Buster Keaton

The Pink Panther, Silent Films, and Me

Pink Panther Title Card

Like so very many people, I spent a good amount of my childhood watching cartoons.  I remember being fond of Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker, but my favorite was definitely the Pink Panther.  Oh, did I ever love the Pink Panther!  In my book, he was the funniest of the cartoon characters I watched and I loved that aura of coolness he had.  And perhaps I’ve always had a soft spot for the stylish animation and Henry Mancini music.

But as I got a bit older and the cartoons were being shown on television less frequently, I ended up taking a break from my old friend the Pink Panther.  I didn’t re-discover the Pink Panther until just a few years ago when I bought a DVD collection of Pink Panther cartoons.  When I started watching them, my first reaction was, “Oh, it’s wonderful to be seeing these again!” My second reaction was, “Wow, no wonder I grew up to be a big silent film fan!”

Even though I’d been a silent film fan for years by that point, it had never occurred to me that all those Pink Panther cartoons I watched as a kid may have helped lay the foundation for me to appreciate silent film comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd.  But in hindsight, it makes perfect sense.  Although the Pink Panther speaks in a couple of cartoons and some cartoons feature narration, most Pink Panther cartoons are short silent films very similar to the short films Chaplin and Keaton made early in their careers.

Several Pink Panther cartoons like The Pink Phink and Pink Pajamas feature scenarios I can easily imagine Chaplin or Keaton having a lot of fun with.  We Give Pink Stamps in particular is Chaplin-esque to the extent that I would love to know what, if any, thoughts Chaplin had about it.  One setting Chaplin saw a lot of comedy potential in was department stores, which he put to great use in 1916′s The Floorwalker and 1936′s Modern Times.  Not only is We Give Pink Stamps done in the same spirit as those Chaplin films, it also has some jokes that I’m sure Chaplin would have loved to do himself if only they weren’t impossible for a human being to do, even with special effect trickery available at the time.

A popular topic amongst classic movie fans is which movies do you show to somebody to get them interested classic movies.  Silent movies are always tricky because so many people are married to the idea that silent movies are the most dull, creaky, strange, and antiquated movies you can possibly watch.  But if you’re looking to turn someone on to silent films, particularly children, why not start with some Pink Panther cartoons?  Their stylish mid-century look really disguises the fact that they are basically silent films and might be a good way to lead in to some Chaplin, Keaton, or Lloyd.

Congratulations to True Classics on four years of blogging!

Congratulations to True Classics on four years of blogging!

1928-1929: Oscar’s Most Awkward Year

Mary Pickford Oscar

Mary Pickford with her Oscar.

As popular as the Academy Awards are, they can be a very controversial topic amongst movie lovers.  I think virtually every cinephile has their own list of movies that they think got robbed at the Oscars.  Some may even have their favorite and least favorite Academy Award years.  But one thing I think we can all agree on is that the nominees for the second Academy Award ceremony (covering 1928-1929) definitely weren’t the strongest group of movies ever nominated.

It’s not so much that 1928-1929 was a completely terrible year for movies, but the film industry had been turned completely upside down that year.  During the first Academy Award ceremony, The Jazz Singer was given an honorary award for revolutionizing the film industry.  By the following year, the impact of The Jazz Singer was undeniable.  The movies eligible for the 1928-1929 Oscars were part of the first wave of movies to come out in the wake of The Jazz Singer and the nominees that year are a better reflection of how in flux the industry was at the time than what the best movies really were.

Even though studios were scrambling to hop on the talkie bandwagon, the production of silent films didn’t come to an immediate halt.  Some truly excellent silent films were produced that year, but you’d never know it by looking at the list of nominees.  However, if some of those silent films had been nominated, that year would probably now be looked back upon more favorably.

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Movies That Could Have Been: The March of Time (1930)

Recently, I had the pleasure of revisiting the That’s Entertainment! trilogy.  As much as I love the first That’s Entertainment!, I love how much rare footage is featured in part three.  One of the movies discussed in part three is an abandoned project from 1930 called The March of Time.  The March of Time was intended to be a follow-up to The Hollywood Revue of 1929 and was set to be shot in two-color Technicolor and feature stars like Bing Crosby, Joan Crawford, Buster Keaton, Jimmy Durante, Ramon Novarro, and Marie Dressler.  Only unlike The Hollywood Revue of 1929, The March of Time seemed to have more of a central concept — the past, present, and future of entertainment.  A number of musical scenes were shot for the film, but then the project was scrapped and never completed.

