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!
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!
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:
Lovely May McAvoy played Esther, the romantic interest of Judah Ben-Hur:
Idris, the slinky siren who helps Messala, was played by Carmel Myers:
Idras attempts to seduce Judah before the great chariot race:
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!
The chariot race took three weeks to film and employed 42 cameramen.
A behind-the-scenes photo:
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:
A magazine ad for the film (color added):
When sound films replaced the silents, BEN-HUR was re-issued in 1931 with a soundtrack of music and effects – and made another fortune!
A number of artifacts from the film survive such as Messala’s helmet that Bushman wore for the chariot race:
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:
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:
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!
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:
A rare still with another view of the castle:
Robin Hood with Maid Marian, played by Enid Bennett – another German color transparency:
That castle set was huge!
Fencing expert Frank Cavens designed the sword stunts as he would for many later swashbucklers including the Flynn ROBIN HOOD:
Fairbanks as Robin Hood is the master of all he surveys:
Sheet music was published for playing the love theme at home on the piano:
Not to mention a book version of the film’s story:
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:
These are original color plates from the rare Photoplay Edition novelization of the screenplay:
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!
There are a number of talented modern-day artists who have turned their skills to the Classic Horror Films of Hollywood’s Golden Age. These individuals have made their works available on the Internet so what follows is a Halloween roundup with credit given where it is properly deserved.
Robert Semler offers a few of the 1,000 Faces of Lon Chaney Sr.:
Chaney’s THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923) by Robert Semler:
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) by Robert Semler:
The lamentably long-lost LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927) by Robert Semler:
Another artist, Daniel Horne, painted this exquisite portrait of THE PHANTOM:
Daniel Horne gives us LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT:
Moving into the 1930s, Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster by Daniel Horne:
Mr. Horne also sculptures. Here is Karloff again in two works as Ardath Bey aka THE MUMMY (1932):
The Monster again in sculpture by Daniel Horne:
Everybody’s favorite Halloween couple, Karloff and Elsa Lancaster in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) by Daniel Horne:
An exquisite painting by Daniel Horne of the BRIDE herself:
It just wouldn’t seem like Halloween without Bela Lugosi. From THE MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) by Daniel Horne:
One of my All-Time Favorites – Henry Hull as THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935) by Daniel Horne:
Finally, here is your blogmeister’s attempt at an artistic potpouri of images from our favorite ghouls!
We can’t equal our recent post here where we provided the complete continuity script for LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), perhaps the most famous “lost film” of all time. However, we’re not being too shabby by providing the script for the granddaddy of all dinosaur films —
THE LOST WORLD was based on the best-selling 1912 novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A corking good adventure yarn, this 1925 film version ran ten reels and was booked at special “road shows” prior to its general release. But for decades, the only surviving version was a truncated 16mm edition that ran about half the length, or 50 minutes, of the original.
You know you’re dealing with a prestige film when a special “Photoplay Edition” of the novel is published with photos from the movie. Here is a worn but surviving dustjacket showing the romantic couple Bessie Love and Lloyd Hughes:
This glass slide was projected onto gigantic screens of movie palaces of the day as an advertisement. Perhaps we’re jaded now, but at the time audiences were amazed to see humans and dinosaurs together:
An original color lobby card with Bessie Love and Lloyd Hughes:
The film offered comedy relief from these characters that, even in 1925, was considered the weakest part of the movie:
A love triangle with Lewis Stone (later “Judge Hardy” in Mickey Rooney’s ANDY HARDY films) playing Bessie Love’s fiance. In the 1920s, Stone was a popular leading man and certainly a better actor than Mr. Hughes!
A bearded Wallace Beery on the right played the fiesty Professor Challenger, leader of the expedition to a mysterious plateu in the South American jungles to prove his theory that dinosaurs still exist:
Two sides of a movie “herald” to alert the town to the forthcoming attraction:
The special effects work by Willis O’Brien won much praise with the monsters even appearing to breathe. O’Brien would later animate KING KONG and SON OF KONG (both 1933) and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949). O’Brien’s protege, Ray Harryhausen, brought a new generation of monsters to screen life beginning in the 1950s.
A vintage Swedish poster. THE LOST WORLD became an international hit!
Restored editions of THE LOST WORLD have been available on DVD for several years now, and a Blu-ray version is apparently in the works. But alas, there is much missing footage gone from the film since its 1925 release. However, you can “see” the complete film by reading through the script here: LOST WORLD 1925_Complete Script
Who knew that all these years the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. held a shot-by-shot cutting continuity made from viewing an actual print of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT? This Lon Chaney Sr. vampire tale is perhaps the most famous – and most eagerly sought – lost silent film. The last known print was destroyed in a vault fire in 1967, and intensive searching of the world’s film archives has so far failed to locate another print.
