Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Canyon of Missing Men (Syndicate, 1930)

TThe Canyon of Missing Men screenshot 1he Canyon of Missing Men (Syndicate, 1930)
Directed by J.P. McGowan
Starring Tom Tyler and Sheila LeGay

The Missing Men are a gang of cattle rustlers. Their headquarters is in a canyon that can only be entered by an almost invisible cave, and so far, the law has yet to discover it. Among the gang is Dave Brandon (Tom Tyler). He’s just returned from Mexico, where the gang resells their stolen cattle, and aboard the train, he met Inez Sepulveda (Sheila LeGay) and the two part on friendly terms at the station.

To the gang’s eyes, this is a bit awkward, since her father, Juan Sepulveda, is the rancher they steal from. One of the gang in particular is eager to see the relationship quenched — that being Peg (Arden Ellis), because she’s in love with Dave herself. And so they plan to kidnap Inez. I’m not sure how exactly that’s going to help, but there it is.

For reasons that are beyond me, the gang tells Dave of their plan, which prompts the first utterance of Dave’s catchphrase, “That’s one thing I won’t do”. No matter, Slug (Bud Osborne) and Brill (Cliff Lyons) will do it themselves.

I’m not really clear what happens next. I think Slug and Brill attempt to kidnap Inez, but Dave follows them and a fight breaks out during which Inez escapes. Now, my confusion isn’t entirely the film’s problem — it’s mostly because my print has very poor contrast and night scenes like this one are almost unwatchable. At any rate, Dave winds up injured and is carried into the Sepulveda hacienda.

After recovering, Dave makes a full confession of his dastardly past to Inez, who forgives him. He then turns himself in to the sheriff, who wants Dave to reveal the entrance to the canyon, but that’s one thing he’ll not do. While they argue in the police station, a second kidnapping attempt successfully carries off Inez.

Juan pays the ransom money, but stealthily trails Slug and Brill back to the canyon when they come to collect. How did no one ever think to do this before? Juan penetrates into the secret canyon, but an accident exposes him and the gang kidnaps him as well. It becomes clear at this point that the gang’s plot might not be very well thought-out and that they have no end game planned at all. In a panic, they decide to dynamite the cave and leave the Sepulvedas trapped in the canyon.

The Canyon of Missing Men screenshot 2Meanwhile, Dave, having learned of the kidnapping, escapes from jail to rescue Inez. Meanwhile meanwhile, some guy in a plaid shirt (there’s only one other name in the credits, so he must be Gimpy Lamb (Bobby Dunn)) frees the Sepulvedas for some reason. I imagine he’s the gang’s cook, and being just a hireling, has no allegiance to the gang itself and doesn’t want to leave two innocents for dead. I imagine that, but as far as his actual portrayal in the film goes, he’s just some guy who does something for some reason.

Now there’s a confusing scene that can’t be excused by the print quality. I can see it perfectly well, but after watching it twice, I’m still not sure what happened. The gang is setting the explosive, Dave is watching from higher up the cliff (I don’t get how, as the gang would have to be simultaneously inside and outside the cave for him to see what he sees from his vantage point), then there’s something about a rope? I don’t know what, but the film takes pains to establish that there’s a rope. Suddenly the sheriff is there — I don’t know where he came from, since only Dave knows where the cave is. Then Juan and Inez are standing next to Dave. Abruptly cut to town, where a posse arrests… some people… I guess gang members… they can’t be Slug and Brill — how could that possibly work? Finally, several silhouettes — I assume Dave and the Sepulvedas, but they might be anybody at all — walk out of the cave as the scene fades to black.

Some time later, the sheriff brings Dave to the Sepulveda hacienda. He’s being released on probation, he says, if Inez will agree to take custody of him. It takes a moment for Juan figure out the meaning, but once he does, he smiles and shakes Dave’s hand. Dave and Inez kiss.

The Canyon of Missing Men screenshot 3There’s always something a bit sad with late silent films. The Canyon of Missing Men (1930) seems to have been received with very little fanfare on its premier. The only review I’ve spotted is in the March 23rd, 1930 issue of The Film Daily. They described it as “passably satisfying” — not exactly glowing praise. Had it been released two or three years earlier, it may have done well, but by 1930, even the best silent features would be relegated to B-picture status or only run by small, rural theatres that had yet to install a sound system. Even in the The Film Daily’s review, they note that all it could really hope for would be to fill out the second half of a double bill.

Missing Men was Tom Tyler’s last silent picture. I wonder if it was intended to be a talkie. As a silent, the film often struggles being coherent and in a few places fails entirely, but with the way the film is structured, I could imagine spoken dialogue might have helped.

My rating: I don’t like it.