I’m sure that if The March of Time had been completed, it’d be thought of as a historical curiosity today, but I kind of wish that it had been completed.  As awkward and creaky as they are, I sort of love early musical efforts.  They’re just so earnest that I can’t help but find them endearing.  Especially in cases like this where lots of top stars of the era were put together in one movie just because it’s interesting to see all those stars together.  I’d also be quite interested in seeing what they thought the future of entertainment would be.

Even though The March of Time was abandoned, some of the filmed scenes eventually ended up being included in other things.  You can find some of these scenes on YouTube, but I want to specifically highlight one scene called The Lock Step featuring The Dodge Twins:

What I want to know is if this number was supposed to be representing the present or the future of entertainment.  Because if this was supposed to be the future, then they were surprisingly accurate in predicting Elvis’ Jailhouse Rock number.

The ‘High Sign’ (1921)

For me, the best part of Buster Keaton being TCM’s Star of the Month has been finally getting to see more of Buster’s short films.  I’d already seen most of his features, but I hadn’t seen many of the shorter ones, so getting to see so many of them all at once was really a treat.  I thought I’d just say a few things about The ‘High Sign,’ one of my favorites that I was introduced to this month.  In The ‘High Sign,’ Buster plays a sharpshooter who gets hired as a bodyguard for a man whose life has been threatened and then is hired as a hit man to kill the same guy he’d been hired to protect.

This was the first independent two-reeler that Buster made, but he wasn’t particularly happy with it and held off releasing it until after One Week had been released.  I don’t really get why Buster wasn’t happy with it because I thought it was brilliant.  It’s only 21 minutes long, but it’s chock full of fantastic jokes.  First there was that great entrance of him falling off the train.  But there are also the great moments where he struggles with the newspaper,  where he steals the cop’s gun and replaces it with a banana, or when the cop is chasing him and to get away, he turns his jacket around and tries to disguise himself as a priest.  And that’s not even getting into the incredible sequence where Buster chases the gang through a house full of trap doors.  That scene was truly a marvel of timing and staging, it needs to be seen to be believed.  It’s just amazing.  Buster got more laughs from me in 21 minutes than most modern comedies got from me in two hours.

Carly from The Kitty Packard Pictorial has been hosting Project Keaton all this month. To take a look back at some of the other Buster Keaton related things that have been posted this month, be sure to check the Project Keaton Tumblr page.

What’s on TCM: October 2011

This month’s schedule is one that I’m definitely a big fan of.  Being the big silent film fan that I am, obviously I am very excited for Buster Keaton being the star of the month!  Every Sunday night will be all Buster Keaton, all night long.  Not only that, since it’s October, it goes without saying that there will be plenty of classic horror movies to get you into the Halloween spirit. Monday nights are classic horror nights starting at 8:00 PM, with plenty more to come on October 29th , 30th, and 31st.  TCM will also be commemorating the 100th birthday of director Nicholas Ray by playing a night of his movies every Tuesday night this month.

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The Real Hollywood Tough Guys (And Ladies)

In the 100+ year history of film, a lot of actors have wound up with tough guy images.  Mention tough guys to classic film fans, you’re probably going to hear a lot of James Cagney, Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson.  If you were to talk to someone more into modern movies, you’d probably get Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, and Vin Diesel.  Personally, I’d be hard pressed to call any of them the toughest actors of all time.  To me, I think the most unsung tough people in film history have got to be silent film actors.  Seriously, you  had to be pretty tough and fearless if you were going to make some of the most beloved movies from the silent era.  I’m pretty sure if anyone went up to Bruce Willis and told him to do some of the things that a lot of silent film actors had to do, he would say, “You have got to be kidding me.”  Now, let’s take a moment to appreciate what all these fine actors had to endure.

Harold Lloyd lost his thumb and forefinger when a prop bomb he was holding accidentally exploded.

Dolores Costello liked to refer to 1928′s Noah’s Ark as “Mud, Blood, and Flood.”  In the documentary series “Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film,” she recalled going to her dressing room on set one day and finding a very bandaged extra leaning outside of her door.  When she asked if she could help, he explained that an ambulance would come back for him since he was in better shape than most of the other extras.  A couple of extras were killed while filming the flood scene.

While filming the finale of Greed in Death Valley, director Erich von Stroheim insisted on actually filming in Death Valley.  In August.  Jean Hersholt had to be hospitalized after he lost 27 pounds from being in such extreme heat.

Lillian Gish’s hands really took a beating on sets.  While filming The Wind in the Mojave Desert, Lillian burnt one of her hands when she touched a doorknob in the 120 degree heat.  Earlier, when she was filming the famous ice floe scene in Way Down East, her right hand was permanently damaged from being left in the icy water for so long.

