Got an assortment of short films to cover today. Rather than give each of them individual full-length reviews — I find it hard to justify giving a 20-minute film an entire day to itself — I thought I would cover the three of them in a single post. Two are comedies, one is science-fiction; two are effectively silent films, one is a talkie; and all are black and white and older than 1950.
The three films? The Three Stooges short Brideless Groom, Georges Méliès’s famous A Trip to the Moon, and the Charlie Chaplin Keystone short The Rounders. Continue reading →
The second part of my Buster Keaton double feature from the other day– and the intentional part — was the 1924 film Sherlock, Jr. It’s one of Keaton’s better-known films, and one of the more critically acclaimed ones. Like many of Keaton’s works, it not only stars the comic actor, it was directed by him as well. Unlike many of those works, in this case the director credit is given to Keaton outright and is not shared with another director.
Keaton plays a theatre projectionist who fantasizes about being a private detective. He gets his chance when a watch belonging to his girlfriend’s father (Joe Keaton) is stolen. Unfortunately for the would-be hero, his rival (Ward Crane) has framed him for the crime. Continue reading →
I didn’t actually watch Our Hospitality intentionally, at least not at first. I hadn’t even been aware of this 1923 Buster Keaton film (directed by Keaton himself with John G. Blystone) until I was about 20 minutes into it. This is, I’ll grant, a bit of an odd situation for movie viewing, but it’s simple enough. I had intended to watch Sherlock Jr., one of Keaton’s more acclaimed films that I’d been wanting to see for some time. But when I selected it, the streaming service I was using had it as the second feature following Our Hospitality; this wasn’t mentioned on the Sherlock Jr. icon, and I was looking away from the screen at the time the title card came up. So it took a little while before I realized that what I was watching wasn’t merely different from what I expected from Sherlock Jr. but was rather a different film altogether.
And so instead of a relatively short feature, I wound up watching a moderately long Buster Keaton double feature. Well, there are certainly worse ways to spend an evening, and worse films to stumble onto accidentally than Our Hospitality. Continue reading →
Maybe I’ve seen too many of Charlie Chaplin’s short films already, or maybe just too many of them in the relatively brief span of time I’ve been writing on this blog. On a technical level, they are all very well done. But from a story standpoint, there’s a certain “sameness” to all of them. Granted, it’s difficult to fit a complex narrative structure and deep characterization into twenty minutes. But it seems we can always count on Charlie playing a cheerful bumbler (sometimes explicitly as the Little Tramp, and sometimes just as a similar character), dealing with a few loutish oafs, and charming a winsome girl played by Edna Purviance.
The Rink, a Mutual Films short made in 1916, is no exception. But it’s still worth a look due to showing off Chaplin’s roller-skating ability. Continue reading →
It’s been almost two months since I last checked out a Buster Keaton film, and I decided that my next one should be one of his major films — Steamboat Bill, Jr.. Directed by Charles Reisner, this silent film was released in 1928, and like a lot of Keaton’s works was unofficially co-directed by Keaton himself.
The film’s star, other than Keaton, is Ernest Torrence, who plays William “Steamboat Bill” Canfield. Steamboat Bill runs a riverboat business, and is facing hard competition from J. J. King (Tom McGuire), a rich man who owns many of the local businesses and has just opened his own steamboat operation. Steamboat Bill is concerned that he may soon not have any business, but his spirits are raised when he learns his son — who he hasn’t seen since he was an infant — is coming to pay him a visit. Unfortunately, he finds that his son (Keaton) is awkward, gangly, and has all the nautical knowledge of a man who just spent four years in college studying the arts. Continue reading →
Released in 1925, Wolf Blood is a notable film for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the sole directorial effort (assisted by co-director Bruce M. Mitchell) of prolific silent film actor George Chesebro. But that’s not what really makes it of interest to a modern viewer. No, the really interesting thing about it is that it is the oldest known surviving film about a werewolf — at least, a werewolf of a sort. It doesn’t feature any on-screen transformations or fur and fangs, but it draws some on the old tales of the loup-garou, a wolf in human form.
Chesebro stars as Dick Bannister, field boss of logging company in Canada. He’s been having some trouble with the head of a rival company, Jules Deveroux, played by Roy Watson. Deveroux has been attempting to sabotage Bannister’s operations. He’s about to have even greater problems. Continue reading →
Mary Shelley published Frankenstein in 1818. The mad scientist and his monster have become icons, used and referenced in literature and film and television ever since. And in the case of film, that goes back nearly all the way to the birth of the medium, with a 1910 short silent film produced by the Edison Manufacturing Company. Like a lot of things with Thomas Edison’s name on it, Edison had no direct hand in the film, though he may have acted as producer, and credits were not given to any of the crew. Further, the film itself was long considered lost. Fortunately, however, The Edison Kinetogram, a film catalog, was discovered in the 1960s, which reminded people of the missing film, as well as informing who performed the roles. The film itself was rediscovered in the 1970s. It’s not in the best condition, visually, but it’s still possible to make out what’s happening, and even a suboptimal copy is better than it remaining lost. After all, this is the first appearance of Frankenstein’s monster on the screen. Continue reading →
Hard Luck is a short silent film written, directed, and starring Buster Keaton (Edward F. Cline co-wrote and co-directed the short). Although I was unaware of the fact when I began watching it, the film has apparently had some hard luck of its own, and copies available today are in less-than-optimal condition. Most extant copies are missing a few small scenes here and there (the Kino restoration adds some title cards to explain them), and copies may not be in the best visual quality (the Internet Archive edition I watched had some bad print damage in the second segment.)
The Pawnshop is another of Charlie Chaplin’s short, silent films. Released in 1916, it also features frequent co-stars Edna Purviance and Eric Campbell, along with Henry Bergman and John Rand. As one might guess from the title, it takes place at a pawnbroker’s shop, where Chaplin’s character finds work as a new employee, and the comedy arises from Chaplin’s bungling.
Though the opening is very similar to Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” works, with his character being out of work and finding employment at an odd locale, the character Chaplin plays here isn’t quite the same as the Tramp. He’s not as meek and self-effacing as the Tramp; in fact, in many ways, he’s a bit of a jerk. He gets into frequent fist-fights with his coworker (Rand), and can be inconsiderate to the customers, having a very careless attitude to the property they come in to pawn. Continue reading →
The Charlie Chaplin Festival was released in 1938, and as the name implies, it isn’t so much a film as it is a collection of four of Chaplin’s short films from 1917. The four short films included are The Immigrant, The Adventurer, The Cure, and Easy Street. Though the shorts are labelled as “chapters” in the film, they are unconnected to each other in both theme and story. However, there are a few actors who show up in each film. Besides Charlie Chaplin himself, there is Edna Purviance, who as usual is playing a sweet innocent young woman in each short for Chaplin’s characters to fixate upon and woo. Additionally, Eric Campbell appears in different roles in each short as an obstacle for Chaplin’s characters to overcome in some form or other; sometimes he’s a romantic rival, other times he’s just a neighborhood bully. In all cases, Campbell’s wild-eyed takes help sell the story.
Unfortunately, the “festival” is a bit lacking, as the film isn’t particularly well-edited. The transitions from one short to the next are handled very abruptly — and in some cases seem like there’s a bit of the short cut off at the end. Additionally, sound effects have been added in places, and they don’t work very well in the otherwise silent films. So even when the shorts themselves are good, I would recommend viewing them on their own rather than in this collection. Continue reading →