Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (1927)

Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness Movie Review

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Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness Movie Review

Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness is a 1927 silent documentary film directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. It is a very strong early documentary.

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But Man must live…

So Man fights on

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Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness Movie Review

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It follows the lives of Thai farmers and their relationship with various animals, especially leopards and elephants. So this film is basically a feature documentary, running at only around an hour, but that is still considered a feature. But it is interesting that for its time this was considered a live-action feature film as the documentary term was not yet invented.

In that way, Chang is very groundbreaking, especially in its portrayal of nature and a different culture. It was actually filmed on location and the action is pretty real and the danger was palpable for the filmmakers. Although I respect that, I still have a problem with them basically killing animals for just the movie and I think most audiences today would have a problem with that too.

It has a problem of focus as it doesn’t focus on just one thing and presents too many animals and Thai characters. It should have focused solely on one character and one coherent journey. It is also definitely too short as the material was ripe for at least twenty more minutes.

But I still enjoyed Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness quite a lot. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production at the 1st Academy Awards which were the only awards which had that Best Picture equivalent category and I have to say that the nomination is much deserved.

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Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness Movie Review

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The movie looks absolutely splendid. The cinematography is simply gorgeous and the natural landscapes and the animals looked magnificent. I do realize that it lost its edge nowadays and that many would not find it as fascinating today as it was back in its day, but to me it is still very intriguing to watch.

I liked its fittingly Thai score and I adored some scenes here – the highlights include the iconic elephant stampede sequence brilliantly filmed as well as all of the scenes with the monkeys, especially the one with the dogs. Very cute and funny. The intertitles are also solid and the direction from Cooper and Schoedsack is so strong and it is easy to see why they were chosen to direct ‘King Kong’ afterwards.

Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness lacks focus and is too short, but it is a groundbreaking early documentary feature with excellent direction from Cooper and Schoedsack, a couple of wonderful and brilliantly filmed sequences, great score and fascinating scenery.

My Rating – 4

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Tol’able David (1921)

Tol'able David Movie Review

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Tol’able David Movie Review

Tol’able David is a 1921 silent drama film directed by Henry King and starring Richard Barthelmess. It is at times strong, but ultimately not great film.

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I’m tol’able…

Just tol’able

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Tol'able David Review

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It is a tale about a boy who is sick and tired of being called a boy and wants to prove himself as a man and he eventually does do that through revenge. Now let’s first state the positives and then I am going to go through the negatives. First off, the first half. It is excellent and certainly the highlight of the film.

It was just a very cozy, atmospheric and moody film at those points and I almost felt that I visited the countryside during the twenties. That is how atmospheric and full of detail the film is. It felt almost poetic in its quality.

That is mostly due to the technical aspects which are superb across the board. Richard Barthelmess did a good job in the main role and the others are memorable as well. The direction is also solid. But it is the cinematography that is the highlight and some scenes are highly memorable both in action and in scenery.

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Tol'able David Movie Review

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However, the second half ruined all of that for me. That is when the movie suddenly went into overly dark crime territory that did not suite this film particularly well. It just wasn’t executed in the most interesting or dramatic manner and I lost my interest especially in that third act.

The overall story is admittedly good for its time, but is now rather typical and archetypal, especially in the main character’s goal. It has its western and crime elements, but both were underutilized and it remains strongest as a period drama. So I did like it and I did find it to be charming, but quite flawed and disappointing in the end.

Tol’able David is especially strong in its first half as quite a charming, detailed and atmospheric countryside drama with excellent cinematography and some very memorable scenes, but the second half employed a typical crime angle and to me it was much less interesting overall.

My Rating – 3.5

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The Crowd (1928)

The Crowd Movie Review

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The Crowd Movie Review

The Crowd is a 1928 silent drama film directed by King Vidor and starring James Murray and Eleanor Boardman. It is a very strong, effective film.

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Look at that crowd! The poor boobs… all in the same rut!

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The Crowd Movie Review

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This is one of the better films out there that deal with the American Dream in particular. That concept is so well realized here as a man arrives to New York City to search for great life and job, but struggles to maintain it and realizes that he is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle – one man in a crowd of many other competent, successful men.

I thought that when it comes to harsh realities of living in a big city, The Crowd very much succeeds and it painted that harsh, but realistic picture so well. Certainly the film employs some melodrama in it per usual for the era, but it was mostly done minimally and the result is one of the better films from this period and one of the most emotionally resonant.

