Monday, June 20, 2011

Thumbnail Reviews: Douglas Fairbanks In 1917

Not counting a short film promoting the sale of war bonds, Douglas Fairbanks made six movies in 1917, five of which are readily available on DVD. (The sixth film, In Again, Out Again, is a comedy about a young man who gets himself thrown into prison to be near the jailer's daughter, only to find himself facing execution. A print of the film exists in an archive somewhere, but is not currently available for viewing.)

My thumbnail reviews of the five films I have seen.

Wild And WoollyHoping to convince a railroad baron to build a potentially lucrative branch line to their location, a thoroughly modern Arizona town redresses itself as an Old West frontier hamlet to fool the baron's gullible son, Jeff (Fairbanks), who finds the staged gunfights and faked Indian attacks as exciting as the ones of his over-active imagination. But when a corrupt Indian agent (Sam De Grasse) takes advantage of the situation to launch a real attack, Fairbanks rides to the rescue.

Written by the legendary Anita Loos, who later penned Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and the screen adaptation of The Women, this may be the best of the pre-swashbuckling Fairbanks features and is a National Film Registry selection.

★★★★½ (out of 5)

Down To EarthHere, a robust young man (Fairbanks) seeks to rescue his ex-fiancee and her fellow patients from a quack doctor (Gustav von Seyffertitz, in his screen debut) whose sanitarium caters to wealthy hypochondriacs. Comic possibilities abound when Fairbanks contrives to strand them on a desert isle where he sets about to convert them to the pleasures of hard work and clean living. Fairbanks delivers a typically engaging performance, but it was the intertitle writing of Anita Loos that Katie-Bar-The-Door and I thought really gave this film its comic punch.

Note: Down To Earth is so much like the 1919 Gloria Swanson drama Male and Female, I have to wonder whether Loos was inspired by the latter's source material, the 1902 stageplay The Admirable Crichton ...


The Man From Painted PostA straight western filmed on location in Wyoming, in this film Fairbanks plays a detective who disguises himself as an Eastern tenderfoot to get close to a band of cattle rustlers. Not much humor but some good opportunities for Fairbanks to show off his athleticism.

The love interest is played here by Irish-born Eileen Percy, who had a brief silent film career before marrying Harry Ruby of the famed Ruby-Kalmar songwriting team.


Reaching For The MoonAccountant by day, hopeless dreamer by night, Alexis Caesar Napoleon Brown (Fairbanks) turns out to be heir to an Eastern European throne. At first he's thrilled, but soon Alex finds that dodging assassins' bullets and wooing ugly princesses is not all its cracked up to be. The ending is a bit of a letdown, but there's plenty of comedy and action beforehand to recommend it.


A Modern MusketeerBased on the novel D'Artagnan of Kansas, Ned Thacker (Fairbanks) dreams of fighting knaves and rescuing maidens like his favorite literary hero. Unfortunately, the sleepy midwestern town of his birth hasn't much call for a modern-day musketeer, so Ned hits the road, looking for romance and adventure and finding it.

The film's prologue finds Fairbanks in full period costume, wielding a rapier and anticipating his 1921 adaptation of the original Three Musketeers story.

Note: The ending of this movie was long thought lost, but was recently rediscovered and is available only as part of the DVD box set Douglas Fairbanks: A Modern Musketeer.



mister muleboy said...

Accountant by day, hopeless dreamer by night, Alexis Caesar Napoleon Brown (Fairbanks) turns out to be heir to an Eastern European throne.

Hmmmm -- it seems like yer Mule has himself a little royal blood, if Brown's (Fairbanks's) journey is any guide.. .. ..

Word Verification? fixes

Mythical Monkey said...

Except kings aspire to be Muleboys ...

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

Say, have you read Sunnyside, a recent novel by Glen David Gold? It takes place ca. 1917, and has Charlie Chaplin as a viewpoint character. Doug Fairbanks is in it too.

The War Bonds mention reminded me - it has a great scene (fictional?) of Fairbanks' and Pickford's first kiss, at a Bond rally in San Francisco. She auctioned off a kiss and he outbid everyone.

Not much period accuracy, but some fun.

Douglas Fairbanks said...

but some fun.

Oh, sir, you don't know the half of it.

Kissing Mary was indeed "some fun."

What a lovely woman. . . .

Mythical Monkey said...

Say, have you read Sunnyside

I haven't, but it's on my list now.