Lost Films: “The Miracle Man” (1919)

It was called spellbinding, striking, “one of the greatest of pictures.” It received ecstatic reviews by critics and transfixed audiences across the nation. It was the great drama The Miracle Man (1919), which not only ended up earning many times its modest budget, but made stars out of its three leads: Thomas Meighan, Betty Compson, and of course, the legendary Lon Chaney.

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Naturally, like many other fascinating-sounding silents from the 1910s, The Miracle Man is lost. But in this case, fate has provided us with a rare silver lining. Thanks to compilation film The House That Shadows Built (1931), made in honor of Paramount studio’s 20th year, a couple minutes of footage have survived–including its most famous scene, where Chaney’s character pretends to experience a miraculous healing. Imagine if we had even one minute of London After Midnight! Continue reading

The Eleventh Hour Of The Eleventh Day

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At the precise moment this post is going live, it is 11 a.m. in Belgium and France. This marks 100 years to the minute since World War I’s official ceasefire took effect at 11 a.m., November 11, 1918. After years of constant gunshots and shellfire, the final shots rang out in the same place they began–in Mons, Belgium. The last soldier to fall was American private Henry Gunther, who was killed by automatic fire in the village of Chaumont-devant-Damvillers, France, at 10:59 a.m.

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Soldiers celebrating the end of fighting.

Millions had died from 1914 to 1918–far too many for our minds to comprehend, try though we might. And millions more died when the Spanish flu epidemic swept across the globe in 1918. But on that first Armistice Day, everyone allowed themselves to rejoice–to rejoice in the bloody struggle’s end, and perhaps to rejoice in life itself, fleeting as it was.

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A jubilant crowd in Britain.

If it’s hard for us to grasp the scale of death during World War I, it might also be hard for us to grasp the frenzy of joy that took place when the ceasefire was declared. In cities around the world, cheering crowds poured into the streets. People climbed up light posts and statues and stood on top of cars. In small towns, houses emptied as everyone ran to dance in the streets and march in impromptu parades. Bands played, banners and flags waved. In factories, in shipyards, even on trains, everyone stopped what they were doing to shout and cry and celebrate together.

Crowds packing the avenues of New York City.

Parades through the small town of Bemidji, MN. 

A vast throng in front of Buckingham Palace.

Every Veterans’ Day is important, but today has a special resonance. Wherever you are, and whatever you may be doing today, please take a moment to remember the immense sacrifices made by so many millions of people–and to remember the wild, fierce, joyful celebration of life that took place in the streets of our cities and hometowns 100 years ago.

~1918 – 2018~

Lest We Forget

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Thoughts On: “Soldier Man” (1926)

To say that the gentle, baby-faced, cartoon-character-come-to-life Harry Langdon is not an obvious pick for a World War I-themed film might seem like a huge understatement. But funnily enough, there was something about the sight of Langdon’s innocent clown blundering through shell-pitted battlegrounds that worked. Was it the contrast, which was so stark that it became funny? Did the “Little Elf’s” bewilderment echo the disillusionment many folks had felt during those stressful war years?

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In any case, Langdon would use WWI gags a bit more often than most clowns, in the short All Night Long (1924), the feature The Strong Man (1926), and the three-reeler Soldier Man (1926). Soldier Man in particular seems to get overlooked, which is a shame–many of the scenes and gags are certainly what I would call “classic Harry.” Continue reading

Fan Magazine Fun: “The Haunted Home Of Movie Ghosts”

One of my favorite days of the year has arrived! A very HAPPY HALLOWE’EN to all, and if you haven’t watched all the silent horror movies you’ve been planning to, get crackin’, there’s still time!

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Lon’s waiting patiently for you!

While this mournful article I found doesn’t quite fit the “Fan Magazine Fun” title, it seems appropriate since it’s silent Hollywood’s idea of a truly haunted place. It comes from the August 1926 Motion Picture Classic, and is a deeeeeply sentimental look at the site of the old Famous Players-Lasky studio just after it was torn down. A taste: “Once upon a time these shadows of the past walked triumphantly thru the sets. Now they hover unseen in the background, and the world looks upon them as memories.” (Click on the images to to read the article.)

