The Gold Rush (1925)

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The Gold Rush (1925)

The Gold Rush (1925). 95 minutes. Directed by Charlie Chaplin. Starring Charlie Chaplin (as the Little Tramp/Lone Prospector), Georgia Hale (as Georgia), Mack Swain (as Big Jim McKay), Tom Murray (as Black Larsen), Malcolm Waite (as Jack Cameron), and Henry Bergman (as Hank Curtis).

The Gold Rush is the silent film Charlie Chaplin hoped he would be remembered for. Set in the Yukon during the late nineteenth century, the movie features well-known Chaplin comedy routines such as the protagonist boiling and eating his own shoe, a tabletop dance with two bread rolls on the ends of forks, and a cabin that slides back and forth over the edge of a mountain cliff. But one of the movie’s most impressive accomplishments is the way that it develops Chaplin’s Little Tramp into a deeply moving, remarkably touching character, something that The Gold Rush was criticized for during its own time but that today makes it seem soulful.

The plot revolves around three … Read the rest

Remember the Night (1940)

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Remember the Night (1940)

Remember the Night (1940). 91 minutes. Directed by Mitchell Leisen. Starring Barbara Stanwyck (as Lee Leander), Fred MacMurray (as John Sargent), Beulah Bondi (as Mrs. Sargent), Elizabeth Patterson (as Aunt Emma), Sterling Holloway ( as Willie Simms), Paul Guilfoyle (as district attorney), Charles Waldron (as New York judge), Fred Toones (as Rufus), Tom Kennedy (as Fat Mike), Georgia Cane (as Lee’s mother). Screenplay by Preston Sturges.

Remember the Night is a Preston Sturges comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck as a thief and Fred MacMurray as a New York prosecutor who spend Christmas together in Wabash, Indiana. Although not as well known as other Sturges films such as The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, and The Palm Beach Story, Remember the Night is nevertheless a surprisingly enjoyable holiday film weirdly mixed together with elements of a trial drama. In addition, and probably the reason that I recommend it the most, the movie also functions as a love story to the … Read the rest

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

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The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926).  65 minutes. Written and directed by Lotte Reiniger. Cinematography by Carl Koch. Based on The Arabian Nights.

Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed is the earliest surviving feature-length animated film. Based on The Arabian Nights and brought to life with silhouettes, its story is both refined and complex. Prince Achmed’s noble characters travel around the world, undertake fantastic quests, and perform heroic deeds in plotlines that interconnect and move fluidly across geography and time. Its art direction is also sublime. Although Reiniger’s use of silhouettes was not to become the norm in mainstream European and American animated films, her exquisite work hints at the possibilities inherent in animation before cel art became prominent. The movie is a shining example of the beauty, sophistication, and inventiveness typical of the late silent period.

When the story begins, a nameless African magician visits the court of the Caliph and presents him with a magic horse … Read the rest

The Curse of the Cat People (1944)

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The Curse of the Cat People (1944)

The Curse of the Cat People (1944). 70 minutes. Directed by Robert Wise and Gunther von Fritsch. Starring Simone Simon (as Irena Reed), Kent Smith (as Oliver Reed), Jane Randolph (as Alice Reed), Ann Carter (as Amy Reed), Eve March (as Miss Callahan), Julia Dean (as Mrs. Julia Farren), Elizabeth Russell (as Barbara Farren), and Sir Lancelot (as Edward). Produced by Val Lewton.

You may see this movie because you have seen Cat People (1942), a wonderful horror movie about a woman who believes that she is descended from a race of humans who can transform into felines. But The Curse of the Cat People is not a horror film like its predecessor, even though it was given a horror-movie title, and it does not really have much to do with the metamorphosing characters of Cat People either. It chiefly focuses on a lonely young girl named Amy who may or may not be able to see the deceased … Read the rest

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

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Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Un Chien Andalou (1929). 21 minutes. Directed by Luis Buñuel. Starring Simone Mareuil (as young girl), Pierre Batcheft (as young man and second young man), Luis Buñuel (as man in prologue), Salvador Dalí (as seminarian and man on beach), Robert Hommet (as third young man), Fano Messan (as androgynous young woman), and Jaime Miraveilles (as seminarian). Written by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí.

Un Chien Andalou is a silent short written by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí that has developed a reputation among cineastes as required viewing. This surealist experiment, called “the most famous short film ever made” by Roger Ebert, was intended to shock audiences; Buñuel famously later said that he kept stones in his pocket at the premiere in case he needed to defend himself against enraged viewers. I would hesitate to say that it horrified the public, but it was a sensation and unnerved many of those who saw it. When viewing it recently, I had … Read the rest

Fantasia (1940)

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Fantasia (1940)

Fantasia (1940). 126 minutes. Starring Deems Taylor (as Master of Ceremonies). Music conducted by Leopold Stokowski and performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Story direction by Joe Grant and Dick Huemer. Produced by Walt Disney and Ben Sharpsteen.

