CMBA Blogathon: My Top 5 Classic Comfort Movies!

Since springtime has finally sprung, it’s time for one of the Classic Movie Blog Association‘s famed seasonal blogathons! (I’m a member, dontcha know.) This time, the theme is “Classics for Comfort,” wherein bloggers are sharing their top 5 lists of classic movies that are guaranteed mood-lifters.

Classics for Comfort Singing in the Rain Banner 1

For me, it’s really hard to pick just 5 movies. There’s lots of classics I can watch over and over, like Sunset Boulevard or All About Eve. But are those really comfort movies? Not quite. No, these have to be the kind of movies you like to relax to after a long, exhausting day, films you know will always perk up your mood. And thus I present my top 5 list (by the way, my perpetual Favorite Movie Ever is Singin’ in the Rain, but that always gets its own pedestal, so I’ll keep it there this time):

5. Monkey Business (1931)

Monkey Business (1931)

Any Marx Brothers film will do when I’m feeling down, but Monkey Business is a go-to favorite. Some of the best comedies are beautfully simple, and there are times when my heart desires nothing more complicated than letting these four brothers loose to wreak havoc. In this case, on a ship. And classic sequences like the passport scene are darn cathartic (let’s just say I’ve worked in the customer service industry).

4. Why Change Your Wife? (1920)

Gloria Swanson в Twitter: "“I'll take this and six more! Make them ...

What better goofy escapism can there be than Cecil B. DeMille’s delightfully over-the-top society comedies? Starring Gloria Swanson (as many of his society pictures were), this is a “husband vs. wife” sort of tale with the usual misunderstandings. The husband wishes his frumpy wife would nag him less and be more of a “sweetheart” again, while the wife is scandalized by his suggestion that she wear something hot. The costumes, especially the elaborate women’s lingerie and a certain men’s bathing suit (or whatever that is), are gloriously of their time. In fact, that men’s bathing suit…ensemble…cape thingie is a mood lifter all by itself. (Oh, Theodore Kosloff.)

3. Sons of the Desert (1933)

Oliver Hardy, Charley Chase, and Stan Laurel in Sons of the Desert (1933)

Virtually anything the boys appeared in is a comfort film, but if I had to pick one of their features? Sons of the Desert never fails to crack me up.  Not only is the premise of Stan and Ollie sneaking away from their wives to attend a riotous convention funny, but I love studying how these characters interact. Particularly the early scene where Ollie’s battleax wife yells at him in front of Stan. Stan feels awkward, but not too awkwardclearly this isn’t the first fight he’s witnessed between the two! Just brilliant comedy all around.

2. The Freshman (1925)

Before the Super Bowl, stream one of the all-time great football ...

Picking just one Harold Lloyd film for this kind of post is darn difficult, because his entire career can be filed under “comfort movies.” Just the image of his glasses probably brought comfort to a lot of people back in the day. But my decision is usually The Freshman, one of those wonderful underdog tales Lloyd excelled at. How could you not laugh at that scene with the kitten? Or feel warm fuzzies when Speedy and Peggy laugh delightedly after their first kiss? Or feel a jot of happy energy when Speedy, bearing the brunt of tackle training, picks himself up and enthusiastically keeps going? Or…

1. Sherlock Jr. (1924)

Sherlock Jr. (1924) | BFI

The moment you say “Pick a comfort movie” to me, I’m going to say “But how am I supposed to pick just one Buster film?!” But after much thought and many complicated math equations on huge chalk boards, I’ve finally come up with a result: Sherlock Jr., a 45 minute masterpiece of clever hilarity. The gags of some of silent comedy’s very best, and Buster shows a perceptiveness about the nature of film and its impact on viewers that is simply ahead of its time.

If I was going making a bigger list and throw in some classic shorts, I’d add the Comique series, Keystone shorts like The Knockout (1914), Mabel’s Trysting Place (1914) or Fatty’s Plucky Pup, Harry Langdon’s Saturday Afternoon (1925), and at least one Charley Bowers short–probably Egged On (1926). As far as more recent comfort films, they would be: Hook (a fave since I was a kid), The Devil Wears Prada (I never get tired of this chick flick), Marie Antoinette (2006) (the costumes! The settings! The history! So gorgeous and fascinating!), and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (I seriously think it’s one of the best films of the 21st century).

Care to share your own list of comfort movies? Please do! The more suggestions there are, the more comfort we’ll have to go around.

(Supposedly) Lost Films: “In The Clutches Of A Gang” (1914)

It’s one of the most famous photos from silent comedy. Or from the silent era itself. Or, heck, from cinema itself. It’s the image that probably leaps to mind when you say “Keystone Kops.”