James Murray and Eleanor Boardman both did a really good job. I respected the director for not employing bigger name talent as this film is and should be about ordinary people and thus that casting choice paid off significantly. She is very good, but Murray is the highlight as he delivered such a strong, great performance and he is the heart and soul of this film.

I wasn’t that big of a fan of Bert Roach as Bert. I thought the actor did a good job, but the character wasn’t really necessary to the movie which is much better when it relies just on these two as their relationship is strong and tender and I loved it.

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The Crowd Movie Review

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Some of the highlights of course include that crowd sequence which was beautifully shot and unforgettable in its quality and of course that heartwarming ending which was a wonderful happy ending and a great way to portray the crowd in a lighter way too. Really well done. The film can also be pretty romantic at times.

The direction from King Vidor is outstanding and he directed this movie highly professionally and his role is certainly the most important one here. But the cinematography is the standout aspect as it is absolutely magnificent with many highly original camera angles and takes. It looks polished and timeless.

Masterfully directed by King Vidor, emotionally resonant and rich and relevant in its themes, The Crowd truly is a phenomenal cinematic achievement with many truthful quotes and observations, very strong performances, a heartwarming ending and a particularly effective, inventive and incredible cinematography. It remains a strong, resonant drama to this day.

My Rating – 4.5

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Ben Hur (1907)

Ben Hur ReviewBen Hur Review

Ben Hur is a 1907 silent short film directed by Sidney Olcott. It is an expectedly flawed experiment.

Now I really did not like Sidney Olcott’s ‘From the Manger to the Cross’ and although Ben Hur shares most of its problems, it is still a better film overall. That is mostly because it is shorter in length and thus the film is much more engaging and it flows nicely.

Most of its scenes were solid with the early chariot sequence being solidly filmed and memorable. I also liked that the intertitles were sparingly used. But even though the film looks really good with such a good costume design, it is again flawed and I know I said that it is good that it is short, but it is also bad. Let me explain. With just fifteen minutes of runtime, the film couldn’t possibly adapt its source material properly and thus we have only a couple of scenes and nothing more than that. Thus the film feels ridiculously slight and frankly even unnecessary.

Ben Hur is another one of Sidney Olcott’s weak experiments that looks good, but has way too short runtime for this kind of story to be told.

My Rating – 3.2

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Greed (1924)

Greed Movie Review

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Greed Movie Review

Greed is a 1924 silent drama film directed by Erich von Stroheim. It is a famous movie that is quite commendable, yet never as great as it could have been.

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We can’t afford such extravagance.

Thirty-five dollars… and the water extra!

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Greed Movie Review

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Now the reason why it isn’t great lies in its approach. I do get that greed is terrible and it is a problem that plagues today’s society just as much as it did that of 1924, but the way it was approached wasn’t the greatest and was typically excessive and overly melodramatic for its time.

I am talking about too long stares, some very implausible scenarios (the hand infection) as well as an over-the-top and too aggressive and nowhere near as subtle take on the subject matter. That was a problem here, but again the film is so epic, so moving at times and ultimately powerful that it managed to overcome that problem.

Greed is Erich von Stroheim’s magnum opus in terms of directing as his direction here is absolutely amazing and one of the best of the silent era. It is a shame that we cannot see the full version, but watching the restored four-hour version was a pleasant experience as they lovingly recreated the lost footage in a way.

The characters are memorable and so well developed and the acting is very strong and actually quite subtle at times, especially for its period. To me the final part was a spectacle, both visually and in terms of the action, but I also loved the romantic vignettes and those more sentimental scenes were some of my favorites as you could definitely feel the plight of its characters.

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Greed Movie Review

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The dialogue in the intertitles is so strong as are the descriptions and the narration. The film is a visual masterpiece not only in its strong camera movements, but also in scenery and you do get some stupendous imagery, especially in the desert in the final scenes. The film is thematically so well connected and overall stupendously well made that it is a shame that it wasn’t all that subtle as it would have been a masterpiece that way. And of course we cannot judge this movie fully without all of its footage, but as it stands, it is a very good, admirable silent movie that was pretty groundbreaking for its time in more than one way.

Greed should have been more subtle in its approach, but its ambition and especially its scope are unprecedented. The film is visually arresting with such a spectacle of the last act, it features very good characterization and excellent acting, but it is its strong emotion and Erich von Stroheim’s confident direction that take it to the next level.

