Saturday, 23 May 2015

Fear itself… The Coward (1915)


The Coward was one of a number of films made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the American Civil War’s nominal ending. It tells a much smaller story than Mr Griffiths’ well-known epic from earlier in the year and focuses in on the more human reaction to war: the question of will I be able to fight?

Too often physical bravery is taken for granted and instinctive fear is treated as momentary doubt to be blown away by a sudden onrush of heroism or as a weakness to be pitied or laughed at. In The Coward the “hero” suffers deep shame and is only able to enlist under threat of being shot by his father… all armies need men like him: happy to slaughter those who run the wrong way.

Fearsome Frank Keenan
It’s not necessarily that this film won’t witness the ultimate triumph of heroism but the sympathetic way it deals with its counter-point that marks it out. The performance of the titular non-hero, Frank Winslow from baby-faced Charles Ray is naturalistic and convincing as the young man runs as terrified by his own perceived inadequacy as impending oblivion after all his letting not only his family and girl down, he’s letting himself down.

Written and produced by Thomas H. Ince and directed by Reginald Barker, The Coward starts off in the sunny South just as war breaks out. Frank’s father, retired Colonel Jefferson Beverly Winslow (Frank Keenan) sits reading a letter from Southern military command rejecting his offer to –re-enlist on account of age. Meanwhile Frank is out admiring peaceful nature with his sweetheart Amy (Margaret Gibson) but when they return to town, the declaration has been made and young men are falling over themselves to join up.

Margaret Gibson and Charles Ray
Frank’s worst fears have been realised and he is terrified of being a coward which seems distinct from being frightened for his own demise: is that a comment on societal indifference to the actuality of military conflict resolution at a time when Europe was ripping itself to shreds and America was seeing films showing the horror of its own war as never before?

Frank flees from the recruitment office
Frank enters the recruitment office, encouraged by the general hysteria and Amy’s pride, and almost manages it before, sickened with fear, he makes a break for home. He falls upon his mother (Gertrude Claire) and looks for some comfort but once his father hears we begin to understand why he’s more frightened of failure than death. The old man expects nothing but self-sacrifice and he treats his son as he would treat any other deserter by getting his gun and offering him the choice between a bullet sooner rather than later.

Frank joins up
Duly incentivised, Junior signs up with Dad in close attendance just in case and you have to say that theatre veteran Keenan is superb as the unbending force of Colonel Past: he may be unyielding but that look in his eye is not anger so much as deep regret and sadness… he knows all about war and he, unlike the thousands of ever-ready recruits, knows just what is going to happen to them.

So off goes Frank to serve the South but his involvement is short-lived as he runs back home after his first night watch: scared by the trees, the breeze and his own shadow. Father is disgusted and decides to take his son’s place in the war – off he goes, rifle in hand; back in the business.

Frank's disgrace is almost complete
But the Northern advance is swift and their home town is suddenly over-run forcing Frank to hide from the Yankees as they avail themselves of the Winslow house. As mother and the family servants – white actors Nick Cogley and Minnie Provost both in sad blackface – look after the intruders, Frank overhears their plans: they are exposed at the rear until reinforcements can arrive the following day… if the Confederates knew this they would be over-run...

Excellent battle scenes
OK… now the film changes tack as you might expect but it’s not without a twist in its final sequence. It’s also now that the war really starts and there are some well-realised scenes of battle from Barker and his cameramen Joseph H. August and Robert S. Newhard. After Birth the bar has been raised and after the slow pace and emotional intricacies of the film to this point, the action is now thick and fast.

If you look carefully you might even spot John Gilbert as “a young Virginian” although I missed him: these Yankees, they all look the same…

One of these men could be John Gilbert...
It’s not a major film but The Coward is none-the-less an interesting and entertaining one from a time of national self-reflection when the war was still in living memory and with some combatants still around to re-tell the tale.  As Birth also showed, some of the war’s issues were also still very much alive and kicking  but War never really grows old and Frank’s fears are as relevant and real today as they were a century ago.

