1926

War Feathers (1926, Robert F. McGowan and Robert A. McGowan)

I expected an Our Gang short titled War Feathers to be racist, but I was unprepared for how racist it gets.

It opens with the kids torturing a train conductor–and Joe Cobb in blackface. Sorry, “chocolate” face. The poor conductor doesn’t just have to try to contain them, he’s also got them pretending to be good for their parents. Of course the parents don’t believe a black train conductor.

It makes you wonder if the point’s to want to see the kids drown.

Then the kids leave the train and go to an Old West town. There they see a lot of Native Americans. One eventually kidnaps Farina.

In an interesting turn of events, after outlaws kidnap Farina again, he gets sick. They try to help him, making them the nicer than anyone else in Feathers.

It finishes with the Gang stranded in the wilderness. Unfortunately not to stay.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert F. McGowan and Robert A. McGowan; written and produced by Hal Roach; titles by H.M. Walker; edited by Richard C. Currier; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins (Farina), Joe Cobb (Joe), Johnny Downs (Johnny), Jannie Hoskins (Mango), Jackie Condon (Jackie), Scooter Lowry (Skooter), Clifton Young (Bonedust), Jay R. Smith (Jay), Peggy Ahearn (Peggy), Mildred Kornman (Mildred), Chet Brandenburg (Rancher at the Whistling Clam), Allan Cavan (Train passenger), George B. French (Rancher at the Whistling Clam), Ham Kinsey (Conductor) and Sam Lufkin (Sheriff).


Anemic Cinema (1926, Marcel Duchamp)

I’m not sure how Anemic Cinema cinema is surrealist. Obviously for the time, but today the most surreal thing about it is the copyright notice. Director Duchamp slaps a copyright notice on the end.

It feels completely out of place with Anemic, which is otherwise a direct communication with the viewer.

Duchamp alternates between his Rotoreliefs–think carnival spinning wheels (though sometimes not very motional)–and these little spinning disks with sayings on them. Some of the sayings are funnier than the others, some are more bewildering, most directly engage the viewer. Anemic is often second person.

It makes for an interesting experience. The more outlandish the text disks, the less movement in the carnival wheels.

Only a few of the carnival wheels disrupt the experience; these wheels are so fantastic, one has to wonder how Duchamp created them.

Anemic transfixes until that jarring, baffling finish with the copyright notice.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Marcel Duchamp; director of photography, Man Ray.


Ménilmontant (1926, Dimitri Kirsanoff)

I’m hesitant to call parts of Ménilmontant brilliant. There are some great moments, with amazing composition and editing, but there are also some painfully pedestrian ones. If those sequences were the only problem, I suppose I would. But director Kirsanoff also displays an abject lack of self-awareness.

Ménilmontant concerns two sisters, Nadia Sibirskaïa and Yolande Beaulieu, who move to Paris from the countryside. There they grow apart, though they live together, as Sibirskaïa meets a young man. He seduces her and then turns out to be a cad, going after Beaulieu as well.

So the city life corrupts these young women’s innocence.

Except, of course, Ménilmontant opens with their parents falling victim, quite literally, to an axe murderer. The countryside isn’t much better. But Kirsanoff seems completely unaware. The beginning, actually, feels tacked on.

Sadly, the final third is all melodrama.

Sibirskaïa’s good, except for the melodrama.

Ménilmontant disappoints.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written, edited, produced and directed by Dimitri Kirsanoff; directors of photography, Léonce Crouan and Kirsanoff.

Starring Nadia Sibirskaïa (Younger Sister), Yolande Beaulieu (Older Sister) and Guy Belmont (Young Man).


Happy Days (1926, Arvid E. Gillstrom)

Happy Days is a good example of a bad silent comedy short. Ostensibly about Ethelyn Gibson’s secretary slash girl about town (it’s based on a comic strip), the short more focuses on her brother (the androgynous Billy Butts) and his baseball game.

