Monday, May 02, 2016

The Year in Movies: 1925

Since most of my 7 Days in May posts have been around the massive silent movie kick I'm on lately, I'm weeding out the extra stuff and am just going to concentrate on sharing the silents. I think that makes a better post than a miscellaneous hodge podge of stuff. And since I've been working my way through the silents chronologically, it makes sense to re-title this The Year in Movies. Here are the movies from 1925 that I've recently checked out (or rewatched).

Seven Chances (1925)

This Buster Keaton feature starts off as a romantic comedy in which Keaton's character needs to get married by a certain time in order to inherit seven million dollars. The jokes in that part are all about his proposing to various women at his country club and getting turned down, hilariously.

Then one of his buddies hits on the idea of putting out an ad that attracts probably about a hundred women. At that point, it becomes a chase movie as they run Keaton through the streets and across the countryside. And it's a brilliant, funny chase, too (way better than the one in Cops), especially when the rock slide starts.

There are some racist gags that I wish weren't in there, but generally it's one of Keaton's stronger movies.

Don Q: Son of Zorro (1925)

Put it on the list of sequels that are better than the original. Fairbanks' Mark of Zorro is amazing and fun, but Don Q goes to another level with a more intricate plot, a great group of characters, and even better actors to play them. I cared a lot about the people in this story, despairing and cheering right alongside them.

I'm glad I don't have to choose between Douglas Fairbanks and Buster Keaton for whose athleticism I admire more. I've said before that Fairbanks may not be as handsome as some of the swashbucklers who followed him, but he rules them all in terms of energy and sheer physical impressiveness. He's the definition of swashbuckler, always full of life and joy - even in the darkest moments - and never willing to walk or climb when a leap will get him there faster.

The Lost World (1925)

I really thought I'd seen this before, but didn't recall it as I was watching and think I would have. It's about half-faithful to the Arthur Conan Doyle story it's adapting with Wallace Beery (whom I know as King Richard from Douglas Fairbanks' Robin Hood) as a great Professor Challenger. He's physically imposing with a perpetual, angry brood on his face most of the time. The other actors are great as well, but the real stars are the makeup and special effects.

Bull Montana is legitimately frightening in his ape-man makeup by Cecil Holland, and legendary effects artist Willis O'Brien (who'd go on to supervise the visual effects for King Kong) worked on the charming stop-motion dinosaurs. The dinosaurs are so great that I'm glad the movie modified the end of the story by having a brontosaurus rampage through London (another foreshadow of King Kong).

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Seen this one a million times, but the sets and costumes are still spectacular and it's creepy in all the right places. Chaney is magnificent; equal parts evil and pathetic. Christine is flighty and pretty dumb, but her shenanigans just add to my enjoyment.

The Unholy Three (1925)

It may star Lon Chaney and be directed by Tod Browning, but The Unholy Three is no horror movie. It's a crime story, just with the twist that the trio of criminals in the title met in a sideshow act. Chaney plays Professor Echo, a ventriloquist who teams up with a little person and a strong man to pull elaborate burglaries, using a pet store as a front.

Complicating the situation is Echo's girlfriend, Rosie, an official member of the gang who's spending more time than Echo likes with Hector, the pet store clerk whom Echo's keeping around as a possible fall guy if things go wrong.

There's a lot that has to be overlooked to enjoy the movie. The way ventriloquism and courtrooms work, for instance. But there's a great, emotional core that keeps it interesting and makes it worthwhile. When allegiances shift - and boy do they - it always feels natural and because of who the characters are. Now I'm curious to see the 1930 remake that brought back Chaney and the three-foot Harry Earles with sound.

Go West (1925)

A very sweet story about the relationship between a friendless man and a brown-eyed cow. I love Buster Keaton's usual romantic shenanigans, but Go West is a refreshing change of pace. Though there is a woman, of course, and that story is sweetly told, too.

Wolf Blood (1925)

Wolf Blood (Wolfblood?) has even less to do with werewolves than the infamous She-Wolf of London, because that one at least starts its misdirection early on. Wolfblood spends most of its time creating drama between rival lumber operations and setting up romance between its lead characters. The lycanthrope element is tossed in towards the end as a romantic foil more than anything else.

But at least it has a pretty great character in Edith Ford, a flapper who also owns one of the lumber companies. In fact, if the movie had just been about her trying to decide between her surgeon fiancé and the handsome foreman of her company, I would have liked the movie better. Like She-Wolf, my biggest problem is its trying to squeeze in a supernatural plot and being half-hearted about it.

Tumbleweeds (1925)

A cool silent film covering the same events as the finale of Far and Away, which I have fond memories of and need to watch again.

Tumbleweeds makes a nice companion piece to The Covered Wagon, which also has people in covered wagons looking for a place to settle down. But in Covered Wagon they're opening up the frontier in the 1840s, while Tumbleweeds has them filling it in 50 years later.

I'd never seen a William S Hart movie before and I can see now why he was a big Western star. He's got a kind face, but a tough attitude. I doubt I'll track down his other movies, but I liked him in this.

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)

Like with the two Ten Commandments movies, I've always wanted to see the original Ben-Hur. Now that I have, I'm pretty sure I like it better than the Charlton Heston version. It's been a long time since I've seen Heston's, but I'm not a huge fan of him anyway and Ramon Novarro is extremely handsome and appealing as the title character.

I can see why William Wyler's remaking it was a good idea with new technology (and am curious to see how Timur Bekmambetov will do it again this year), but Fred Niblo totally got it right the first time. It wraps up too neatly and conveniently for me, but it's got all the spectacle and it's well-acted.

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