The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912-1929

51Q+nUeLhIL._AA160_I read The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912-1929, by David Pierce, published 2013 by the Library of Congress. I learned a lot about silent movies, and it had some good tidbits that I can use in future Roaring Twenties mysteries:

Coquettemp–in the early years of talkies (1929-1931), some producers shot films as both forms–silent and talkie–so they could be shown in theaters that had not yet outfitted for sound. Mary Pickford’s Coquette of 1929 was one of those. That’s something I’ll mention if and when the series progresses to 1929. (Right now, we’re in 1926.)

–the first feature-length silent films were produced in 1912 and there were only a very few. In 1913 there were about 50. From there the number shot up to over 900 in 1917, then steadily in the 600-800 range, until talkies came on the scene. In 1929, the number dropped to 300, then a dozen in 1930 as talkies took over. 

–Mary Pickford owned many of her films and paid for their preservation. Few other actors, directors, or studios did.

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–“It is Fairbanks’ representations of these characters (Robin Hood, Zorro, the Three Musketeers, the Black Pirate, etc.) that live today, filtered and morphed over the years by Errol Flynn, Antonio Banderas, Michael York, and Johnny Depp.” I completely agree with the author in this and have tried to portray Douglas as the creative innovator that he was. 


America’s First Action Hero: Douglas Fairbanks

Douglas Fairbanks was America’s first action hero. He invented the role with his 1921 silent film, The Mark of Zorro, an experimental movie that was so successful he embarked on a string of similar productions: in 1921, The Three Musketeers; in 1922, Robin Hood; in 1924, The Thief of Bagdad; in 1925, Don Q: Son of Zorro; and in 1926, The Black Pirate. He swashbuckled his way through these films, swinging from chandeliers, leaping from castle walls, fighting furiously with whips, swords, knives . . . and all while romancing the fair maiden. Watch this three-minute clip for an example of his acrobatic, action-packed adventures. His stunts seem somewhat cliche-ish today, but that’s only because everyone copied him and turned his innovative stunts into cliches. Note the delightful way he mixes humor with his stunts.

And speaking of special effects, watch this one-minute clip at the end of the Thief of Bagdad and see what wowed audiences in the Roaring Twenties. 

Interestingly, his son, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., carried on Dad’s legacy with similarly dashing roles. He was very popular, although he never gained the unprecedented level of international fame and adoration that his father had.