My Rating – 4

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The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)

The Poor Little Rich Girl Movie Review

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The Poor Little Rich Girl Movie Review

The Poor Little Rich Girl is a 1917 silent film starring Mary Pickford as an 11 year old who is unhappy in a rich family mansion and wants to have some fun.

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Now you’ve spoiled  the best fight I’ve ever had

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The Poor Little Rich Girl Movie Review

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The plot is pretty simple and it is the biggest weakness of the film because it is way too simplistic. The subject matter is very ordinary. However, it is rarely done in movies so it is pretty intriguing. It is also very entertaining and involving from start to finish. But it is filled with very bad dialogue and some lines are simply laughable. Regarding the dialogue, the film seems as if it was made by a teenager. It is probably the biggest and most inexcusable flaw in the whole picture.

But the film is very unique in some aspects. The fantasy elements in the third act are very interesting visually and are well executed and they conclude the story perfectly. There is also something not a lot of people talk about and those are of course the intertitles. The intertitle design here is phenomenal and incredibly inventive. Especially in the sequence where she yells and her words literally come out of the doorknob as in comics. That is a wonderful touch. It, along with the humor, helped add a modern feel to this very old movie.

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The Poor Little Rich Girl Movie Review

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Speaking of humor, it is quite good and even charming. The sequence where she plays with the children is very endearing and the bathroom sequence is simply hilarious and very well executed. The humor adds a certain childlike and innocent flavor to a film and it fits the overall story perfectly. The whole movie is incredibly fast paced and entertaining so it is quite ahead of its time.

The characters are pretty well developed and the main character is very likable and effervescent. And the acting is fine across the board. It is of course questionable that they chose Mary Pickford to play an 11 year old child whereas she was 25 at the time. I understand how some would fault that choice, but I liked it anyway because Hollywood does that often (Judy Garland as Dorothy comes to mind immediately as a great example) and it is understandable that they choice her because she was such a commodity at the time and she is a wonderful actress. She played the part very well and her acting abilities and charisma are evident.

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The Poor Little Rich Girl Movie Review

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The editing along with the dialogue is the film’s greatest weakness. It is so fast paced, so incredibly rushed and the running time is very short, clocking in at just around an hour, that the whole film and story feel contrived and very rushed. I know that the fast pacing may feel modern and may satisfy today’s audiences, but I however found it as a flaw because it is too fast, the same way ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ is fast at times. It somehow diminished the effect of the whole movie which is a shame.

In the end, The Poor Little Rich Girl is incredibly entertaining and engaging, very funny and sweet, Mary Pickford is charming and her character is very likable, but the story is filled with so many questionable dialogues and bad lines, the pacing is awfully fast and feels rushed and contrived, it is also very short and it is full of these flaws that certainly affect the movie. But it is so charming and above all entertaining that it can be forgiven to some extent and the movie can be enjoyed by today’s audiences to a great extent which is an incredible and admirable achievement for the filmmakers.

My Rating – 3.5

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Snow White (1916)

Snow White Movie Review

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Snow White Movie Review

Snow White is a 1916 silent fantasy film starring Marguerite Clark. It is a very good early adaptation of this famous fairy tale.

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If these are pig’s tails,

then that is a pig’s heart

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Snow White Movie Review

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First of all, let’s talk about the elephant in the room and that is of course the fact that this movie influenced Walt Disney and impressed him so much (it was the first movie that he has ever seen) that he was inspired to make his own version. It’s a shame that this film is famous just for being Walt’s vehicle when it is a good movie in its own right.

Comparing the two, I of course loved Disney’s version much more as I just adore that classic film, but it was somewhat disappointing seeing how much he took from this film. The dwarfs mining and meeting Snow White, her cleaning the house and them washing up one of the dwarfs were all the scenes that Walt basically rehashed.

But other than that, it is very much a thing of its own. For example, it has much more characters in it and the entire first third is different. That first third is a major flaw of the movie. I still thought that it was good, but just not as good as the rest of the picture and it made the film feel odd structurally speaking as the action started way too late in its run plus those many characters introduced in the first part serve no purpose later on in the story.

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Snow White Movie Review

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But I still loved how this Snow White was much more faithful to its source material than the usual adaptations and sure enough, we have a poisonous comb here as well as Snow spitting the apple and thus managing to survive, all of the elements from the original fairy tale.

I personally really liked this Snow White as she is charming and likable which is a testament to Marguerite Clark’s performance which is very strong and certainly quite charismatic. The dwarfs themselves are solid, but not as memorable as they should have been and the entire film needed more humor as it is childlike in approach, but never funny which was a problem to me.

