A Video Tour of the Souvenir Program from BEN-HUR (1925) with Musical Accompaniment from the 1931 Reissue

MGM spared no expense in producing its massive silent film version of BEN-HUR and, frankly, the story behind the making of this film is a great tale in its own right. Filming began in Italy with different actors in the lead roles, except for Francis X. Bushman playing the villain Messala. He remained in the role despite everybody else being replaced including the director. All told, Bushman worked on the film for about two years!

Constant labor strikes in Italy created huge cost overruns, so the studio decided to shut down filming, scrap most of the Italian footage, and start over again in Hollywood. It turned out to be a wise move. The massive production was eventually completed and had its astounding premiere in December 1925. It was a massive success following in the wake of the best-selling novel by Gen. Lew Wallace, and the ever-popular stage version that brought real horses onstage for the chariot race.

Without further ado, let’s enjoy a video tour of the original souvenir program from BEN-HUR‘s roadshow engagements. I added original color lobby cards and photos colorized by yours truly. To top it off, I added music from the soundtrack of the film’s reissue in 1931.

An original glass slide that was projected onto movie theater screens to promote BEN-HUR:

DON JUAN (1926) – A Video Tour of Two Original Souvenir Programs

Souvenir movie programs have always been highly collectible items. In fact, the more vintage the program, the more expensive they tend to be, especially if the item is in top condition. Among my personal collection I have two souvenir programs from DON JUAN (1926), the first feature film to have a synchronized music score (with a few sound effects).

Here is the cover of the deluxe American program that was sold at the special “road show” engagements of the film.

This is the cover of the German program that was printed on such thin paper that I immediately digitized the pages before they crumbled.

And now, please take a video tour of both programs accompanied by musical excerpts from the film’s original score.

Lon Chaney – Just in Time For Halloween 2019

I used a variety of software applications to put together this short video dedicated to the Man of 1,000 Faces, Lon Chaney (Sr.).  While I barely made a dent in reviewing Lon’s incredible number of faces, at least it’s a start. I used Photoshop to restore dingy old photos to a like-new B/W sheen, and then turn them into color images. Each finished color image was then sent to the Motion Portrait software demo to create the illusion of movement from still photos. As a finishing touch, I used Magix Audio Lab to clean up and restore the sound quality to a 1922 acoustical record of Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette,” more popularly known as Alfred Hitchcock’s theme from his TV series.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Lost Films We’d Love To See

There’s a special cache that lost films seems to have in our minds, a sort of unattainable treasure just beyond our grasp. Looking at surviving stills, posters and lobby cards tend only to increase our longing to view the movies. The fact that a number of “lost” films have surfaced in the last ten years or so, and some have even made it to home video DVD or Blu-ray, only increases our hopes that more of these elusive antiques will be found.

Here to tantalize us is artwork of some of the better known “lost” films beyond the obvious ones such as LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927) or CONVENTION CITY (1933). Well, we can dream, can’t we?

I decided to choose one particular year – in this case 1928 – and focus on notable films by big stars that are gone.

I have confirmed the “lost” status of each title with the 2018 listing of “7,200 Lost U.S. Silent Feature Films” by the National Film Preservation Board. You can access this document at https://www.loc.gov/static/programs/national-film-preservation-board/documents/SFF-LostFilmsList050118.pdf

Clara Bow has an unfortunate run of four lost films from this one year:

THREE WEEK ENDS (1928)

THE FLEET’S IN (1928)

LADIES OF THE MOB (1928)

RED HAIR (1928)

There exists a few bits of RED HAIR that only make it more tantalizing:

 

Next, let’s take a look at a couple of Gary Cooper‘s lost films:

THE LEGION OF THE CONDEMNED (1928) with Fay Wray getting top billing over Coop

BEAU SABREUR (1928)

The films of Greta Garbo enjoy a high survival rate except for this 1928 MGM film:

THE DIVINE WOMAN (1928)
About nine minutes were found in a Russian archive but the rest of the film is considered lost at this time:

 

Considering John Gilbert‘s legendary status as one of the greatest stars of the 1920s, it’s surprising that one of his 1928 films is among the lost. This film is also one of his most intriguing:

THE MASKS OF THE DEVIL (1928)

We’ve only scratched the surface of reviewing important lost films. Sadly, there are many more so perhaps we might do a “Lost Films 2” in the near future.

