Friday, December 16, 2011

Tis the Season for Christmas Movies

Nothing makes me want to stay home and watch old movies than over a long holiday.  Christmas is always fun because of the holiday themed classics I love to revist every season like good old friends.

  • Babes in Toyland 1934 with Laurel and Hardy 
  • A Christmas Carol 1938 MGM's adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic story with Reginald Owen in his only starring role.  
  • The Shop Around the Corner 1940 James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan in this lovely film.  
  • Remember the Night 1940 (I need to see this one) 
  • The Night Before Christmas 1941 Tom and Jerry in a wonderful MGM cartoon.
  • Holiday Inn 1942 Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds.
  • The Man Who Came to Dinner 1942 Monty Wooley as the curmudeon and interfering Sheridan Whiteside.  Bette Davis is his foil and girl Friday and Ann Sheridan is simply hilarious and not to be missed.
  • Christmas in Connecticut 1945 a delightful romp with Barbara Stanwyck at her comedic best. 
  • It's a Wonderful Life 1946 I find this Capra classic hard to get through, the fault lies with me.  But the scene with H.B Warner and Bobby Anderson (as the young James Stewart) brings me to tears every single time.
  • The Bishop's Wife 1947 It's not Christmas to me unless I watch this lovely film. 
  • Christmas Eve 1947 I've not seen this in eons and really must see if I can find it.
  • Miracle on 34th Street 1947 Edmund Gwenn is the Kris Kringle of everyone's dreams.  His rapport with the young Natalie Wood is charming.  It's still a delight for the holidays.
  • We're No Angels 1955 Bogart and Peter Ustinov, 'nuff said.
  • A Christmas Story 1983 All Ralphie wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB gun. I love this movie, absolutely. 
Since it's the season, here are some seasonal celebrity holidays cards to entertain.

Holiday greetings to Clifton Webb and his Mother Maybelle from Greta Garbo (Garbo often sent correspondence using her pseudonym Harry Brown)

Handwritten and hand-crafted holiday greetings from Mr. Orson Welles to Mrs. Welles (Rita Hayworth).

A holiday card that was sent to Marlon Brando by a big fan, Clara Bow.

Holiday greeting from W.C. Fields

I'll state my resolution for the new year right now, to watch more movies and blog a whole lot more because I do enjoy it.  Hope those of you who pass by and give this blog a read enjoy it, too.

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season for the remainder of 2011.  I send you all warm regards and wishes for peace and prosperity in the new year. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Happy Birthday Georges Melies

Image courtesy KINO LORBER

Because we would not have cinema today without your brilliant, creative spirit.  Thank you for all the wonderful bits of magic.  I raise a glass to you today, Sir. Your imagination and creativity still inspire today, not so amazingly over 100 years later.

For the uninitiated, here are a few of his films to marvel at and enjoy.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Media History Digitation Project - Please Help

Research today is far and away a very different animal than it was even five years ago.  Digitation is the real wonder of the internets, really and truly it is.  Searchable PDFs rather than blinding yourself scrolling through page after page after bloody page of microfilm.  It's a wonder!

Who would have thought that a huge number of newspapers would be digitized, available for use either for free or by a nominal subscription rate?  Free at your local public library (via Proquest) or pay online at places such as

One of the greatest free sites is Internet Archive and my absolute favorite spot for silent film research is the Media History Digital Archive.  Thousands of pages of hard to find periodicals such as Wids Daily, Photoplay and other periodicals I never even heard of, all scanned and fully searchable, all for FREE.

While using this is FREE to anyone who happens along, it does cost some money and loads of time for the periodicals to be scanned, processed and uploaded.  They're asking for our help.  The goal is pretty modest ($5000) if you ask me and well worth a donation of $10, $20, $50 or more if you can afford it.

Donations may be made via the MHDA website or a dedicated effort at the Domitor site.  What is Domitor?

