Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Mysterious Island (1929)

The Mysterious Island has to be one of the biggest sc-fi extravagances I hadn't seen before. The film was a huge project and gamble for MGM (and it also may be the first sound sci-fi film): four million dollars, shot in Technicolor, a change in directors, changes in actors, sound added toward the end of production....

Like another MGM extravaganza beset by troubles, Ben-Hur (1925), The Mysterious Island was released with great fanfare. Unlike Ben-Hur, The Mysterious Island was a huge financial failure, and a setback for sci-fi films for years to come.

Using concepts from several of Jules Verne's novels, The Mysterious Island stars Lionel Barrymore as a scientist who's built two submarines designed to travel to the bottom of the sea, where he has reason to believe exist creatures related to mankind in the distant past.

His plans are interrupted by a revolutionary coup straight out of Sergei Eisenstein, headed by Montagu Love. It isn't explained how a scientist as clever as Barrymore would confide his secrets to a "friend" diametrically opposed to his goals and beliefs.

After plot complications, the two subs make their way to the sea's bottom, where a race of midgets, all vaguely resembling ducks, explore and eventually attack the group of sea explorers. It's here that the film really comes alive. The special effects, though primitive, have a surreal, dreamlike quality, and one has to marvel at the ambitious audacity of it all: seemingly hundreds of little creatures pulling a submarine with ropes; a set that seems a mile wide; midgets propelling an octopus forward to attack; the bizarre creatures going into a feeding frenzy at their first exposure to human blood... It would have been good to be on the set that day. The effects work on their own level, and one can see many echoes of Melies' films (especially A Trip to the Moon) in the set design. The Technicolor print of this film, unfortunately, seems to be lost.

The Mysterious Island is only partly sound; the rest is silent with orchestral background or stock library crowd sounds (yelling, people running, etc.). The early dialogue scenes featuring Barrymore are some of the most static I've seen; in some endless, maddening shots, I would have paid cash money for a close-up.

Don't see The Mysterious Island expecting a coherent, intelligent story, good acting, or a sci-fi film with great special effects. View it instead if you're interested in an historical curiosity or an early American attempt at sci-fi spectacle which remains compelling despite its clumsy methods.

Not available on DVD; has been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1931)

Parlor, Bedroom, and Bath turns out to be one the best Keaton sound MGM films, anchored by a sturdy script based on a 1917 bedroom farce play and some fine character actors. It's not a classic film, but if you've seen Free and Easy (1930) or Doughboys (1931), you know things could be much worse for poor Buster.

In an elaborate plot I won't bore you with, Keaton makes the best of another film shoot out of his control. He incorporates the train sequence from his very first short, One Week (1920) in a scene without dialogue, and trounces upon the very talented and rambunctious character actress Charlotte Greenwood in a "seduction" scene transcendently funny. Though Buster came from a different school of comedy than Greenwood, he goes toe to toe with her, and they both generate real, earned and appreciated laughs.

Parlor, Bedroom, and Bath benefits from direction by Keaton's long-time friend and collaborator, Edward Sedgwick, and also stars Reginald Denny and Cliff Edwards (no singing in this one, though).

There's a lot to enjoy here if you're willing to enjoy it for what it is.

Parlor, Bedroom, and Bath hasn't been given an official DVD release. A public domain title, it has been released by various DVD production companies with varying quality. The print shown on  Turner Classic Movies is fine.

1924 MGM Films Wanted

Here's a list of 1924 MGM films Mary and I haven't seen.

If you own copies of any these, please consider loaning or selling them to us; it would help us meet our goal of seeing all of the MGM films which still exist.

Broken Barriers, starring Norma Shearer, Adolphe Menjou, JamesKirkwood, and Mae Busch. Dir. by Reginald Barker. Drama

Excuse Me, starring Conrad Nagel, Norma Shearer. Directed by Alf Goulding. Comedy.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles, starring Blanche Sweet, Conrad Nagel. Directed by Marshall Neilan.

Ramolia, starring Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, and Ronald Colman. Directed by Henry King. Drama.

Mademoiselle Midnight, starring Mae Murray. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard.

The Arab, starring Ramon Novarro and Alice Terry. Directed by RexIngram.

Janice Meredith, starring Marion Davies and W. C. Fields. Directed by E. Mason Hopper. Drama.

Little Robinson Crusoe, starring Jackie Coogan. Directed by Edward Cline.

Wine of Youth, starring Eleanor Boardman and William Haines. Directed by King Vidor.

Along Came Ruth, starring Viola Dana. Directed by Edward Cline.

Revelation, starring Viola Dana. Directed by George D. Baker.

One Night in Rome, starring Laurette Taylor. Directed by Clarence Badger.

Married Flirts, starring Pauline Frederick, Mae Busch, Conrad Nigel. Directed by Robert Vignola.

Cheaper To Marry, starring Conrad Nigel and Lewis Stone. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard.

His Hour, starring John Gilbert and Aileen Pringle. Written by Elinor Glyn. Directed by King Vidor.

The Bandolero, starring Gustav von Seyffertitz. Directed by Tom Terriss. Melodrama.

The Great Divide, starring Alice Terry, Wallace Beery. Directed by Reginald Barker. Melodrama.

The Dixie Handicap, starring Lloyd Hughes. Directed by Reginald Barker. Melodrama.

The Beauty Prize, starring Viola Dana, Pat O'Malley. Directed by Lloyd Ingraham.

So This is Marriage, starring Eleanor Boardman, Conrad Nagel. Directed by Hobart Henley.

The Silent Accuser, starring Eleanor Boardman, Raymond McKee. Directed by Chester Franklin.

Sinners in Silk, starring Eleanor Boardman, Adolphe Menjou, Hedda Hopper, Jean Hersholt. Directed by Hobart Henley. Drama.

Bread, starring Mae Busch and Pat O'Malley. Directed by Victor Schertzinger. Drama.

Circe the Enchantress, starring Mae Murray, William Haines. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard. Drama.

The Snob, starring Norma Shearer, John Gilbert, Hedda Hopper. Directed by Monta Bell.

The Prairie Wife, Gibson Gowland, Boris Karloff. Directed by Hugo Ballin. Drama.

Wife of the Centaur, John Gilbert, Eleanor Boardman, William Haines. Directed by King Vidor. Drama.