War is hell
The Coward is available on Image Entertainment's Civil War Films of the Silent Era DVD from Amazon and probably elsewhere too.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Lost in transition… Our Blushing Brides (1930)


 Wiki-parently this was Joan Crawford’s 31st film (out of a career total of 86) and her 4th sound film – a third of her films were silent - made when she was just 26 and still in the process of becoming “Joan Crawford”.

Her diction is deliberately modulated to enable the microphones to pick up something approximating a received pronunciation north eastern American accent – this gal doesn’t sound like she’s from the Bronx let alone San Antonio, Texas… that she manages to act through these constraints is a wonder and a measure of her talent.

Crawford, Page and Sebastien again!
Our Blushing Brides follows loosely on from Our Dancing Daughters (very good), Our Modern Maidens (so-so) and is a mixed bag of genre and tone incorporating shop-girl comedy, dance spectacular, rom-com and melodrama shifting sometimes awkwardly between happy and really bloomin’ sad. Throughout it all, the camera is focused on Joan in and out of a variety of stunning gowns and frankly very pre-code lingerie… Ever get the feeling you’re being exploited?

It proves to be a very uneven experience and for stretches leaves you marooned in one of its pockets of coherence as you wait for the narrative to move along whilst, other-times, it just ups and jumps to its (sometimes-inevitable) conclusions without taking the characters and the audience through the steps to get there…

Laughs!
And yet… there are laughs, snap-chatty inter-play between the three female leads and a catwalk over-flowing with dancing mannequins all wearing the finest in elegant sewing or haute couture to you. Then there’s Joan, as expressive and energetically-focused as ever: this feels like a reasonably aerobic work-out for her but she’s clearly playing within her limits – half actress half athlete.

She gets good support from Dorothy Sebastian – ideal best friend material for Miss Crawford; capable of keeping up without overshadowing the front-runner. Also good is Anita Page who performs the seemingly impossible feet of having larger and prettier eyes than Joan. Joan has to work her lids to show her peepers to full effect but Anita just has to blink. A more natural comedian than Crawford her role is all the more tragic for that.

Legs!!
The three women play a hat-trick of shop workers who all perform different roles in Jardine’s Department Store and share a humble brownstone flat on their $20 weekly pay. Joan is Geraldine "Gerry" March a model or “mannequin” – who shows off the stores finest clothes to the well-off patrons whilst Anita is Connie Blair who works in the perfume counter whilst Dorothy’s Francine Daniels sells blankets in home furnishings.

As with all store-slaves they dream of escape and it seems Connie may well have found hers in the form of the owner’s second son David Jardine (Raymond Hackett). Gerry is less certain and has a natural distrust of male motivations no doubt having been once or twice-bitten. She attracts the attention of David’s elder brother Tony (Robert Montgomery) who ogles her during a fashion show and tries his luck but it turns out that Gerry doesn’t just play at hard-to-get: she is.

Lingerie!!!
Then Francine, almost despairing of a lucky break, meets a mustachioed charmer Marty Sanderson (John Miljan) who orders $500 worth of blankets for his hotel and arranges a date at the same time: he’s in the money and she’s not bothering to check the gift-horse’s teeth…

Relationships move to the next level very quickly: Francine and Marty have a quick-fire drunken wedding much to Gerry’s concern whilst Connie soon moves into an apartment courtesy of David and it’s surely only a matter of time before he makes their relationship public.

Jeepers, creepers... check out Anita's peepers!
Then the film decides it’s time for a huge set-piece as a flamboyant fashion designer arrives to greet old pal Tony and arrange a massive show at the family pile… spotting Gerry he decides to make her the centre-piece. The limos arrive to find a massive stage erected on the vast Jardine estate and the nonsense begins with long minutes of Joan high-kicking and knicker-revealing in a flowing white dress. Swoosh, spin and bend: take that Mr Hays!!