 

“Ghosts…ghosts that seem to tread softly in the gathering darkness, ghosts that will soon be homeless, wandering sadly thru a new maze of buildings that will spring up on this site…” Man, just from that you’d never guess this article was talking about famous names from a mere ten years (or less) prior!

To be honest, though, I truly love that magazines published such unabashedly sentimental articles back then. No holds barred, dripping with feeling and “poetic fancy.” Sometimes they can be funny, but often they’re refreshing.

Once again, happy Halloween my friends, and have a safe and spooky holiday!

 

Happy 100th Birthday To Diana Serra Cary! (Aka Baby Peggy)

This is a special day, my friends. Join me in raising a glass to Diana Serra Cary, the world’s last living silent film star, who turns 100 today!

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Known to 1920s audiences as Baby Peggy, Diana began appearing in films when she was only a toddler. After starring in shorts she soon began acting in features, all cranked out at an amazing rate. Audiences loved the expressive, round-cheeked youngster, and she swiftly became one of the most famous child actors in Hollywood–her main rival being Jackie Coogan. She later credited her success to her extremely obedient nature–directors were impressed by her ability to follow orders unhesitatingly.  Continue reading

7 German Expressionist Films You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

Aside from The Cabinet of Dr. CaligariNosferatu or Metropolis, how many German Expressionist films can you name? (Or maybe I should say, how many semi-German-Expressionist-ish films can you name? That’s an easier question.) After all, Caligari didn’t spring forth from thin air, and you’ve always heard that German Expressionism was kind of a big deal.

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I guess this was influential, or something.

To help with that question, I’ve compiled a handy list of Weimar-era rarities that you may or may not have heard of before. Keep in mind that “true” German Expressionism is, technically, a very specific genre that used deliberately artificial-looking sets and props, and relied on emotion and psychology instead of realism. Thus, most of these entries are examples of that type of film. (By the way, if you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you’ll probably remember #1 and #2 since I covered them in the past. If you’re a newbie, though–enjoy!)  Continue reading

Silent-ology’s Handy Tips For (Accurate) Roaring Twenties Halloween Costumes

So you want to dress up as a flapper or a Prohibition-era gangster for Halloween!! (Don’t we all, at some point?) And you probably already have some visions in mind–a fringed dress paired with a feather boa, a pinstripe suit and white tie–something along those lines.

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Don’t worry, even Hollywood with all its millions couldn’t get it right.

If you visit your nearest Halloween store, fringe and white ties are the only options you’ll find. Now, if that’s what you really want to wear, it’s your funer–I mean, it’s up to you. It’s okay, I will only judge you in the privacy of my mind (and only a little harshly). But if you want an authentic look that draws inspiration from the many real styles of the Jazz Age, then boy oh boy have I got some handy tips for you!!  Continue reading

Obscure Films: “The Portrait” (1915)

There’s something about old portraits that inspires the gothic side of our imaginations, especially if the portraits are sufficiently somber or darkened with age. Looking into the steady eyes of a subject long dead has inspired many a horror writer–and more than one filmmaker, too.

One example of that inspiration is the little-watched drama The Portrait (1915), which I stumbled across recently. While it’s sadly only a fragment of a lost film, it contains some pretty neat imagery and is capable of leading us down some of those delightful research rabbit holes.

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12 Spooky Films I Watch Every October

To kick off the sacred Halloween Time, here’s a listicle that I thought would be fun. Like countless others, I love watching classic horror films around Halloween (spooky, atmospheric ones, not those gory slasher films), and there are certain classics that make up my “must see” list. Now, these aren’t just twelve films I watch every October. Oh no, these are twelve films I have to watch religiously every October, or Halloween will be RUINED (maybe). Plot twist: just a few of them are silent, mainly because I had to narrow the list down to twelve.

12. The Cat and the Canary (1927)

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