DOMITOR, the international society for the study of early cinema, is an association for people interested in cinema from its beginnings to 1915. The organization strives to explore new methods of historical research and understanding by promoting the international exchange of information, documents, and ideas. Recognizing that the work of the world's film archives has made accessible a growing body of early films and research materials pertaining to early cinema, Domitor also seeks to promote close relationships between scholars and archivists. Domitor is not an acronym: it revives the name that the father of the Lumière brothers once proposed for their projector of motion pictures.
From the Domitor website's donation page:
The Media History Digital Library (MHDL), a non-profit initiative dedicated to digitizing collections of classic media periodicals that belong in the public domain for full public access, has recently made a commitment to scanning periodicals, documents, and materials from the early period (1890s to 1915). Domitor will take the lead in raising funds for this important venture.

MHDL's early cinema project comprises at least 50,000 pages of material, including Moving Picture World (much of 1912-1918 is already online); all six volumes of the 1912 US vs MPPC trial transcripts; catalogs from Kleine, Biograph, and others; and house organs, such as Universal Weekly (1912-1915). Other materials, such as foreign-language publications, are also on the horizon. Not only will these be accessible wherever there is an internet connection, but in much better (and downloadable!) versions than are currently available through interlibrary loan.

So Domitor is calling on its membership—or any interested party—to raise the funds needed for this stage of the project. Our goal is to raise $5000—enough to put 50,000 pages online by this summer—by January 1, 2012. So please click on the paypal link below and give generously. All contributions are fully tax deductible.
I use this resource more times than I can count, I gave and hope you will consider making a donation, too.  $5000 for 50,000 pages of material is a pittance to pay for such an important resource.  Please, do your bit and give generously!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I've got plenty to be thankful for in 2011.  Good friends, lots of good movies and what I hope is a good attitude. 

Thanksgiving, for me, is the official start of holiday themed movie viewing.  While I will never willingly watch Plymouth Adventure ever again, here's a little Thanksgiving treat from one of my favorite holiday films from 1942, Holiday Inn starring Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds and Fred Astaire.

Bing singing I've got plenty to be thankful for with the wonderful Louise Beavers.

I'm thankful that there are some readers here who have stuck around given my irregularity in posting.  While it's a tad early to make any resolutions in the new year, I will resolve to work harder and post more.  You have no clue how many draft posts there are awaiting completition in the queue!  In any case, thanks for reading and commenting when warranted.

Lastly, here's an odd bit of cheesecake that is holiday themed.  Let's hope that because Esther Williams is presenting a crown to this bird that he was spared being the dinner and got to live out his days on the MGM backlot.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rudolph Valentino and Nita Naldi - A Perfect Partnership

Rudolph Valentino and Nita Naldi were not only co-stars, they were good friends. Valentino and Naldi shared a wonderful partnership onscreen in three films. We celebrate their partnership in 2012 with a calendar featuring some wonderful stills from Cobra, Blood and Sand and A Sainted Devil. The calendar also features a couple of candid shots of Rudy and Nita off screen.

Click below for a full preview.  The calendar is 13x19, spiral bound and handsome in glorious black and white!  $25.00 the perfect gift for any silent film fan.

Lulu has a 25% off coupon code through Nov. 30th: enter this code at checkout: NOVPHOTOS25

Let me also take a moment to shamelessly self-promote my book Rudolph Valentino The Silent Idol, once more.  Blurb is currently running a promotion (good through November 28th) for 20% off the cover price.  Simply enter LYNDA22 at checkout (remember to use ALL CAPS) and the discount is yours.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Do Your Bit for Film Preservation

Want to make a donation for a really worthy cause?  Want to get something really wonderful in exchange?  Something you can enjoy for the next twelve months?  If the answer is yes, I have the perfect feel good thing for you.

The Silent Film Benefit Calendar courtesy of Rodney Sauer (fearless leader of the Mont-Alto Motion Picture Orchestra) and designer of the annual calendar.

The 2012 edition is the special "Animal Edition" and how can you resist it, it's got Rin Tin Tin, Brown Eyes from Buster Keaton's Go West and a herd of others, a veritable who's who from the silent era.

