Silent Movie Fantasy - Guide to fantasy films of the silent era
Film Review and Rating / Synopsis
- The Blue Bird (1918) - Plot Summary - Directed by Maurice Tourneur. Wonderful, lovely little fantasy film about two children, Mytyl (Tula Belle) and Tyltyl (Robin Macdougall) who live in a poor home in a village where their neighbors are the "Rich Children" and a poor neighbor who has a very sick young daughter who asks Mytyl for her bird. Mytyl is selfish and won't allow it, then that night the children wake up to admire with envy a party across the way at the rich children's home (interestingly shot, in silhouette). In a dreamlike fantasy - a fairy arrives to take the children in search for the bluebird of happiness. Fire, water, light, bread, milk, and sugar become human, as their souls inside are revealed to the kids - and the family dog and cat become human too (well, humans in animal suits). The fairy then brings them on a fantastic journey from the Palace of Night, to a visit with their deceased grandparents, to the Palace of Happiness where all the "Luxuries" live, to the world of the unborn children.
Review - This film is a really nice version of this story, quite familiar to me from the number of times I have seen the Shirley Temple version. It is a very imaginative film, beautifully photographed and lit, and is full of fun special effects. I really liked the scene with the unborn children, bodies covered in see-through gauze-like veils making for an interesting effect. I also think the actors who play the kids are especially good and natural. The Kino DVD of this has a nice-looking brightly tinted print, however some of the footage does suffer from nitrate decompostion. It features a terrific, wonderful orchestral score that very much enhances this film (the music is going through my head as I write this - I thought it really helped make this film extremely enjoyable). Rating - * 10/10 stars * (this review written: September 15, 2005)
- Peter Pan (1924) - Plot Summary - "A Fairy Play". Silent fantasy based on the play by J.M. Barrie. The story begins in the Darling nursery, where nurse Nana gets the three Darling children - Wendy (Mary Brian), John, and Michael - ready for bed. Nana happens to be a big dog (the family can't keep a regular servant 'cause the father is such a "fidget"). The children tucked into bed, when who should arrive at their bedroom window, which happens to be two flights up, but a moving ball of light and a boy who is looking for his shadow - Peter Pan (Betty Bronson) and his fairy friend Tinker Bell aka "Tink". Peter Pan is a little boy (played by a young woman) who doesn't want to be a man - he wants to stay a little boy and have fun forever, and so he does! Wendy and Peter become friends and he agrees to teach the three children to fly if she will go with him to the Never Never Land to be mother and tell stories to Peter and the Lost Boys. And fly they do (with the help of a little fairy dust), off to the Land full of mermaids and Redskins and pirates, arriving in the Make-Believe Forest where jealous Tink prompts the boys to shoot Wendy with an arrow. Wendy lives though, the boys build her a house, and the whole bunch engage in some fantasy play as Wendy pretends she's their mother. Meanwhile, evil and ugly Captain Hook (Ernest Torrence) holds a grudge on Peter Pan who apparently cut off Hook's hand and fed it to a crocodile. The pirates soon attack Peter, Wendy, and the lost boys, while back home the children's mom grieves and longs for the return of her own lost kids.
Review - This is an engaging fantasy, full of charm. The special effects done in this are done well enough for the time this film was made - especially the scenes featuring tiny Tinker Bell. Okay, so Nana is played by a man in a very fake looking dog suit (not to mention the other creatures in this, like the crocodile) - but I think that's all part of the fun, really. Betty Bronson is perhaps the most delightful Peter Pan ever - she's perky, she's cute, she dances and flies with oh so much charm. All the children do a great job in this film, and Anna May Wong appears much too briefly as the Indian girl, Tiger Lily. (Our Gang alert: Winston and Weston Doty, twins in very early Our Gang shorts, appear in this film.) The version I have of this is a Kino video tape, it includes a nice looking, mainly sepia tinted print and a really terrific orchestral score, composed by Philip Carli, which is a fine match to the feel of this story. Okay, I like this quote from the film - "Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys" - right on, Peter Pan! Do you believe in fairies - yes, I think I do?! Tehehe. This is a good one. Rating - * 10/10 stars * (this review written: May 5, 2009)
- Cinderella (1914) - Plot Summary - Silent film starring Mary Pickford. The classic fairy tale of Cinderella, dressed in rags, and badly treated by her wicked Stepmother and two meanie Stepsisters - they even keep poor Cinderella from going to the ball held by Prince Charming (Owen Moore, Mary Pickford's husband in real life when this was filmed), who is looking for a wife. Luckily Cinderella has a fairy godmother to help her out.
Review - This was much better than I was actually expecting. I must say, I really like the way they did this film - it has a real magical "fairyish" feel to it, with pretty young girls as dancing wood nymphs, a wizard and his strange dwarf helpers (dancing and chanting in a circle) and lots of interesting special effects for the day. Some split-screen photography, plus lots of stop-motion camerawork to make characters appear and disappear. This film features the two UGLIEST step-sisters possible (with fake weird noses glued on, I believe) and the most handsome of handsome man to play Prince Charming - hurrah for that! The Milestone DVD includes a really terrific music score by Donald Sosin that really enhances the film. The tinted print of this is fairly faded, but I did really enjoy this. Rating - * 8.5 to 9/10 stars * (this review written: May 23, 2005)
10 = Absolutely Fabulous/Superb
9 = Really Good/Excellent
8 = Good
7 = Fairly Good/Decent
6 = So-so, some flaws
5 = Mediocre
4 = Not that good, many flaws
3 = Poor
2 = Very Poor/Stinker
1 = One of the worst BOMBS ever filmed