Prince meeting her earlier was well realized and he was solid, but the villain is great and it was interesting that we actually got two villains here as the Queen gets the help from Witch Hex who is a very memorable creation. The sequence with pig tails is actually a standout one as it is pretty gross and so well executed technically with excellent effects for its time.

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Snow White Movie Review

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But I would have liked to have seen the Queen die or get some sort of punishment and that overly happy ending was unfortunate. The film is very entertaining, but overly frenetic to the point of being abrupt in approach as some scenes seem to be cut in their progress, but that is because this isn’t a complete version and thus I shouldn’t judge the movie too much for it. As it stands, it never reached greatness, but it was competent and quite good from start to finish and it is ultimately a successful adaptation of this fairy tale.

The 1916 version of Snow White is famous for influencing Walt to make his own classic version and though he clearly took a couple of scenes in its entirety, this film is actually quite different otherwise as it follows the original fairy tale much closer. Even though the first third was problematic, the film is mostly very competently made with a charismatic turn from Marguerite Clark, good villains and a couple of standout scenes leading to a quite successful early adaptation of this famous fairy tale.

My Rating – 4

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The Queen of Spades (1916)

The Queen of Spades Movie Review

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The Queen of Spades Movie Review

The Queen of Spades is a 1916 Russian silent film directed by Yakov Protazanov and starring Ivan Mosjoukine. It is a film that had great potential, but squandered it on an uneven execution.

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Play the three, the seven and the ace

in succession and you will win

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The Queen of Spades Movie Review

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Yes, the story here is phenomenal which is expected as it came straight from the mind of Aleksandr Pushkin. The premise is very intriguing and the mix of horror elements into the whole drama is quite interesting. Everything about that third act is terrific with the imagery being particularly memorable. The juxtaposition of the cards and memories into the shots was so well done and quite advanced for its time. The ghost scene is the highlight and the ending is so striking, again accompanied by some intriguing special effects.
But everything that came before that amazing third act is quite weak. The first two acts are so dull and uneventful that the idea of a build-up is stretched way too much here. I get that the film needed to have that build-up, but one act would have sufficed and the second act should have introduced the conflict with the third act being the conclusive one.

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The Queen of Spades Movie Review

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But the filmmakers behind The Queen of Spades apparently had no idea of a three-act structure. The editing is all over the place and the structure is horrible. That is why the first two acts were dull and the third one was so rushed. And I continually get frustrated with the movies which are so great on paper, yet in execution of the pacing, editing and structure they fail. This is one fine example of such a bad practice.
I liked the characters. The protagonist is memorable and the old lady is naturally the standout person here. The entire idea of having this old lady know what cards to play is quite fascinating and I absolutely loved how the main character came to know here as it was believably scripted. And of course the message is great.

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The Queen of Spades Movie Review

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Ivan Mosjoukine is so good here. This is my first time seeing him and I have to say that I instantly got why he was such a huge star in Russia during the 1910s. His looks are memorable, his acting is very good and his emphasized gestured bring a lot to the overall performance. He is very charismatic.
I guess the movie isn’t too short in length as this story did not need more than an hour of running time, but the pacing is so bad that it hurt it in the long run and even Yakov Protazanov’s direction is to blame as it isn’t as deft and polished as the film demanded.

The Queen of Spades has such a great premise, Ivan Mosjoukine is very charismatic and memorable in the lead role, the film is technically terrific with great imagery and the third act is intriguing, but the first two acts are too dull, the film’s structure and editing are quite mediocre and the direction should have been better leading to an unfortunately uneven film.

My Rating – 3.5

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The Penalty (1920)

The Penalty Movie Review………………………………………………………

The Penalty Movie Review

The Penalty is a 1920 silent crime film directed by Wallace Worsley and starring always great Lon Chaney. It is a very good, entertaining movie.

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Everything comes to him who waits

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The Penalty Movie Review………………………………………………………

It follows a man played by Chaney who got his legs mistakenly amputated as a kid and now seeks revenge on the doctor who ruined his life. This is an obvious Chaney vehicle and he absolutely killed it in this role. The film itself isn’t one of his very best and ‘The Unknown’ is certainly much better, but it is one of his best performances as he is so great here.

His character is complex and villainous and creepy and crazy but also with a touch of sentiment and sympathy. He had to hit all of those notes and he did it masterfully, not to mention that he was torturing himself physically in order to play a legless man. Such an admirable devotion from one of the greatest actors who ever lived. The other actors here are much weaker in comparison to him.