While visiting Mont-Alto's website you can also order other fun items such as CD's and DVDs featuring the excellent Mont-Alto Orchestra.  Ideal gifts that are perfect for the silent film fan's Xmas list, yes, Black Friday starts now!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

RIP Barbara Kent - One of the Last Actors from the Silent Era

It's time for me to join the online chorus and comment on the passing of former actress Barbara Kent.  She was an actress for only a few years and by all accounts lived a full and happy life after she retired from the screen.  She died last week at the age of 103 with the distinction of being one of the last surviving actors of the silent era.  (LA Times Obit; New York Times Obit).  We're counting down former silent film players much as people noted the passing of the WWI veterans in the past.  Not too many remain from the silent era and the last of the WWI veterans are gone.  Kent has been little remembered outside the silent film community.  She left a couple of wonderful performances including 1927's Flesh and the Devil, 1928's Lonesome and 1929's The Shakedown.

Garbo and Gilbert so dominate Flesh and the Devil, it's hard to remember Kent as the young girl who did not get her man.  Her charm in that film is quite evident, she was a pretty little thing.  Paul Fejos' Lonesome is a touching and wonderful film and it's really difficult to get to see it.  Really crappy gray-market bootlegs do not do the film any justice and are more than a little bit illegal.  Lonesome is really worth seeking out on the big screen, heck, I'm dying to see it on the big screen. (Anyone at the SF Silent Film Festival listening? Can we get it, can we, huh?)  Lonesome is one at the very top of my wish list for a big screen event. 

I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Barbara Kent and James Murray in The Shakedown on the big screen during the 2010 San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  You can read the program notes at their online archive.  It was the sleeper hit of the weekend for me and is still a film I want to see again.  I remember Kent being charming and pretty, which is pretty much all that was required in this film.

Here's my recap of the film from and earlier blog post:

The Shakedown 1929 William Wyler: James Murray, Barbara Kent and Jack Hanlon.

This was the best film of the weekend for me. This was a small film, a programmer and William Wyler’s second film. It was, in short, a revelation. That Wyler could pretty much come out of the box and give us a film that moved at breakneck speed and tell a story with such slim and easily hackneyed material in such an entertaining fashion shows what a raw talent he was. The film also showcased what a tragic loss was the career of James Murray. I’d only seen him in King Vidor’s 1928 film The Crowd. He’s affecting in that film. In The Shakedown he is even more moving, more natural. This illustrated to me all the more how tragic that his career was so short and his end so swift. Murray’s scenes with young Jack Hanlon as the orphaned boy are great, very natural camaraderie between the two and blossoming into a very heartfelt father and son-like affection. Murray and Hanlon’s tears were real, so too were mine. Barbara Kent, who is one of the few silent players still with us, had little to do but to look pretty. She did that well. Harry Gribbon mugged and did his scenes with the boy to great effect. I came away so pleased with the film. It’s a sleeper and was my favorite of the weekend. A programmer that hit a home run out of the ballpark and into McCovey Cove.

As mentioned above, veterans of the silent film era number only a scant few these days.  Mickey Rooney and Diana Serra Cary aka Baby Peggy come to mind immediately.  We can't keep them here, but we can remember them, especially if their films survive for our enjoyment.  Barbara Kent was not Clara Bow, nor even Colleen Moore, but she was for a time, a real charmer on screen with a few really wonderful films to remember her by.  Thanks for everything and Godspeed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On the Bedside Table - Myrna Loy The Only Good Girl in Hollywood

Emily W. Leider, author of Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino and Becoming Mae West has penned a biography of one of my favorite actresses who began in the silent era and blossomed in the talkies.  Order at

I've been slow to read this, much to my chagrin.  I've not wanted to put the book down.  It's that good, yes, it is really THAT good.

