The 2022 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon – It’s A Wrap

Here are the entries for the 2022 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon! A huge thank you to those who contributed. There’s some wonderful reading to enjoy and some great insights into films you may have seen or perhaps yet to enjoy.

There aren’t many entries but please enjoy them!

Ulysses (1954)Films From Beyond The Barrier

The Trial (1962)The Stop Button

Carrie (1952) – Moon In Gemini

War Of The Worlds Taking Up Room

King’s Row (1942) – Silver Screen Classics

The Cinematic Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn – Critica Retro

The Day Of The Locust (1975) – Cinematic Catharsis

Paul Batters teaches secondary school History in the Illawarra region and also lectures at the University Of Wollongong. In a previous life, he was involved in community radio and independent publications. Looking to a career in writing, Paul also has a passion for film history.

The 2022 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon

It’s been a long time (perhaps too long) since I’ve been here. It can be difficult to stay motivated and for those writers who keep going, I take my hat off to you. To find the spark to get back on track writing about classic film, I am very pleased and excited to announce my third hosting of the Classic Literature On Film Blogathon. I hope you will be interested in taking part or at least read the entries.

Classic novels and plays have provided cinema with some of the greatest stories of all time. They are part of the fabric of culture and have been powerful in helping us to understand ourselves. Since the early days of cinema, film-makers have mined the richness of classic tales for the silver screen. Some of our most beloved films have been based on the works of Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen and Mark Twain, to name a few. Indeed, many classic novels have been produced on the silver screen many times. 

So, the main focus of the blogathon is to celebrate, examine, critique and review those films that have been based on classic literature! 

As already mentioned, the concept of ‘classic literature’ reflects what has been traditionally considered by scholars as those books and plays which have had a considerable impact on the development of literature. They have set the standards for and established certain genres and have given us some of the most recognised stories and characters.  Of course, there are modern classics of literature as well and these should also be considered. So this blogathon aims to keep the focus within those boundaries – but of course that leaves everyone plenty of options!

Please have a look at the rules below and I TRULY hope you will take part!

Outline Of Rules

1. This blogathon is not just restricted to reviewing actual films based on classic literature. Participants are encouraged to write on any angle regarding the topic area e.g comparisons of films based on a particular text, discussion of the textual integrity of films based on classic literature.

2. Duplicates of films will be allowed for review but of course it’s a case of first in, so act fast. Whilst you are welcome to write more than one entry, there will be a limit of three posts per blog.

3. This blogathon does focus on the classic era of Hollywood film – from the silent era to the 1960s. But please don’t let that hold you back, as all entries from all periods will be happily accepted. 

4. All contributions must be new material only. Previously published posts will not be accepted.

5. The blogathon will take place between September 23rd and 25th, 2022. Please submit your entries on either of these days or earlier if you wish. For those of you posting early, just remember that your entry won’t be linked until the event starts.  

6. To express your interest in participating in the blogathon, you can so in the following ways:

 – please leave a comment on my blog along with the name and URL of your blog, and the subject you wish to cover

 – or you can always register by email at: For those of you who wish to register by email, please be sure to include the name and URL of your blog, and the topic you wish to cover. 

– contact me through Twitter:

Once you get confirmation, please spread the word about this blogathon by advertising the event on your blog and other social media. Please feel free to use one of these ads to advertise the event.

Looking forward to seeing you in September!

The Bustles And Bonnets Costume Blogathon: It’s A Wrap!

The first Bustles And Bonnets Costume Blogathon has come to an end and there are some fantastic articles to read. It’s been an honour to co-host with one of my favourite film bloggers, Gabriela, at Pale Writer, who came up the idea and kindly asked me to co-host. Thank you so much, Gabriela!

For a complete list of all the entries, click on the link – Bustles And Bonnets Costume Blogathon – and it will take you to a list of great articles. There are still some on the way, so please check in later to see them.

A huge thank you to all the wonderful bloggers who took part. I’m looking forward to sitting down to relax and read all the great entries. I know Gabriela will be doing the same.

Please remember to like and share the work of these great bloggers, as a great deal of time and effort has gone into their writing.

Paul Batters teaches secondary school History in the Illawarra region and also lectures at the University Of Wollongong. In a previous life, he was involved in community radio and independent publications. Looking to a career in writing, Paul also has a passion for film history. 

The Bustles And Bonnets Costume Blogathon Is Here!

The wonderful Gabriela at Pale Writer and myself are thrilled to see the start of this weekend’s Bustles And Bonnets Costume Blogathon. The anticipation has been building and already some amazing entries have come through. Both Gabriela and I will post the entries and we hope you find them interesting, entertaining and that they draw you to see those films; either for the first time or a re-visit with a whole new perspective.

If by chance, you’re a latecomer and would like to take part, please don’t be shy! Let either Gabriela or myself know and we will add you in. You can do so by by either commenting on this post, Gabriela’s post or leaving a reply on my contact page, or contacting me on twitter Paul@PaulBee71 or Gabriela at @noir_or_never . Please include the name of your blog and a link to it, as we don’t really want to act as amateur sleuths and hunt for you! Please tag Gabriela or myself on twitter when you share your entry on there, so we can retweet it.

Likewise, if your entry is a little late, again don’t let that deter you and just let us know – we can always add you in later. We understand how busy life can be!

Here’s our list of participants again and over the next two days the links for all entries will be updated here for you.

List of Participants

Pale Writer: Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

Silver Screen Classics: Marie Antoinette (1938)

Taking Up RoomLights Of Old Broadway (1925)

Realweegiemidget ReviewsMrs Soffel (1984)

Whimsically ClassicThe Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

Silver ScreeningsThe Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)

Fletch TalksExcalibur (1981)

Cinematic Scribblings: Howard’s End (1992)

Charity’s Place: Jane Eyre (2006)Nightmare Alley (2021) and Last Night in Soho (2021) (TBC)

Brittany BThe Toy Wife (1938)

The Stop ButtonThe Desert of the Tartars (1976)

18 CinemalaneCyrano de Bergerac (1950)

The Classic Movie Muse: Jupiter’s Darling (1955)

Cinemaven: Belle (2013)

Paul Batters teaches secondary school History in the Illawarra region and also lectures at the University Of Wollongong. In a previous life, he was involved in community radio and independent publications. Looking to a career in writing, Paul also has a passion for film history. 

Announcing The Bustles and Bonnets: Costume Blogathon

It’s an absolute pleasure to announce the first Bustles And Bonnets: Costume Blogathon. I am proud to be co-hosting with the wonderful Gabriela from Pale Writer, who originated this fascinating idea for a blogathon that celebrates the costume drama and the sumptuous design that accompanies great stories. Of course, the use of costume is more than just dress and design; it establishes context, delivers deeper thematic concerns and enhances character. For these reasons and more, Gabriela and I sincerely hope that you will join in and contribute.

Here are the rules for the Blogathon:

1. There have been hundreds of costume films and television series made. Because of this, we will be allowing NO duplicates, and only three posts per participant. Please only submit new work, as we won’t be accepting any posts written previously.

2. You can write about any kind of Costume film you like. Whether it be a comedy, drama or musical. However, the film must be set any time from Before the Current Era to the 1960s. So films that are set in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s or 2020s do not count. It is a costume film Blogathon after all!

3. This blogathon is dedicated to costume films and we want to celebrate them, so let’s please keep things nice and not write anything derogatory or defamatory about these types of films.

4. The Blogathon is being held from the 19th to the 20th of March, 2022. Please submit your entries either before or by those dates. If you find that you need a little extension, please let either Gabriela or myself know.

5. Please take one of the banners and put it somewhere on your site to promote the blogathon. We’d also very much appreciate it if you included one of the banners in your post for the blogathon.

6. And most importantly, please let us know what you would like to write about for the blogathon, by either commenting on this post, Gabriela’s post or leaving a reply on my contact page, or contacting me on twitter Paul@PaulBee71 or Gabriela at @noir_or_never or Please include the name of your blog and a link to it, as we don’t really want to act as amateur sleuths and hunt for you! Please tag Gabriela or myself on twitter when you share your entry on there, so we can retweet it .

List of Participants

Pale Writer: Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

Silver Screen Classics: Marie Antoinette (1938)

Taking Up Room: Lights Of Old Broadway (1925)

Realweegiemidget Reviews: Mrs Stoffel (1984)

Whimsically Classic: The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

Silver Screenings: The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)

Fletch Talks: Excalibur (1981)

Cinematic Scribblings: Howard’s End (1992)

Charity’s Place: Jane Eyre (2006), Nightmare Alley (2021) and Last Night in Soho (2021) (TBC)

Brittany B: The Toy Wife (1938)

The Stop Button: The Desert of the Tartars (1976)

18 Cinemalane: Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)

The Classic Movie Muse: Jupiter’s Darling (1955)

Cinemaven: Belle (2013)

Paul Batters teaches secondary school History in the Illawarra region and also lectures at the University Of Wollongong. In a previous life, he was involved in community radio and independent publications. Looking to a career in writing, Paul also has a passion for film history. 