While making 1919′s Male and Female, Thomas Meighan carries a leopard that had recently killed a man in the zoo it was in.  Basically, Cecil B. DeMille said, “Hey, don’t put that leopard to sleep!  Let’s give it to Thomas Meighan instead!”  There is another famous scene in that movie of Gloria Swanson with real, live lions, which she insisted on doing herself.

And last, but certainly not least, there’s Buster Keaton.  I don’t think anyone loved doing stunt work more than Buster.  He insisted on doing his own stunts in all of his greatest silent movies.  Famously, he broke his neck while filming the water tank scene in Sherlock, Jr. but didn’t even know it until a long time after the fact.  The most famous scene of his entire career is probably from Steamboat Bill, Jr., where he stands in front of a house and the entire front side of the house falls down around him, but he happens to be standing where a window is.  That stunt involved a lot of precision because if his position was off by just a couple of inches, he would have been killed.  When Buster was signed to MGM, one of the things that upset him most was that MGM wouldn’t let him do his own dangerous stunts anymore.  And this is why I consider Buster Keaton to be the toughest guy to ever get in front of a movie camera.

My Top 100, 30-21

Wow, I can’t believe we’re already up to number 30! This week is another week where if you don’t know anything at all about my style and only saw these ten movies, you’d get a pretty good idea of what my taste is.  So, let’s get on with the list!

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What’s on TCM: November 2010

Site news time!  As you may or may not know, November is NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month.  And because I love a challenge, I’ve decided to take a shot at participating.  That’s right, I’m going to try to update the blog every single day in November!   To make things a little more interesting, I’ve given myself a theme to work with: pre-codes.  30 days, 30 pre-code classics!  Here’s hoping I can pull it off!  Now, onto the TCM schedule…


Wow!  This could quite possibly be one of my favorite months ever on TCM!  Fans of silent films, rejoice!  This month, TCM is starting its documentary series Moguls and Movie Stars.  A new episode premieres every Monday at 8:00 PM and is followed by a night of movies related to that night’s episode.  Every Wednesday night is also devoted to Moguls and Movie Stars with more related movies and an encore of that week’s episode.  This is particularly wonderful news for fans of silents because a few episodes of Moguls and Movie Stars are dedicated to the silent era, so they’ll be airing movies from people like Mary Pickford (who I always thought has been very underrepresented on TCM), Clara Bow, Rudolph Valentino, Georges Melies, and D.W. Griffith.  In addition to that, Ava Gardner is the star of the month!  I dig Ava Gardner, so I’m going to be watching a whole lot of TCM this month.

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My Top 100, 40-31

Welcome to week seven of my 100 favorite movies!  When I was making this list, I didn’t set out to give each week a theme, but this week is definitely my Cary Grant week.  I honestly didn’t realize I’d put so many Cary Grant movies together until I started writing this post.  But there’s no such thing as too much Cary Grant, so let’s get onto this week’s list.

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What’s on TCM: March 2010

As March rolls in, 31 Days of Oscar enters its final days.  But there’s still plenty to see in those final days.  On Monday, March 1st at 9:30 AM EST, there’s Possessed starring Joan Crawford and Van Heflin.  Most people consider Mildred Pierce to be the highlight of Joan Crawford’s career, but I think her performance in Possessed really gives Mildred Pierce a run for its money.  Prime time on March 2nd looks fantastic: West Side Story, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant.  I am a little embarrassed to say that I have never seen Rebel Without a Cause, but I’m looking forward to seeing it.   If you’ll be home during the day on March 3rd, the last day of 31 Days of Oscar, be sure to check out Adam’s Rib at 11:30 AM, which is followed by The Asphalt Jungle at 1:30 PM.   Two totally different movies, but they’re equally amazing.

TCM resumes its normal programming on March 4th, but it looks like there’s still plenty of great stuff to look forward to.  This month, they’ll be spotlighting a rather interesting couple of stars: Ginger Rogers and Akira Kurosawa.  I’m definitely looking forward to the Ginger Rogers movies, but I’m not so sure about the Kurosawa.  I’ve seen Rashomon and I’ve tried watching Seven Samurai a couple of times before but just haven’t been able to get into it.  Rashomon was good, just not really my cup of tea.  Anyone have any suggestions as to which of his movies I should check out this month?  I’ve heard so many great things about Kurosawa and I’m still willing to give his movies a shot, I just don’t really know where to begin.

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