goes about in hideous disguises to ward off fortune hunters only interested in her money. Eventually, Dorothy meets and falls in love with an impoverished English Lord (Ronald Colman), who is mistaken for a doctor. The “doctor” goes along with the ruse, and ends up falling in love with Dorothy as well. Needless to say, a delightful series of misunderstandings occur.
Her Night of Romance offers Constance Talmadge the chance to deliver another fine comedic performance. As a plus, Ronald Colman is equally excellent. Seeing Colman in this film – and in other comedies such as Her Sister from Paris (also with Constance Talmadge) and Kiki (with Constance's sister, Norma Talmadge), I can attest that he is a truly underrated comedian. In fact, Ronald Colman scores very high in the farcical romantic comedies he made in the silent era – and I wish he'd done more like them.
Her Night of Romance runs on a consistently buoyant pace thanks to Sidney Franklin's able touch. I should also mention that the film boasts great cinematography (Ray Binger and Victor Milner) and art direction.
Her Night of Romance (1924). Dir.: Sidney Franklin. Scr.: Hans Kräly. Cast: Constance Talmadge, Ronald Colman, Jean Hersholt, Albert Grand, Robert Rendel.
Some films have “everything except the kitchen sink” as the saying goes. Well, the 1917 melodrama The Great White Trail has a plot that has everything and about three kitchen sinks as well, as it briskly makes its way from one improbable situation after another before everything is happily resolved in the final reel.
Doris Kenyon plays a happy young wife and mother. When her irresponsible brother appeals to her for help, her husband (Paul Gordon) misunderstands the situation, believing her to be unfaithful. He turns her out of the house, denying he's the father of her child. Kenyon briefly goes mad and in her madness leaves her baby in a tree before she collapses. The baby is then found by the dog of a minister, who ends up raising the little girl.
Distraught over the loss of her child, Kenyon goes to Alaska to work as a nurse. When her husband realizes the truth, he follows her there, where he crosses paths with a villain known as “The Vulture” (Richard Stewart) – who knocks him over the head. The husband then suffers from amnesia. And it doesn't end there.
It's hard to imagine that anyone – even in 1917 – really took The Great White Trail seriously. The plot elements and cliched devices stretch the limits of credulity to the splintering point. Still, taken in the right spirit the film is a deftly handled, unpretentious, fun effort.
The Great White Trail (1917). Dir.: Leopold Wharton and Theodore Wharton. Scr.: Gardner Hunting and Leopold Wharton. Cast: Doris Kenyon, Paul Gordon, Richard Stewart, Thomas Holding, Louise Hotaling, Hans Roberts, Edgar Davenport.
Pietro Wyzej / The Apartment Above (1937). Dir.: Leon Trystan. Scr.: Emanuel Schlechter, Ludwik Starski, Eugeniusz Bodo. Cast: Eugeniusz Bodo, Helena Grossówna, Józef Orwid
Leon Trystan's Pietro Wyzej (alternately known in the US as The Apartment Above, Neighbors, and The Neighbor from the Next Floor) is a delightful Polish comedy about two men – one older (Józef Orwid), the other younger (Eugeniusz Bodo) – who happen to have the same name.
The two live on opposite floors of the same apartment building and have an acrimonious relationship. The younger man is a radio announcer and the leader of a swing orchestra; the older man is a classical musician. A string of zany misunderstandings and mistaken identities ensues when the older man's niece (Helena Grossówna) arrives for a visit.
The charming The Apartment Above was made very much in the tradition of American screwball comedy. (And I'm dying to see more of Eugeniusz Bodo who was a really pleasant actor.)
Note from the editor: According to several online sources, Bodo was arrested as a spy during World War II and sent to a Soviet Gulag where he died of hunger in 1943.
Reviewed at Cinesation 2009
© James Bazen