The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938): A Review

by Paul Batters

There are some films which we watch many times over. The excitement as the studio logo emerges on the screen and the opening titles begin to roll is palpable. The fact that we know what the plot twists are, how the characters will fare and what the ending will be is besides the point. Indeed, knowing that certain moments are coming gets us excited, nervous, afraid or angered – it’s all part of the journey that we’ve experienced and get to enjoy again. There’s every chance that we’ll discover something new along the way as well. After all, film is a powerful emotional experience. In some cases, there are films which are simply a joy to watch for the ‘umpteenth time’. For me, it’s one of the greatest films of the classic era; The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938).

The Warner Bros. masterpiece is a testimony to why the studio system worked and brings together all the best elements of what is termed the classic era of film-making. It’s spectacular in its’ grandeur and the audience takes a roller-coaster ride into adventure, romance and some of the greatest actions scenes ever put to the screen. The tale of the former Saxon lord turned rogue outlaw under Norman rule goes back hundreds of years and of course the 1938 version was not the first and was not the last. But there’s no doubt in this reviewer’s mind that it is the best.

Prior to Warner Bros. wanting to remake the film, the 1922 version with Douglas Fairbanks Snr was considered the quintessential version. It seemed impossible that anyone could usurp Fairbanks as Robin Hood, who in the public mind was the embodiment of the legendary literary character. Interestingly, Fairbanks had thought ahead and wanted to assure this would be the case, copywriting his script and the key concepts behind the character. As David Bret points out, Fairbanks was so determined to be original that he ignored much of the traditional ballads, allowing the scriptwriters Norman Reilly Raine, Seton Miller and Rowland Leigh plenty of material to work with and avoid copyright problems. As a result, the legendary tales from the original ballads are brought to life and remain the best shown on film. The screenplay is tight and the dialogue perfect for the action. No scene is wasted.

It’s impossible to imagine James Cagney in the role; yet he was slated for the role and arguably would have remained so if he had not walked out on his contract. As much as this reviewer is a fan of Cagney, it is fair to say this would have been disastrous casting. In fairness to Warner Bros. there were constant headaches and dramas caused by the newly cast star but without Errol Flynn, the picture would not have been the massive hit that it would become. There would be other problems on the film as well. Director Michael Curtiz replaced William Keighley who was removed from the film for several possible reasons). The relationship between Curtiz and Flynn was complex and difficult. Yet they collaborated on 12 films. Curtiz was undoubtedly the top director at Warners and knew his business, and it is evident in the tight pacing of the film.

At the time of the film’s release, Warner Bros. poured serious money into production (eventually pushing past the $2 million mark), with the vision of a film that would surpass anything that Hollywood had ever seen. They wanted everyone to know it and even the famous logo is redesigned as a hallmark to the milestone status of the film. Hal B. Wallis’ production unit would end up crafting a masterpiece that still stands as a template for masterpiece film-making. As Roger Ebert stated, ‘it is a triumph of the studio system’.

The casting is superb and again shows how the studio system had perfected the art of using its wide talent base. As a result, it doesn’t just sit on the shoulders of its stars which means every scene has a richness of its own, even if Errol Flynn isn’t in it. And when Flynn is present, each player compliments the other through their performances. If Errol Flynn has become the popular incarnation of Robin Hood, look at the rest of the cast. Olivia de Havilland is wonderful as Maid Marian and the band of Merrie Men; Little John (Alan Hale), Will Scarlett (Patric Knowles) and Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette) are merry. Claude Rains is a perfect Prince John and the ever-dependable Basil Rathbone shines as Robin’s nemesis, Sir Guy of Gisborne.

The huge budget is evident in the lush settings, beautiful costumes and of course, the action, drama and romance is heightened by the rousing and beautiful score by the great Erich Wolfgang Korngold. For me, it is this amazing technical achievement and use of brilliant Technicolor which is impressive. Whilst colour had been available for some time, the three-strip process meant deep saturation achieved through complex lighting and very expensive cameras. Cinematographers Sol Polito and Tony Gaudio certainly knew their business and would have utilised the Technicolor experts who knew how to combine colour, contrast it and achieve the best results on film. The depth, warmth and beautiful palate of colour is breath-taking. Have a look at the archery tournament; it’s a stunning example of how the key elements all come together:

Of course, it is about Robin Hood and Errol Flynn was never better. It speaks volumes for the intuition of Hal B.Wallis to cast Flynn when Cagney walked out of the studio. Watching Flynn on screen as the legendary outlaw is watching a masterclass of natural acting. There’s an infectious energy that emanates from Flynn and he combines the devil-may-care attitude and sense of justice of the literary character with an overwhelming sense of fun, adventure and excitement. Flynn is Robin Hood. Make no mistake though, Flynn brings a beautiful range of emotion in channelling the outlaw. Note his casual contempt for Prince John at the banquet, as well as the wit and fearlessness he shows as he struts into the lion’s den. He laughs in the face of danger whilst fighting for his friends and the oppressed people of England with deathly seriousness. His love for Maid Marian is as gentle as he is strong whilst admiration for her spirit. And when he fights with sword in hand, the action is outstanding:

What stands tall with The Adventures Of Robin Hood is that it is the perfect balance of action, adventure and drama with the moral standpoint of our hero. These men are not just a band of men on a lark, carousing and causing problems for their Norman lords. The struggle is very real, made evident when Robin shows Marian the suffering of the Saxons and the montage sequence showing the brutality and cruelty meted out. Robin shows no fear in telling Prince John to his face that he plans rebellion but that his hatred is for oppression not the Normans. Underlying the film is the essence of the legend itself; the importance of fighting against tyranny and protecting those unable to defend themselves in that fight. Is this a lesson that has ever become redundant?

Time Out made the following comment in its assessment of the film:

‘One of the few great adventure movies that you can pretend you are treating the kids to when you are really treating yourself’.

It’s how I have felt about The Adventures Of Robin Hood since I first saw it as a child and it remains an absolute treat, no matter how many times I have watched it. It will always remain so for me and I hope I get the chance to treat my grandchildren someday while treating myself again.

This article is a proud submission for For The Umpteenth Time Blogathon hosted by Therese Brown at CineMaven’s Essays On The Couch. Please visit there to read all the other great articles for this blogathon.

Paul Batters teaches secondary school History in the Illawarra region and also lectures at the University Of Wollongong. In a previous life, he was involved in community radio and independent publications. Looking to a career in writing, Paul also has a passion for film history. 

A Patch Of Blue (1965): Overcoming Adversity And Despair

As we remember the great Sidney Poitier, I thought it worthwhile re-blogging this article on A Patch Of Blue. There are other films starring the great actor – some of far greater importance, depth and nuance – but Poitier’s performance in A Patch Of Blue exhibits his range, emotional content and delivery that illustrates his professionalism as well as his great talent.

Thank you Sidney Poitier for your wonderful presence not only on film but in life, and the richness you gave us all with your beautiful presence.

Silver Screen Classics

by Paul Batters

patch-1280Selina D’Arcy: I said what I did because I love you so much.
Gordon Ralfe: I know why you said it. I’m glad you said it. You brought me back to Earth.
Selina D’Arcy: I didn’t want you to come back to Earth. I wanted you to make love with me.

Hollywood is often accused (and not without good reason) of focusing on the glamorous and dealing in illusion. At the risk of stating the obvious, the very nature of art is illusion and any attempt to portray reality is going to be limited by or affected by the perception of the artist and the creative elements at their disposal. Yet within those bounds is a near infinite array of methods in portraying a narrative. Even the attempt to portray the harsher realities of the life experience are fraught with difficulty and the aim of the film-maker…

View original post 1,802 more words

Louis Calhern: The Consummate Character Actor

by Paul Batters

Audiences usually honour and fawn over a film’s major stars, which is understandable, particularly during the golden years of the studio system. Production was shaped around those stars with direction, camera angles and lighting shaped around what best accentuated the talents (or limits) of the film’s star or stars. Even the right director often needed to be picked. 

Most importantly, the supporting cast must be superb. They will lift the tone of a film and the work of the director, and of course assist the performances of the film’s stars. What they bring to the screen can often go un-noticed but it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the work of great supporting actors and actresses. Without them, a film is incomplete.

For these reasons and more, Louis Calhern must be recognised as one of the finest actors of the classic period. What made him special was his adaptability as well as his gifts of presence, subtlety and voice. The tall and urbane actor could use a glance or small hand gesture to convey more than anticipated and add further meaning to a particular scene. The Brooklyn-born Calhern is perhaps best known for his later work post-WW2 but there is a fair body of work from the silent era onwards, as well as the stage. 

This article will look at a cross-section of his finest performances on the silver screen.

Ambassador Trentino – Duck Soup (1933)

Comedy is a tough gig. Playing straight in a comedy is arguably tougher and when you’re working with the likes of the Marx Brothers, you need to be really good. Calhern plays Trentino, the Ambassador of Sylvania who has designs on Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont). However, his real goal is to make war with Freedonia and take the country over himself. This madcap satire sees Calhern work smoothly as he is tormented at first by Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo), who he has hired as spies. The scene in his office is hilarious and he weaves between the antics of Chico and Harpo, giving them room to enact their anarchy. Likewise, his timing is perfect when he’s up against Groucho as the Freedonian leader, who delivers his legendary rapid-fire quips and insults with aplomb. What makes Calhern’s performance memorable is his physicality in the delivery of faux shock to Groucho’s insults and how it adds to the impact of the interactions. The Marx Brothers are always going to own any area they are standing in but like the indomitable Margaret Dumont, Louis Calhern gets what needs to be done and does so with the talent and reaction of a true artist.

