Saturday, September 9, 2017

Saved from Himself (USA, 1911)

This is a film by Biograph studios of New York, directed by famous  D.W. Griffith (who started working at the studio in 1908 as an actor and soon became a director and chief direct of Biograph) and one of protagonists is Mabel Normand, one year before she moved together with Mack Sennett and Fred Mace to the Keystone studios, which had just been founded.  It is interesting to see Mabel acting in a non Keystone, drama film. 
Mabel Normand, despite being more famous for her comedies, was a versatile actress and did well in dramas too. When this film was made she was circa 18 years old and already had a natural and convincing acting.  In Biograph she played naïve young maidens, damsels in distress, in addition to comedic ladies.
Joseph Graybill (1887 – 1913) is an actor about whom not much is known. He passed away in 1913 still in his 20s and had a successful career both on stage and cinema and is more noteworthy for having worked with D.W. Griffith in his first years at Biograph studios. 
The title of this film is self-explanatory and the plot has some typical Griffith`s touches, especially in the moralizing end. An example of that is evident already in the first intertitle, which says: “His sweetheart`s influence saves him from dishonor”. Back to an era when having a good social reputation was something taken much more seriously than nowadays.
A young clerk (Joseph Graybill) is engaged to a stenographer (Mabel Normand). His old friend had just won lots of money in the stock market, which encouraged him to also invest his money this way. He was so impressed that he actually used all his savings to purchase stocks. Unfortunately, things did not happen as planned and he had to put up another two thousand dollars, otherwise he would be wiped out, as one of intertitles says. He could not afford doing so and the fear of losing all his money made him consider stealing money from a hotel. 
However, his sweetheart (Mabel Normand) found it out and prevented him from doing so. Also, his thoughts about his mother made him thinking twice and it became clear that he only considered stealing the money out of fear of losing all his savings and not being able to provide a good future both for himself and his future wife. The happy ending happened because honesty and morals were preserved and it is not worth it being unscrupulous or immoral, this is the usual message of Griffith`s cinematic work.
A plenty of Griffith`s films discussed the effects of addictions, poverty and adultery over families. A recurrent theme was also the virginal, Victorian heroines, who Lillian Gish embodied so well. Those women also had high morals and kept their families united, even when the father/husband was too weak to do it himself. It often turned out that the man regretted his mistakes and reunited with his family, immediately being forgiven by his understanding spouse. Although such plots would be a bit too sexist for nowadays` standards, they show to modern audiences how life was like when things were simpler and the urban life had not fully taken root. 

Help! Help! (USA,1912)

This film was not made at Keystone studios of California, but at Biograph studios of New York, the same that gave D.W. Griffith to the world. The film was directed by Mack Sennett, who in later years would say he learned a lot while working with Griffith at Biograph.  However, while already in Biograph studios, Sennett focused his work in comedies, both as an actor and director and it was where he started honing the comedic pattern that would soon be famous at Keystone studios.
The style of the plot was not the frantic slapstick yet and even Mabel Normand’s acting was different from what she would show at Keystone studios. She played the role of a typical damsel in distress with some touches of overacting, which was something still common in Hollywood at that era. It was portrayed in this film the lifestyle of middle class citizens, rather than working class ones, as it would be so common in Keystone films. 
Mrs. Suburbanite (Mabel Normand) read in a newspaper that burglars were operating in the neighborhood, as one of intertitles says, and she immediately talked about it to her husband because she was really impressed with what she read. Then, Mr. Suburbanite (Mabel’s husband, played by actor Fred Mace) went to his workplace, an office in the city. Meanwhile, Mabel saw some suspicious-looking men and she locked the door and hide the key. 
Mabel called her husband at his office because she thought there were burglars at their house. He left the office by car at once, but unfortunately the car stopped in the middle of the road. At the same time, Mabel was even more afraid at home, as she realized the curtains were moving. The husband got to make the car work again but it ended up stopping on the road again. After a short time, the he got to find another vehicle to take him back home but no success again. Against all odds, the husband got to return home on foot.
As a typical damsel in distress, Mrs. Suburbanite nearly fainted when she realized her husband was back. The happy end was assured when it was found out that the burglar was actually only a small animal.
Some reviewers claim that this film was probably a parody of some previous films by D.W. Griffith, such as The Lonely Villa (USA,1909) and The Lonedale Operator (USA, 1911). The statement makes sense and it could also be a parody of the stereotype of damsels in distress, a spoof that would be included in subsequent films of Keystone studios directed by Mack Sennett, such as Barney Oldfield's Race for a Life (USA,1913). 
Fred Mace followed both Sennett and Mabel to Keystone studios when it was founded in 1912 and made a plenty of films there in the first few years and became a rather popular actor, but his career would not last much longer. Firstly, he left the studio and then returned and finally Mace passed away in 1917 with only 38 years old. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Young Romance (USA,1915)