The New 2018 Gallery of Color Transfers

Here is the latest roundup of color transfers taken from vintage black & white photographs by your blogmeister. Enjoy!

Lon Chaney poses in a gift chair given to him by the crew of HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (1924), which was the first film produced by the then-newly formed MGM. The chair and the commemorative backing still exists:

Dolores Costello does her bit to publicize the construction of Warner Bros. new theater in Los Angeles circa 1928:

In one of his more unusual roles, Humphrey Bogart plays a Mexican bandit in VIRGINIA CITY (1940). On the left is Randolph Scott, on the right is George Regas:

W.C. Fields in one of his rare silent films, IT’S THE OLD ARMY GAME (1926) recently released on Blu-ray:

A very young Joan Crawford in the lost film, DREAM OF LOVE (1928):

Monty Woolley confers with Al Jolson as they prepare for a radio broadcast on the Colgate Show in 1943:

The ill-fated Olive Thomas circa 1920:

Pola Negri in BELLA DONNA (1923):

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in one of their last silent films, WRONG AGAIN (1929):

High up on the roof of the Paris Opera House Lon Chaney’s Phantom dressed as the Masque of Red Death spies on the lovers Norman Kerry and Mary Philbin. The film of course is THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925):

Director Sam Taylor welcomes Camilla Horn (left) and Lupe Velez on the set of TEMPEST (1928):

On the Set with….the 2017 Edition!

Among our most popular posts here are the “On the Set” series showing legendary figures of Old Hollywood at work on the set of their films. It’s high time we posted a new round of photos – all in living color of course!

On the set of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1923) director/producer Cecil B. De Mille (on the left) introduces the U.S. Secretary of War John Weeks to the Pharoah Rameses aka Charles De Roche:

The original Rin-Tin-Tin (1918-1932) and his owner Lee Duncan enjoy sunset on the beach in 1929:

John Barrymore at his magnificent Tower Road home in the Hollywood Hills circa 1930:

Clara Bow gives some swimming suggestions to her niece and nephew circa 1928:

Bette Davis and her dog do a bit of fishing on the San Clemente River in 1933:

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert join director Edmund Goulding and crew for a picnic lunch during outdoor filming on LOVE (1927):

Marion Davies is directed by Sam Wood on the set of THE FAIR CO-ED (1927):

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. is the center of attention at the Hotel Manila in the Philippines during the filming of AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY MINUTES (1931):

Joan Crawford takes some movies of her own during filming for THE UNDERSTANDING HEART (1927):

Frank Borzage directs Spring Byington and Errol Flynn in THE GREEN LIGHT (1937):

Lupe Velez enjoys the beach during filming for HELL’S HARBOR (1930):

Producer/Star Mary Pickford with Allan Forest and Anders Randolf on DOROTHY VERNON OF HADDON HALL (1924):

Rootin’ tootin’ cowboy Humphrey Bogart (!) plays a Mexican bandit in VIRGINIA CITY (1940):

Glamorous Gloria Swanson is unglamorously washed ashore in MALE AND FEMALE (1919):

Director William Desmond Taylor, whose 1922 murder has never been solved, almost seems to be looking for his killer circa 1920:

Finally, Rin-Tin-Tin again in a stunning pose that feels almost 3-D:

Old Hollywood in Color in 3-D and in HD

If you check on some of our previous posts you will find that we have been experimenting digitally with turning two dimensional images (2-D) into three-dimensional images (3-D). Your blogmeister has been sampling new software developments with the recent advent of VR (virtual reality) and 360 (through headgear you can look around as in real life). My approach continues to be based on the original 19th century stereoscope idea: side-by-side images taken at a slightly different perspective to trick our eyes into seeing the images as 3-D. Admittedly low tech but it works. Now with the use of VR headgear (see Amazon for Google Cardboard headgear for $5) the stereoscopic view is enhanced even more.