What a swell party this is
Tony is naturally very impressed and takes Gerry off for a quite walk in the woods to show her his electronic tree house (haven’t you got one?). At the flick of a switch a large apartment is revealed and a stairway is lowered… Climbing up Gerry finds the room full of all the home comforts and yet, when Tony pulls up the stairs she feels cheated by this house-trap/tree-trick. Gerry had thought better of Tony and yet when he tries to man-splain his worldly-wise ways she realises he’s not one to trust before a tryst.

Tony's on third strike
Disgusted Gerry departs and refuses to give Tony a second chance: a line that impresses as a third chance is also spurned. Gerry leaves to live alone as expectations are momentarily confounded… Then things begin to unravel as life and the narrative takes a turn for the worse all round as the film finally decides it’s a drama after all with music and comedy put aside for the final fraught thirty minutes.

At the time Our Blushing Brides did good business and it’s not hard to see why: it was built to succeed by ticking so many boxes it could almost be a multiple choice examination on how to make a Hollywood winner. It’s a thoroughly-professional endeavour from all concerned and whilst it doesn’t engage in the way that Our Dancing Daughters did, it prefigures the mass ensemble back-stage musical dramas that were to follow.

Such a show off
It was also another staging post in the rise of the remarkable Joan – her diction and tone would improve but the look and the intensity was already in place as evidenced throughout her silent successes.

Our Blushing Brides is available on Warner Archive DVD-R either direct or from Amazons.

Don't worry dear, he liked it really...

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Social mobility… East Is East (1916) with John Sweeney, Kennington Bioscope

Florence Turner
“If you talked less you’d give your mustache a chance to grow!”

You can take the girl out of Stepney but, as this film posits, you can’t take Stepney out of the girl. Faced with unexpected rags to riches and forced to live a life in which you’re taught “not to drop your h’s but to drop your friends…” East-end girl Victoria struggles to come to terms with West-end boys and their weak ways. Then as now, it seems, the toffs don’t know it all….

There was something in the air in early Twentieth Century Europe a movement craving greater equality that pre-existed and was encouraged by the large-scale national enterprise of the Great War.  This film takes a waif who can’t even aspire to be a Covent Garden flower girl and shows what happens when she is asked to fit in to what she regards as an “artificial” world. It is fascinating that the post-Edwardians were looking for a “genuine” culture and so very interesting that an American actress can play this part so well.

4 ft 10" of pure talent!
Lucie Dutton in her excellently-informative introduction gave us some background on the talented Miss Turner who took to acting inspired by Sir Henry Irving who saw the actor in her and told her to “keep at it!” That she certainly did and by 1916 when the film was made (it was released in 1917) the New Yorker had established herself as a major star in Britain with her own production company, run with Larry Trimble, which encouraged native talent such as a cine-curious theatre director called Maurice Elvey…

Another former theatrical they employed was the multi-talented Henry Edwards who directs this film as well as co-stars. Edwards creates many dynamic moments and makes the most of the relatively fixed playing area to such an extent that you almost forget the vintage and the country of origin: this is yet another impressive British film from the teens.

Henry Edwards
Handsome Henry plays one Bert Grummett a cockney jack the lad who is cock of the walk in poor Poplar. He has a pal, name of Victoria Vickers (Florence Turner), who lives with her aunt (Edith Evans) and Uncle somewhere not far from the breadline.

Summer comes and this rag-tag modern family head to Kent to get work on a zero hour’s verbal contract picking hops. They push the family “Ford” – a broken down old pram – out East and pitch their meagre tent.  Cinematographer Tom White captures some lovely pastoral moments especially when we see the crew joining what appear to be your actual hop pickers: a vision of The Garden of England long vanished, smiling faces blinking at the cameras in the heat haze of summer ’16 – the year of the Somme.

Now, as luck would have it, a rich and long-lost American Uncle has just died and left all of their money to their last surviving relative… one Victoria Vickers of Stepney. The lawyers are instructed to search and enrich but the Vickers mob are out in Kent and no one has any forwarding address. If Victoria isn’t found soon the money will have to go to charity and so it would were it not for the fact that one of the solicitors decides to take his holiday in Kent where, photographing local colour, he encounters VV.


At first Victoria and co just can’t believe it but once they are whisked back to London they find out the full details. Happy days, game over… not a bit of it!

Money will only serve to come between Victoria and those she loves, the conditions of the will mean she has to learn to be a “laydey” or else those charities will get their money. She’s sent to live with well-meaning but insular Mrs. Carrington (Ruth Mackay) and her useless wastrel of a son who is busily gambling away their family fortune.

Hop pickers in Kent
Aunt and Uncle are paid off and shipped off to the New World whilst Bert backs out believing this all to be in Victoria’s best interests. Vicky writes him letters that Mrs C throws away believing that she needs to be protected from her past: there is no recognition of the validity of her previous existence (the unworthy poor).

She sends Bert £2,500 encouraging him to start up a business and to live his dream of a to-the-door, fast-fried fish and chip shop. Bert duly entrepreneurs and with a year has his own branded bicycles for home delivery, replaced a year later by vans – Harry Ramsden where you watching?

http://cache4.asset-cache.net/gc/3306867-circa-1916-women-in-the-east-end-of-london-gettyimages.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=wj35XwIiHwVN%2BcZT%2FHfxKtinb63z1wT5QuQ0tPwg7mW8EspchEbG5PdnJTtJJJzN
The East End of London in the Great War (Getty Images)
Bert visits Vic but his flashy suit and manners that mark him as “trade” won’t pass as middle class, at least Mrs C doesn’t think so. Bert goes off to get himself a proper tailor and a teacher to improve his manners whilst Victoria is sucked further into the loveless world of polite society. Mrs C’s son is now hopelessly in debt and he views Victoria as his payment protection insurance…  Will she become a victim of his financial miss-selling or will her old instincts make her bet on Bert, the genuine Grummett?
               
East is East is a thoroughly-entertaining film and very British in its refusal to take itself too seriously. Laugh out loud moments aside it carries a sincere message and we must always strive to be true to ourselves even when the best we can hope for is to hope for the best.

"Remarkable Exteriors and Exceptional Photography"
John Sweeney provided accompaniment with his usual grace and finesse. He strikes the keys so unerringly well you would find it hard to distinguish his music from a pre-prepared score and yet his “duet” with the film’s sentiments is improvised on the spot, seamlessly summoning themes from his vast mental back catalogue at the press of a key.

Cyrus Gabrysch provided similarly safe-handed service for the three films on tonight’s under-card – the Bioscope is always such great value! These were a 1921 serial featuring the Woman in Grey (Arline Pretty and, she is), episode 7, At the Mercy of Flames (she is) followed by an inventive cartoon from the legendary Max Fleisher, part of his Out of the Inkwell series.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/14/99/6e/14996e2433a974c5eaf6a4fcf7684232.jpg
Pretty in Peril!
Last up was a 1926 short comedy, Dodging Trouble featuring Neal Burns and Edna Marion. The two play a married couple trying to avoid being served a subpoena as they head off on holiday, they are pursued all of the way by Eddie Baker who is thoroughly-miss-matched against Buddy the Dog who is consequently now my favourite silent film hound!

The Woman in Grey serial is available complete on budget DVD from Amazon.com so, if you really need to see if she survives the flames you can! Various Neal Burns shorts are to be found on YouTube plus Max Fleisher’s rotoscoped clown.

You can also watch a blurry video transfer of East is East on the Internet Archive but tonight we were treated to the actual film and the re-assuring whir of the projector made the experience all the more… genuine.