Two youths (Tom Clancy and Nellie Nolan) worked in different sections of the same department store without knowing each other and longed for both romance and adventure. Therefore, they decided on their own to pretend for one week that they were upper class members and ended up travelling to Hotel Imperia and Belleview Mansion, places attended by such wealthy people. During this time they met and fell in love with each other.
During her trip, Nellie took the identity of a wealthy client of the store, but while she was travelling she was notified that the person she was impersonating had inherited a fortune due to recent death of an uncle who lived abroad. And some people thought Nellie was the actual heir. Another funny scene is when the couple go to a fancy restaurant not too long after they met and Tom was very nervous about how he would pay for such expensive dinner. 
Unfortunately, the publicity around the inheritance of Nellie made her being the target of unscrupulous people who wanted to steal her money and another guy started romancing Nellie, who unfortunately fell for him.  Nellie was invited for a ride in his motor boat and she accepted it. However, Nellie was left in an abandoned island and forced to give part of the money to the guy who was romancing her, but ended up being a scoundrel.  Even after she agreed to give 10 thousand dollars to the guy, he still kept her in that island until the money was cashed.
Nellie`s ordeal is over when Tom overheard a conversation about the scheme to rob Nellie and went to the island to save her. Love was still there and flourished smoothly.
After one week passed, they both returned home, without having the courage to tell to each other that they were actually poor and their love story was over, although the heartache remained. Tom ended up being promoted to the same section where Nellie worked and they immediately bumped into each other. Rather than questioning each other about why they lied that they were rich, they got so happy to be reunited that they fell into each other`s arms and there was the expected happy end. 
A film worth seeing also for its romantic, nostalgic touch of an era when love was far more innocent and life was simpler. This has an undeniable appeal with modern audiences. The storytelling is also easy to follow and beautiful sea landscapes are also pleasant to the eyes. Subtle, light acting with the bonus of beautiful clothing and furniture. The female protagonist is played by actress Edith Taliaferro, who made a name for herself at the stage, but made only three silent films in the 1910s.  This film is also noteworthy for having been written by William C. de Mille, brother of famous director Cecil B. DeMille. Actor Tom Forman, who played the role of Tom Clancy, despite having been a popular actor, started having career problems already in the silent era and unfortunately committed suicide in 1926. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

He Did and He Didn't (USA,1916)