But now you can “see” LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT simply by reading this 38-page document (it’s a quick read) and using an average amount of your imagination. We are supplying you with a series of photos and lobby cards below to assist you. Enjoy!
Click here: London After Midnight LOC Script copy
Lon Chaney plays Professor Burke, a detective/hypnotist who is investigating the “suicide” of Roger Balfour:
There are strange goings-on in the old Bafour Mansion, and some mighty strange creatures too:
A curious inhabitant seems to have supernatural powers:
Burke questions the various suspects and uses hypnotism too:
Looks like it’s going to be a long night at the Balfour Mansion:
Burke eventually proves that Bafour’s death was murder and collars the killer:
But what about those strange creatures? We suggest you read the script if you’re not able to see the movie!
Conrad Veidt (1893-1943) was a legendary German film star who first gained attention as Cesare, the somnambulist killer in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919):
Today Conny seems best remembered for one of his last films, CASABLANCA (1942). As the Nazi villain Major Strasser, Conny was fourth billed behind Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henried, and Claude Rains, but he was the highest paid actor on the film:
Visiting film star Constance Talmadge seems to strike the same pose as Conny on the set of THE BELOVED ROGUE (1927), Veidt’s first American film. He played France’s King Louis XI to John Barrymore’s Francois Villon:
Conny starred in several films for Universal in the closing days of the silent film era. Here makeup artist extraordinaire Jack Pierce, who later made up Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster and Lon Chaney, Jr., as the Wolfman, applies finishing touches to Veidt for THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928):
Back in Germany by 1930, Conny effortlessly transitioned to sound films speaking in his native language:
By 1933, Conny was making films in Britain as well as Germany and worked hard to master English. Here Veidt sits with pal Peter Lorre as they work on F.P.1 (Floating Platform 1), a science-fiction tale that anticipated aircraft carriers. Filmed in three languages, Conny played the hero in the English-language version, but not in the German or French versions. Lorre appeared only in the German version:
Conny poses for his bust by sculptor Felix Weiss in Germany, circa 1935. With the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party, Germany became an “unhealthy” place for Veidt to live. He listed himself as a Jew although he wasn’t. However, his wife Lily was Jewish so they decided to relocate to Britain in the mid 1930s:
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940) would be Conny’s only Technicolor film but he looks terrific in it. Here he examines an ornate dagger and its scabbard:
Conny as the villainous vizir Jaffar, commands the sky and wind in THE THIEF OF BAGDAD:
This production photo from THE THIEF OF BAGDAD shows Conny on the left on the floor. The massive Technicolor camera holds three rolls of film that were photographed simultaneously through one lens. A prism split the image into three that was photographed on each of the three rolls sensitive to red, blue and yellow respectively:
Filming the same scene from a back angle view. The camera is mounted on a crane to create a moving dolly shot:
A stunning portrait of the evil Jaffar:
Back in America by 1940, Conny donates much of his salary to the British and U.S. war effort, and adds radio broadcasting to his activities. Here on April 19, 1942, he reenacts his role in the 1941 MGM film, A WOMAN’S FACE on Screen Guild Theater. The stars who appeared on this show donated their fee to the Motion Picture Relief Fund:
Listen to Conny on the actual live broadcast of April 19, 1942, with co-stars Bette Davis and Warren William:
American audiences weren’t too sure how to pronounce Conny’s last name so someone at one of the studios thought up this helpful rhyme: “Women Fight for Conrad Veidt.”
Conrad Veidt would be surprised to know that his films are popular with new generations of the 21st century. Most of his top films are available on DVD, and a growing number on Blu-ray including THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS (a pioneering film on homosexuality), WAXWORKS, THE BELOVED ROGUE, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, ESCAPE, A WOMAN’S FACEand CASABLANCA. But Conny held no exalted view of himself: when invited to write his autobiography, he dismissed the suggestion by stating, “Who would be interested in my life? I’m just an actor.”
Film stars with their pets have always attracted attention and it’s rare that a major celebrity of the screen would decline an opportunity to pose with a four-legged friend. Sometimes the pet was as famous as the pet parent. Here are a galaxy of vintage stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood who seem only too happy to be upstaged.
