Monday, November 12, 2012


Out this past week on video are two delightful silent-movie collections from The Milestone Cinematheque:

Cut to the Chase! The Charley Chase Collection: Of the great silent comics whose work is still widely watched and enjoyed, Chaplin probably comes in first, with Keaton a close second and Harold Lloyd a fairly distant third. Charley Chase would probably be a still more distant fourth, but perhaps this fine assortment of sixteen shorts will help to raise his profile.

Said profile certainly had an impressive forehead to begin with, high and steep, over a long, mustachioed, irked face, strong if not quite handsome, lively if not quite smart, likable if not entirely trustworthy. That sort of sums up his persona, too. If you’ve ever rolled your eyes a little at the self-consciously poignant innocence of Chaplin or even of Keaton, you might find Chase’s company refreshingly unsentimental. He’s a shady screw-up, a frustrated wannabe hustler, but he’s much more like somebody you’d actually know.

Among the selections on this set are two new to video: The Leo McCarey-directed Charley My Boy of 1926, and a funny 1925 heist-movie spoof called The Uneasy Three—presumably in reference to Lon Chaney, Sr.’s bizarre caper yarn The Unholy Three, from the same year. In the latter, Chase, the extremely adorable Katherine Grant and the extremely un-adorable Bull Montana pose as musicians to infiltrate a society soiree in hopes of purloining a jewel. Other highlights include April Fool, in which practical jokes lead to grief in a newspaper office, and Isn’t Life Terrible?, in which Chase attempts to sell pens door-to-door, including to an impossibly cute Fay Wray.

Mary Pickford: Rags & Riches Collection: This set offers three of the vibrant, playful young star’s feature vehicles—The Poor Little Rich Girl, The Hoodlum, and maybe her most memorable film for modern audiences: 1926’s Sparrows, William Beaudine’s crazy, gripping melodrama about the children trapped in a fortress-like “baby farm” in a remote, gator-infested swamp, controlled by the vile Mr. Grimes, played by Gustav von Seyffertitz in one of the great villainous turns ever. Pickford is splendid as the plucky surrogate-mother heroine trying to lead them to salvation.

Also included is a short, Ramona (1910), a grimly tragic “story of the White man’s injustice to the Indian,” based on Helen Jackson’s novel and shot in Ventura County. There are also some unconvincing contemporary sketches at the beginning of the films about kids being introduced to the joy of silents. Sparrows, at any rate, should require no such cajoling.

And while we’re on the subject of Milestone Films, check out how the company is attempting to restore the remarkable 1967 indie Portrait of Jason by Shirley Clarke, and how you can help.

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