Captain Paul Prescott – Notorious (1946)

Hitchcock’s superb masterpiece is rightfully remembered for the perfect pairing of Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. However, it’s easy to overlook the importance of Calhern as Cary Grant’s secret service boss. Again, Calhern provides the role with a suave and controlled presence befitting a man who has had long experience in espionage. The delicate air of confidence is a fine counter to the tension of the job at hand and what Devlin (Cary Grant) and Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) are dealing with. Elegant and distinguished, Prescott is a man whose wide experience shows during the planning scenes. He has confidence in his abilities as well as the job at hand. There are moments which show that he too can be surprised but still maintains control. Despite the professional and measured control that Prescott displays, Calhern still uses brilliant subtlety to convey his concerns and understanding for Devlin and Alicia. Watch the scene at the Bureau where Alicia reveals that Sebastian (Claude Rains) wants to marry her. Devlin can barely contain himself and with a slight glance, Prescott shows he more than understands what the implications are. In the midst of it all, Calhern provides the ballast which keeps everything from tipping over.  It’s a testimony to his skill.

Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes – The Magnificent Yankee (1950)

It would be a starring role for Calhern, which saw him deliver on film what he had already done on the stage. The famous and respected Supreme Court Justice is played with Calhern’s usual poise but also with a touching humanity. The film is not a strict biopic and the film is relatively ‘safe’ as well as not particularly remarkable in terms of what it shows about Holmes’ life. But Calhern shows the scope of what he could do and whilst not doing particularly well at the box office, it was appreciated by the critics with Calhern’s performance garnering him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. For one whose reputation was one of a highly skilled supporting actor, this accolade was quite an accomplishment. 

Alonzo D. Emmerich – The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

As the slippery, crooked lawyer, Calhern gave his greatest performance in a role that has few if any redeeming features. Emmerich is a thoroughly unsympathetic character, keeping a much younger girl, Angela (Marilyn Monroe) in an apartment for his pleasure while his unwell wife stays in bed at home hoping for his attentions. He double-crosses those around him and his cowardice disgusts Dix (Sterling Hayden). Calhern delivers Emmerich as a weak and morally corrupt man, with the façade of propriety. But as his plans unravel and the heist goes wrong, his desperation takes over. As the law finally catches up with him, he resigns himself to his fate. Here, Calhern is superb as the pressures of trying to get out from under are cast aside. As he writes a final note to his wife, there is a moment where Emmerich actually feels something for his wife, but it’s not enough to salvage anything. In one facial expression, Calhern wears the complexity of emotions on a mask of resignation right before he takes his own life. Calhern plays a man who may be corrupt, immoral and crooked but he is playing a man whose flaws and weaknesses have consumed him, and he does so with absolute brilliance. He also delivers one of the greatest lines in film noir: ‘Crime is but a left-handed form of human endeavour’. 

Special Mentions

Julius Caesar (1953) is today best remembered for Marlon Brando playing Mark Antony. The cast was also impressive with the likes of Sir John Gielgud, James Mason, Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr. Despite the title, the original play (which is faithfully represented in the film) focuses on the interplay and dilemma faced by Brutus, along with Cassius and Mark Antony. Yet Calhern deserves to be praised for his turn as the Roman dictator and uses his presence well to deliver a credible lesson in how power can be abused.

The Blackboard Jungle (1956) still maintains a raw energy and was controversial on its’ release. As the deeply cynical Jim Murdock, Calhern delivers a teacher who has lost not only his energy but filled it with contempt for the education system. Long lost is the belief that he can make a difference and he scoffs at the attempts of Dadier (Glenn Ford) to do so. Watch Calhern’s response to Ford’s attack on his cynicism. There’s no anger or resentful reprimand and his measured and calm reply suggests he’s heard it all before delivering a ‘get him’ gesture that says everything. Yet even he will later change and encourage Dadier, realising that he was wrong.

Louis Calhern was the consummate professional, able to use his wonderful skills across an array of interesting and varied roles. Other wonderful films he appeared in include Blonde Crazy (1931) with James Cagney and Joan Blondell, 20,000 Years In Sing Sing (1932) with Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis, The Count Of Monte Cristo (1934) with Robert Donat and Executive Suite (1954) with William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck. He even did a musical in Annie Get Your Gun (1950) as Buffalo Bill. Undoubtedly, you will have seen him in many more films.

Louis Calhern was not a star but he was the consummate character actor on whose shoulders stars relied on. His magnetism and professionalism are more than evident every time he appears on the screen and his presence made every film he appeared in a better film. For these reasons, Louis Calhern deserves to be honoured.

This article is an entry into the 10th Annual Oh! What A Character Blogathon that has been kindly hosted by Outspoken And Freckled, Paula’s Cinema Club and Once Upon A Screen. Please visit to see all the other entries and take time to see their fantastic blogs as well.

Paul Batters teaches secondary school History in the Illawarra region and also lectures at the University Of Wollongong. In a previous life, he was involved in community radio and independent publications. Looking to a career in writing, Paul also has a passion for film history.

Duck Soup (1933): Classic Cinema’s Great Political Satire

by Paul Batters

“Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you’ll duck soup for the rest of your life.” Groucho Marx

Of all the films that the Marx Brothers made, Duck Soup is the one that usually ends up at the top of the list as their best. True, it often competes with A Night At The Opera (1935) which took MGM genius Irving Thalberg’s approach to shape a clear storyline with less gags, more music to become a huge hit. Running at 68 minutes, Duck Soup took Marxist anarchism with all its acerbic humour and poured it on thick. Resplendent with fast dialogue, double entendres, absurdism and visual gags, Duck Soup remains their greatest comedy, whilst delivering a powerful knock-out punch to the absurdities of how governments rule and the nature of war. Groucho biographer Stanley Kanfer raises an excellent point that despite script co-writer Harry Ruby’s claim that what the brothers did was strictly entertainment, ‘the result far outran the intent’. 

In 2015, Craig Brown in The Guardian made the excellent assessment:

‘Duck Soup has been praised for its understanding of paranoia in international diplomacy and of the economics of warfare. It is full of gags about the futility of war and its financial advantages’.

It is a film that does all this and more. 

As the opening credits roll, the first visual gag of ducks swimming in a large boiling cauldron is more than a nod to the nonsensical title of the film. Indeed, the inter-war years saw a world which was very much a boiling cauldron; one where the Depression had hit the world, democracy and capitalism were in crisis and fascism had emerged as a real danger to the world. Whether or not this may not have been the intent of director Leo McCarey, it does introduce us to an imaginary nation aptly named ‘Freedonia’ that appears to be in political chaos. The immediate absurdity emerges where the government, relying on the financial support of wealthy widow Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont), asks for more money. She acquiesces on one condition – that Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) be made the leader of all Freedonia. The ensuing musical number with its pomposity and ‘Hail, Hail, Freedonia’ anthem meets the anti-climax of Firefly not only turning up late after sliding down a fire-pole into the proceedings but asking if someone is expected before standing in line to salute their approach.

What follows is perhaps one of the best and funniest interactions on the silver screen between Groucho and the long-suffering but brilliant Dumont. The brutal putdowns come thick and fast from Firefly as Mrs. Teasdale tries desperately to keep things on keel. Groucho breaks the fourth wall in a way that only he can, reminding us of the absurdity of it all:

Firefly jigs and dances, as he delivers his plans to all on how he will rule through song. It is a clever musical number, which again lampoons the concept of freedom, stifled by the rules and regulations put in places by government. But even more so, it reveals the deep power of the state over the individual and how the those who intend to abuse power and authority, do so under the guise of freedom. In the current world, this has become an even more confusing and difficult reality to comprehend.

The darker undertone is introduced with the intrigues of Trentino, the Ambassador of Sylvania (Louis Calhern), whose schemes include using Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo) as spies to find the dirt on Firefly, marrying Teasdale to control Freedonia and using the gorgeous Vera Marcal (Raquel Torres) to seduce Firefly and bring him into disrepute. Firefly will see through it all, beating out Trentino for Teasdale’s affections (while still insulting her) and hiring Chicolini as his Secretary Of War. All the while the gags come thick and fast while revealing a deeper more cynical truth; despite a world which declares law and order, chaos seems to rule instead. Much like the dictatorships that were present in the world at that time. 

Nothing is sacred in the Marxist world. Even with Freedonia in trouble, an emergency cabinet meeting sees Firefly playing a game of jacks and arguing with his cabinet members over procedure, how to handle industrial relations and taxes. Later when war is declared, Firefly still lets fly with the absurdities telling Trentino to ‘go, and never darken my towels again!’ Additionally, the slide into war is peppered with insults but again satirises the language of diplomacy and the oft-announced claims of peace made by nations planning for war. The parallel to what was happening in Europe needs no explanation.

The scenes with Chicolini and Pinky trying to steal the war-plans from Teasdale’s home are some of the most hilarious in the film. They are also testimony to director Leo McCarey’s eventual winning over the brothers regarding his view of comedy; it works best visually. As Kanfer points out, sight gags abound in the film and Harpo was particularly drawn to it. The sneaking into the house to steal the plans is an example of this or Harpo’s using blowtorch to light a cigar. A special treat during these scenes is to see Chico and Harpo impersonating Groucho, whilst maintaining their characters. It harkens to a famous story where during stage performances for A Day At The Races, the brothers interchanged their personas with the audience unaware of the changes. Of course, the old mirror scene gag is cleverly worked in with Harpo and Groucho adding their own Marxist flavour. 

Courtroom procedures likewise are lampooned with plenty of puns and nonsense. Firefly flits between ardent prosecutor and defender of the hapless Chicolini, who innocently sees the whole proceedings as one huge joke. It leaves Firefly with the only fitting assessment of Chicolini.

FIREFLY: Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot’.

The musical number announcing and celebrating the declaration of war is also a send-up of the propaganda and jingoism that had aided and abetted the destruction and horror the world had seen only 15 years earlier. Again, there is a darkness to this musical number, in context of not only the previous war but the one to come in only six years’ time. Lyrics such as ‘All God’s chillum got guns’ is an explicit ridicule of the evoking of God during war by opposing nations. Complete with banjos, minstrel singing and southern anthems, the reminder of how war can divide nations as well as destroy them is more than clear. 

The final war scenes never let up with the rapid-fire dialogue, whilst leaving nothing that cannot be ridiculed and lampooned. The various military uniforms worn range from contemporary uniforms to those worn during the Revolutionary Wars and the Civil War. Even Davy Crockett’s raccoon hat has its moment when things gets desperate a la The Alamo. The message is very clear – all war is at best absurd. The recruitment drive is ridiculed, as Harpo with sandwich board sporting ‘Join The Army And See The Navy’ walks through the battlefields. Firefly tells his general when it is reported that the men are dying life flies to ‘run out get some trenches’ as he hands him some money to buy some. The dark irony of friendly fire is derided, as Firefly uses a machine gun on his own men, followed by the farce of awarding himself the Firefly Medal, again reflecting the habit of dictators covering their chests with all manner of medals. Even a call sent out for reinforcements is sent ‘collect’. The final moment sees poor Margaret Dumont suffer further indignities, as the end credits roll for the final reel. 

There are some memorable scenes that are wonderful examples of Marx Brothers mania. Chicolini and Pinky’s interactions with poor Edgar Kennedy are both hilarious and frustrating. Kennedy, of course, was famous for his ability to shape the ‘slow burn’ and worked with everyone from Chaplin to Laurel And Hardy and was an original Keystone Kop to boot. He turns up later in the film in the risqué scene when Harpo does his turn as Paul Revere. Spying on a half-dressed woman about to have a bath, Harpo discovers that the woman is Kennedy’s wife and hides in the filled bath-tub only to find himself in there with Kennedy. Louis Calhern plays it perfectly straight as the Ambassador and villain and Dumont is outstanding as always.

One must feel for Zeppo whose place as a Marx brother on the screen becomes superfluous. Whilst solid playing straight man to Groucho, he knew that it was time to move on and so it was the last time he would appear on screen with his brothers. But we needn’t feel too bad, as soon afterwards Zeppo would find success as a Hollywood agent. 

Contrary to the oft-repeated claim, the film was not exactly a total flop. True, there was some criticism from The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. It did not do so well in the small towns and mid-West and was perhaps too cerebral for the masses looking for escapism from the Depression. Yet as Simon Louvish points out in ‘Monkey Business: The Lives And Legends Of The Marx. Brothers’, Duck Soup grossed nearly as much as Horse Feathers (1932) and was Paramount’s fifth highest earner for 1933. Variety initially gave it a positive review as well. Yet the immediate memory of the film after initially doing well was not a fond one. Stefan Kanfer makes the point that the Depression saw people looking for something to hold them together against the cruelty of what they were going through. The cynicism of Duck Soup just may have been too much and with Americans in an ‘isolationist mood…a satire of Balkan despots was too esoteric for their tastes’.

It was not a film which exactly placed the Marx Brothers on the scrap-heap and the ending of the Brothers’ contract with Paramount was very much a mutual agreement. But for the Brothers, it meant a complete re-assessment of who they were, where they were at and what direction they would go in. As Marxist history shows, it was Chico who found the way forward through Irving Thalberg and MGM. Interestingly, Groucho would later state that he enjoyed working with McCarey and would claim he was ‘the only great director we ever worked with’. 

Perhaps this is what makes Duck Soup so beloved and usually at the top of the list for Marx Brothers fans. Once they went to MGM, fans would never again see the wild brilliance which first made them stars. In some ways, Duck Soup is the swan song of that legendary approach to comedy and the final testimony to that brilliance. As wonderful as A Night At The Opera and A Day At The Races (1937) are, the comedy of the Marx Brothers is more tempered and refined. Duck Soup would see a revival in the 1960s, in big part thanks to Groucho’s stardom on television, as well as its anti-establishment comedy finding a new home amongst university students and the growing movement that was challenging the conventions of society. Indeed, the irreverence, anarchism and inherent deflating of pomposity and entitlement that underpinned the Marx Brothers, would endear them to new generations.

Duck Soup works because it’s funny. And I’d like to believe it will continue to be so for future generations. 

This article is an entry into the Laughter Is The Best Medicine Blogathon run by the CMBA. Click on the link to see other fantastic entries on classic comedy.

Paul Batters teaches secondary school History in the Illawarra region and also lectures at the University Of Wollongong. In a previous life, he was involved in community radio and independent publications. Looking to a career in writing, Paul also has a passion for film history.

Dracula, Prince Of Darkness (1966): Hammer Horror In Full Colour

As it’s classic horror month, here’s an older article submitted for the 2018 Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon. It was fun to write and of course the film is fun to watch.

Silver Screen Classics

by Paul Batters

Dracula-Prince-of-Darkness-featuredDuring the classic era of cinema, it is indisputable that Universal was the master of the horror film. They would introduced to audiences iconic monsters that are known and loved and in Lugosi, Karloff and Chaney (Snr and Jnr) gave us wonderful actors who themselves became deserved icons of the silver screen. When the first cycle of horror films began in the early 1930s, high production values and story development were key with directors such as James Whale and Tod Browning, as well as the cinematography of the brilliant Karl Freund, shaping now classic films. By the 1940s, however, not only had production values changed but audiences had as well, and what were initially quality films became arguably less so, with more of an exploitive approach that sought to capitalise on ‘monster combinations’. The final nail in the coffin (excuse the pun) was the Universal pantheon of…

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The dark brilliance of Val Lewton: RKO’s Other Genius

Recently during the lockdown here in Australia, I’ve been re-watching the brilliant films of Val Lewton. There’s so much more I could add to this article written in 2016 but thought it was worth re-blogging at any rate, in honour of this underrated cinematic genius.

Silver Screen Classics

8638692_f1024‘There is no beauty here, only death and decay’ – Paul Holland ‘I Walked With A Zombie’ (1943)

So another Halloween has passed by, where people not only decided what to wear at parties (or when trick-or-treating) or what party to go to but also what horror films to watch. TV horror marathons ensued, playing everything from classic Universal to 50s sci-fi to slasher films. It’s always an interesting time from the point of view of film fans, as we get to share with others our favourite classic (and not-so-classic!) horror films. It’s always interesting to read must-see lists and top ten lists of all kinds. At times, we even discover something new – perhaps a gem from the past that we overlooked or a little-known film that finally gets some notice.

I’ve been looking at a number of lists, posts and articles on Halloween horror viewing across a range…

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The Roaring Twenties (1939) – Last Of The Classic Gangster Films

In honour of James Cagney’s birthday, here’s a reblog of an old article I wrote on The Roaring Twenties (1939) – the last of the classic gangster films.

Silver Screen Classics

the-roaring-twenties-1939“Cheating yes, cheating if you get caught. But you don’t get caught if you take care of the right people, and this is big business. Very big business.” James Cagney The Roaring Twenties (1939)

by Paul Batters

Previously on Silver Screen Classics, I focused on William Wellman’s The Public Enemy (1931); one of the trio of films that would institute the hallmarks of the classic gangster film. What would make the canonical three interesting was that they were made and released during the Prohibition Era with gangsters such as Al Capone very much in the news. It was also the time of the Great Depression where questions about democracy and capitalism were being asked. And of course, in Hollywood it was the Pre-Code era, where film was reaching into areas that would soon be shut down and not make an explicit appearance for many years later.

I wanted to…

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Day Three: The 2021 Swashbucklathon Wraps Up

It’s the last day of the 2021 Swashbucklathon and that means the blogathon celebrating swashbucklers on film comes to an end. Our final entries are below for your enjoyment!

A huge and heartfelt thank you to all contributors. I hope that you enjoyed the blogathon and if people are interested I’ll run it again next year. If you missed the first two days, you can have a look through the following links:

Day One

Day Two

So without further ado…

Captain Blood (1935)Stars And Letters

The Man In The Iron Mask (1939)18 Cinema Lane

The Sea Hawk (1940)Movie Rob

Peter Pan (1924)Taking Up Room

The Fighting Prince Of Donegal (1966) Old Books and Movies

Paul Batters teaches secondary school History in the Illawarra region and also lectures at the University Of Wollongong. In a previous life, he was involved in community radio and independent publications. Looking to a career in writing, Paul also has a passion for film history.

Day Two: The 2021 Swashbucklathon Is Here

Hello classic film fans. Here is Day Two of 2021 Swashbucklathon. It is a touch late but in the meantime, allow me to offer a huge thank you to the contributors and their amazing efforts

Here are some more great entries from our wonderful bloggers. Please don’t forget to like and leave comments on their blogs; it means a great deal to writers to have their work supported and appreciated. Sharing their work on your own social media is also very appreciated!

The Sea Hawk (1940)Whimsically Classic

The Crimson Pirate (1952)Movie Rob

Scaramouche (1952)Move Rob

Solomon Kane (2021)Blogferatu

The Mark Of Zorro (1940)Moon In Gemini

Day Three is on its way and hopefully some last minute entries as well. Thanks everyone!

Paul Batters teaches secondary school History in the Illawarra region and also lectures at the University Of Wollongong. In a previous life, he was involved in community radio and independent publications. Looking to a career in writing, Paul also has a passion for film history.

A TALE OF ROMANCE AND DERRING-DO (With Synchronized Music and Sound Effects): A Study of Don Juan (1926)

by Robert Short, special guest writer.

Promotional Poster for Don Juan

DON JUAN (1926) Directed by Alan Crosland. Starring John Barrymore, Mary Astor, Warner Oland, Estelle Taylor, Montagu Love, Helene Costello, Gibson Gowland, Willard Louis. Screenplay by Bess Meredyth. Intertitles by Walter Anthony and Maude Fulton (both uncredited). Silent with Vitaphone musical score and sound effects.

General Abstract: Having settled in Rome after attending the University of Pisa, devil-may-care playboy Don Juan de Marana (John Barrymore) runs afoul of the tyrannical Borgia family, despotic Cesare (Warner Oland), powerful Lucrezia (Estelle Taylor), and the Count Giano Donati (Montagu Love). Juan has his way with, and is pursued by, many women; it is, however, for Adriana della Varnese (Mary Astor), the one he could not have, that Juan suffers the wrath of Cesare for ignoring Lucrezia and killing Count Donati in a duel.

Literary Origins

“But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think”
– from Canto III, Don Juan, by George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, FRS

Conventional wisdom, and a notification in the October 1926 issue of Photoplay magazine, have indicated that Lord Byron’s epic poem served as the underlying literary source for Bess Meredyth’s original screenplay to the 1926 swashbuckler Don Juan.  While Byron’s massive satiric chef-d’oeuvre, begun in 1819 and still unfinished at the time of Byron’s death in 1824, might certainly have played a significant role  in the development of Meredyth’s script, there was in reality a myriad of sources from which Meredyth might have drawn her ideas; the opening credits of the film simply stated “Inspired by the Legend.”      

Fictional libertine Don Juan, sometimes known as Don Giovanni, the consummate roué who devoted his life to seducing women, has in fact been a staple character in literature and drama for many centuries.  The first written version of the Don Juan story, the circa 1630 Spanish play El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra, translated as The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest, by Tirso de Molina, portrayed as Don Juan as an evil seducer owing to his ability to manipulate language and disguise his appearance, a decidedly demonic attribute; subsequent versions of the tale included Molière‘s 1665 drama Dom Juan ou le Festin de pierre, Italian playwright Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni’s Don Giovanni Tenorio, written in 1735 José Zorrilla‘s 1844 play Don Juan Tenorio (1844), still performed throughout the Spanish-speaking world on November 2, All Souls Day.  Wolfgang Mozart’s highly-praised 1787 opera Don Giovanni later inspired works by Alexander PushkinSøren KierkegaardGeorge Bernard Shaw, Albert Camus, and German Romantic author E. T. A. Hoffmann.  

Although Lord Byron’s lyric narrative has undoubtedly become the most famous presentation of Don Juan in English literatiure, the promiscuous rake was initially introduced to the English-speaking world in Thomas Shadwell’s 1676 drama The LibertineDon Juans Ende, a play derived from an unfinished 1844 retelling of the tale by Austrian poet Nikolaus Lenau, influenced Richard Strauss‘s 1889 orchestral tone poem Don Juan.  While Meredyth might have depended more heavily on one literary root over others, or perhaps disregarded all of them, she certainly had a treasure trove of literature and drama from which to create a scripted depiction of the great Renaissance lover.

Title Card from Don Juan (1926)

A Brief History of Vitaphone

“Vitaphone will bring to the audiences in every corner of the world the the music of the greatest symphony orchestras and vocal entertainment of the most popular stars of the operatic, vaudeville and theatrical field.”
– Harry Warner

Undoubtedly the most important and far-reaching cinematic technical innovation of the 1920’s was the introduction of sound; August 6th, 1926, the debut of Warner Bros.’ lavish swashbuckler Don Juan, along with numerous film shorts, proved a pivotal date with the introduction of Vitaphone, a new sound-on-disc process.

Sound itself was not new to motion pictures.  The combination of moving images and sound had begun with Thomas A. Edison; as far back as 1894. in the Kinetoscope parlours, customers could, by means of stethoscope-like ear-tubes, hear scratchy, poorly synchronized sound as they watched some fleeting, flickering images.   Early sound-on-disc systems included the Chronophone, patented in 1902 by Leon Gaumont, and the Vivaphone, developed and marketed by the British firm Hepworth Film Manufacturing  Company circa 1913.  Using Photokinema, another sound-on-disc method, legendary director D. W. Griffith, in a filmed prologue to his 1921 feature Dream Street, stepped out in front of a curtain to talk to the audience about the motion picture.  On April 15, 1923, in New York City, American inventor Lee De Forest, a pioneer in sound films, premiered eighteen short films produced with Phonofilm, a primitive sound-on-film system.

None of these motion picture sound experiments achieved sustained success;  it was a sound-on-disc synchronization procedure developed by technicians and engineers at Western Electric, working in conjunction with Bell Telephone Laboratories, that caught the interest and attention of Sam Warner in 1925.  Harry Warner, at the urging of his brother Sam, agreed to use this method for musical accompaniment to Don Juan.  Christened Vitaphone by the Warner brothers, this system recorded the soundtrack on a 16-inch, 3,343-revolution-per-minute wax disc that played from the centre outward; this sound-on-disc method ultimately became the only disc process both widely used and commercially successful.  The marriage of Warners and Vitaphone took place on April 26, 1925 with the signing of a contract; the consummation of the relationship, so-to-speak, climaxed a little over fifteen months later with the August 6, 1926 premiere of Don Juan, the first silent film embellished with sound effects and a full background musical score courtesy of Vitaphone.

The Vitaphone sound-on-disc system would subsequently enjoy only a brief period as the main recoring technology for Warner Bros. and First National Pictures, a studio in which Warners held controlling interest. While the sound quality of the phonographic discs produced a richer audio quality than the emerging optical sound, or sound-on-film, processes, the discs were prey to synchronization issues, could not be directly edited, which limited the ability to make alterations in a film after its initial release, and suffered from general wear and tear, degrading after numerous screenings of a film, requiring disc replacements. By 1929, such major studios as Paramount Pictures and M-G-M had abandoned the sound-on-disc system in favour of optical sound for their productions; RKO, which began its film operation in 1929, used only optical sound. However, for a time these studios did continue to reproduce a number of soundtracks on phonographic discs for theatres not equipped for broadcasting optical sound; consequently some soundtracks of otherwise incomplete or lost motion pictures, such as the full roadshow version of RKO’s Rio Rita, and M-G-M’s The Rogue Song, have survived. Among the first twenty-five inductees into the TECnology Hall of Fame upon its establishment in 2004, the Vitaphone sound-on-disc process was discontinued by 1930 in favour of Movietone optical sound, although Warner Bros. retained the Vitaphone trademark for a number of years for its live action and animated short subjects.

The voice of Vitaphone: a 16-inch disc being lined up with its synchronization mark

The Cinematic “Don Juan”

“‘I made it for money.’” – Response by John Barrymore to an interviewer’s comment “‘I thought you made Don Juan for satire'”

 “In ‘Don Juan’ there are moments when I look like a male impersonation of Lilyan Tashman.” – John Barrymore

Originally intended as John Barrymore’s first film under his new Warner Bros. contract, Don Juan was postponed in favour of The Sea Beast, the first screen adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick; although he had starred in the 1924 version of Beau Brummel, Barrymore apparently disdained costume films.  Quoted as saying “sweet-scented Don Juans affect movie audiences like a rough crossing of the English channel”. Barrymore agreed to the film, provided that a cinematic representation  of Moby Dick, evidently one of his favourite novels, take precedence. As expressed by Barrymore:

“It [Moby Dick] appeals to me and always has. It has an especial appeal to me now, for in the last few years, both on the stage and screen, I have played so many scented, be puffed, bewigged and ringletted characters- princes and kings and the like that I revel in the rough and almost demoniacal character such as Captain Ahab”

The Sea Beast was a very loose variation of the Melville classic. Its script also written by Beth Meredyth, The Sea Beast imposed a great deal of licence on Melville’s narrative; Ahab competed with his half-brother Derek, an invented non-Melville character, for the love of Esther, a minister’s daughter; Ahab’s motivation to return to sea was not to pursue the white whale, but rather to try to forget that Esther loved another, and, in true Hollywood fashion, a happy ending was created in place of Melville’s original tragic conclusion. Literary liberties aside, The Sea Beast appeared to have appeased Barrymore; immediately following Don Juan Barrymore undertook more “pansy parts” , as he referred to them, in the 1927 motion pictures When A Man Loves, the third film to include a Vitaphone soundtrack of background music and sound effects, and The Beloved Rogue.

