Showing posts with label 1923. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1923. Show all posts

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Safety Last!

Anyone who knows me or has regularly perused my blog will be well aware that I’m a huge fan of the silent comedy from the 1910s to 1930s. Of course this isn’t entirely true though. My love and knowledge only extends as far as the two behemoths of the era, to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Aside from the occasional foray into the likes of Laurel and Hardy and non-Chaplin Keystone, my understanding is limited. For a long time I’ve wanted to get a hold of some of the films of Harold Lloyd, the man who probably came closest to Chaplin and Keaton both then and now. Unfortunately, unlike my two comedy heroes, his oeuvre is harder to come by and much more expensive. I’ve started then with what is in my opinion his best known work; Safety Last! A film famous for its iconic still of Lloyd hanging from a clock face several stories up a skyscraper, I thought I’d start with the obvious and work my way back.

The movie opens very strongly with a set up that seems to suggest that the lead character, named Harold Lloyd, is behind bars and being visited by his sweetheart and a priest. In the background, a hangman’s noose looms. As the camera zooms out though, we learn that he’s merely behind a fence and is in fact awaiting the arrival of a train that will take him to the big city in search of his fortune. Lloyd promises to make good within the year in order that he and his girl (Mildred Davis) can marry. The establishing scene expertly sets up the next sixty-five minutes by introducing us to the characters and their motivations as well as giving us a great sight gag. From then on, the film goes from strength to strength.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

A Woman of Paris

Charlie Chaplin’s 1923 film A Woman of Paris is a film full of firsts. It was his first films released by United Artists, the company he had co-founded four years earlier. It was his first dramatic film, featuring no slapstick comedy at all and it was his first film in which he did not star. It was also a film of lasts. After a fruitful eight year relationship, this was Chaplin’s final film to feature Edna Purviance and it was also his last purely dramatic picture. The movie was warmly received by critics who praised its bold themes, underplayed acting and assured direction but for the public it was a different matter. It’s difficult to quantify Chaplin’s appeal and fame for modern audiences but up to that point no person in the movies was paid more. Upon his first return to London after his American success, literally hundreds of thousands of people turned out to welcome him home. It is arguable that no entertainer has ever been as famous as Charlie Chaplin was in the first half of the twentieth century.

So, when audiences eagerly flocked to their cinemas in 1923 for the latest Chaplin feature only to find that the man himself wasn’t on screen, it’s easy to understand their disappointment. Imagine paying for another Pirates of the Caribbean film only to discover that there was no Johnny Depp and no pirates. Now image that the Pirate of the Caribbean films were actually good and you get some understanding of the disappointment audiences must have felt. To his credit, Chaplin did attempt to get word out that this was going to be an atypical film with flyers handed out to the long cinema queues and the film actually opens with a disclaimer stating that “I do not appear in this picture” and that it is intended as a “serious drama”. Had the audience been aware of this before the film opened, their reaction might have been very different but instead it was a commercial failure and wasn’t seen again for over fifty years when Chaplin reissued it with a new, self composed score in what was to be the final piece of work before his death in 1977.

Charlie Chaplin - The United Artist Films and Beyond

Last year I watched and reviewed over forty films made by one of my cinematic heroes, Charlie Chaplin. It’s taken a while but after cataloguing all of his Essanay, Mutual and First National Films, I’ve come back to the tramp to look at the final portion of his career. Even as I write these words I realise how absurd ‘final portion’ sounds as the years I’m looking at cover over four decades and include his first dramatic film, his first talkie and his final British films following his exile from his adopted United States. This period also coincides with what is today, his most iconic era; the fifteen years between 1925’s The Gold Rush and 1940’s The Great Dictator. Despite having been one of the most famous men in the world for over a decade, 1925 marks the beginning of the era which still defines Chaplin’s motion picture career. It was between the years of 1925-40 that he created some of the most essential comedy moments in film history and all but one of his films from this period has been added to the US National Film Registry. For me and indeed many film fans these films are gems but as with many of the silent shorts that I reviewed last year, some of the films surrounding this golden period will be new to me.

Most of the films listed below were produced through United Artists, the company co-founded by Chaplin and fellow stars D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks (pictured above). The company is still going strong today but lost its independence in 1967 and is now a subsidiary of MGM. I have, in the past year and a half, reviewed some of the films on this list already but I’ll be watching the rest in order and may decide to re-watch the ones I have seen anyway. As usual you can click on a film’s title to read my full review.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Pilgrim

Charlie Chaplin’s shortest feature or longest short, depending on which way you’d like to view it, is important for a number of reasons. Not only was it his final short film before moving to features permanently but it was also his last film to co star Edna Purviance. Purviance stared in over thirty of Chaplin’s films and was his leading lady for eight years but The Pilgrim was her final major onscreen appearance with Chaplin*. The movie also bought to an end a fruitful relationship with The First National Film Company. Following this film Chaplin would produce his final films with United Artists, the company he founded with D. W. Griffith, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Those films would go on to define Chaplin’s long career.

Besides the above reasons there is little worth remembering about The Pilgrim and for me it is a bit of a blot on an otherwise successful era for Chaplin. The Pilgrim begins slowly and never kicks into a high gear. There is very little humour or comedy of any sort and the story, while occasionally attention-grabbing, didn’t do anything for me. The ending was nice but The Pilgrim isn’t a film I’ll be returning to in a hurry. In a typical case of mistaken identity an escaped convict (Charlie Chaplin) dresses as a preacher and takes a train to Texas where he is immediately taken for a small town’s new Church leader. His past comes back to haunt him though as an old friend makes a surprise appearance.