First, Anna May Wong shows off her dachshund circa 1938:
Buster Keaton wants to be sure he can always find his canine pal circa 1930:
John Barrymore shared some inspired comic moments with this St. Bernard at the beginning of MOBY DICK (1930):
Bette Davis seems entranced by this dog as she waits between filming scenes circa 1937:
Douglas Fairbanks Sr.evidently considers this German Shepherd his equal, circa 1920:
W.C. Fields famously observed that “any man who hates kids and dogs can’t be all bad” but he got along nicely with his co-star in IT’S A GIFT (1934):
Jean Harlow with one of her many dogs, circa 1935:
Rudolph Valentino inspired much grieving with his untimely death in August 1926. But none grieved more than his dog who was adopted by Rudy’s brother, Alberto. Regardless, the dog pined away for his master until his own passing some years later:
Warner Oland, famous as Charlie Chan, doted on his schnauzer Raggedy Ann and was a proud papa when she had this litter:
Star meets Star: Al Jolson meets Rin Tin Tin on the Warner Bros. lot in 1928:
Carole Lombard and friend in 1932:
Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein wants to chat with Rin Tin Tin during his 1929 visit to the United States:
George Arliss seems perplexed as he juggles his wife’s dog and business papers, circa 1925:
Finally, a poignant photo commemorating the passing of Lon Chaney, the Man of 1,000 Faces, who left us much too soon in 1930 at the age of 47. The photo shows two of Lon’s most precious possessions – his makeup case and his dog:
June 11, 1939: the British colony in Hollywood prepare to broadcast their welcome to the King and Queen of Great Britain on their first visit to the United States. From left to right are Greer Garson, Leslie Howard, George Sanders in the rear having a smoke, Vivien Leigh hiding her smoke under her script, Brian Aherne, Ronald Colman, and Basil Rathbone:
It is was said that Ronald Colman’s voice was so beautiful that he could attract a crowd just by reading the phone book. Experience the “velvet voice” in this stunning radio performance from 1945:
Before sound films became popular, Ronnie was a top star of the silent screen. Here he chats with cinematographer J.C. Scrugram on the set of THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH (1925):
BARBARA WORTH was not only a big hit for Ronnie, but made a star of Hungarian actress Vilma Banky in her American film debut. Not billed on this poster, the film was also a breakthrough for a lanky young actor named Gary Cooper:
This is a restored image from a newspaper supplement advertising BEAU GESTE (1926), a film that took Ronald Colman from star to superstar: />
Producer Sam Goldwyn starred Ronnie and Vilma Banky in a series of romantic swashbucklers during the mid-1920s just prior to the arrival of talkies. One of their best is THE NIGHT OF LOVE (1927), here they pose for the ever-present photographer (color transfer by Jeffrey Allan):
A scene from THE TWO LOVERS (1928), the fifth and final Colman-Banky teaming:
A top silent film had its own theme song available on records and on sheet music. Here is the striking cover for THE MAGIC FLAME (1927):
An unusual aspect of THE MAGIC FLAME is seeing Ronnie as a clown. Here he is unrecognizable under his makeup:
A striking image of Ronnie as he prepared to go his own way with the arrival of the talkies in 1929. Nobody could know then that his best films were ahead of him: A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1935). LOST HORIZON and THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (both 1937), RANDOM HARVEST and THE TALK OF THE TOWN (both 1942), and A DOUBLE LIFE (1948), for which Ronnie won the Best Actor Academy Award. Eventually, Ronnie focused more on radio and television where his work was always highly rated.
We chose today for this post because February 9th is Ronald Colman’s birthday (1891). His best films, both silent and sound, are readily available now on official DVD releases and much of his radio work can be heard over the Internet. We suspect that Ronnie would be pleased that he continues to have an audience in the 21st century!
Start the New Year off right with a gift from OLD HOLLYWOOD IN COLOR. Take your pick from any of these – or all of ’em. Simply download and print out just as you would do with a photo. If you prefer a larger size or higher quality than home printers can provide, let me suggest that you copy the image to a thumb drive and take it to you local digital print retailer such as Kinko’s. With this in mind, let’s tour the 2014 collection.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, with Jean Harlow, in one of their last silent films LIBERTY (1929):
La Swanson, Gloria that is, in ZAZA (1923):
Ronald Colman in a fan photo circa 1929:
Buster Keaton circa 1930:
Clara Bow, who was dubbed “The It Girl,” meaning that she had “it.” Circa 1928:
A debonair-looking Al Jolson in 1935:
Greta Garbo with Nils Asther in WILD ORCHIDS (1929), one of her last silents:
Mary Astor in ROSE OF THE GOLDEN WEST (1927):
A calendar from a 1934 UK movie magazine highlighting Conrad Veidt:
Jean Harlow with Clark Gable in RED DUST (1932):
Lon Chaney Sr. as himself and as his character in THE MIRACLE MAN (1919), a lost film:
Rin Tin Tin and his mate Nanette in HERO OF THE BIG SNOWS (1926), another lost film: