Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Fritzi from Moviessilently ""

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Underrated Detective/Mysteries - Fritzi from Moviessilently

Fritzi lives in California, where she watches more silent movies than is good for her. She runs moviessilently.com and can be found on twitter @Moviessilently.

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The Charlatan (1929)
This is a real hidden treasure. Films released during the talkie transition tended to get lost in the shuffle. The Charlatan has no big name stars or directors attached. It is forgotten by pretty much everyone... But it's a darn good locked room mystery!
The setup: A famous illusionist has finally tracked down his ex-wife after over a decade of searching. She abandoned him for a wealthy lover and stole their only child. Unfortunately, before he can reunite with his daughter, his ex is murdered inside his disappearing woman booth. And guess who the prime suspect is? Our hero must investigate a multitude of suspects and solve the case before the police can arrest him.
The plot and characters are reminiscent of an Agatha Christie mystery. While the cast is not famous, they are uniformly excellent and the direction is confident and assured. This is one of my favorite forgotten movies.

The Bat (1926)
Probably the most famous film on this list, The Bat is notable as one of the inspirations for Batman. It's an old dark house mystery with a masked killer-- and a bat signal. Unfortunately, the film has been reduced to a historical footnote when it is actually a light bit of fun.
While The Bat definitely has its flaws, it is helped immensely by such notable character actors as Sojin, Louise Fazenda and Arthur Houseman.
Basically, the plot involves an assorted group of people, a dark house, a stash of cash and a masked killer who will stop at nothing to get it. It's all good fun.

The Monster (1925)
This is a Lon Chaney film without much Lon Chaney. Don't let that scare you away, though! It's a fun old dark house comedy + mad scientist feature. Chaney is, of course, the madman who is trying to perfect his brain swapping machine. The final ingredient? A woman! Mwahaha!
(Not sure why this is but, then, he is a mad scientist.)
Our hapless heroes try to solve a string of disappearances and end up disappearing themselves.
This is considered to be one of Chaney's lesser films but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It's a lighter story and its horror elements are played with a broad wink. It may be disappointing to fans of Chaney's darker, heavier offerings but I enjoyed the change of pace.

The Power of the Press (1928)
Another late silent but this one has star wattage. Frank Capra directs and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. stars. It's about a cub reporter who gets the scoop of a lifetime when he sees the daughter of a prominent politician sneaking out of the house of a man who is very dead. Of course, the poor girl is innocent and Doug, Jr. is too softhearted to ruin her reputation so they decide to solve the murder together.
Fairbanks was still a teen but he already has charm and screen presence and he carries the film. Capra's direction is snappy and has plenty of humor. Between the two of them, the director and star manage to make a fizzy little newspaper mystery that holds up very well.

M'Liss (1918)
Mary Pickford is in hellion mode as the titular wild child of a remote mining town. Armed with a slingshot, this teenage terror rules the town with an iron powder-puff.  She doesn't see why she has to go to school but soon changes her mind when the new schoolteacher arrives. The new schoolmarm is... a man! The strapping Thomas Meighan, to be precise.
Things are going rather well until Pickford's dad, the town drunk, is found murdered. The last person to see the victim alive, Meighan is arrested for the crime and threatened with a lynching. Our plucky heroine must find out who killed her father and why before it is too late.
I just love Mary Pickford in her tomboy roles and enjoyed her empowered heroine. Thomas Meighan lends his usual dignity to the proceedings and Marshall Neilan's whimsical direction hits the spot.

The Cradle of Courage (1920)
This is an interesting film from several angles. Western star William S. Hart hangs up his spurs and dons a police uniform. The first half of the movie concerns his character's conversion from master safe-cracker to officer of the law. The second half has Hart tracking down the men who murdered his brother. His only clue is a very distinct pistol that was used as the murder weapon.
Hart is good but it's the ladies of the cast that really put this one over. Ann Little is marvelous as a gangland girl who carries a torch for our hero and Gertrude Claire pretty much steals the show as Hart's mother, a kind of proto Ma Barker who is ashamed of her son's newfound devotion to law and order.

Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900)
This is a fun little short that also happens to be the earliest surviving screen appearance of Mr. Holmes. Lasting less than a minute, it has Sherlock undone by a wily thief who uses trick photography to escape. Not much plot but plenty of style!

2 comments:

KC said...

I love the inclusion of M'liss. I'd have never thought of that one, but it's perfect. Pickford was a great backwoods gumshoe.

Fritzi Kramer said...

@KC, Thank you! I just rewatched M'Liss before making the list, a great little film.