1911-1920

Louis Feuillade – Judex (1916)

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Occupying a delicious place between Victorian melodrama and superhero comic books, Judex is one of the great serials from the career of French movie pioneer Louis Feuillade. From his castle lair high above the countryside, mystery man Judex (granite-faced Rene Creste) seeks to protect the lovely Jacqueline, while nursing a secret hatred for her fatcat father. Multiple kidnappings, assassination attempts, and narrow escapes follow; much of the mischief is orchestrated by wicked temptress Diana Monti (Musidora, the star of Feuillade’s Les Vampires). There’s also a delightfully overwhelmed detective (Marcel Levesque), who’s a sort of prototype of Monsieur Clouseau, and a streetwise Artful Dodger known as the Licorice Kid. Read More »

Arvid E. Gillstrom – The Hero (1917)

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Plot: Another silent comedy with Billy aka Charley and very young Oliver Hardy. Rare movie! Read More »

Allan Dwan – The Ranchman’s Vengeance (1911)

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Lorenz Pedro, a Mexican half-breed, owns a small sheep ranch, and lives happily with his wife Marie and little daughter Lois. One exceedingly hot afternoon, Tom Flint, riding across the ranch looking for work is overcome by the heat, and Pedro, acting the part of a good Samaritan, takes him to his home, where Marie, through careful nursing, soon has him quite himself again. Pedro is out daily with his flock, leaving Marie and Flint together, offering an opportunity which Flint ungratefully takes advantage of, resulting in his completely winning Marie’s love. Manuelito, Marie’s father, is suspicious and comes upon them while Flint is declaring his love. He goes to Pedro in the field and tells what he has seen and heard. Hastening home he finds his wife in Flint’s embrace, and in his great love for Marie bids Flint take her, but warns him his life shall pay the penalty should he ever find him shamefully abusing both mother and child. Manuelito sends a telegram to Pedro, who is working …

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A.E. Coleby – Mysteries of London (1915)

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After her father is falsely jailed for embezzlement and her mother dies of grief, Louise is adopted by a kindly stockbroker. 15 years later, she falls in love with his dissolute son Frank, a mistake that nearly proves fatal to her. The film’s main historical point of interest, though, lies in the still highly recognisable central London locations – but Dutch intertitles and copious print damage suggest that we’re lucky that this lively three-part melodrama survives at all.

Active in films from 1907, and making features as early as 1912, London-born AE Coleby (1876-1930) was a prolific silent-era director. Specialising in thrillers and melodramas, he was among the first to tackle such horror staples as Egyptian curses (The Mummy, 1912) and the perennial Chinese villain Fu Manchu (The Mystery of Fu Manchu, 1923). In the 1920s, he returned to making mainly short films, including a couple of early sync-sound experiments, but he died shortly after Britain’s talkie era began in earnest. Sadly, as with many silent filmmakers, most of his output no longer survives. Read More »

Ernst Lubitsch – Ich möchte kein Mann sein AKA I Don’t Want to Be a Man (1918)

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A teenaged tomboy, tired of being bossed around by her strict guardian, impersonates a man so she can have more fun, but discovers that being the opposite sex isn’t as easy as she had hoped.

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I Don’t Want To Be A Man is like The Oyster Princess an early example of Ernst Lubitsch’s comic skills, and it also shares The Oyster Princess’ star, the irrepressible comedienne Ossi Oswalda, who in both films lends her name to the characters she plays. Here she plays a wild, rambunctious late teen barely under the control of her guardian/uncle and governess. (In reality it takes a while to work out that this middle-aged couple glaring disapprovingly out the window at Ossi’s mild antics outside are not her parents; they seemed rather coded as such.) Read More »

Segundo de Chomón & Giovanni Pastrone – La guerra ed il sogno di Momi (1917)

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Little Momi’s father has left to be a soldier and his letters are eagerly anticipated by his family at home. In one of them he recounts the adventure of little highlander Berto, who saved his mother from an attack by the Austrians by running to warn the Italian troops. Momi is impressed by the tale and falls asleep on the sofa, hugging his favourite toys, agile Trick and violent Track; as soon as the child is sleeping Trick, Track and their troops unleash a battle with a vengeance, featuring heavy artillery, chemical weapons and air attacks. Finally, in the vehemence of their clash, Momi is involved as well and prodded with bayonets. Nevertheless… it is only a rose thorn and the battle was only a dream. Momi confidently keeps looking forward to the return of his father from the front, together with his mother and grandfather. This masterpiece by the wizard of “special effects” Segundo de Chomón is a war story, divided into a first live-action part and a second animated one in stop-motion, with a skill that still leaves one gaping even today. Visual inventions and sophisticated technical solutions follow each other: from the bellows sucking in the fumes of the chemical attack to the soda bottle used to extinguish fires in the city of Lilliput after the air incursion. Read More »

Grigori Kozintsev & Leonid Trauberg – Novyy Vavilon AKA The New Babylon (1929)

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The Paris Commune was an epic phenomenon in the early history of the socialist movement. The Commune was located in the workers quarters within the centre of Paris. An important location was the emporium LA NOUVELLE BABYLONE, still existing at Metro Babylone. The main character in the film is Louise, a salesgirl in the shop. She is a communard. Her counterpart is a soldier that helps to wipe out the Commune. Thus, the enormous social and dialectic complications and contrasts between the workers on one side, and bourgeoisie and army on the other side, are projected on two characters. And of course they fall in love. Louise is a fierce heroine. Jean a naïve soldier, a farmer who is ordered and abused. In the end they meet not in bed but on the barricades. Jean is a conscript in the army that defeats the Commune fighters in the bloody week in June 1871. Thousands of the Communards were killed in action or shot at Père Lachaise cemetery. Read More »