The key is using your cell phone to view Youtube videos in VR or, in this case, old-fashioned 3-D. The effect can still be seen with “free viewing” so you don’t need any glasses, headgear or other equipment apart from training your own two eyes to focus on the two images (right eye on the right image, left eye on the left). Once mastered, our brain combines the left and right images into a third “middle” image that’s in 3-D.

At any rate, here is our first Youtube video combining the latest software enhancements by colorizing black & white photographs from the 1920s, then transforming them into 3-D, and finally processing them in HD (High Definition). Whew! I have also added original 1920s music. Enjoy the slide show!

Rarely-Seen 1915 William S. Hart: THE SHERIFF’S STREAK OF YELLOW

The survival rate of Bill Hart’s westerns is impressive. A stage actor from New York, Hart’s love of the American West transformed his career in 1914 to starring, directing, and in some cases writing, a classic series of films. Hart managed to capture the “Old West” just before it faded away forever and his films seem more like documentaries than dramas. Our film here is one of the most rarely-seen and has been preserved by the Danish Film Institute in its original color tints. The main titles and intertitles were in Danish but I translated them and substituted English versions using vintage title cards. Finally I added music, which no silent film should ever be without. Enjoy!

william-s-hart-44

The Original BEN-HUR (1925)

Ben-Hur 3

This month marks the release of the third version of BEN-HUR, using all the technical and computer wizardry of 2016. However this new version is received, the property has a long and successful history. It began as a novel written by General Lew Wallace in the 1880s. The book became a blockbuster bestseller and was no flash in the pan. It remained a top seller for many years thereafter. By 1899 the story was adapted into a hit play and featured live horses on stage for the chariot race. A one-reel film version (about ten minutes long) was made in 1907 that became famous but for a reason that had nothing to do with its popularity. The film company, Kalem, neglected to obtain permission from the book publisher and was sued for copyright infringement. The publisher, Harper Bros., won and the lawsuit became a landmark decision: the first time that a film company was sued for intellectual property violations. But the first feature-length production was made by MGM and released in 1925  at the height of the silent film era. After many problems, it too lived up to its heritage and became another huge blockbuster.

The film was riddled with production problems mainly due to the decision to make the picture in Italy. Although the Italian government promised its full cooperation, repeated labor strikes crippled the filming and finally the production was shut down and returned to California. BEN-HUR was completed in the good ol’ USA. Ultimately, the title role was played by Mexican actor Ramon Novarro. His treacherous friend Messala was played by veteran Francis X. Bushman who had been a film star since 1912!Ben Hur and Messala Final

Messala falsely accuses Judah of attempting to kill the Roman governor and he is sentenced to be a galley slave for life. The famous sea battle was filmed with full-sized ships on the Mediterranean. Novarro with Frank Currier playing the Roman general whose life he saved during the sea battle: Ben Hur on the sea Final

Lovely May McAvoy played Esther, the romantic interest of Judah Ben-Hur:BenHur1927

Idris, the slinky siren who helps Messala, was played by Carmel Myers:Ben Hur Messala adras

Idras attempts to seduce Judah before the great chariot race:movie_poster_ben_hur_1925_2-normal

Messala believes that Judah died as a galley slave and is shocked to find him alive and his chief rival in the chariot race. Talk about a grudge match!

