‘Huckleberry Finn’ Movie: Sentimental Fare Directed by Eventual Murder Victim
Directed by William Desmond Taylor, Huckleberry Finn stars a fresh, freckle-faced Lewis Sargent as Huck. (Sargent was also featured in another 1920 Taylor production, The Soul of Youth.) Set in the antebellum South, this sentimental retelling of Mark Twain’s iconic story revolves around the adventures of Huckleberry Finn after he is kidnapped by his no-good, drunken father (Frank Lanning). When Huck manages to escape, he enjoys his newfound freedom so much that he continues to elude the search party. As a result, everyone thinks he is dead.
Soon, Huck is joined by Jim (George Reed), a slave on the run. Later on, they meet up with a pair of chicken thieves who scheme to cheat three young girls from their father’s inheritance.
Taylor, best known today as the murder victim of one of the biggest scandals in Hollywood history, skillfully directs Huckleberry Finn, always moving the action forward, and getting sustained performances from the actors. Frank E. Garbutt’s carefully lit cinematography helps to enhance the drama.
© Danny Fortune
Note from the editor: William Desmond Taylor was found dead in his Los Angeles bungalow on Feb. 2, 1922. The murder case has never been solved. Rumored suspects included actresses Mabel Normand (presumed to be the last person to see Taylor alive) and Mary Miles Minter, and Minter’s mother, Charlotte Shelby.
At the time, Taylor was reportedly in a relationship with costume designer (and later set decorator) George James Hopkins. Among Hopkins’ credits are: costume designer for several Theda Bara vehicles, including Cleopatra (1917), Salome (1918), and Kathleen Mavourneen (1919), and set decorator for dozens of movies, ranging from Casablanca (1942) and Mildred Pierce (1945) to Hello, Dolly! (1969) and The Day of the Locust (1975).
HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1920). Scr.: Julia Crawford Ivers; from Mark Twain’s novel. Dir.: William Desmond Taylor. Cast: Lewis Sargent, George Reed, Katherine Griffith, Frank Lanning, Gordon Griffith, Esther Ralston, Edythe Chapman, Martha Mattox.
Directed by Mauritz Stiller, the Swedish drama The Blizzard / Gunnar Hedes saga tells the confusing story about how a reindeer stampede affected the life of a violin player. I found the continuity hard to follow, perhaps because, as the San Francisco Silent Film Festival program explained, “Great chunks of The Blizzard have been missing for years.”
The Blizzard stars Einar Hanson as Gunnar Hedes, the son of an aristocratic family. When a troupe of traveling performers comes to his village, Gunnar falls in love with the waif-like violinist Ingrid (Mary Johnson), who looks a bit like Greta Garbo in Stiller’s Gösta Berlings Saga, released the following year.
After the reindeer disaster, Gunnar goes mad and imagines that he finds the gold coins he needs to save his estate from creditors. That is, until he is cured when he hears Ingrid play the violin.
The Blizzard‘s interior shots by cinematographers Henrik Jaenzon and Julius Jaenzon are clear and quite beautiful, while Axel Esbensen’s set design is finely detailed.
© Danny Fortune
The Blizzard was reviewed at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (website). Image: SFSFF.
Eugen Illés’ The Fall of Jerusalem
Amazing Tales from the Archives: Orphan Films at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival
The 16th San Francisco Silent Film Festival first morning program, “Amazing Tales from the Archives - The Archivist As Detective,” presented the many problems identifying “Orphan Films” – unlabeled pieces of footage discovered in vaults or estates.
The first example of such an orphan film was an excerpt from a movie determined to be Eugen Illés’ 1922 German period drama Jeremias / The Fall of Jerusalem. Among the techniques discussed, preservationists look for clues as to the country of origin and date of release. Lip reading may reveal the language that was used. In more contemporary settings, they look for license plates, road signs, automobile designs, clothing and hairstyles that may give clues to the year of production.
We then watched Vitagraph’s 1913 one-reel drama, A Heart of the Forest, directed by Ralph Ince and preserved by Lobster Films. The short film’s plot is simple: When an Indian man, Young Eagle, falls from a tree, he is taken in by white settlers. In return for their kindness, the Indian saves the pioneers from a surprise attack and bravely dies in his attempt. As with these short films, the action comes quick and details that make up the characters are sketchy.
Photo via alamotheatre.org
San Francisco Silent Film Festival highlights: Stephen Horne & Matti Bye Ensemble + Mont Alto Orchestra
A few words about the 2011 edition of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival:
SFSFF 2011 was quite crowded; as a result, the programs sometimes started late, but they were always well organized. The choice of the venue couldn’t be better. The Castro Theater is one of the few remaining original 1920s movie palaces around. As a plus, the Castro’s acoustics are well suited to the musical accompaniment.
I should add that I have nothing but praise for the musicians. They were all both remarkably professional and remarkably proficient. I have particular respect for the talented Stephen Horne, who not only masters the piano, but an assortment of other instruments as well. This was the first time I heard the Matti Bye Ensemble, and they are quite good. And, of course, I once again enjoyed the ever-reliable sounds of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.
The Great White Silence photo: SFSFF.
Marlene Dietrich in Kurt Bernhardt’s The Woman Men Yearn For
Marlene Dietrich & Douglas Fairbanks + Janet Gaynor & Lon Chaney: San Francisco Silent Film Festival
From the Editor: Among the silent film classics to be featured at this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival are Victor Sjöström’s He Who Gets Slapped (1924), starring Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, and John Gilbert in the newly founded MGM studios’ first production; five-time Oscar nominee Clarence Brown’s The Goose Woman (1925), starring Louise Dresser and Constance Bennett, and which was recently restored by UCLA; and William Desmond Taylor’s Huckleberry Finn (1920). Taylor’s 1922 murder – unsolved to this day – was one of the major scandals that rocked Hollywood in the early 1920s.
Other festival highlights include John Ford’s recently rediscovered Upstream (1926); the Douglas Fairbanks comedy Mr. Fix-It (1918); the early, German-made Marlene Dietrich vehicle The Woman Men Yearn For (1929), directed by Kurt Bernhardt (later Curtis Bernhardt); Yasujiro Ozu’s I Was Born, But… (1932); and F.W. Murnau’s Academy Award-winning Sunrise, starring Academy Award winner Janet Gaynor and George O’Brien.
Musical accompanists include Dennis James, Stephen Horne, Donald Sosin, and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival runs July 14-17 at the Castro Theatre.
Photo: San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
Alexander Payne & Kevin Brownlow: San Francisco Silent Film Festival
From the Archives: Election and Sideways director Alexander Payne, whose The Descendants is scheduled to open later this year, will be a guest presenter at the 2011 San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF).
According to the SF Silent Film Festival’s press release, Payne “grew up watching silent films that he sent away for from the Blackhawk Films collection.” Payne has yet to announced which film he’ll introduce. Guy Maddin, Terry Zwigoff, and Pete Docter showed up as guest presenters in previous editions of the festival.
Also guesting at the 2011 SFSFF are film reviewer Leonard Maltin; musician Jonathan Richman, who will introduce the little-seen Il fuoco (1915) on Friday, July 15; and film historian Kevin Brownlow, who will present the festival’s “Sunday Amazing Tales from the Archives” program: “Kevin Brownlow on 50 Years of Restoration.”