Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Bat (Roland West, 1926)

The Bat posterThe Bat (Roland West, 1926)
Directed by Roland West
With an ensemble cast

The film starts with a card imploring the audience to not reveal the identity of The Bat to those who have yet to see it, so I won’t. I’ll just say that The Bat is a costumed villain who has been pulling off a series of high-profile robbery-murders. Although out in force, the police have been unable to pin him down.

Near the start, we find him on the roof of the Oakdale bank, but he seems to have been beaten to the punch. Through the skylight, he sees another man – presumably one of the cashiers – make off with $200,000.

Most of the action, however, is set in an old, dark, country house that’s occupied by the dryly sarcastic Cornelia Van Gorder (Emily Fitzroy), her niece Dale (Jewel Carmen), and her scaredy-cat maid (Louise Fazenda). Seven others, The Bat included, eventually show up for their own mysterious reasons and are not afraid to kill anyone who gets in their way. I can’t say much else without giving it away.

There are some Scooby-Doo antics – including the running in and out of doors in a hallway gag – that some might find weirdly off-kilter when compared to darker scenes, but I think the film has a fairly good mix of comedy and drama.

The story plays out at a very quick pace. With the large number of characters and their disparate plotlines, turn away for an instant and you’ll surely be lost. After a couple twists, everything does come together in a satisfying conclusion.

It’s a fun film. If you don’t expect it to take itself too seriously, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the ride.

My rating: I like it.

The Woman in the Suitcase (Paramount, 1920)

The Woman in the Suitcase screenshotThe Woman in the Suitcase (Paramount, 1920)
Directed by Fred Niblo
Starring Enid Bennet

The Woman in the Suitcase (1920) is a very intriguing title for a not very intriguing film.

Mary Moreland (Enid Bennett) is the daughter of a wealthy lawyer (William Conklin) who has been neglecting his wife (Claire McDowell) and staying out late. He claims it’s a business matter – his daughter discovers her name is Dolly (Dorcas Matthews). Mary tries to get to the bottom of the affair, rescue her father, and preserve her mother’s happiness.

There might be enough material here for a two-reeler, but this meager story is spread awfully thin over six reels. Apart from a subplot involving a man Mary hires to pose as her boyfriend to get nearer to Dolly, not much is omitted from the synopsis above.

The film is well photographed, I’ll give it that. Fred Niblo was a prolific director in the silent era, with titles including some of my personal favorites like The Mysterious Lady (1928), with Greta Garbo; Blood and Sand (1922), with Rudolph Valentino; and The Red Lily (1924), with Ramon Novarro and the star of this film, Enid Bennett.

Bennett and Niblo were married and frequently worked together. Overall, the acting is quite good in the film, and I would say that Bennett has a particularly strong grip on her character. There are a few scenes where her motivation seems to turn on a dime, but I attribute that more to poor writing and can’t imagine anyone else could make it more believable. The Woman in the Suitcase has the sort of plot that hinges on happenstance and would be resolved immediately if anyone ever said anything to anyone – but of course, then there’d be no movie.

I don’t think I can say it better than Wid’s Daily did when the film premiered: “the title is a good one” but the production “seldom reaches the entertainment point”.

Side note: with as well established as that puppy is at the start of the film, I was shocked that he doesn’t figure into the ending. I must also give credit for the attractive art titles the film sports, some of them animated.

My rating: I don’t like it.

Der Verlorene Shuch (UFA, 1923)

Cinderella screenshotDer Verlorene Shuch (UFA, 1923)
Directed by Ludwig Berger
Starring Helga Thomas and Paul Hartmann

This German production was originally titled Der Verlorene Shuch (“The Lost Shoe”), but my print is from a British release that calls it simply Cinderella.

There are several more ghosts in this telling than in the version I’m more familiar with, and the fairy godmother here is a lot less… airy. I think she might keep a residence in the catacombs under the Paris Opera House. She even plays the organ and stands on the roof with a flowing cape. I also don’t recall there being any explosions in Cinderella.

Cinderella (Helga Thomas) learns from her fairy godmother’s (Frida Richard) magic mirror that her widower father is going to marry a wealthy but cruel woman (Lucie Höflich) with two vain daughters (Mady Christians, Olga Tschechowa), which he does. The day they move in, Cinderalla meets three homeless beggars outside Stepmother’s mansion. She invites them in and gives them her dinner. Stepmother discovers this, snatches away the soup bowl, and smashes it on the floor – “There will be no beggars in my house!” They leave and evidently starve to death.

King Kindheart (Leonhard Haskel) gets out of his Olympic-sized bathtub and decides that it’s high-time that his son, Prince Charming (Paul Hartmann), got married. A ball is announced to which everyone is invited, but of course, Stepmother disallows Cinderella from attending. After her stepmother and stepsisters leave, the ghosts of the three beggars appear to Cinderella, give her a key to the cemetery, and tell her to go pray over her mother’s grave.

There, a flurry of rose petals shower down on Cinderella and her rags are transformed into an elegant ball gown. Fairy Godmother climbs down from her wizard’s tower and ushers Cinderella into a magical carriage – warning her that both it and her gown will vanish at the stroke of midnight.

Meanwhile, Prince Charming is trying to pick out the most beautiful girl at the ball, but none take his fancy. Cinderella arrives, along with Fairy Godmother (she’s evidently been engaged to provide the music). Prince Charming falls in love with Cinderella at first sight. They dance until a late supper is announced, when Cinderella realizes midnight is only minutes away. Running toward the door, her gown turns back into rags and her coach turns, not into a pumpkin, but into a chiming clock. She keeps running. Prince Charming gives chase, but thanks to Fairy Godmother’s interference, fails to catch Cinderella. He does find one of her shoes, however, which she lost in her flight.

Prince Charming falls deathly ill – lovesick for the unknown woman he danced with the night of the ball. One of his attendants thinks the shoe he continues to clutch is the source of his sickness and tries to take it away. Fairy Godmother counters by literally reducing the attendant to a bubbling pile of goo.

It’s announced that Prince Charming will marry whoever’s foot fits the lost shoe. Fairy Godmother gives Cinderella a basket of fruit and tells her to deliver it to the palace. She somehow manages to get in, but is taken for a “gipsy” and soon chased out, losing a shoe in the process. Prince Charming realizes it matches the other shoe and runs after Cinderella.

Cinderella stumbles through the fields and woods on the way to her fairy godmother’s wizard’s tower, which explodes in a great fireball and reassembles into a tiny palace. Prince Charming catches up with Cinderella and finds that the shoe has transformed into a crown. He places it on Cinderella’s head as the ghosts watch from the palace windows.

 

It’s still a kids’ film, but it’s a lot darker than most kids’ films, and has some downright scary scenes – particularly those dealing with the witch-like fairy godmother and the ghost beggars. All the same, it’s a charming picture with great set design and cinematography. The story, aside from being based on the Cinderella fairy tale, is as far as I can tell original. It successfully plays with and expands on the source material without losing its heart in the process, which is quite hard to do. Der Verlorene Shuch (1923) is a thoroughly enjoyable watch.

My rating: I like it.