One wishes they could write as elegantly and as engagingly as Emily Leider does about the subject of her latest biography, Myrna Loy. Leider's impeccable research coupled with her elegant prose make for a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Myrna Loy is a much beloved star from Hollywood's golden age. Publicity at the time declared her to be a perfect wife on screen and it was assumed she was as much off screen as well. Leider informs us this was not the case. Leider chronicles Loy's life and film career with just the right touch. There is a nice balance between the biography and the chronicle of the film career. Unlike so many other biographies of the last few years, this is not padded out with recaps of film plots. Leider's prose, in so many ways, reflects or mimics the manner, the lightness, the quirkiness of Loy's own voice as she tosses off quips with William Powell. It's a pure delight to read.

Loy's life was very full and really devoid of scandal like so many other stars of the day. Perhaps this might make people overlook Loy as the subject of a biography. They should not, Leider's excellent detective work uncovers some secrets that Loy kept under wraps or only hinted at in Loy's own excellent autobiography Being and Becoming. Leider also fills us all in on Loy's interesting life as an activist. Myrna Loy was really much more, much deeper than Nora Charles and this book tells you why. I'm beyond grateful she portrayed Nora Charles as delightfully as she did, but I'm more grateful to read about and learn from her life off screen. Not a perfect wife, but quite a life. If you're a fan of Myrna Loy and her films, this is a must read.
I forgot to add a comment on the judicious use of photos in the book, most are shots I'd not seen.  Some incredible portraits, like the Ted Allan portrait used on the cover. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fifty Years Fifty Films - The Eagle (1925)

Rudolph Valentino’s final two films under his Paramount contract in 1924 Monsieur Beaucaire and A Sainted Devil, were less than successful.  The fans were apathetic and Valentino had lost his box office mojo. 

Valentino’s contractual obligations to Paramount were now completed and he was soon set up to produce his first independent film under the banner of Ritz-Carlton Productions.  Number one on the docket was The Hooded Falcon; the story was penned by his wife, Natacha Rambova. 

In the summer of 1924 the Valentinos left for a European vacation/shopping trip for props and brocades for the costumes for The Hooded Falcon.  Before departure they left the scenario in the hands of June Mathis for a rewrite. 

Upon their return from Europe in the fall, the pair found Mathis’ treatment wanting and they ended their professional, and, for a time, personal relationship.  The head and pocketbook of Ritz-Carlton, J.D. Williams, insisted that it would be more cost efficient to film Cobra prior to The Hooded Falcon.  The company needed some cash coming in with a new release.  Neither was happy with the idea of Cobra, but had little choice since The Hooded Falcon was not ready to go into production.  Natacha began work on her own project entitled What Price Beauty and left Valentino to work on Cobra.

The excessive cost for The Hooded Falcon was due, for the most part, to the lavish spending in Europe.  The Valentinos had spent close to one third of the slated budget for the completed film before a single frame was shot.  Hooded Falcon appeared to be cursed.  After Cobra was in the can, the Valentinos and J.D. Williams parted company on not so friendly terms.  In short, Williams fired them and dissolved the company.  Nothing came of The Hooded Falcon except for some smoldering costume shots of Valentino sporting a mustache and goatee.
The Hooded Falcon
Valentino signed on with United Artists and John Considine (father of Disney Legend Tim Considine) was to act as producer for his films.  UA had, in fact, earlier hinted about inviting Valentino when he broke with Paramount in 1922.  Three years later he was welcomed into the fold.  A lavish dinner was held at the Ambassador to celebrate Valentino’s addition to the roster of stars.  Production of The Eagle was started in the early spring of 1925.  A lot was riding on The Eagle, Valentino knew it, too.  Rudolph Valentino was very badly in need of a box office hit. 

UA welcomes Valentino
The Eagle is based loosely on a Pushkin story Dubrovsky.  Considine employed Hans Kraly to fashion the tale into a scenario suitable for Rudolph Valentino.  Kraly is better remembered for his work with Ernst Lubitsch and his later work including The Patriot in 1930 (for which he won an Academy Award). Later, Kraly was also nominated for the adapted screenplay of The Last of Mrs. Cheyney and for Original Screenplay for the Deanna Durbin film One Hundred Men and a Girl in 1937.  Kraly’s scenario blended the Pushkin story with touches hinting at The Mark of Zorro and came up with a winning scenario.  There is just enough action, just enough romance and a nice dose of tongue in cheek humor that makes the film breeze along.

