A while back, we looked at a few very bad silent films, as “recommended” from some brutal reviews in Photoplay. Since there’s always perverse fun in watching some cinematic garbage, it’s time to check out a few more of these supposed bad silent films. This time, we’re even including an early talkie, since the Photoplay review is too good to resist. Remember kids, only a professional can get through films this bad. Don’t try this at home.
The Love Light (1921)
The Photoplay review:
There is something decidedly wrong about a Mary Pickford picture when the best thing you remember about it is a caption entitled “stewed chicken” followed by an action scene in which an inquisitive hen, drinking wine from an overturned cask, is seen to float back to its coop with that ludicrous uncertainty of movement associated with the modern gentleman full of the neighbors’ brew. Yet that is about all I recall of The Love Light.
It’s surprising that the drunk chicken is all the reviewer remembers of The Love Light, although they can’t be blamed for forgetting everything that happens in the film. For while the film starts out looking like a light Mary Pickford comedy, it transforms into a constant pitfall of absurd tragedies. Let’s lay out all the things that happens to Pickford in the film: she takes in a deserter from the war, trusting his story of being an American. He’s actually a German spy, and in sending him an “I love you” message from her lighthouse, accidentally sends out a message that leads to her brother being killed. The German spy husband falls off a cliff, after which she has a child from him. She loses her child after nuns take them away from her. And when her kidnapped child is stranded at sea, she must light her house on fire for the boat to see land. Oh, and her other brother goes blind in the war.
Got all that?
I sure hope so, because that takes place in about 40 minutes or so. It becomes comically absurd how many times Pickford throws her head back and screams into the void. Not to mention that the whole problem started because she somehow got fooled into thinking a German spy actually sounded like an American. Given everything else that happens to her, it’s a miracle that she didn’t accidentally set herself on fire while setting the house ablaze. Overall, The Love Light is such a poor vehicle for Mary Pickford, who loses all her charm in a sea of absurd tragedy.
The Claw (1927)
The Photoplay review:
Evidently this was produced just to make the contract players earn their salaries. We still have the wealthy papas endeavoring to make great big he-men out of their sons. To Africa they are set for rejuvenation. And between cannibals and jungle animals the hero wins out.
In fairness, The Claw really isn’t all that bad. It’s just not very good either. A decidedly minor effort, it’s a mostly forgettable romp with plot elements so obvious they could be seen from space. Claire Windsor plays a woman bored by her supposed wimp husband (Maurice Stair), while she crushes on a brave explorer and Major (Arthur Edmund Carewe). But to the surprise of no one, her husband proves to be the real brave one while on a dangerous African expedition.
The film does contain one interesting wrinkle that is unfortunately never fully followed up on. Carewe is harboring a secret wife and child, which should have at least set up some over-the-top melodrama. Instead, it barely becomes a factor in the rest of the film. At under an hour, the film just keeps cranking along with no real depth.
Don’t look for much excitement in the jungle scenes. Like everything else in the film, it’s perfunctory and rushed. Don’t look for much with The Claw, the cinematic equivalent to one of those ambient noise machines.
Riders of the Purple Sage (1925)
The Photoplay review:
We were looking forward to this latest Tom Mix vehicle, but for some reason or other we were disappointed. Perhaps we expected too much. The popular novel by Zane Grey had plenty of action but not so much with the picture. Of course Tom can always be relied upon to prove himself the hero and save a young lady, who in this case happens to own a ranch and is robbed by rustlers. Fine photography.
Photoplay has it about right. Tom Mix was always an ideal western star, and his presence and personality does help this adaptation of Riders of the Purple Sage quite a bit. And it is indeed well directed with some great stunts as well. As for the content of the film and how compelling it is? Well, that’s a whole different problem.
One intertitle sums up the whole problem with the film. It notes that Mix has “outwitted them at every turn.” That point couldn’t have been any clearer if he was wearing a Harlem Globetrotters jersey. There just isn’t much drama and suspense, as Mix disposes of all adversity in practically the blink of an eye. Don’t look away, or you could miss him disposing of a series of villains in seconds flat. Even Warner Oland’s final dastardly plan is introduced and disposed of quicker than a hiccup. While there’s still some fun to be had, the one sided nature takes a lot of the interest out of it.
High Voltage (1929)
The Photoplay review:
A stupid, morbid movie that’s suspiciously like “The Sin Sister”–and nowhere near as good. Three blondes, a banker, a truck driver and a dick are snowed in for a week in a country church. It’s intended to scale the heights of human drama, but due to clumsy direction, it is utterly vague and ridiculous. The usual charming William Boyd smile is hidden behind a week-old beard, and anyway, Bill’s losing his girlish figure, or so it seems.
High Voltage is actually an early complete talkie, but with a “stupid, morbid” lead in, this movie just sounds so tempting. Unfortunately, High Voltage couldn’t have a more misleading title. Well, except that audiences probably feel like they’re being subjected to a real Milgram experiment while watching it.
As an early talkie with Carole Lombard and William Boyd, it could actually have a lot going for it. Instead, the film only presents just over an hour of some of the dullest and most lifeless dialogue ever put on screen. Trapped on a bus and a church, these characters just spout trite dialogue endlessly. It somehow feels to go on much longer than the short run time, more like the length of time it took for continental drift to complete. Only recommended if you’re looking to torture someone.