Monday, May 16, 2016

The Year in Movies: 1927

The King of Kings (1927)

After the heavy-handedness of Cecil B DeMille's original Ten Commandments, I was nervous about how he'd portray Jesus' story in King of Kings. And I was right to have some of those fears. HB Warner's Jesus tends to be over-serious and often sounds like he's quoting himself instead of having conversations. And I hated the way the film portrays Mary Magdalene's conversion as a miraculous act that's possibly even against her will. (It's really well done from a technical standpoint; I just hate the theological implications.)

But the movie does great things with Magdalene and by the end of the movie I had no doubt that at some point she'd made her own decision to follow Jesus. And there are some great, human moments for him, too, especially in his interactions with kids and the woman caught in adultery.

And of course DeMille knows how to create a spectacular set, so every scene in the movie looks like an elaborate Renaissance painting. It's a gorgeous film to watch.

Metropolis (1927)

If you asked me a month ago if I'd seen Metropolis, I would've told you, "Yes," but that's almost not true. I have a crappy, murky, horribly framed print of the heavily trimmed down version, so that's what I've seen a few times. Recently though, I watched the restored version with all the extra footage. It looks great and improves the story significantly. The edited version I'm used to retains the plot, but cuts out a lot of character stuff. This time, I cared more for the characters than I usually do.

But I still have many of my usual problems. I love the theme about the relationship between heart, head, and hands, but the movie is so eager to get that point across that it makes some dire mistakes. It's super didactic, for one thing, but that's not as bad as the way its characters act. People do the craziest things, not because it makes sense to the story, but because they have to in order to make the analogy work. Drives me crazy.

But I do like the characters and the world and the concepts and above all else the look of the film. It's visually astonishing and needs to be seen if for no other reason than that.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

There have been many versions, but this is my favorite. No surprise, since it's Hitchcock, but for reasons that I can't go into without spoilers, I also love this story best. The others add their own plot twists, but end up diluting an an almost perfect story.

It (1927)

There's a contrived misunderstanding in order to drive a wedge between the romantic leads, but it's no worse than the plots of most modern romantic comedies. And few of those have leads as likable as Clara Bow and Antonio Moreno. Or goofy best friends as adorable as William Austin. It's easy to see why It is such a classic.

Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927)

For some reason, Tarzan has a sister and a best friend who are in love with each other. Jane is in the movie, but she doesn't do anything. Sis gets all the plot (that's her in the poster above). Also, Boris Karloff plays an African warrior.

So the movie makes some weird choices, but James Pierce is a great Tarzan. He's not wearing a goofy wig, for one thing, nor does he occasionally stop to pound his chest like Elmo Lincoln and Frank Merrill would do. He's just a straightforward, clean-cut hero who happens to wear leopard skins. And he looks really cool hanging out with his pet lion. It's a minor Tarzan film, but a memorable one.

The Unknown (1927)

The plot is essentially an EC Comics horror story fleshed out to full length, but that's not a complaint. Once I figured out that's what it was, it let me predict the broad strokes of the outcome, but I love chilling tales of comeuppance for evil people, so I didn't enjoy it any less.

The bigger challenge was getting past Nanon's (Joan Crawford) goofy chirophobia. It's not goofy because it's irrational, but because it's so easily dropped when the plot needs it to be.

Still, the movie has a lot of style and the effects used to make Lon Chaney appear armless (like integrating the feet of an actual armless man to make it look like Chaney's manipulating objects with his toes) are seamless and amazing.

College (1927)

Buster Keaton's version of a sports movie. It's neither my favorite Keaton film nor my favorite sports movie, but I still cheered at the end and had a great time throughout.

 London After Midnight (1927)

I watched the reconstruction with stills and it made me mourn the loss of the real version. It's a very cool story that I'd rather not spoil and the sharp-toothed stranger has a fantastic, iconic look. It deserves a better remake than 1935's Mark of the Vampire (which is enjoyable on its own terms, but not a good version of London After Midnight).

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