The sets were designed by William Cameron Menzies.  Certainly they were no more historically accurate than the sets for the later gothic and uber-bizarre The Scarlet Empress (Hans Dreier).  Menzies hinted at Russia with a California Romantica twist.  Historical accuracy to the period was not exactly uppermost or really appropriate for this romantic fantasy.  This was not what Valentino’s female fans went to the pictures for.

Louise Dresser in the 1934 Scarlet Empress

Valentino and Banky were opulently costumed by a then relatively unknown Gilbert Adrian.  Adrian got his start with Natacha Rambova and Valentino designing for Cobra and the costumes for the aborted The Hooded Falcon.  He would go on to do the costumes for Rambova’s previously mentioned film What Price Beauty (not released until 1928) as well as Valentino’s final film The Son of the Sheik.  Adrian is best remembered for his stunning work at MGM in the 1930’s.

Vilma Banky - costume by Adrian

Valentino is given ample opportunity to show not only his romantic skills, but also his wry comedic side in this film.  He plays three roles: Dubrovksy, the Cossack, the bandit/Robin Hood by the moniker the Black Eagle and impersonates French tutor Marcel LeBlanc.  Fans were less familiar with the lighter side of Valentino.  This film really contains one of his most engaging performances.  Light on his feet and quick-witted, this hero finds it more and more difficult to maintain or follow through on his vow of vengeance as his ardor for the daughter of his enemy grows.  Valentino took pride in doing his own stunts and he suffered a slight injury during filming which was reported upon in various newspapers.

Vilma Banky on loan from Samuel Goldwyn shines and shows a real rapport with Valentino on screen.  The barrier of language did not hamper the on-screen chemistry.  Publicity for the film played up the language differences in a series of charming stills showing Valentino and Banky poring over dictionaries in attempts to communicate.  Banky proved herself to be not only a beauty, but a charming and witty character.  Banky’s on screen chemistry would be very much in evidence in Valentino’s final film, The Son of the Sheik.

Director Clarence Brown was responsible for the casting of Louise Dresser as Catherine the Great.  Dresser was fresh off the success of her tour de force turn in The Goose Woman.  Brown related to historian Kevin Brownlow:
Louise Dresser was great as the Goose Woman. I paid her three hundred and fifty dollars as week. I used her again as Queen Catherine in The Eagle, for Schneck, and this time I paid her three thousand a week!

This truly was luxury casting.  The role of Catherine is not exactly large, but Dresser makes the most of her delightful seduction scene with Valentino.  She clearly enjoyed her turn as the royal vamp.

In a smaller role and in another bit of luxurious casting, favorite villain Gustav Von Seiffertitz is seen briefly in a cameo as Catherine’s butler.  Von Seiffertitz as well as Estelle Taylor (Mrs. Jack Dempsey) were cast for Valentino’s third UA film on the life of Christopher Columbus.  It was set to begin filming after Son of the Sheik.  Considine had also secured the talents of Charles Rosher to lens the film.  Sadly, Valentino died before production would begin.

Brown lines up a shot as Valentino watches
Valentino, himself, indulged in a little friendly nepotism casting his good friend Mario Carillo as the “real” Marcel LeBlanc.

One can admire the performances of each of the stars, but one also has to credit their rapport with and the direction of journeyman Clarence Brown.  Brown got his training under Maurice Tourneur and blossomed on his own with films such as Smoldering Fires and The Goose Woman.  Brown and Valentino got along famously given their love of all things mechanical.  Valentino also shared a special rapport with Brown’s young daughter Adrienne.  Many candid shots taken during filming illustrate that they both were quite taken with one another.  Brown’s light directorial touch is evident throughout the film.  A little bravura must also be noted in Brown’s, now famous, tracking shot along the grand dining table.  It was so good Brown used it again in Greta Garbo’s Anna Karenina (1935).

