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662. Safety Last!

First of all, a shout out to my dad for buying this one for me. Thanks, Dad!

Harold Lloyd, the other-other silent comedy film star, plays an everyman trying to make it in the big city so he can marry his sweetheart. The first half of the movie pokes fun at his low-wage retail job, his snooty boss, his trusting girlfriend, and other such clichés. But the film doesn’t come alive until the second half, when Harold Lloyd (for reasons that don’t really matter) must scale a building. I don’t think I’ve ever been so anxious during a stunt sequence. I could literally feel my heart pounding as he encounters every obstacle one can fathom meeting on the side of a building, with the distant ground level frequently in frame. The highlight, of course, is the iconic hanging-from-a-clock scene, which has been copied and referenced in countless other films and—I swear I didn’t imagine this—a recent makeup commercial. It’s a memorable image that deserves its legendary status, but it’s the entire nail-biting climb from sidewalk to rooftop that makes SAFETY LAST! such an enjoyable classic.

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62. The Passion Of Joan Of Arc

Carl Th. Dreyer’s silent masterpiece is beautiful to watch. It tells the story of the trial of Joan of Arc, but it’s not about the events of that trial so much as the emotional impact. Renée Falconetti gives a haunting and powerful performance as Joan; it’s almost difficult as a viewer to be sure if she’s divinely inspired or possessed by the devil. Most of the shots favor closeups of the characters’ faces, with chiaroscuro lighting and odd angles, and the result doesn’t resemble any film I’ve ever seen before. It’s the stark beauty in addition to Falconetti’s talent that makes this classic piece of cinema so affecting, even without sound. (Netflix watch instantly doesn’t have the soundtrack option available on the DVD.)

358. Pandora’s Box

Lulu, the lead character in the masterful silent film PANDORA’S BOX, is the epitome of the femme fatale. With her charisma and unapologetic sexuality she easily seduces – and ultimately dooms – those around her.  But this film isn’t a morality play, and Lulu is not a villain.  She’s actually an innocent if spoiled girl, used to getting her way while oblivious to the destruction around her.  This is a role that takes an actress as gifted and stunningly beautiful as Louise Brooks to give it the allure and complexity it requires.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention cinema’s first lesbian portrayal.  Even though that character meets the same unfortunate fate as Lulu’s other admirers, I can’t tell you how glad I was that she didn’t end up either evil or dead, the clichés that would plague lesbian characters for the next several decades.