Its production starting on October 18, 1925, Don Juan contained the requisite elements of a swashbuckler spectacle with its inclusion of the hero’s scaling of stone walls, leaping off balconies, swinging on vines with rapier and poignard at the ready, breasting the Tiber River, and duelling enemies; in addition, the film offered the mandatory damsel-in-distress in the personage of Mary Astor as Adriana della Varnese. Astor, with whom Barrymore had been romantically involved when the two were performing several years earlier in Beau Brummel, was not Barrymore’s choice for the role; Barrymore preferred Dolores Costello, his newest paramour who would in 1928 become his third wife. As Astor had already been signed to the part, Warner Bros. was loathe to risk a breach-of-contract lawsuit.

Unlike contemporary actor Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Barrymore was not generally known for athletic prowess and an ebullient screen personality; Fairbanks had forged his career on such cinematic costume adventures as 1920’s The Mark of Zorro, 1921’s The Three Musketeers, The Thief of Baghdad from 1924, and The Black Pirate, released the same year as Don Juan, whereas Barrymore had initially found his fame on stage, most recently as a Shakespearean actor, and through a very divergent variety of film roles. Nonetheless the October 1926 edition of Photoplay exclaimed:

“Hey Mr. Fairbanks, come home quick! John Barrymore is stealing your stuff. He climbs balconies, he rides horses, he fights duels and he makes hot, hot love. Here is a young feller who is determined to live down his dark past as a Shakespearean actor.”

While in all probability posing no serious competition to any Fairbanks feature as a film of action, Don Juan did surpass Fairbanks’ motion pictures in the element of romance. Certainly a Fairbanks film included an actress, such as beautiful Billie Dove in The Black Pirate, as a leading lady or love interest; the focus, however, in a Fairbanks vehicle centred on the actor’s acrobatic gymnastics, while Don Juan surpassed the swashbuckling component in favour of romance, containing between 127 and 191 kisses, depending on the reference source, bestowed by Barrymore upon a number of actresses, including Astor, Estelle Taylor, Myrna Loy, and others. Submitting himself daily for hours in the make-up and costume departments to transform the forty-three-year-old actor to a more youthful-looking, handsome Don Juan, including the dying of his grey-streaked hair to a shade of blonde, Barrymore seemed a perfect choice for the role of the Great Lover; his own reputation as a philanderer preceded him. While his performance was not met with unrestrained praise, with some critics describing the acting as “the worst they had ever witnessed”, Barrymore’s grace and elegance of bearing, and his steamy, for the era, love-making, captivated audiences. It is now somewhat difficult, and perhaps even unfair, to assess the acting style prevalent in the era of the silent film; without the benefit of spoken dialogue performances may appear florid, exaggerated, or overwrought in their quest for expression.

Warner Bros. most expensive film to date, produced on a reported budget of $546,000 , Don Juan was adorned with lavish period sets and the more fluid and creative camerawork evident in the motion pictures of the late 1920’s. No longer in its infancy, the silent cinema had artistically developed beyond the mere capturing of moving images; ironically the advent of sound would initially return the early “talkies” to a more stagnant state. While some sources have criticized Meredyth’s screenplay for the introduction and consequent abandonment of a number of characters, chiefly Adriana’s father and Don Juan’s sidekick Petrillo, and the historic licence taken with Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia, such objections may be viewed as petty in nature; many motion picture scenarios, both before and since, have followed a similar pattern as the narrative progresses. Any shortcomings in the screenplay notwithstanding, and marketed with such hyperbolic taglines as “The greatest adventure picture ever produced” and “It Thrilled the World!”, the latter catchphrase admittedly more in reference to Vitaphone than the film itself, Don Juan found favour with movie audience, earning a purported $1,693,000 in worldwide rentals.

Double-page advertisement for Don Juan in The Film Daily, September 1, 1926

The addition of the Vitaphone soundtrack, with its orchestral score played by the New York Philharmonic, distinguished Don Juan immeasurably, an aspect possibly more evident when compared to the all-silent version prepared for theatres not equipped for sound reproduction; while enjoyable and entertaining, the film alone was not markedly or especially superior to other contemporary features, either those in the swashbuckling genre or otherwise. Fairbanks’ The Black Pirate, presented in early two-strip Technicolor, made up for a thin plot with its action and technical polish; other 1926 offerings, such as Beau Geste and Old Ironsides, with its use of Magnascope, an early wide-screen process, provided similar adventure, sweep, and spectacle. Ultimately Don Juan was what it set out to be, no more and no less, namely a showcase for Barrymore, who was, at times, photographed in his famous profile and clothed in progressively tighter costumes; acting with “an abandon that will arouse the disapproval of the School of Eyebrow Lifters” the actor added another memorable, if melodramatic, character to his ever imposing curriculum vitae.

Legacy and Conclusion

“Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothing yet.” – first words of screen dialogue spoken by Al Jolson in 1927’s The Jazz Singer

Its programme supplemented with eight short features that demonstrated the wonders of Vitaphone, including the Honorable Will Hayes, President of the Motion Picture Producers of America, directly addressing the audience, the New York Philharmonic playing the overture to Tannhäuser, and coloratura soprano Marian Talley singing Caro Nome from the Giuseppi Verdi opera Rigoletto, the world premiere of Don Juan was held on August 6, 1926 at the Warner Theatre in New York City, having been previewed two days earlier on an invitation basis; for the princely cost of $25 per ticket, first-night audiences were witness to an enormous milestone in the history of cinema.  Interestingly, the audience responded to the arrival of this landmark innovation generally “warmly rather than wildly”.

In an opposite response, the press greeted Vitaphone with a more unbridled enthusiasm; in his review in The New York Times critic Mordaunt Hall proclaimed:

“The natural reproduction of voices, the tonal qualities of musical instruments and the timing of the sound to the movements of the lips of singers and the actions of musicians was almost uncanny”.

Hall’s review effusively continued:                                                

“The future of this new contrivance is boundless [. . .] the vitaphone [italics mine] will give its patrons an excellent idea of a singer’s acting and an intelligent conception of the efforts of musicians and their instruments. Operatic favorites will be able to be seen and heard, and the genius of singers and musicians who have passed will still live”.

Photoplay echoed Hall’s thoughts, declaring in its October 1926 issue:

 “The executives of Warner Brothers, the Bell Telephone Company and the Western Electric Company believe that the Vitaphone [italics mine] will revolutionize the presentation of motion pictures.  It will bring famous singers and orchestras to the smallest theaters.  [. . .]  Perhaps, back in their minds, these experts believe that the Vitaphone [italics mine] eventually will make possible a genuine talking picture.  However, no definite plans have been made along this line.  So far they are confining their activities to an invention which bids fair to transform the exhibition of pictures.”

Albeit unknowingly at the time, the latter thoughts in the Photoplay article were very prophetic; on October 6, 1927, fourteen months after the premiere of Don Juan, Warner Bros. elevated Vitaphone to a new level with its release of The Jazz Singer.  Although still often considered the first talking film, The Jazz Singer was in reality essentially a silent film with a synchronized Vitaphone soundtrack; it did, however, contain several scenes with recorded songs and dialogue, not a great deal of spoken content overall, but sufficient to change forever cinema development.  Safely finding its standing in cinema history, The Jazz Singer has rather unfairly overshadowed the historical importance of Don Juan.  In the interim months between the debuts of the two films, Warner Bros. had released six more silent features with a Vitaphonesoundtrack, rendering the technology still enjoyable but less wondrous; the importance of Don Juan has over time been relegated to the back burner.  As time has passed, The Jazz Singer has continued to enjoy its reputation as a cinematic milestone; Don Juan has been diminished to a pebble in the course of motion picture evolution.        


Eyman, Scott, The Speed of Sound – Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution, 1926-1930 (New York:  Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1997)

Hirschhorn, Clive, The Warner Bros. Story (Hong Kong:  Mandarin Publishers Limited, 1982)

Kobler, John, Damned in Paradise:  The Life of John Barrymore (New York:  Atheneum Books, 1977) 

The Complete Poetical Works of Lord Byron, with an Introductory Memoir by Sir Leslie Stephen (New York:  The MacMillan Company, 1907), 1048 

Sperling, Cass Warner; Millner, Cork; with Warner, Jack Jr., Hollywood Be Thy Name:  The Warner Brothers Story (California:  Prima Publishing, 1994), 96   

Thomson, David, Warner Bros:  The Making of an American Movie Studio (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 2017)


“$25 Premiere for New Film”, Variety, Volume LXXXIII, No. 10, June 23, 1926

“Bringing Sound to The Screen”, Photoplay, Volume XXX, No. 5, October 1926

Don Juan (1926).  [DVD]  Directed by Alan Crosland.  USA:  Warner Archives

“Don Juan (1926 film),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,  (accessed June 9, 2021) 

‘“Don Juan,’ Vitaphone, Pre-Opening August 4”, Variety, Volume LXXXIV, No. 2, July 28, 1926

Hall, Mordaunt, “Vitaphone Stirs as Talking Movie; New Device Synchronizing Sound with Action Impresses with Its Realistic Effects.  Noted Musicians Heard Provides Orchestral Accompaniment to Photoplay ‘Don Juan,’ with John Barrymore”, The New York Times, August 7, 1926, retrieved from

St. Johns, Adela Rogers, “Hollywood Can’t Exist – But It Does”, Photoplay, Volume XXXI, No. 1, December 1926

The Film Daily, Volume XXXVII, No. 53, September 1, 1926

“The Shadow Stage”, Photoplay, Volume XXX, No. 5, October 1926

Variety, Volume LXXX, No. 8, October 7, 1925

“Vitaphone,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed June 9, 2021) 

It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have Robert Short as a guest writer for the 2021 Swashbucklathon.