Adrienne Brown poses for a portrait with Valentino and his dog Mirza
The camera was manned by veteran George Barnes and assisted by Dev Jennings.  There is great depth of focus in many shots; shadows are used effectively and romantically.  Exteriors of the film were shot in the Griffith Park area.

Valentino was not in a happy place in his personal life during the filming of The Eagle.  His marriage to Natacha Rambova was breaking apart.  It seems clear he took some refuge from his personal troubles during the shoot.  He enjoyed the company of many visitors, old friends and new.  UA co-founder Douglas Fairbanks took the opportunity to visit the set for some publicity shots; Marion Davies a good friend of Valentino, stopped by; Bebe Daniels friend and former co-star paid a visit, as well.  Erich von Stroheim visited and posed very obligingly sporting dueling pistols with a bemused Valentino.  Valentino’s close friend, the Spanish painter Federico Beltran-Masses was staying at Falcon Lair painting two portraits of Valentino.  He later painted portraits of Marion Davies, Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  He spent many happy days visiting the set looking like he was having the time of his life. 

The filming completed in early summer, United Artists worked quickly and got the film ready for release on November 8, 1925.  Valentino traveled to New York for the premiere at the Mark Strand Theater and then made his way to London for the premiere at the Marble Arch Pavilion.  Valentino was joined by his brother Alberto and family in London.  Both brothers look natty in their tuxes at the premiere.

Alberto and Rudy at the London premiere
A report in Variety stated that in Philadelphia, many of the local dailies panned the film.  This did not deter the crowds from flocking to see the film; Variety also reported that the film did $27,000 in a single week in Philly.  In 1925 this was not exactly chump change with admission prices on average between .10, .27 and .40.

Other reviews from across the country indicated the film was for the most part a winner.  A short sampling reveals the film garnered some wildly varying reviews:

In Cleveland, the Times reviewed:
Rudolph Valentino in a type of picture which gives him an opportunity to prove the reason of his former popularity as the sheik of the screen. To say that he redeems himself in the eyes of the movie fan, would be putting it in mild terms.  Valentino not only proves he can act, but that he is a trained athlete as well.

Valentino still had a harder time in Detroit, shades of the Mineralava Tour!  Three papers had three different opinions:

The Detroit Free Press:
Ruddy (sic) doesn't have a great deal to do in the way of thrilling stunts, and at times the action drags.

The News:
Directed with some of the cunning of Lubitsch and acted in better grace and manner than Valentino has exhibited since his first big coming out party.

And finally, the Times:
In this production, Valentino works as he never has before, thrills as a daring bandit hero and grows more passionate than ever in his love making.

PHOTOPLAY reviewed the film and grudgingly gave it a pass:.
Rudolph Valentino changes his personality three times in his new picture and each one is dashing and fascinating and very Valentino. First, he is a young lieutenant of the Czarina's regiment, brave and handsome and desired of Catherine. When he deserts because he objects to "boudoir service," young Dubrovsky becomes a bandit, the Black Eagle, seeking to avenge a wrong done his father.
Next we see Rudy impersonating a French tutor in the house of his enemy, teaching the enemy's beautiful daughter. Dubrovsky falls in love. Shall he break his oath of vengeance?
The story really begins when Dubrovsky becomes the Black Eagle. The finish is weak and the characters not well drawn. Vilma Banky is Sam Goldwyn's gift to the screen. You will like Rudy and Vilma and the picture, in spite of its faults.

PICTURE PLAY also seemed ultra nit-picky in their review:

Rudolph Valentino after a short absence returns to the screen in "The Eagle." He has evidently determined to treat himself to the best this time, for he is directed by Clarence Brown, who superintended the making of "The Goose Woman," and he is supported by Vilma Banky and Louise Dresser.