KESSF first draft logo V4

Details of up-coming Bioscope screenings are available on their site including a weekender on 21/22 June – which I will sadly miss as I’m climbing Snowdon for Parkinson’s UK!

Monday, 11 May 2015

Anny Ondra scores with new comedy! An Old Gangster's Moll (1927), Barbican with Neuveritelno


This was the UK premier of Milenky starého kriminálníka aka An Old Gangster's Moll (also aka The Lovers of an Old Criminal) and Czech beauty Anny Ondra may just have a hit on her hands! She stars alongside the uncontested “King of Czech Comedians" Vlasta Burian whose slapstick is more than worthy of his exuberant moustache!

The film was presented in partnership with the Czech Centre London and supported by the Czech National Film Archive and was projected on 35mm film with English subtitles manually inserted on the title cards – there’s no better cinematic experience than to see today’s light passing through images burned onto celluloid in 1927.

Vlasta Burian and Anny Ondra
The “live” feel was accentuated by a crackingly-quirky score from  Czech trio Neuveritelno, three impossibly young musicians who really captured the film’s tone and were able to connect with their countrymen’s sense of humour even 88 years down the line. Again, there’s little better than someone showing their culture off with such energetic pride.

The trio comprised Jan Prochazka on double bass, Andrea Rottin guitar and Tomas Majtan on drums, mandolin, they all vocalised whilst someone also played kazoo at appropriate moments. Their music was a very Czech confection mixing the feel of sixties euro-wimsy with jazz, metal, swing and something approximating Czech skiffle. At times they sounded like the Czech Dodge Brothers but they brought a unique sound of their own and their infectious themes are still stuck in my head.

The King of Czech Comedians
All of this was in response to the bonkers energy of Ondra (here Anny Ondráková) and Burian on screen in this complicated comedy of co-incidence. Last time I saw Anny she was getting away with murder but here she takes on the persona of ultra-Flapper with ease: think Bare Knees after a sugar-rush and a fair amount of vodka.

Fifi's early-morning routine
She plays Fifi Hrazánková the pampered daughter of an industrialist who requires an army of helpers to get her ready for the day with massage, make-up and manicure. Her father is in the process of merging with the company run by one Pardon (Jan W. Speerger) whom he intends to get his daughter married off too… but Pardon has other ideas. Many months before he had met a lovely woman Olga Lesczynská (Vera Hlavatá) at a ball. The two agreed an assignation but Olga’s mother, Stefanie (Betty Kysilková) drags her away leaving him frustrated. He has spent the intervening time trying to find the love of his life..
.
Pardon waits in vain for his Olga...
Confused yet? All becomes clear over time but not until well after the arrival of Pardon’s Uncle Cyril Pondelícek (Vlasta Burian) an apparently infirm old chancer who arrives to take advantage of his nephew’s hospitality with Burian executing a superb tumble down the steps of his new home.

After getting the letter announcing the visit of Fifi, Pardon hatches a plan to swap places with his Uncle in the hope of avoiding this marriage of inconvenience… what can possibly go wrong?

Un-insurable, that's what she is...
There follows a breath-taking sequence as Fifi drives like a maniac towards her appointment; something akin to Death Race 1927 with a least one hen casualty and many other near misses. She drives Pardon off the road before arriving at the house by crashing through a wall.

She finds Cyril in the process of practicing his charm and rapidly overcomes her disappointment at his age when she catches sight of what appears to be his photograph in a newspaper… Cyril is the spitting image for a notorious criminal called Alois Kanibal – The Cannibal – who is wanted throughout the Republic. Fifi finds the idea of being a gangster’s moll very appealing.

Fifi mistakes Cyril for her dream mobster...
She starts putting the mastermind through his paces by asking him to show her a genuine “Apache” dance. Cyril frets over his rheumatism but then kicks into a dance routine that has him swirling Fifi around in the air – an eye-popping routine that seemingly involved both actors. Clearly Anny was as adept at physical comedy as she was as Hitch’s prototypical blonde – she’s a riot!