The baseball game is basically a rip-off of an “Our Gang” short, but a mean spirited, racist one. Happy Days might be best examined opposite an “Our Gang” in those terms. There are two black kids at the game, both get all jokes played on them. And one of the black kids is, basically, the main character of the short. He doesn’t get a credit.

He does, however, get to have a strange intimate moment with androgynous Butts, kissing his hand.

Then there’s the implication Gibson’s character is a little loose with the men.

Already awful, Gillstrom’s lousy direction and the incompetent editing makes Days even worse.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Arvid E. Gillstrom; based on a comic strip by Martin Branner; titles by Al Martin; director of photography, King D. Gray; produced by Billy West and George West; released by Weiss Brothers Artclass Pictures.

Starring Ethelyn Gibson (Winnie Winkle), Billy Butts (Perry Winkle), Vondell Darr (Alice), Tommy Hicks (Fat Baseball Player), Jack McHugh (Rival Baseball Team Pitcher) and Jack Raymond (Grocer).


Saturday Afternoon (1926, Harry Edwards)

Even though Saturday Afternoon is astoundingly bad on every expected level and a few unexpected ones, I guess I’m glad to know there were always terrible comedies. It’s not some recent invention, post-television. There was always tripe.

The story is pretty simple. Harry Langdon is a moron married to an evil witch of a wife, played by Alice Ward. There’s also this very interesting inference Ward has been around a little and picked Langdon because of his stupidity.

Oh, I forgot to mention, writers Arthur Ripley and Frank Capra slather on the misogyny (not just Ward) with a wide brush.

Except Langdon’s trying to step out on Ward and the audience is supposed to sympathize. But he’s so stupid, it’s impossible.

Technically, Langdon’s performance is bad. He doesn’t have any timing. His sidekick, Vernon Dent, is worse. Edwards’s direction goes beyond bad to incompetent.

Afternoon‘s an unbearable 1,800 seconds.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Harry Edwards; written by Arthur Ripley and Frank Capra; titles by Al Giebler; director of photography, William Williams; edited by William Hornbeck; produced by Mack Sennett; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harry Langdon (Harry Higgins), Alice Ward (Mrs. Harry Higgins), Vernon Dent (Steve Smith), Ruth Hiatt (Pearl), Peggy Montgomery (Ruby) and Leo Willis (The Rival).


Alice in the Wooly West (1926, Walt Disney)

While the title suggests this cartoon is about Alice, it’s really about her sidekick, Julius; he’s the attraction of Alice in the Wooly West. Maybe Disney just didn’t have the budget to have Alice (here played by Margie Gay) do any actual action shots. The mix of live action and animation, like a lot of Wooly West, is ambitious but Disney isn’t able to realize it.

The cartoon’s real problem is the animation. Disney will come up with great shots and the animation just can’t sell them. There’s also a lot of repetition in the gags, maybe even reused frames. There’s about three minutes of content in six minutes of film.

But Wooly West is appealing thanks to Julius. While he’s a little shy with the ladies, Julius is an absolute Western badass of the Clint Eastwood variety. It kills any tension, but it’s cute to see a gunslinging kitty.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Walt Disney; director of photography, Rudolf Ising; animated by Rollin Hamilton, Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising and Ub Iwerks; music by Paul Dessau; produced by Disney and M.J. Winkler; released by Margaret J. Winkler.

Starring Margie Gay (Alice).


Buried Treasure (1926, Robert F. McGowan)

Buried Treasure would be a lot better if director McGowan knew how to embrace the absurdity of the short. The gang has made a seaworthy boat. They take it out to look for buried treasure. Unfortunately, everyone–dog and cat included–get seasick and they’re out all night.

Obviously, the Our Gang kids have difficult home lives… but no one noticed they were missing?

Then they land, conveniently at their intended destination, and crash a location movie shoot. Instead of worrying about the kids or helping them, the movie extras decide to scare them.

Oh, and Farina pals around with a chimp. Regardless of the likely racial undertones, at least Farina got to have some fun this short. He and Joe are the only ones with any personality in Treasure.