Keystone Kops | Description, Movies, & Facts | Britannica

This one!

It’s also key to what I think is the ultimate championship trivia question: “This famous still comes from which lost film?” The winning answer–major props if you know it–is “In the Clutches of a Gang!” *Cue lots of applause and money showering from the ceiling*

For being such a wildly famous image, it’s surprising that In the Clutches of a Gang (1914) isn’t better known–as a title, at any rate. After all, the film itself has been lost for many decades, yet another casualty of delicate nitrate paired with the relentless march of time. What a pity that such a tantalizing piece of slapstick history should have been so thoroughly, and regrettably, lost.

OR HAS IT?! Continue reading

Rudolph Valentino–The Man Behind The Image

Today is the 125 birthday of none other than Rudy Valentino! Here is my piece on his life and career, originally written for last year’s Sheik Month. Please check it out if you haven’t already–I’m proud of how this piece turned out!

Thanks to my friend Donna Hill (Rudy expert extraordinaire) for reminding me of this significant birthday!

Silent-ology

“The woman from fourteen to ninety loved him, because he made romance come riding home to her dreams. He was not the individual she craved, he was the symbol of what she craved.” —From a letter to Photoplay, January 1927

Image result for rudolph valentino portrait

What does it mean to be an icon? In the case of film actors, we assume this means their image has instant recognition. Across the world, people belonging to every culture and race will recognize Marilyn Monroe or Charlie Chaplin. Their very names have symbolism–“Chaplin” calls to mind laughter and old-time slapstick, while “Marilyn Monroe” stands for glamour and sensuality with a touch of vulnerability. (Interestingly, many people I’ve encountered who mention admiring Marilyn have never seen one of her films.)

So let us consider “Rudolph Valentino.” Of all the screen icons, his legacy is perhaps the most obscured by mythology, fantasy and cult status. The mere mention…

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My Favorite Silent Film-Related Travel Memories! (So Far)

So if this was a normal spring, I’d be attending the San Francisco Silent Film Festival right now, sitting in my usual spot in the darkened Castro Theater.  But just in case you haven’t heard, it’s not a normal spring, and my lovely festival has been postponed until November (fingers crossed me and my pals will all be there!). This is doubly sad since I usually head to Hollywood for a few day afterwards. Indeed, my soul cries out for those palm trees, that smell of blooming jasmine, those Walk of Fame stars,  even that weird jumble of street performers and tourists on Hollywood Boulevard getting bottlenecked by dumb sidewalk vendors selling cheap toys no one ever, ever needs.

Hollywood Tours: Exploring Some Of LA's Biggest Attractions By Bike

You can’t see me because a vendor took up half the sidewalk to sell foam plastic emojis and I got trampled.

So in lieu of film festival revelries, I thought it’d be fun to share some of my fondest silent film-related travel memories (so far)! I love, love, love to travel, and some of my favorite trips have involved visiting sites related to the silent era. If there’s even a slight chance to stand on a street corner where Harold Lloyd once filmed or take in a rare exhibit of German Expressionist memorabilia, I’m there! So here are my reminisces. And please, when you’re done reading feel free to share some of your silent-themed travel experiences too! Continue reading

Fan Magazine Fun: “Cut-Out Caricatures” And Other Century-Old Art

Haven’t done one of these posts in awhile! It’s time to poke through the ol’ antique fan magazines and see what they’ve been hiding for 90-100 years. Today, let’s focus on those artsy illustrations!

These charmers are from a two-page spread in the November 1923 issue of Motion Picture Magazine, called “Cut-Out Caricatures.” Well whaddaya know, this minimalist style just happens to be all the rage today:

So that’s Nita Naldi, Buster, Richard Barthelmess, Norma Talmadge, Mary, and Doug, respectively. Let’s not forget Bull Montana, because I almost did:

Cut out Bull Montana Continue reading

4 Unique Examples Of Soviet Silent Animation (I Am Sorry)

So here’s a post I couldn’t quite fit into my Soviet Silents Month schedule. The idea was there, but the time? Not quite there. (I could’ve used a few extra, err, years for that month’s research.)  But I decided to dust the idea off and post it now, because after watching these films I need to know that others have experienced them, too. I need that kinship. That camaraderie. I’m not trying to say that watching these shorts brings on a creeping sense of Kafkaesque dread, but I’m sure not denying it, either.

Dziga Vertov's Soviet Toys | HISTORY OF RUSSIAN AND EASTERN ...