Roscoe Arbuckle started making films for Keystone studios in 1913, and it did not take long for him to become very popular. This film was made only three years after he started working at Keystone and, by this time, Arbuckle already directed a plenty of his films (like this one) and had considerable artistic freedom. And it`s interesting to see how much his humor evolved during this time.
Much more sinister than in previous films Arbuckle (still with occasional mannerisms and facial expressions of his usual slapstick films) plays the role of a wealthy doctor married to Mabel Normand who suspected his wife was cheating on him with her old school mate called Jack. Jealousy had already been quite commonly approached in films back to the 1910s. Another interesting shift was the portrait of life of wealthier people, considering Keystone slapstick comedies usually focused on lives of working-class citizens.
As soon as Jack arrived at his house, Arbuckle could see that both Jack and Mabel had been quite close when they were younger and such fact made Arbuckle instantly jealous. Mabel`s friend has been an overnight guest at home and Arbuckle received a suspicious phone call asking him to leave home. The call was actually made by some burglars who wanted to rob him, but Arbuckle thought it was Mabel who did it only for her to be alone at home with Jack.
To make things worse, the audience thinks that Mabel was actually having an affair with Jack, which was later shown as something that did not actually happen. Actually, Jack did not have any interest to be Mabel`s lover, but a series of unfortunate coincidences have only made Arbuckle more distrustful.
Something noteworthy is that one of burglars (a “bounding burglar”, according to one of intertitles) was played by actor Al St. John, who was Arbuckle`s nephew in real life and also worked for Keystone studios for some years, often as part of Arbuckle`s usual troupe of actors. Al St. John was also famous for his good physical skills, which he often employed in his films.
Finally, it was all just a bad dream due to the lobster they had eaten at dinner time and while both guys were almost getting mad out of fear, Mabel slept peacefully and it became clear that she had never been unfaithful to her husband.
This film, in having shown Arbuckle playing a more shady character on screen, became ironic considering that Arbuckle was accused five years later, at the height of his career, of having murdered an aspiring actress called Virginia Rappe. The resulting scandal caused much pain to Arbuckle, destroyed his career and popularity.  Mabel Normand kept the same high level of performance and spontaneity of her slapstick films and she would competently make good romantic comedies and dramas some years later. Her career would also have problems due to bad publicity and poor health and she did not get to make the transition to talkies. Arbuckle, despite having been blacklisted due to the aforementioned scandal, made a brief comeback at early talkie era, but he unfortunately passed away right afterwards before his career could take off again. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Mabel's Blunder (USA,1914)

Actress Mabel Normand not only starred this film, but she also wrote and directed it. The contributions of Mabel to the history if cinema are known, but her work behind the camera is not always properly mentioned. And she was in her early 20s and in cinema business for less than one decade when this film was made.
A typical slapstick comedy with frantic pacing and again a misunderstanding plays a role in a silent comedy. Mabel is an office worker (which provides to modern audiences a valuable opportunity to observe how an office looked like back to the 1910s) and secretly engaged to Harry, the boss` son. But, according to one of intertitles “Harry`s father likes her too”, which made Mabel uncomfortable. 
Another woman showed up at the office and Mabel caught Harry embracing her and she obviously felt heartbroken. While spying on them through the peephole, Mabel observed Harry talking happily with that woman. At this moment, Mabel`s brother (who worked as a driver) also arrived at the office to pick up both Harry and the woman and take them to a party. Mabel decided to exchange clothes with her brother, so she could further investigate the connection between her fiancé and that unknown woman. 
Mabel`s brother remained at the office wearing her clothes and then the boss returns. Mabel`s brother decided to cover his face with a veil. The boss started to flirt, thinking it was Mabel behind the veil and both of them went out by car and the boss tried to make advances over Mabel`s brother, who repelled him. Meanwhile, Mabel took both Harry and the woman to the party and she observed how warmly that woman was received by the other guests. Needless to say that it made Mabel extremely jealous. 
The boss and Mabel`s brother ended up at that same party with the boss still flirting endlessly. Meanwhile, Mabel tried to comfort another woman who was crying at the party, but the woman`s partner arrived and thought Mabel was flirting with her. We must bear in mind that Mabel was dressed as a man, after all.  
A fighting started when that guy tried to beat Mabel, which called the attention of the other guests. Then, the guy found out that he was actually trying to beat a woman and Mabel run away in fear. Chaos happened and it is also found out it was a man behind the veil, not Mabel. Mabel finally confronted Harry, who told her that the unknown woman was actually his sister. 
In this apparently simple film, Mabel shines at the height of her youth and vigor, being both funny, skilled in her stunts and extremely convincing, she makes people laugh and feel sympathetic for her without any effort. Her type of humor is easy to understand, regardless of culture and era, which makes her films being properly appreciated by modern audiences.  Unfortunately she died young, still in her 30s, and did not even have time to transition to talkies. Mabel`s brother is played by actor Al St. John, who was the nephew of Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle in real life and, opposite to the sad fate of Arbuckle, he managed to have a career that continued through talkie era, especially in western films, where he could show off his physical and acting skills. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Primitive Lover (USA,1922)