Strictly criminal dancing
Just as you assume that the story would rest on its laurels it changes gear once again as Cyril’s long-lost “love” – that is a woman he has avoided for 18 years – turns out to be Olga’s mother, Stefanie. This would count for little but for the fact that riding on a train, Olga spots Pardon sitting in his car at a level crossing. The eagle-eyed young woman then manages to get the train stopped and to position herself on a park bench near his car within seconds…

Cyril outpaces a police motorbike on a scooter
Re-united the two lovers hatch a plan to stay together but Stephanie – who is a clairvoyant who clearly never sees things coming – must be kept in the dark!

Pardon takes them back to the house and the mad-house mix is finally complete: Stefanie recognising Cyril, Fifi chasing her Cannibal and Pardon trying to make love to Olga… whilst the range of eccentrics who tend the household gurn away in the background.

Queue mayhem and misunderstanding… but that’s not all as surely, at some point, the real Cannibal must turn up…


Svatopluk Innemann’s direction is sophisticated with high-energy cutting, seemless double exposures and an inch-perfect race across a level crossing between Pardon’s car and an onrushing train. There’s also a splendidly gruesome sequence of comic murder as Cyril tries to persuade Stefanie that he’s a serial killer of his ex-girlfriends.

Anny
Vlasta Burian’s comedy is knowing enough to impress even the jaded modern pallet and he succeeds in letting the audience in on the joke whilst at the same time acting so well as both Cyril and Cannibal. As for Anny, she truly shows another side to her talents as she bounces across the screen boxing her maid and flying around in that mad dance – a shame she and Ersnt Lubitsch never worked together as she reminded me so much of Ossi Oswalda.

Andrea Rottin, guitar, Tomas Majtan, drums, mandolin and Jan Prochazka, double bass
Neuveritelno had flown in from Prague especially for the screening, hopefully they and the film will return… they are currently touring it in Europe. More details of their music and the tour can be found on their website whilst details of the film are on the Czech Centre London site.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Moore and Vidor… The Sky Pilot (1921)


Now there was me thinking this was going to involve some bi-planes… My hopes weren’t high and the lower quality of the version I watched (the Alpha DVD) lowered them still further but even the inappropriate cadences of some-other film’s soundtrack didn’t spoil my interest: this was Colleen Moore and King Vidor after all.

Even in fuzzy monotone Colleen’s energy shines through and the grand sweep of Vidor’s vision too: cattle rustling on a grand scale, an authentic bar-room brawl filmed from close quarters and more scenery than you could shake two cameras at. How would this play with a decent 35mm print and a proper accompaniment?

Vidor's symbolism: The Sky Pilot arrives on donkey-back
It feels influenced by Hell’s Hinges and whilst being nowhere near as good as that film, still takes an interesting if largely un-surprising path to modern eyes at least.

Based on Ralph Connor’s novel of the same name The Sky Pilot tells the tale of Arthur Wellington Moore (John Bowers) a preacher who, appropriately enough arrives on a donkey to bring the good word to the town of Swan Creek.

He strides from his unwieldy steed straight into The Stopping Place, where gather “those who rode the wild trail to the cut-bank of destruction”. He is greeted by the seemingly-friendly locals led by ranch hand, Bill Hendricks (David Butler) who is aghast when he realises that the new arrival is a “Sky Pilot” (sailor's slang common in the West) a preacher sent to elevate the townsfolk to a higher plane.