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Richard the Lion-Hearted (Cines, 1912)

Richard the Lion-Hearted adRichard the Lion-Hearted (Cines, 1912)

The Talisman is around 450 pages long. Richard the Lion-Hearted (1912)*, which is an adaptation of Scott’s novel, is sixteen minutes. I wrote about Man’s Calling (1912) in the past and praised it for being very wise in its handling of the single-reel drama format — that is, it kept the plot very simple and instead devoted most of its short runtime to developing the characters. Richard doesn’t take that route. It tries to condense the entirety of Talisman into 1070 feet. The story is understandably stripped to the bone, presenting nothing more than the barest minimum to keep the narrative moving. You can forget about anything but the most perfunctory characters.

During King Richard’s illness, his enemies Duke Montserrat and the Templar raise the Austrian flag over the crusaders’ camp. Richard, incensed, has the flag removed and orders his favorite knight, Sir Kenneth, to keep guard over the English flag. Edith is in love with Sir Kenneth, but the Queen doubts his constancy. She forges a letter from Edith demanding an immediate meeting. Sir Kenneth rushes away to see Edith. During his absence, the flag is stolen. Montserrat confesses to taking it. The matter must be settled by mortal combat between Sir Kenneth and Montserrat, Richard decrees. Montserrat is badly wounded and is carried to his tent. When the Templar is alone with him, he hastens the Duke’s death at a dagger point, fearing that Montserrat would have otherwise betrayed him. Meanwhile, Richard proclaims that Sir Kenneth is secretly the heir-apparent to the throne of Scotland. Sir Kenneth and Edith are engaged. The Templar is arrested.

Richard the Lion-Hearted screenhotFor all its over-stuffed action, Richard the Lion-Hearted looks very good. The Italians were masters of period dramas in early film. Compared to the staginess of the chariot race in Kalem’s Ben Hur (1907), the sets, costumes, and choreography seen in the joust sequence here look at least a real as something you’d see at a Renfair. Not only that, but the cinematography is leaps and bounds ahead of Ben Hur’s static camerawork. It begins with a pan that follows the two horsemen as they enter the field, cuts to a medium-close shot of the king overseeing the rules being read out, then to a wide-angle of the field as Sir Kenneth and Montserrat tilt at each other, and finally a medium-close shot of Montserrat being carried away.

That’s the most impressive scene, but none of them are bad. There’s another, more subdued example earlier in the film: We see Montserrat and the Templar exit Richard’s tent. Richard’s tent is in the foreground. There are two more tents in the near background and another five in the distance. The background tents aren’t a matte painting as they surely would be if this were an American production. All of them are real and they all have costumed extras milling around them.

I’m torn about how to rate this. The story plays much too fast — much, much too fast. But everything else is masterfully put together, so much so that I think it just manages to overcome the pace.

My rating: I like it.

 

* The film was originally titled Il Talismano. Richard the Lion-Hearted is the name Kleine gave it for its US release, which is what my print is from.

New Website Launched

The new Harpodeon website is live. I think it was announced as “coming soon” something like two years ago, but it’s finally here.

The old site was getting difficult to maintain. It had really been designed to sell DVDs and nothing else. Downloads and streaming videos were a bolted-on feature that were awkward to use on the customer-facing side of the site and a hot mess on the back end. As physical media grows less and less relevant with each passing day, it badly needed a make-over.

The new site was written from the ground up — not one line of old code was retained — and although DVDs are still available, the focus is now squarely on the online content. It was also designed with high definition in mind. Much of the back catalogue will have to be remastered, but the last few transfers were actually done in HD already, it’s just that the old site had no means of handling anything beyond standard 480p video. And there are also some big changes that are invisible to visitors but significant to us. A lot of small things had previously been outsourced (email was handled by Gmail, for example), but all of that’s in-house now.

In terms of layout, it looks and functions pretty similar to the old site and shouldn’t take much getting used to. All the old accounts have been migrated over and should work fine. I don’t say there won’t be any bugs to be ironed out in the coming weeks, but so far so good.

And that’s why there hasn’t been a new release in two months. But rest assured, July will not be so dry. Chugging away in the scanner even as I type is What a Change of Clothes Did (Vitagraph, 1913). (And as I type now, it is available. – 7/16)

Bugs fixed (as of 7/8):

  • Standard video player now works on mobile Safari. (Before it would just buffer endlessly as mobile Safari refuses to load video metadata without actually playing the video first, which is asinine but whatever.)
  • “Any:” search will now return films without a known cast. (Before, a labeled search like “title:” would return them, but not an unlabeled or “any:” search, as the cast is one of the “any” fields it looks in.)
  • Fixed the issue where IE would load pages twice for signed-in users with cookies disabled. (In these cases, JavaScript is used to intercept links between pages and turns them into forms with hidden elements to pass the session variable through — IE was submitting the form then following the link, now it behaves as intended and only submits the form.)
  • Super minor, but fixed the issue where the “More info” button was slightly out of horizontal alignment with the “Alternate” button on the video player. (It was a few pixels too far to the right.)

 

Incidentally, enter 10PEROFF for 10% off all orders totaling $4.00 or more.