Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Return of Boston Blackie (Chadwick, 1927)

The Return of Boston Blackie screenshotThe Return of Boston Blackie (Chadwick, 1927)
Directed by Harry O. Hoyt
Starring Strongheart and Raymond Glenn

Boston Blackie (Raymond Glenn), a former jewel thief, has just been released from prison. He intends on going straight and living the quiet life with his dog Strongheart (himself), but his former partner in crime, Denver Dan (Coit Albertson), fears that going straight might also involve ratting him out.

Meanwhile, Necklace Nellie (Rosemary Cooper), who’s under Dan’s employ, has just conned John Markham (William Worthington) out of a valuable bejeweled necklace. A mysterious woman, who turns out to be John’s daughter Sylvia (Corliss Palmer), steals it back – hoping to prevent her mother from discovering her husband’s infidelity.

The police, however, don’t know any of this, and Sylvia is in danger of being caught when Blackie crosses her path…

 

The film’s plot is convoluted and absolutely full of holes, but it’s not too bad if you turn off your brain and just go with it. It’s obvious that the whole stolen necklace thing is nothing more than an excuse to string scenes together involving Strongheart, and there are some great ones strung together.

Strongheart, born Etzel von Oringer, was a German police and military attack dog. When he was three years old, he was acquired by the American animal trainer Laurence Trimble, who saw in him the makings of a great canine star. And he turned out to be one. Dog actors in general were pretty big in the silent era. Strongheart was preceded by Jean, at Vitagraph; and Luke and Teddy, both at Keystone; and would be followed by Rin Tin Tin, at Warner Bros, who survived into the talkie era and is by far the best remembered today.

The Return of Boston Blackie (1927) was Strongheart’s last and thought to be only extant film. It’s a rather low-budget Chadwick production (you might remember Chadwick for producing Larry Semon’s post-Vitagraph films). The character of Boston Blackie comes from Jack Boyle’s short stories and novellas, but the film has nothing whatsoever to do with those besides the name and it involving a reformed thief.

Again, if you don’t try to find much reason behind it, you’ll probably enjoy the film purely for its action and comic relief scenes.

My rating: I like it.

The Gun Fighter (Triangle, 1917)

The Gun Fighter posterThe Gun Fighter (Triangle, 1917)
Directed by and starring William S. Hart

Bad guy turns good guy to save innocent woman. Boiled down, that’s the plot of The Gun Fighter (1917) and of 90% of William S. Hart’s filmography. He played the part well, his films remained popular, and with few exceptions, neither he nor the studio (Triangle-Kay Bee, in this case) saw the need to deviate from the formula.

Cliff Hudspeth (William S. Hart) is an outlaw in the goldfields of Arizona. A rival band, lead by a bandito known as El Salvator (Roy Laidlaw), tells him that he’s claimed the town of Desert Pass and that his band had better clear out. As a reply, Cliff kills one of El Salvator’s tough-talking men. The town milliner, Norma Wright (Margery Wilson), witnesses the murder and is disgusted by it.

The town is being ravaged by El Salvator, and Colonel Ellis Lawton (J.P. Lockney) knows that, outlaw or not, Cliff is the only man who can take him on. Cliff agrees to lead an attack, but the plans are overheard and El Salvator strikes first. Norma is kidnapped during the raid. Cliff promises her little brother Jimmy (Georgie Stone) that he’ll rescue his sister.

Cliff peers through the hideout window and sees Norma being menaced by El Salvator. Cleverly, he shoots out the exterior light so that he’s invisible from inside, then aims and takes out El Salvator. Norma escapes. Cliff, who had been injured during the raid, watches her ride off across the desert before collapsing.

 

Child actor Georgie Stone, a couple years older since his performance in The Doll-House Mystery (1915), turns in a more nuanced performance as Jimmy. J.J. Dowling’s active Ace High character here is quite a departure from the serene Patriarch in The Miracle Man (1919). William S. Hart is, as ever, William S. Hart – stonefaced and showing little emotion, very serious – entirely the opposite of his rival Tom Mix over at Selig studio (and later Fox). The only performance that really didn’t work was Roy Laidlaw’s El Salvator. The character is much too absurd to take seriously. He would feel more at home in a Speedy Gonzales cartoon.

Hart films did occasionally show a little variation (recall The Captive God (1916)), but the plot here is your standard good-bad-man. It’s a decent example. The Gun Fighter was written by the rather prolific scenarist Monte M. Katterjohn, and Hart, who also directed the film, had this style of story down to a science.

I wouldn’t suggest watching too many Hart films at a go – they kind of all blend together – but The Gun Fighter is well made and entertaining enough to recommend.

My rating: I like it.


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