OFF HIS TROLLEY (Pathe-Mack Sennett, 1924) One reel; with Ralph Graves,
Alice Day, Natalie Kingston, Marvin Lobach, Billy Bevan
Between his periods with D.W. Griffith and, at Columbia, Prank Capra, Ralph
Graves put in a lengthy session as a Mack Sennett star -- both in shorts like
this one, and in such features as Mabel Normand's "The Extra Girl". While not
very adept at slapstick, he had a likeable personality and was certainly
about the best "straight" comedy hero that Sennett ever had. "Off His Trolley"
is more polished and elaborate than many of the Sennetts of the period, but
also a little less inventive. Far more could have been made of some of the
gags. However, it zips along at a fast clip (faster here than originally, it
must be admitted, since our print is a condensation of the initial 2-reeler)
and certainly covers a great deal of territory in its short running time.
THIS MECHANICAL AGE (Warner Bros., 1954) One reel; written and produced
by Robert G. Youngson.
This charming little short - an Academy Award winner for 1954 - is quite one
of the best of the interesting series that producer Youngson built around
the newsreel library of Warner-Pathe. Lightheartedly, but not disrespectfully,
it surveys some of the quaint and fantastic experiments in flight that
followed in the wake of the Wright Brothers' triumphant flight. Possibly not
intended, but nevertheless very much present, is an element of pathos too.
How insane some of these experiments seem, how hair-brained some of the ideas
of their inventors. Yet they represented courage, work, and an imagination
that could be proven invalid only by the final experimentation. And too,
as the planes are proudly trundled out for takeoff, it's a little saddening
to know that within a few seconds they'll be merely a mass of rubble. Some
of them, for all their impracticability, are lovely and graceful things; how
wonderful it would have been if some of them had worked.
THERE GOES THE BRIDE (Pathe-Hal Roach, 1926); two reels; with Lucien
Littlefield, Walter Lang, Martha Sleeper, Husky Hanes,
Noah Young, B. Wayne Lamont.
Far from being the greatest Hal Roach comedy we've ever shown, this is quite
certainly the strangest! It actually isn't terribly funny in itself, but it
seems funny by its very vigor, the gusto with which everything is slammed
over, and its determination never to be still for a moment. There's a forest
fire, a train wreck, riding stunts, thrills on a high bride, a bear, shooting
the rapids, a fall over a cliff, another one over a waterfall - and so on -
plus some lovely location shooting at Yosemite. There are some enjoyably
sadistic gags too, including a little boy gleefully pounding at the cheeks
of a toothache-ridden victim, and Walter Long swallowing a key ring and then
telling us via title and a pained expression, that "one of 'em was a
corkscrew"! Strangely, there's no star in charge of all this - and even
Martha Sleeper, who has most of the action, gets lower billing than Lucien
Littlefield and Walter Long. Roach had strange ideas about star comics at
this time anyway, and often felt that "character" names (ones that had
slipped far enough for him to be able to afford them, like Lionel Barrymore,
Herbert Rawlinson and Priscilla Dean) would raise the value of his shorts.
However, it's interesting that no really great comedy films seemed to emerge
from that brand of Roach thinking (or if they did, they don't appear to have
survived) -- and certainly none to compare with the best work of Laurel &
Hardy or Charlie Chase.
THRILLS FROM THE PAST (Warner Bros., 1954) One reel; written and produced by
Robert G. Youngson; adapted from "Old San Francisco", 1927, directed
by Alan Crosland, and starring Dolores Costello, Charles Emmet Mack, Warner
Oland, Anna May Wong, Sojin, Anders Randolf.
We've espoused the work of Alan Crosland before, and this rousing melodrama is
a good example of the rich and vigorous work that he turned out. It's climaxed
by a splendid reconstruction of the 1906 earthquake, with some outstanding
special effects work. (Incidentally, in the original feature the earthquake
seemed to be a direct outcome of Dolores Costello's prayers, uttered when
she was about to be shipped off into white slavery!) The narration is
inexcusably over-written - even for an admittedly complicated plot like this
one - but that one element apart, it's an extremely enjoyable reel which
certainly does manage to present not only the highlights of the film, but also
some of the best individual shots.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON (Warner Brothers, 1931) 8 reels; directed by John G.
Adolfi; written by George Arliss and Mrs Hamlin; photographed by
James Van Trees; Art Director, Esdras Hartley. Starring GEORGE ARLISS, with
Doris Kenyon, Montague Love, Dudley Digges, Lionel Belmore, June Collyer,
Ralf Harolde, Charles Middleton, George Larkin, Alan Mowbray, Morgan Wallace,
Gwendolin Logan, John T. Murray, Charles Evans, John Larkin, Evelyn Hall,
Russell Simpson, James Durkin.
We've never yet played a vintage George Arliss vehicle, and this one is as
typical as they come. Most of you, we assume, know just what to expect from
an early Arliss talkie, and this one supplies it with a vengeance. Apart from
an encouragingly visual and cinematic opening - Washington's farewell to his
army on November 2 1783 - "Alexander Hamilton" is not notably cinematic
(especially in comparison with other 1931 movies from Warners like "Five Star
Final", "Viennese Nights", "Svengali" and others). It offers sustained
theatrics from good old George, and of course a rousing speech towards the
end. In retrospect especially, it's easy to see why Arliss was so kidded
by the critics; and indeed it is amusing to see the same Arliss mannerisms
cropping up in so many identical interpretations of statesmen of completely
differing creeds and even nationalities! Arliss, along with Paul Muni, is
perhaps one of the most over-rated of actors, and yet one can't help
admiring the old fellow for getting away with it for so long, and for
injecting such obvious self-esteem into every performance that he almost
seems to be waiting for applause at the end of every line. Yet, it's nice
to see theatrical, bravura acting of the old school again - nice, and
refreshing. Even though it's no rediscovered masterpiece, "Alexander
Hamilton" is a well-mounted picture, and an interesting interpretation of
a period of American history rarely dealt with on the screen. Also, it is of
reasonable brevity so that the preponderance of talk doesn't become oppressive.
The cast is full of old friends from the silent days, all of them struggling
valiantly to sneak in a word or a look when Arliss' eagle-eyes are directed
elsewhere. (What a pity that nobody ever thought of co-starring George and
Wm. K. Everson
Next program - next Friday, August 21st same time, same place -
EARL WHITE in TERROR, PLUNDER, PEARL OF THE ARMY, PERILS OF PAULINE
Plus ZUDORA: FANTOMAS: WHAT HAPPENED TO MARY and other early serial material.