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The Penalty Movie Review………………………………………………………

The plot is interesting and The Penalty is basically an early all-out crime film and I honestly liked it quite a bit. It should have been more memorable and it never fully utilized on its awesome premise, but still it remains a hugely entertaining, even emotional at times crime flick that is satisfactory and quite modern. Anyone looking for fun and quick silent flicks should definitely watch this one. It perfectly debunks the old, annoying myth that silent films are boring.

My favorite sequences are all of the romantic parts with the two leads and I loved the piano scenes. The secret passage and everything around it was so well conceived. And of course the ending is moving and tragic. The film is interesting for featuring Blizzard as an antagonistic character while also having all of the other characters be absolutely horrible as they show no empathy whatsoever to his condition. That led to such an incredibly dark emotionally and thematically film that it took me by surprise.

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The Penalty Movie Review………………………………………………………

The Penalty features very good intertitles that are never overly abundant or sparse and they explain the plot and fuel the characterization very well. The acting is great, but so is the directing from Wallace Worsley. He isn’t Tod Browning, but he still did a very good job. This was the film that introduced the masses to the power of Lon Chaney and it did that remarkably well. I thought it was solidly paced, but some of the middle parts were much less interesting than the rest of the film. And it is well shot and with a very good eye for detail. Overall, I liked The Penalty a lot, but I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to.

The Penalty has its weaker parts and it isn’t as great overall as it could have been, but the premise is awesome and this crime flick features a crazy, incredibly dark thematically and emotionally storyline and filled with questionable actions by its characters. The reason to see it of course lies in the performance from Lon Chaney which is absolutely phenomenal. He had to physically torture himself while also portraying a very complex character and he still did a masterful job. This is certainly one great vehicle for one the best actors who ever lived.

My Rating – 4

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The Freshman (1925)

The Freshman Movie Review……………………………………………………..

The Freshman Movie Review

The Freshman is a 1925 comedy film starring Harold Lloyd. It is a good, but archetypal and overly influential film.

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I’m just a regular fellow and I want you to step right up and call me Speedy!

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The Freshman Movie Review……………………………………………………..

I am talking about its plot. The freshman tries to become popular by joining the football team and eventually wins the respect from everyone. Needless to say, it is a very clichéd, exceedingly so premise and execution. I get that it was the first of its type, but its influence is mostly bad when it comes to college and especially sports movies and that is why I disliked its plot even more.

But it still has its great scenes and is a good film, just not as great as the critics say it is. The extended sewing sequence is absolutely fantastic and the prime comedic moment in the movie. Perfectly delivered and constructed, not to mention quite unforgettable. The first speech at college was also very good and the scene in which he realizes he is unpopular and they have been mocking him all along is actually quite touching.

Harold Lloyd is very good here. He gave a good, competent comedic performance and he even got some emotional moments as well. This is nowhere near the quality of his ‘Safety Last!’, but at least it comes close as he excelled in the nerdy roles which is best exemplified here. I also liked his girlfriend and especially the coach who was a memorable supporting character.

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The Freshman Movie Review……………………………………………………..

The Freshman is very well executed in action and although I wanted much more gags and action parts, those that we got are still excellent. The football part in the end is well executed, but I disliked it the most and that is what ruined this movie to an extent in my opinion. However, his first football practice is amazing and I just loved the scene in which he fools the angry dog and takes the ball close to him. Very good comedic stuff very well executed in terms of action.

So the film can be quite funny at times when it doesn’t rely on that stupid dance and clichéd sports stuff. Most of his gags worked and the film is surprisingly modern and hugely influential for better and for worse. It is a good influence when it comes to characterization which is very strong and humor which is mostly very satisfactory, but it is a bad influence when it comes to clichéd and entirely predictable storytelling.

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The Freshman Movie Review……………………………………………………..

I found the intertitles to be excellent in The Freshman which is a surprisingly well edited and paced flick, especially for its troubled time. The runtime is short and sweet, the film is well shot and memorable in imagery and it is consistently entertaining and a lot of fun from start to finish.

The Freshman is a highly influential college comedy flick for better and for worse. It is clichéd and entirely predictable in its plot with a very annoying ending, but the characterization is very good, Harold Lloyd is excellent in the main role, it has a couple of memorable scenes filled with funny gags and the film is so well made and a lot of fun that it transcends its obvious script problems.

My Rating – 4

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