Ben Hur Early shot Final

The chariot race took three weeks to film and employed 42 cameramen. Ben Hur autocolor 2

A behind-the-scenes photo:Ben Hur 5 Final Final

Intertwined with the fictional story of Ben-Hur was the Biblical story of Jesus Christ and how the two men met at crucial times in Judah’s life. Betty Bronson played the Blessed Virgin Mary:Betty Bronson copy_Final

A magazine ad for the film (color added):Ben hur (2) copy_Final

When sound films replaced the silents, BEN-HUR was re-issued in 1931 with a soundtrack of music and effects – and made another fortune!LC 3be

A number of artifacts from the film survive such as Messala’s helmet that Bushman wore for the chariot race:10657833_2

Watch the trailer (as enhanced by your blogmeister with music from the 1931 re-issue):

Best of all, the 1925 BEN-HUR is available on DVD today, complete with original Technicolor sequences,  and is shown frequently on Turner Classic Movies. Here is an original glass slide that was projected onto movie screens to advertise the film:Slide

 

Ben-Hur Banner

A Colorful Super Star: Douglas Fairbanks in ROBIN HOOD (1922) and THE BLACK PIRATE (1926)

Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939) was one of the first movie super stars long before that term was ever coined. A young “juvenile” actor on the stage, Doug gave early films a try in 1915 in a series of popular modern dress comedies. He added some incredible athletic stunts that left movie audiences amazed. By 1917, he was one of the highest paid stars but Doug wasn’t content and decided to produce his own films. He became a partner with his pal Charlie Chaplin, the great director D.W. Griffith, and Mary Pickford (whom he married in 1920) to form United Artists. This company is still in business today.

One of Doug’s earlier films, the now-lost KNICKERBOCKER BUCKAROO (1919) with Marjorie Daw:
Fairbanks (11)_edited Final

Doug Fairbanks literally invented the “action” film genre that remains extremely popular – think Jackie Chan. In 1922, Fairbanks began his most ambitious production yet, a swashbuckler chronicling the legends of Robin Hood. No, it wasn’t a primitive version of the later Errol Flynn film, but a fully developed saga of how the Earl of Huntingdon went from being one of the noble Knights of the Realm to the hunted outlaw Robin Hood rebelling against the unscrupulous Prince John. Fairbanks wanted his film to have the look and feel of old illuminated manuscripts that recalled the glorious Age of Chivalry – and he got it!
Robin-Hood

No expense was spared as Fairbanks literally built a full-scale castle on the studio lot. He recruited top art directors Wilfred Buckland and William Cameron Menzies, and costume designer Mitchell Leisen (later a major film director). This original color German transparency gives you a good idea of the magnificent sets:
Robin German Transparencies 4

A rare still with another view of the castle:
Robin-Hood 3

Robin Hood with Maid Marian, played by Enid Bennett – another German color transparency:
Robin German Transparencies 3_edited-1

That castle set was huge!
Robin-Hood 1

Fencing expert Frank Cavens designed the sword stunts as he would for many later swashbucklers including the Flynn ROBIN HOOD:
Robin German Transparencies 2

Fairbanks as Robin Hood is the master of all he surveys:
Robin German Transparencies 1

Sheet music was published for playing the love theme at home on the piano:
Robin Hood Sheet Music001-1

Not to mention a book version of the film’s story:
Robin Hood Cover 1 copy

In 1926, four years after the tremendous success of ROBIN HOOD, and two more epics, Doug was ready for a new challenge: he wanted to be the first major star to produce a film entirely in Technicolor. The result was THE BLACK PIRATE:
Black Pirate

These are original color plates from the rare Photoplay Edition novelization of the screenplay:
Fairbanks (5)

Fairbanks (4)

Fairbanks (7)

Fairbanks (6)

THE BLACK PIRATE has been restored to its original Technicolor brilliance and is available today on DVD and Blu-ray. Likewise, Douglas Fairbanks in ROBIN HOOD is restored and available on DVD. Both films can also be viewed on streaming video. Fairbanks would no doubt be pleased that his productions continue to delight viewers well into the 21st century!

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