With these advantages, it is only natural to expect "The Eagle" to be an intelligent, pleasant and finished picture, and it is just that and nothing more. Only the very greedy could ask for more, and I am sure that almost everyone will be pretty well satisfied with what Mr. Valentino has chosen to serve, but for some strange reason, the spark that brightened his first picture, "The Four Horsemen," has never flared up in anything that he has done since then.
Just what has died in his acting is hard to say. He seems to try conscientiously to revive it, whatever it is, but he lacks vitality. Of course, I'm not one that believes that actors burst into being overnight, and it may be that his sudden and victorious debut in "The Four Horsemen" was a pure bit of luck. However, "The Eagle" is by all means the best of his pictures since.
The story is of the love affair of a lieutenant of the Russian royal guard who refused the Czarina's more-than-tentative offer and is sentenced to death for scorning her. The plot that follows is a pretty complicated affair, and combined with the Russian names, would, if put end to end, reach from Picture-Play to The Literary Digest.
Vilma Banky is beautiful and natural as Mischa (sic), but Clarence Brown has not brought out the talent which she showed in "The Dark Angel," nor did Miss Dresser have much opportunity as the Czarina. Playing opposite a male star is really no job for a woman. After all, woman's place is in the home.
In the New York theater where I saw this picture, the aisles, lobby, and house were packed with people during its entire run, which only goes to prove that I am too fussy, and that Mr. Valentino's hold on the public can still be accepted without question.
Anyway, the picture is well worth seeing, and I don't think you’d regret devoting an evening to it.

So, history records that the film was well received, but not the smash hit everyone had hoped for.  That smash hit they were looking for would come later, and sadly, Valentino would not live to see it.

J.D. Williams negotiated distribution of Cobra through Paramount/Lasky and released Cobra on November 30, 1925.  For the record, Cobra was not well received and sank like a stone. 

Valentino charms Vilma Banky
Happily, in the modern age one can view The Eagle dispassionately and enjoy the film for what it was, a delightful bit of entertainment.  As I stated above, Valentino fans (even if you’re not) are treated to a thoroughly enjoyable film.  Valentino shows much warmth and charm in his role(s), he clearly relished the action sequences as well as the scenes with the beautiful Vilma Banky. 

Banky was fresh from the success of her American film debut, The Dark Angel for Goldwyn co-starring Ronald Colman.  She was also very successful in the lighter and more dramatic moments of the film.  Her blond beauty complimented Valentino.  It is no wonder she was signed on for The Son of the Sheik.

Clarence Brown also benefited from the success of this film, he moved on to MGM and stayed for over 20 years from silent to sound. 

For a full rundown of the intertitles, you can visit one of my favorite websites, intertitle-o-rama (

The Eagle is available on DVD (the Paul Killiam/Blackhawk Films print) Amazon link Carl Bennett's wonderful and informative site, SilentEra, has a run down of the various available versions here:  

Sadly, the most  perfect and complete version is not available to be seen on DVD and is rarely screened.  I keep hoping and pestering that the Photoplay Productions restoration will be shown at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  I’m a glass half full kind of person and keep hoping!

There is also a nearly complete version to see on youtube here

Fifty Years/Fifty Films is my non-time-critical journey through the first fifty years of films. I'll be watching films that I've never seen or will be revisiting some very old friends. My original goal was to do this for the last six months of 2009 and you can see how well that went.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Emily Leider - Upcoming Myrna Loy Book Events

I'm anxiously awaiting my copy of Emily Leider's biography of Myrna Loy, Myrna Loy The Only Good Girl in Hollywood.  If you're in or around San Francisco, you have several opportunities to attend some grand events and screenings and to meet Emily and obtain an autographed copy of this much anticipated book.

Friday, October 7, 2011 at 6:00, Mechanics Institute Library, 57 Post St., San Francisco, 4th floor. Screening of the 1932 movie “The Animal Kingdom,” with Myrna Loy and Leslie Howard. Emily will introduce the film and will sign books after the movie. Doors open at 5:30 and sandwiches and drinks are available then. For a reservation call (415) 393-0114.

Friday, October 14, 2011 at 6:00, Mechanics Institute Library, 57 Post St., San Francisco, 4th floor. Screening of the 1933 movie “Penthouse,” in which Myrna Loy morphs from a call girl into a lady. Emily will sign books after the movie. Doors open at 5:30, as above, and a reservation is advised (415) 393-0114.