Day One: The 2021 Swashbucklathon Is Here!

The 2021 Swashbucklathon has begun and it’s a thrill to be hosting. Just to recap what the Swashbucklathon is about, the main aim is to celebrate those adventurous films that have graced the silver screen since the inception of cinema.

There is still plenty of room for people to join in and I would love to see a host of writers add their articles to the roster. You may submit on any day of the blogathon and for a complete outline of the rules and how to join in please visit the following link: Announcing The 2021 Swashbucklathon.

Please share the blogathon on your social media and you are welcome to use the memes to advertise the Blogathon that your article will be part of.

Without further ado, let’s begin with the first entries. So sit back and enjoy!

The Lady And The Highwayman (1989)ReelWeegieMidget Reviews

Robin Hood (1922)Silver Screenings

A Study Of Don Juan (1926) Robert Short, special guest at Silver Screen Classics

The Crimson Pirate (1952) – Fraser Sherman’s Blog

Preview: The 2021 Swashbucklathon

We are under one week away from the 2021 Swashbucklathon and I’m certainly excited about it. The Swashbucklaton aims to celebrate those adventurous films that have graced the silver screen since the inception of cinema.

There is still plenty of room for people to join in and I would love to see a host of writers add their articles to the roster below. You may submit on any day of the blogathon and for a complete outline of the rules and how to join in please visit the following link: Announcing The 2021 Swashbucklathon.

Please share the blogathon on your social media and you are welcome to use the memes to advertise the Blogathon that your article will be part of.

Below is a list of current participants which may also help to spark ideas.

Robin Hood (1920) – Silver Screenings

The Sea Hawk (1940) – Whimsically Classic

Don Juan (1926) – Robert Short

Solomon Kane (2009) – Blogferatu

Peter Pan (1924) – Taking Up Room

The Sea Hawk (1940) – Movie Rob

The Crimson Pirate (1952) – Movie Rob

Scaramouche (1952) – Movie Rob

The Man In The Iron Mask (1939) – 18 Cinema Lane

Plunkett And Maclean (1999) – Thoughts All Sorts

The Crimson Pirate (1952) – Fraser

Captain Blood (1935) – Stars And Letters

The Lady And The Highwayman (1989) – ReelWeegieMidget

The Mark Of Zorro (1940) – Debbie Vega

The Prisoner Of Zenda (1937) – Silver Screen Classics

Paul Batters teaches secondary school History in the Illawarra region and also lectures at the University Of Wollongong. In a previous life, he was involved in community radio and independent publications. Looking to a career in writing, Paul also has a passion for film history.

The Red House (1947): A Classic Of American Gothic

by Paul Batters

‘Did you ever run away from the scream? You can’t. It will follow you through the woods. It will follow you all of your life’. Pete Morgan (Edward G. Robinson)

Cinema is filled with films that are celebrated and considered as timeless classics. Many are deserving of such celebration, yet there are many (at least in the opinion of this reviewer) which are not so deserving. More to the point, there are too many films that stand in the shadows and go unnoticed or unheralded. These unhidden classics need to be brought out into the light and celebrated. They are not always conventional and may even be unpolished and raw, yet that gives them an authenticity and value that makes them classics. Delmer Daves The Red House (1947) is one of those ‘hidden classics’ that deserves to be honoured.

The Red House has been described as noir although it is perhaps closer to the mark being described as a ‘horror film. Yet my contention is that this cinematic gem is a classic of American Gothic. The film’s strength lies in its unique approach to the conventions of the Gothic genre, conveyed through brilliant cinematography and delivered by a solid cast, underpinned by Miklos Rozsa’s musical score. Ultimately, it is a thriller where the audience is torn between the possibilities of the supernatural and the powers of suggestion. This Lewtonesque approach melds beautifully with the storyline and, like the protagonists in the story, we are led through winding trails in the woods trying to discover what the truth is.

Dawes transforms George Agnew Chamberlain’s 1943 novel of the same into a tale which perfectly traverses rural Americana with traditional Gothic tropes, in a fresh and interesting way avoiding cliches that would often turn up in far more celebrated Gothic films. Dawes establishes this in the opening scene, where the narrator describes an idyllic American farming community, where the farmers raise ‘good apples’ in ‘fine soil’ – a beautiful metaphor for the young people, who are a ‘healthy lot…where the girls don’t come prettier anyplace’. The wholesomeness of this salt-of-the-earth farming community, however, also contains a deeper secret. The mystery is already suggested by the ominous presence of Ox-Head Woods, where civilisation has yet to penetrate, with its deep, dark woods criss-crossed by broken trails leading to nowhere. Immediately, the audience is placed on a trail which will symbolically lead into a darker mystery.

The Morgan farm is described as having ‘the allure of a walled-castle…which few have entered’ accessed only by one road. Even in a rural America of farms, warm sun and the film’s focus on youth, the link to classic Gothic themes is beautifully linked. The symbolism of the Morgan farm as secluded and distant from the rest of society, suggests secrets, family trauma, tragedy and hidden tales. Here live Pete Morgan (Edward G. Robinson) and his sister Ellen Morgan (Judith Anderson) with their adopted daughter Meg (Allene Roberts). They are ‘self-sufficient’ with little need to interact with the outside world, ‘content with how things are’ and no need for outsiders to ‘spoil things’. Pete has a wooden leg from an old accident which also reveals a sub-plot involving Ellen and her unfulfilled love for the valley doctor who helped Pete when he lost it. Meg loves her adopted parents and she doesn’t question how she came to be adopted. She loves Nath (Leo McCallister) who much to Meg’s dismay is going steady with Tibby (Julie London). Dawes will take this seemingly simple orientation immediately into darker Gothic thematic concerns and build tension with a deft hand. 

Dawes also touches on subjects which the Code must have shuddered at and yet incredibly still find their way onto the screen. Teenage sexuality and relationships are both more than overtly looked at and indeed become a central theme connected to the storyline.  From the opening scene on the school bus, Nath is told by Tibby to bring his swimming trunks to their ‘swimming date’ so they can ‘change at the reservoir, just the two of us’. Next to them, the shy, innocent and pretty Meg sits disappointed but silent, knowing full-well what is being suggested. It becomes clear that Meg loves Nath but it is a love from afar and she says nothing as she treasures their friendship. 

But Meg’s love and affection for Nath reveals something darker in Pete Morgan that the audience recognises goes beyond the normal concerns of a father or guardian. When Meg begs Pete to give Nath a job on the farm, Pete gives in to Meg because he could ‘never turn her down’. All seems friendly enough after a hard day’s work as Nath sits with the Morgans for supper but as he’s about to leave for home, Nath mentions taking a shortcut through the Ox-Head Woods. Suddenly, Pete’s manner changes and he argues with Nath that it would be foolish to take that shortcut. Nath ignores Pete’s pleading which becomes more frantic. As Nath steps out into the night, the howling wind and darkness barely drowns out Pete’s near-mad rantings of the ‘screams in the night’ from the ‘red house’. The complexity of Pete’s deep psychological pathology emerge in waves of panic and near-madness, revealing his fears as he calls out ‘did you ever run away from a scream?’ As Nath disappears into the night, across the wind-swept fields, Pete goes back inside looking near-mad, eyes wide as he mutters away to his sister and himself. Ellen knowingly looks on but Meg is confused as well as afraid. Here, Dawes takes a brilliant turn into the fine line between supernatural and human fear, as Nath becomes scared and disoriented in the Ox-Head Woods. Is there some supernatural force conjured up the wind? Or is his own primeval fears fuelled by Pete’s rantings? Are the screams coming from some terrible presence in the woods? Or the result of the wind in the trees accentuated by a highly charged imagination? What does the red house have to do with all of this? At any rate, terror overcomes Nath, who makes his way back to the farm. Pete seems to regather his wits and dominance, his fears and concerns abated by Nath’s return and his secret therefore safe for the meantime.