Phyllis Tomley faces a dilemma between a marriage without excitement and attraction for another man. She often reads novels and considers her own life boring in comparison with thrills that the characters of those books live. She ended up having unrealistic expectations about her husband (Hector Tomley) and considered him careless and self-centered because her own romantic fantasies were not being fulfilled. The plot of this film is interesting because it takes into account the wishes and life goals of a woman are something important and worth pursuing. 
However, her former fiancé, a novelist who was presumed dead (Donald Wales), reappeared out of the blue claiming his death was merely a publicity stunt. Phyllis wanted to divorce Hector and Hector`s prompt agreement angers her. Things would not become any easier when Hector tried to prove to Phyllis that her love interest was not as good as she thought and it becomes clear to the audience that Hector actually still loved Phyllis and would fight for her.
Then, Phyllis realized that Hector was not as bad as she thought while Donald Wales was more awkward in the wilderness than Phyllis expected. Hector seemed to act more like a “primitive lover” than Donald, as Hector had the assistance of a local indian to handle life in a wild environment. Donald`s dullness deeply disappoints Phyllis because she expected a life of excitement and thrills with him.
The actors do have some funny overacting (especially in the beginning of the film, in a raft), which was no longer very common in Hollywood in the 1920s. The audiences are soon introduced to the dichotomy refined domestic tranquility X exciting rough instincts, which has been portrayed in novels and films of all eras. Not really an innovative plot (although it does not mean the film is bad, just that it is not extremely different from films of its own era) and Constance Talmadge is not in her best comedic shape here. The characterization of natives often look slightly fake, but it is a light-hearted, naïve film that still entertains the audiences.
Actor Joe Roberts is part of the cast. He made a name for himself due to his films with Buster Keaton, usually as a heavy or authority figure and it was a really fruitful partnership, which would surely last for many years were not for the death of Roberts in 1923. Actor Harrison Ford (no connection with his later namesake) was a high-profile name in Hollywood during the silent era, but unfortunately he was one of those artists who did not get to transition into talkies. He played the role of Hector Tomley. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Love Expert (USA,1920)

This romantic comedy has an innocent plot about a wealthy young student (Babs) who was more interested in understanding love than in physical or intellectual activities, like most of girls of her age. As she was not properly focused on her lessons, she ended up being sent back home by the boarding school.
As a punishment, her father sent Babs to her aunt`s house in Boston. Upon her arrival, Babs realized her aunt had been engaged for six years with a guy called James Winthrop who worked as a manager of Bab`s father`s branch office in Boston, but there was no wedding in sight anyway. Even more, Babs observed that they were not really in love with each other and it was a relief to the girl because she had fallen in love with her aunt`s fiancé. Fortunately her aunt soon found out she was in love with another man, which prevented a family feud from taking place. 
However, there were other problems, as James Winthrop could only get married after his sisters and elderly aunt married too, as he had to take care of the three of them while they were still single. Babs made her best to assure that the three of them would get married with proper suitors, so she could also marry her sweetheart. Babs` innocent determination may seem outdated for modern audiences, but her pure heart and optimism remain captivating, as she never gave up to fight for her own happiness.
After having read that tropical climate could make people more “susceptible to the influence of love” (Yes, that was an extremely biased and stereotypical statement), Babs decided to take them all to Palm Beach. Therefore, she faked a telegram of her father, calling Mr. Winthrop to go there and bring Babs and his own family with him and many funny situations happen, including the expected happy end.
 This movie is remembered because in real life Constance Talmadge was the sister of famous silent actress Norma Talmadge and Nathalie Talmadge, who became best-known as the first wife of comedian Buster Keaton. Although it was not apparently easy being a member of such prominent family in show business, Constance had a talent of her own, being a natural and convincing actress, with good comedic timing. Prior to his film, she had been part of famous film Intolerance (USA, 1916) by the equally famous director D.W. Griffith. It was her first major role in cinema.