The Mechanics will screen two more Myrna Loy movies on the next two Friday nights, Oct. 21 and Oct. 28, at 6:00. These will “Manhattan Melodrama,” a 1934 film (which won an Academy Award for Best Story) starring Myrna Loy, Clark Gable and William Powell, and on 10/28 ‘Love Crazy,” a very silly 1941 comedy with William Powell. Emily will NOT be introducing or signing books at these last two screenings; the movies are great fun and you should go anyway.

Thursday, October 27, at 7:00, a talk and book signing at Bookshop at West Portal, 80 West Portal Ave., San Francisco.

Wednesday, December 14 at 7:30, a talk, clips show and screening of the 1936 comedy “Libeled Lady,” co-starring Myrna Loy, William Powell, Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy, at The Barn, Hollywood Heritage Museum, 2100 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles. Reservations necessary; call (323) 874-2276.  Hollywood Heritage website will have details and online tickets soon.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 7:30, “Nick and Nora’s San Francisco,” a talk with movie clips. Presented by the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center, 3200 California Street, San Francisco.

I'm looking forward to attending at least two of the local events, the Nick and Nora's San Francisco event is particularly appealing. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Remembering Rudolph Valentino

It seems he has always been with us....just out of reach, traveling the world, having just stepped away. His films remind us of a distinct personality and physical presence whenever they are shown. This man came before us, and will remain long after us. 'Immortal' is too haughty: 'Transcendent' is my word choice for Rudy's lasting appeal.  - M. Pierce
I could not have said it better myself, hence the quotation above.  Today is the 85th anniversary of Valentino's untimely passing.  Many will have gathered at Hollywood Forever to mark his passing and celebrate his life and legacy.  Others will celebrate and observe a quiet moment or watch one of his films.

85 years later, why do so many still care and commemorate Valentino?  What is his lasting appeal?
It may be that intangible "star quality" or the lasting regret of his early demise, just as his career was back on the upswing.  Everyone I've spoken with has a different answer, each is as unique as it is valid.

Valentino the actor on screen represents a dream, a fantasy.  In this day in age, we all still need fantasy, even in what some feel is an antiquated format.  Unless you;ve seen a silent film as it should be presented, you cannot understand the incredible magnetism of stars of the era nor the engrossing way a silent film sucks you in and is all enveloping.  Valentino was a magnetic performer.  My favorite of his films is The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Valentino gives a performance that stands the test of time, not overplayed and the sly breaking through the fourth wall in the Tango Palace in Paris is one of many moments that make the film special to me.

Valentino the man is revealed in so many ways in simple photographs.   An animal lover, a car buff, a fitness buff, a friend, a simple man, a man in love.  In his 31 short years, Valentino lived his life to the fullest.  He was not always a wise man nor a nice man.  He was human, he made mistakes, some terrible, some poor choices in judgement.  But, in viewing him from the window of many photos, I see him as a man who endured terrible tragedy and still found joy in his life.  Again, he was a human as we all are.  People during his lifetime often forgot this.  His legend was so wrapped up in the fantasy of the characters he portrayed during his peak of popularity, Valentino the man was ignored.  Today this is very different, people are eager to learn who was this man named Rudolph Valentino. 

In a little pictorial tribute on this day of memory, here are a few favorite photos of  Rudolph Valentino.

Rudolph Valentino circa 1918 (Nelson Evans photographer)

 Valentino portrait circa 1920 (Maurice Goldberg photogtapher)

 Valentino circa 1923 (Russell Ball photographer)

 Louise Dresser and Valentino in the 1925 film The Eagle (Nealson Smith photographer)
 Valentino and Natacha Rambova pose for the Mineralava Tour in 1923 (James Abbe photographer)
Natacha Rambova and Rudolph Valentino at their Hollywood home "Whitley Heights" in 1922
(James Abbe photographer)

Valentino, it would seem, will never be forgotten.