Film Review: The Blacksmith (1922)

Release Date: July 21st, 1922
Directed by: Buster Keaton, Malcolm St. Clair
Written by: Buster Keaton, Malcolm St. Clair
Cast: Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, Virginia Fox

First National Pictures, 25 Minutes

Review:

The IMDb description of this film is, “Buster Keaton shoes horses and repairs cars, with mixed results.”

That pretty much sums the whole thing up.

However, this is Buster Keaton and the gags and physical humor are great, even if this is still pretty early into his career where he was pumping out silent short films left and right.

While I don’t enjoy this one as much as One Week or Cops, it still showcases the man’s great talent and how he could make magic with just about any prop or situation.

This is only 25 minutes but a lot happens and Keaton doesn’t really stop moving, except to fill in a few narrative points between the physical scenes. But even then, he finds a way to put his physical energy to use.

In the end, I’ve never seen a Buster Keaton film I haven’t enjoyed and The Blacksmith is no different.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Buster Keaton films of the silent era, as well as the movies of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd.

Film Review: Cops (1922)

Release Date: March 11th, 1922
Directed by: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Written by: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Cast: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts, Edward F. Cline, Steve Murphy

Joseph M. Schenck Productions, 18 Minutes

Review:

“I won’t marry you until you become a big business man.” – Mayor’s Daughter

Cops is a Buster Keaton movie I hadn’t seen until now. Like a lot of his pictures, you can actually find a good copy of it on YouTube for free.

Overall, this was energetic and fun but I probably wouldn’t put this near his upper echelon of stuff, even his shorts. I enjoyed One Week a lot more and found it to be pretty damn hilarious from top to bottom.

Cops does have some good gags and sequences but it’s a lot more grounded than Keaton’s best work, which often times gets surreal and over the top (in a good way).

This also feels like a much smaller picture than many of his others, even One Week, which was mostly filmed in a large dirt covered area near train tracks. The only thing in this that felt somewhat grandiose was the finale that saw Keaton running away from what looked like a hundred or more cops.

This was definitely charming in that typical Buster Keaton sort of way but everything, other than the closing minutes, felt pretty subdued and light.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Buster Keaton films, as well as Charlie Chaplin’s and Harold Lloyd’s.

Film Review: Häxan (1922)

Also known as: Heksen (Danish), The Witches, Witchcraft Through the Ages (English)
Release Date: September 18th, 1922 (Sweden)
Directed by: Benjamin Christensen
Written by: Benjamin Christensen
Music by: Matti Bye (2006 restored version), Launy Grøndahl, Daniel Humair (1968 version), Ludwig van Beethoven (1922 score), Barði Jóhannsson (2006 score), Emil Reesen (1941 version), Art Zoyd (1997 version)
Cast: Benjamin Christensen, Clara Pontoppidan, Oscar Stribolt, Astrid Holm, Maren Pedersen
Narrated by: William S. Burroughs (1968 English version)

Svensk Filmindustri, Skandias Filmbyrå , 104 Minutes (Swedish Film Institute print), 74 Minutes (1968 version)

Review:

“Poor little hysterical witch! In the middle ages you were in conflict with the church. Now it is with the law.” – Title Card

Häxan is a film I saw some clips of, as a kid, and was immediately mesmerized by. I didn’t see the full version of the film until the high quality 2006 remaster came out on DVD. Most recently, I checked out the shorter 1968 English language version with the narration by William S. Burroughs.

Both versions of the film are generally the same, except that the English language version has spoken dialogue and a shorter running time due to the exclusion of some of the title cards. The 2006 remaster is superior though, if you want to see the most authentic version of the film. Plus, the music in the 1968 version is bizarre and actually distracts from the tone.

Comparing this to what was out in 1922 really puts into perspective how terrifying this film must have been. The scariest thing at the time was Nosferatu and even though it effectively builds suspense and dread, Häxan throws demons and evil in your face at just about every turn. In fact, the Satanic ceremonies in this film are still better constructed than those in almost every other film throughout history. The amount of demons in this picture is astounding and just about every evil character has its own unique look.

Häxan is really in your face though, so maybe its approach was initially shocking and audiences got somewhat desensitized as the film ran on. Regardless, the costumes, sets and overall visual composition of the film is superb and unlike anything I’ve seen from this era or really, anything after this era. There are some good devil worshiping films with ceremonies and the appearance of a “devil” but this is like a nonstop Satanic orgy playing out on screen.

In a lot of ways, the film is like an over the top PSA to deter people from getting involved with witchcraft. It is to Satan what Reefer Madness was to marijuana use. Granted, this is a much better film in every way. But I imagine that the film probably had an effect opposite of what was probably intended. It plays as the most effective and coolest “Come join Satan!” propaganda that could ever be created.

Apart from the costumes themselves, the makeup and special effects were impressive and uncanny for 1922. The scene with the witches flying over the town is especially breathtaking.

While this isn’t remembered at quite the same level as Nosferatu or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, it deserves to be in the same conversations film aficionados and historians have had about horror pictures from that era.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Nosferatu (1922)

Also known as: Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, lit. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (Germany)
Release Date: March 4th, 1922 (Germany)
Directed by: F. W. Murnau
Written by: Henrik Galeen
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Hans Erdmann
Cast: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder, Alexander Granach, Ruth Landshoff, Wolfgang Heinz

Prana Film, Film Arts Guild, 94 Minutes

nosferatuReview:

F. W. Murnau was one of the greatest directors of his day and not just in Germany. Several of his pictures were huge successes but none are probably as widely known internationally as Nosferatu.

Coming out during the height of German Expressionist film movement and the silent film era, Nosferatu could very well be the most famous silent picture ever made. It is definitely the biggest horror film of its time and seems to have the biggest lasting impact.

Similar to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which predates it by two years, Nosferatu utilized the surreal and dream-like German style. While Caligari is the more surreal of the two, Nosferatu is quite a bit grittier and scarier, overall. While fitting the German Expressionist style, Nosferatu feels more realistic, as it is less stylized than its predecessor. Where Caligari felt like a case of vertigo, Nosferatu delved into the surreal but not in a sense where it feels like a horrific acid trip.

Nosferatu is actually the Dracula story by Bram Stoker. It made some alterations to the characters and some of the events but if you are familiar with the literary version of Dracula, it is quite obvious that this is an adaptation of that iconic novel. The reason that this wasn’t just made to be a direct adaptation of Dracula is due to the filmmakers not being able to secure the rights to the book. Therefore, they changed some things. But this wasn’t without consequence, as the studio had to declare bankruptcy in an effort to dodge a copyright infringement lawsuit from Bram Stoker’s widow. Nosferatu ended up being the only film produced by Prana Film because of this.

Max Schreck, who plays Count Orlok, is one of the best known vampires to ever grace a movie screen. His recognition is well-deserved. He was eerie, sinister and unlike the literary Dracula, he didn’t fit in with society. Schreck was feral and more like a wild animal that couldn’t control his urges. He created some of the most well-known scenes in the silent era and in the long history of horror cinema. To this day, those scenes are still really effective. Schreck’s Count Orlok is one of the greatest interpretations of the Dracula character and one of the greatest horror performances ever filmed. His legacy has transcended film even, as his likeness has been used in several mediums: other films, literature and video games just to name a few. Heck, he even appears in an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Nosferatu was and still is a highly influential work of art. It has inspired countless directors across the globe, Count Orlok is still one of the most iconic monsters in movie history and scenes from the film are still widely used in other bodies of work.

Rating: 10/10