The Pilot fights his corner
Bill and his boys have no time for such condescension and he sets about trying to belittle Arthur’s impromptu sermon in the bar. He pushes the preacher to the floor but Arthur gets up and knocks Bill down as the two begin a lengthy fight. Arthur is too skilled for Bill and after sending him down for the final time the cowboy draws a gun on him and his men run him out of town. But Bill’s not a man without honour and he pursues Arthur to pay his respect for a fight well won and to apologise… “Say Parson, I’d be mighty proud if you’d just forget about that foolishness of mine an’ just shake hands.”
David Butler and John Bowers
Bill figures out a way to help Arthur get his message across: he needs to prove himself as much of a man as the toughs around him. He gets the preacher a job as a ranch hand with his boss, Colonel Ashley (James Corrigan) and his wife Lady Charlotte (Kathleen Kirkham) who look on with glee as Arthur manages to hang onto one of their wildest horses.

The scene shifts as we meet Old Timer (Harry Todd) a man who is still cursing God for the death of his wife and his young daughter Gwen (Colleen Moore) who looks to have been raised in the saddle. Miss Moore had already been in westerns with Tom Mix and there are some impressive scenes of what looks like her riding a horse and trap at speed. This unexpected physicality aside, one is also reminded of the vitality of a Mary Pickford character.

Is that Colleen on the horse too?
Meanwhile, there’s a man in a black suit, Duke (Donald MacDonald) planning to steal the Colonel’s cattle and with the Old Timer’s help!

Duke’s men scope out the terrain and feeling that Arthur is getting too close, shoot and cause his horse to buck, throwing him into a deep ravine. As he is swept along by the white water, Gwen comes to the rescue and pulls him out using a rope and her horse: a handy gal!

Gwen to the rescue!
She takes Arthur home and soon Bill arrives – turns out he’s her beau kind of… and then he God-hating father arrives and discovering Arthur’s calling, boots him out and with Gwen’s blessing: clearly there are some issues to clear up before a happy ending can be arranged.

Gwen overhears the plot...
 But now events step up as Gwen hears of her Father’s plan to work with the Duke. The Old Timer ignores her pleas and goes ahead with the rustle only for Bill, Arthur and the boys to intervene. Gwen is on hand to help drive the cattle back but she is knocked form her horse and in an impressive scene, Arthur stands over her and in front of the stampeding cattle that look real enough: some brave stunt work here: initially the scene was filmed with a dummy until Bowers volunteered to face the cattle himself.

No humans were harmed in the making of this film...just!
Arthur carries Gwen back to her father’s and the doctor declares that she may never walk again. Having pulled his bible from the fire to pray for her to live, the Old Timer curses the invisible deity for leaving her broken-bodied.

But Arthur cares for Gwen and manages to lift her spirits to face her new situation and the two grow closer just as the Pilot’s best buddy is secretly building him a proper church in town. All will be revealed on Christmas Day in a series of exciting events that will change the course of all their lives…


OK… there’s not much here that wasn’t covered better in Hell’s Hinges but this is still an entertaining film with heart. Colleen Moore – here 22 years old – already has the uninhibited energy of her more famous roles and she steals all of her scenes as the believable girl-woman. In their book,King Vidor, American, Raymond Durgant and Scott Simmon describe how Vidor used her with a "knowing sophistication" with an "intermittent sexuality" unusual for the time and the genre's typical heroines.

Those Irish eyes are smilin'
John Bowers also has presence and excels in his bromance with David Butler’s Bill - such a shame we can’t see their acting in clearer detail! As with Moore,Vidor cast the smooth-featured Bowers against type - he's niether the rugged bible-puncher or City-soft milk-sop you could expect and has an inner strength that only becomes apparent in stages.

John Bowers
This was Vidor’s second production from his own company and it was filmed in the snow of Truckee in the Californian mountains – now the Tahoe National Park - near Carson City and Reno - and the sunnier flat lands of Fresno  – a large-scale undertaking that gives the film a visual depth coutesy of the cinematography of L. William O'Connell and Gus Peterson

The Sky Pilot is available on the aforementioned Alpha DVD either from Oldies.com or through Amazon: it is an un-restored bootleg of a film in the public domain and one I’d like to see in better circumstances!

King Vidor, American is still available through Amazon - a good read about an iconic director.

A river runs through Truckee