Nath is the boy Meg loves and he will become the agent of change for not only Meg but the Morgan household. Like a lord who dominates his estate and sits all-powerful in his castle without question, Pete sees Nath as the great outside threat to his power and hold over Meg. Nath is a young boy becoming a young man, wanting to assert himself. Pete blames Nath for Meg’s change but as Ellen points out to her brother, Meg is growing up and has a right to her own life. She will begin to ask questions which emerge after the first fateful night, and as any teenager on the cusp of adulthood, will seek her own autonomy. This will also push Pete over the edge, as she disobeys his demands that she not ask questions. Nath and Meg will both seek out the red house, seeking answers to deeper questions which for Meg will reveal far deeper truths than she anticipated. In their quest, they will grow even closer together. Pete uses all manner of means to pull Meg closer to him and drive Nath apart from her, from giving gifts to Meg and even threatening her, as well as doing what he can to encourage Nath and Tibby’s romance. Pete will go so far as use Teller (Rory Calhoun), the local no-account school drop-out to inflict violence and keep Nath (and Meg) out of the Ox-Head Woods. It seems that Pete will stop at nothing to hold onto Meg.

Pete’s jealousy will not only border on the incestuous but almost cross it, enough for the kind Ellen Morgan to ask Meg if Pete has ever touched her. Pete’s now tender grip on reality will see him calling Meg another name which Meg seems to recognise but is unsure where to place. In one disturbing and alarming scene, the audience watches Pete standing at the lake’s edge on a small pier watching Meg swimming. As she approaches with an innocent smile to the edge, Pete stands suggestively over her, looking at her strangely and calling her ‘Jeanie’. Meg is obviously scared and disturbed, as she is also vulnerable in her swimsuit. Later, as Meg is in her bed at night, Pete will come into the room and stand at the doorway calling her Jeannie. Again, the dark secret and mystery that underpins Pete’s growing madness is a long-repressed truth which is too big to be hidden for much longer. The red house becomes the powerful focal point for that truth and Nath and Meg’s search for it will enrage Pete.

The terrible secret is not one which only haunts Pete, as Ellen has sacrificed her own happiness to try and protect the people she loves and cares for. The rumours and gossip about the ‘mysterious Morgans’ perhaps also asks the question about the relationship between brother and sister, and if something more is going on. Long-suffering Ellen tries everything to convince Pete that he needs to let Meg live her life and save him from his madness but it is all to no avail, as Pete descends further and deeper into the chasm. The lesson that Ellen tries imparting, that everyone has their Ox-Head Woods, falls on deaf ears. The darker Gothic overtones of seclusion, growing madness and the oppressed sexuality channelled into darker outlets all emerge in The Red House. 

The climax is still powerful high drama, even if the audience has put most of the puzzle’s pieces together. The red house itself becomes more than a symbolic focus for Pete’s madness or Meg’s search for truth. In the red house itself, all will finally be revealed as history is repeated in the ruins of the old house and the mystery finally see its denouement. 

The cast of The Red House is solid and the younger cast who hold a fair amount of the screen time do a commendable job. Leo McCallister does well as the farm boy and he has some solid mo ments on the screen. Allene Roberts, in her film debut, is particularly interesting as Meg, who is reminiscent of the kind of roles sometimes taken by Cathy O’Donnell or Teresa Wright. Conveying an ‘innocent beauty’, with her slightly breathless voice, Roberts carries the role with an unexpected strength. Julie London, also in her film debut, is incredibly sensual as Nate’s girlfriend and smoulders with her suggestive glances and claims that she is ‘already a woman’ after excitement and adventure beyond the valley. Whilst initially looking down her nose at Teller, she is also excited by him. The earliest screen encounter when Tibby gets off the school bus shows Teller waiting for her, looking like a proto-50s rocker with his tough stance and long rifle pointing at her, with obvious Freudian overtone. Teller smiles lecherously telling Tibby that he’s ‘learned plenty of things they don’t teach in school’ which scares her but also entices her, betrayed by her backward glance at him. Eventually, Teller’s prophecy that when Tibby ‘decide(s) on a man, you come to me’, will prove correct and see Nath rejected by Tibby. Rory Calhoun takes on a minor role as a plot device to drive the story and does enough with it as the bad boy who will lead Tibby into trouble. 

Of course, Robinson and Anderson are the veterans who bring their superb skills to the fore. Dame Judith Anderson supports the story with her usual depth and gives room for everyone else to deliver their performance. But for this reviewer, Robinson gives one of his finest performances and is evidence for The Red House as a hidden classic. He never chews the scenery and tempers the character’s descent into madness with well-timed fits and starts that mesh perfectly with the psychological decline of the character as well as the plot. He seems to have a permanent weight on his shoulders befitting Morgan’s tortured soul. He uses not only physical movement beautifully but expresses emotion through facial expression and even voice, lurching between his character’s love for Meg, the desperation to keep his madness in control and the defeat when it overwhelms him completely. 

The Red House is wrongly described by some as a ‘haunted house’ story, but it certainly is one of a man who is haunted; by his past crimes, by the pain of unrequited or ‘stolen’ love and the terrifying and twisted love he feels towards the young girl in his care. In essence, it is a pure Gothic tale of secrets which would tear all down around them if revealed, as well as free those bound by them. In the climax of the film, Pete himself asks that he could be free of the screams as his ‘castle’ collapses around him. It will mean final peace for his tortured spirit. But it will also mean that Meg finds her questions answered and she takes a step into a future no longer determined by Pete or the terrible secret which has them all prisoners of the past. 

The Red House has suffered from the unavailability of a decent print for years, as well as its presence in the public domain meaning cheap VHS and DVD releases or compilations with B-features. As it is in the public domain, it has also been available online as well. As a result, it is easy to dismiss it as a B-feature and one to be overlooked. Yet it deserves far greater attention. It was a ‘sleeper hit’ upon its release and received solid notice. Dawes’s direction is tight, even if there is a little fat that could use some trimming, and its unique as an American rural Gothic tale. More to the point, The Red House is an American hidden classic which deserves its’ place in the pantheon of films from the classic era. 

This article is an entry in the Hidden Classics Blogathon run by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Please click onto the link to read other wonderful entries!

Paul Batters teaches secondary school History in the Illawarra region and also lectures at the University Of Wollongong. In a previous life, he was involved in community radio and independent publications. Looking to a career in writing, Paul also has a passion for film history.

Announcing The 2021 Swashbucklathon: Celebrating The Swashbuckler In Classic Film

by Paul Batters

Knights, pirates, buccaneers, musketeers, caballeros, gallant gentlemen and damsels in distress – what do they all have in common? They are all the perfect heroic protagonists in the swashbuckler film; a cinematic adventure with lots of exciting action, heroics and daring acts from heroes fighting the good fight. 

The 2021 Swashbucklathon will focus on celebrating, examining, critiquing and reviewing those films that focus on and feature swashbucklers at their finest! 

Think Robin Hood, D’Artganan, Captain Blood, the Count Of Monte Cristo, Zorro, the Scarlet Pimpernel and the many others who have graced our screens with a devil-may-care attitude as they bring on adventure and fun. Yet underlying this is often a desire to right what is wrong, stand for the oppressed and fight against the oppressor. More than often, the swashbuckler film is pure escapism and entertainment but who cares, they’re fun.

Please have a look at the rules below and I TRULY hope you will take part!

Outline Of Rules

  1. This Swashbucklathon is not just restricted to just reviewing actual swashbuckler films. Participants are encouraged to write on any angle regarding the topic area e.g. comparisons of film versions, actors or actresses known for starring in swashbuckler films, a specific character and how they have been depicted, production aesthetics etc
  1. Duplicates of films will be allowed for review but of course it’s a case of first in, so act fast. Whilst you are welcome to write more than one entry, there will be a limit of three posts per blog.
  1. This Swashbucklathon does focus on the classic era of Hollywood film – from the silent era to the 1960s. But please don’t let that hold you back, as all entries from all periods will be happily accepted.
  1. All contributions must be new material only. Previously published posts will not be accepted.
  1. The Swashbucklathon will take place through June 25th, 26th and 27th, 2021. Please submit your entries on either of these days or earlier if you wish. For those of you posting early, just remember that your entry won’t be linked until the event starts. 
  1. To express your interest in participating in the Swashbucklathon, you can so in the following ways:
  • please leave a comment on my blog along with the name and URL of your blog, and the subject you wish to cover
  • or you can always register by email at: For those of you who wish to register by email, please be sure to include the name and URL of your blog, and the topic you wish to cover.

Once you get confirmation, please spread the word about the Swashbucklathon by advertising the event on your blog and other social media. Please feel free to use one of the ads below to advertise the event.

For the record, I will be looking at The Prisoner Of Zenda (1937).

Looking forward to seeing you in June!

Paul Batters teaches secondary school History in the Illawarra region and also lectures at the University Of Wollongong. In a previous life, he was involved in community radio and independent publications. Looking to a career in writing, Paul also has a passion for film history.

The 2021 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon – It’s A Wrap!

Well the 2021 Classic Literature On Film comes to an end but hopefully not an end to people reading the work of contributors. As always, blogathons offer an opportunity to expand our horizons, discover films we have not seen and learn fresh perspectives on those films we have seen. Hopefully, everyone is inspired to watch more classic film as well!

Again, there may be some late contributions and I’m happy to add those in.

Below are each day if you care to re-visit or share with others.

Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Thank you to all our wonderful contributors and the fantastic support from readers. Remember to please leave comments and support these writers.

Paul Batters teaches secondary school History in the Illawarra region and also lectures at the University Of Wollongong. In a previous life, he was involved in community radio and independent publications. Looking to a career in writing, Paul also has a passion for film history.