Fantasia is almost a complete anomaly in the Disney film canon. The third feature-length animated movie to emerge from Disney’s studios, it does not tell one overarching story but rather is a collection of eight short films inspired by and set to classical music. The sequences range from an abstract depiction of sound (Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”) to a grim scientific odyssey (Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”), from light comedies (Dukas’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours”) to somber material (Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” Schubert’s “Ave Maria”). The movie is one of Disney’s finest achievements, and it elevates animation by pairing cartoons with some of the greatest instrumental music in history. But due to its considerable budget, the … Read the rest

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). 126 minutes. Directed by John Huston. Starring Humphrey Bogart (as Fred C. Dobbs), Walter Huston (as Howard), Tim Holt (as Bob Curtin), Bruce Bennett (as James Cody), Barton MacLane (as Pat McCormick), Alfonso Bedoya (as Gold Hat), Arturo Soto Rangel (as El Presidente), Manuel Dondé (as El Jefe), José Torvay (as Pablo), Margarito Luna (as Pancho), Robert Blake (as boy selling lottery tickets), John Huston (as American in Tampico wearing white suit). Screenplay by John Huston. Music by Max Steiner.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of director John Huston’s masterpieces. It stars his father, Walter Huston, as a tough old miner who leads two aspiring prospectors into the mountains of Mexico in pursuit of gold. They do find gold, but they also discover a darker side to themselves that leads to betrayal and death. Its story about the corrupting power of wealth is in line with another movie that ends … Read the rest

Ziegfeld Girl (1941)

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Ziegfeld Girl (1941)

Ziegfeld Girl (1941). 132 minutes. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard. Starring James Stewart (as Gilbert Young), Judy Garland (as Susan Gallagher), Hedy Lamarr (as Sandra Kolter), Lana Turner (as Sheila Regan), Tony Martin (as Frank Merton), Jackie Cooper (as Jerry Regan), Eve Arden (as Patsy Dixon), Philip Dorn (as Franz Kolter), Charles Winniger (as “Pop” Gallagher), Ian Hunter (as Geoffrey Collis), and Edward Everett Horton (as Noble Sage). Musical sequences directed by Busby Berkeley.

Ziegfeld Girl is intended to be a follow-up to 1936’s The Great Ziegfeld, but whereas The Great Ziegfeld focuses on Florenz Ziegfeld (founder of the Ziegfeld Follies) and his rise to fame, Ziegfeld Girl charts the careers of three fictitious Follies showgirls. The similarities between the two movies are numerous, and towards its end, Ziegfeld Girl even recycles some of the footage from the earlier film, including The Great Ziegfeld’s famous rotating wedding cake set. While Ziegfeld Girl has many failings—including the fact that it … Read the rest

The Last Laugh (1924)

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The Last Laugh (1924) featured image

The Last Laugh (1924). 91 minutes. Directed by F. W. Murnau. Starring Emil Jannings (as hotel doorman), Maly Delschaft (as his niece), Max Hiller (as her bridegroom), Emilie Kurz (as bridegroom’s aunt), Hans Unterkircher (as hotel manager), Olaf Storm (as young guest), Hermann Vallentin (as guest with pot belly), Georg John (as night watchman), and Emmy Wyda (as thin neighbor). Cinematography by Karl Freund.

The plot of The Last Laugh can be encapsulated in a simple sentence: an anonymous hotel doorman is demoted. Despite its simple premise, however, this silent movie is an astonishingly profound depiction of human misery. Relying on camera movement and gesture to convey meaning throughout, and using only one title card during its 91-minute running time, The Last Laugh relies more than most films on visual elements to tell its story. It is essential viewing for anyone who cares about early movies.

An enthusiastic hotel doorman is observed drinking on the job one day by the … Read the rest

San Francisco (1936)

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San Francisco (1936)

San Francisco (1936). 115 minutes. Directed by W. S. Van Dyke. Starring Clark Gable (as Blackie Norton), Jeanette MacDonald (as Mary Blake), Spencer Tracy (as Father Tim Mullin), Jack Holt (as Jack Burley), Jessie Ralph (as Mrs. Burley), Ted Healy (as Mat), Shirley Ross (as Trixie), Edgar Kennedy (as sheriff), Al Shean (as professor), and William Ricciardi (as Signor Baldini). Songs by Walter Jurmann, Bronislaw Kaper, and Edward Ward.

San Francisco has the potential to be a good movie. It has great music, including the song “San Francisco,” which was composed especially for it; features Jeanette MacDonald, Clark Gable, and Spencer Tracy; makes use of contributions from directors D. W. Griffith and Erich von Stroheim; and is set in one of the greatest cities in the world in the days before its most impressive catastrophe, the 1906 earthquake. Yet San Francisco’s story is both fairly conventional and a strange compilation of genres, with the plot beginning as a familiar story … Read the rest