NEW YORK (CNS) — By 1922, the film industry, which had begun to migrate from the East Coast to Hollywood about a decade earlier, was well-established and thriving. A century later, many of the movies released that year have perished. But some have survived while others have been rediscovered or restored.
Following, in alphabetical order, are capsule reviews of six notable features that have reached their centennial and are available to view for free online. Unless otherwise noted, the Catholic News Service classification for each is A-II — adults and adolescents. None have been rated by the Motion Picture Association.
“Beyond the Rocks”
Director Sam Wood’s adaptation of Elinor Glyn’s 1906 novel is notable as the only film to co-star screen legends Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino. Swanson plays a Dorset country lass whose gentlemanly father (Alec B. Francis) is living in reduced circumstances. To help improve the family’s fortunes, she reluctantly agrees to marry a middle-aged, nouveau-riche millionaire (Robert Bolder) though she’s already drawn to Valentino in the guise of a young and dashing nobleman. The plot puts an interesting, altruistic spin on the perennial tale pitting love against duty, but the mood is rather overheated. Still, given that this romantic drama was considered lost for more than 90 years, it ranks as a recovered treasure. Mature themes, including potential adultery. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cktPGwi9bJY
“Blood and Sand”
The idea of casting Rudolph Valentino as the bullfighter protagonist of Vicente Blasco Ibáñez’s 1909 novel, here brought to the screen by director Fred Niblo, must have struck the folks at Paramount as money in the bank — and so it proved. The artistic value of the resulting film is a different question. So, too, is its staying power. Exotic atmospherics trump the slow-moving story as Valentino’s swaggering but kindly toreador finds acclaim in the ring and domestic happiness with his childhood sweetheart (Lila Lee), only to have his professional success as well as his personal tranquility threatened by the wiles of an amoral noblewoman (Nita Naldi). Those willing to excuse the hypocritical tone of the stodgy intertitles — which condemn both the dangerous cruelty to animals and the marital infidelity on which the picture itself otherwise thrives — can take this as an idyll in the sunny Spain of old. Implied adultery and marital sensuality. https://archive.org/details/BLOODANDSAND1922RudolphValentinoNitaNaldiLilaLee
“Dr. Mabuse the Gambler”
The contest between the master criminal of the title (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) and the state prosecutor (Bernhard Goetzke) who’s on his trail becomes the centerpiece of this sprawling, four-hour panorama of German society in the heyday of the Weimar Republic. There’s also a Gothic tinge to director and co-writer Fritz Lang’s adaptation of a novel by Norbert Jacques since the villain uses hypnotism to control some of his victims. Indeed, his haunting eyes are a sight that can’t be unseen. Viewers of stamina will be rewarded with a richly textured experience, though it’s an unsuitable one for kids. Possibly acceptable for older teens. Stylized gunplay, occult activity, drug use, implied cohabitation, a few profanities, a couple of crude expressions. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. https://archive.org/details/Dr.MabuseTheGamblerdr.MabuseDerSpieler1922Part1
“Flesh and Blood”
Not even the formidable talent of Lon Chaney can save this sappy melodrama in which he plays a wrongly convicted prison escapee whose plan to wreak vengeance on the businessman who framed him (Ralph Lewis) is complicated by his virtuous daughter’s (Edith Roberts) love for his nemesis’ son (Jack Mulhall). Chaney’s fugitive takes shelter in an unnamed city’s Chinatown, which is depicted as at once exotic and sinister, its darker side presided over by a painfully caricatured gang leader (Noah Beery). Throw in the fact that the young heroine works in a slum mission and that she’s sent into raptures of melancholy by her unknown father’s performance of “Love’s Old Sweet Song” on his fiddle and the hopelessly dated nature of the proceedings, helmed by Irving Cummings, becomes all too apparent. Ethnic stereotyping. https://archive.org/details/FleshAndBlood1922
Erich von Stroheim wrote, directed and starred in this lavish drama in which he plays a swindler and serial seducer posing as a Russian count in Monte Carlo. Plotting with two accomplices pretending to be his equally aristocratic cousins (Maude George and Mae Busch), he sets his sights on the naive wife (Patricia Hannon, credited as Miss DuPont) of an American diplomat (Rudolph Christians) intending first to compromise her and then extort money from her. The fact that he also targets an underage, mentally disabled girl (Malvina Polo) demonstrates that, while in some respects tame by today’s standards, this Carl Laemmle production, supervised by a youthful Irving Thalberg, retains its lurid tint. Catholic viewers will nonetheless appreciate the providential turn of events by which one of the wicked protagonist’s schemes is foiled. Said to be the first movie with a $1 million budget, its elaborate visual spectacle is accompanied by a score from operetta composer Sigmund Romberg. Possibly acceptable for older adolescents. Mature themes, including potential sexual abuse and adultery. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. https://archive.org/details/FoolishWives1922_201704
Horror classic loosely based on Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” centers on the vampire count (Max Schreck) who leaves his sinister castle in the Carpathian Mountains to sail on a doomed ship bringing him to 1838 Bremen where his dark deeds are undone by a brave young woman and the first light of dawn. Directed by F.W. Murnau, the German production is most notable for its eerie portrayal of the vampire in images which seem to personify evil and dread in a movie even more remarkable for having been filmed mostly on location rather than in the controlled confines of a studio. Stylized violence and menace. https://archive.org/details/Nosferatu1922VHS
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This is John Mulderig’s final piece for CNS due to the closure of our New York office. For the time being, Catholic Review Media in Baltimore will be syndicating his new reviews. Check out catholicreview.org.