No secret dog whistles to Cthulhu here! No, sir. (Image credit: Animation-Stories)

If you’re in need of a major distraction, look no further than these curious examples of silent Soviet animation–because you’ll find it impossible to look away. But a word of caution: if it’s bedtime and you’ve just eaten something weird, believe me, these will not help the nightmares. Consider yourself forewarned. Also, just wanted to say right away: I am sorry. Continue reading

Wishing You All A Fine Easter Sunday!

We’ve made it, my friends–through the most unexpected of early springs, and through the strangest of Lents. As a Catholic, I have to say that if anything, Lent was an awfully suitable time to get through a pandemic (I sure streamed a lot of Masses in my apartment). And while it’s not nearly over yet, today’s nevertheless a good time to cue Handel’s Messiah and enjoy the beauty and significance of Easter–even if it’s in a small way.

Easter with Mary Pickford | Mary pickford, Vintage easter, Vintage ...

Follow Mary’s lead!

Here’s something festive, Motion Picture Magazine’s 1922 throwback to the popular Easter parades of yore. These parades aren’t as common today (especially not today) but from the 1870s onward they were a wildly popular tradition in major cities, especially New York City. It was a time for ladies and gentlemen to stroll the avenues in their festive finest, and ladies showed off their fanciest new Easter hats:

(You can right click the images and open them in a new tab to see the details.)

Here’s one more–Film Fun decided to collect images of actresses in fancy hats just for Easter:

“In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,
You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade…”

Wherever you are, reader, know that I’m thinking of you today! Have a fine Sunday!

 

“A 180 Pound Diamond”–The Bright Life And Tragic Death Of Wallace Reid

It’s an unfortunate fact that many stars are known mainly for a scandal or unfortunate demise. A lifetime of triumph and failure, hard work and reward, love and struggle–all are scoured away the second topics like “mysterious death” or “addiction” enter the picture. The individual involved dwindles down to a name, a “character” from long-ago times.

A prime example is Wallace Reid, major leading man of the 1910s and early 1920s. As a performer, he’s known mainly to silent film buffs. As a name, he has the sad distinction of being the first major Hollywood star to die of a drug addiction. “Drug addiction”–what a sledgehammer of a phrase. Decades of scandals have unfortunately accustomed us to scandals in Hollywood, but back in the early ’20s Reid’s death truly shocked the world.

Sunset Gun: The Roaring Road to Ruin: Wallace Reid

But before we cover the tragic aspect of his life–and it was truly a tragedy–let’s get to know “Wally,” the well-liked Renaissance man whose good looks are at home in any decade. Continue reading

Silent-ology Recommends: “CHASE! A Tribute To The Keystone Cops”

Hold the candlestick phone! Another new book on silent comedy is available to brighten our bookshelves? And it’s the first-ever book on the Keystone Cops?!

26 Best keystone cops images | Keystone cops, Cops, Silent film

“It is? Seriously?

Why yes indeed! I’m happy to help spread the word that the fine new book CHASE! A Tribute to the Keystone Cops is now available from BearManor Media. It represents a dream team effort by a number of historians and writers, all compiled by editors Lon and Debra Davis. Many of the names you probably know already: Sam Gill, Joe Adamson, Michael J. Hayde, Rob King, Mark Pruett, Chris Seguin, Paul E. Gierucki, John Bengtson, Randy Skretvedt, Rob Farr, Brent E. Walker, Mark Wanamaker, Stanley W. Todd, Lon Davis himself, and Lea Stans.

Wait–Lea Stans? Why yes, that is me, and I’m very proud to announce that this is the first time my writing is appearing in a good ol’ turn-the-pages book! Continue reading

Before Valentino: 6 Heartthrobs Of The 1910s

A version of this post was originally written for my Classic Movie Hub column Silents are Golden. Hope you enjoy!! 

When Rudolph Valentino became a 1920s superstar thanks to the megahits The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) and The Sheik (1921), he basically changed the definition of “matinee idol” forever. Unlike many popular actors at the time, who tended to be steady, “regular guy” types, the young Italian often played characters with a dangerous edge and definite air of sensuality. Even today, it’s not hard to see why women became obsessed with him.

The Sheik's Physique | Timeless Hollywood

“Yuck”–said no woman ever.

Which might make you wonder: before Valentino, which leading actors were considered major heartthrobs? After all, when we list handsome silent film actors today, 1920s personalities like John Gilbert or Ramon Novarro will spring to mind–but who were the “hotties” of the Edwardian era?

Continue reading