The short also shows McGowan’s genre limitations. And the titles are dumb.

I guess Treasure‘s set is nice….

Otherwise, blah.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert F. McGowan; written and produced by Hal Roach; titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Art Lloyd; edited by Richard C. Currier; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins (Farina), Jackie Condon (Jackie), Jay R. Smith (Specks), Johnny Downs (Johnny), Joe Cobb (Joe), Mickey Daniels (Mickey), Mary Kornman (Mary), Charlie Hall (Man in gorilla suit), Jack Roach (Man in lion suit), Lyle Tayo (Johnny’s mother) and Dorothy Vernon (Mickey’s mother).


Good Cheer (1926, Robert F. McGowan)

Good Cheer is unexpected. It’s the only Our Gang Christmas short and it’s a mix of high concept morality and special effects extravaganza.

The short opens with a lot of ice storm effects, down to cats and mice being affected, and it’s excellent work. There’s also some great composite photography bringing toys to life in a shop window. But the kids discover the storefront Santa is just a guy in a beard and become disillusioned. So a couple of the other kids start selling hot bricks to make money to make the littler kids toys.

So here we have the first altruistic element.

Then, for Christmas, there’s a gang of crooks dressed as Santa. They get stuck in the gang’s building (in the twenties, orphans lived unsupervised) and end up having to give out their loot as gifts.

The second half’s off, but the charming beginning makes up for it.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert F. McGowan; written and produced by Hal Roach, titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Art Lloyd; edited by Richard C. Currier; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins (Farina), Jackie Condon (Jackie), Jannie Hoskins (Arnica), Jay R. Smith (Jay), Johnny Downs (Johnny), Joe Cobb (Joe), Mickey Daniels (Mickey), Mary Kornman (Mary) and ‘Tonnage’ Martin Wolfkeil (Store window Santa).


Mare Nostrum (1926, Rex Ingram)

Even if forgiving the melodramatic story, Mare Nostrum plays more like a travelogue with occasionally interesting effects scenes than anything else. Ingram’s a fine director–except his awkward cuts to close-up, they’re common, which is annoying since his other compositions are not–and the film moves quite well. It’s predictable (the end is foreshadowed in the first scene and the big development is kind of obvious) and often too much… but it passes time well, using action scenes to get the interest up.

Of the action scenes, I suppose the chase through Marseille is the best. There are some excellent special effects sequences, but Ingram uses them sparingly. The movie’s about a Mediterranean sea captain during World War I and there’s some at sea sequences with well-shot models. Technically, it’s a nice film. I love not being able to figure out how someone did special effects.

The performances are okay in general, with Pâquerette an excellent villain. Antonio Moreno is ineffective the first half as the lead and better, once the big development occurs, in the second. Unfortunately, the reverse is true for Alice Terry. As the love interest (and Austrian spy), she’s a lot better at the beginning than in the end. Not all of it is her fault, the script throws her some really absurd situations.

Given the World War I subject matter, I figured Mare Nostrum would be a little better. I don’t know why, maybe because there’s so much possible material, it’d be hard for something not to use it… but the film manages. Still, it’s fine. Not particularly interesting, definitely not involving, but there’s some good stuff in it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Rex Ingram; screenplay by Willis Goldbeck, based on the novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Grant Whytock; produced by Ingram, Harry Lachman and Walter Pallman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Apollon Uni (The Triton), Álex Nova (Don Esteban Ferragut), Kada-Abd-el-Kader (Young Ulysses), Hughie Mack (Caragol), Alice Terry (Freya Talberg), Antonio Moreno (Ulysses Ferragut), Mademoiselle Kithnou (Dona Cinta), Mickey Brantford (Esteban), Rosita Ramírez (Pepita), Frédéric Mariotti (Toni), Pâquerette (Doctor Fedelmann), Fernand Mailly (Count Kaledine) and Andrews Engelmann (Submarine Commander).


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