Noah’s Ark (1928)

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Director:  Michael Curtiz
Starring: George O’Brien, Dolores Costello
Duration: 133 minutes
Availability: Released as burn-on-demand disc by Warner Archives (Region 1)

Noah’s Ark isn’t quite the biblical epic you might expect it to be, not least because most of it is set during World War I!  For the first hour or so this is a relatively straightforward war film.  However, following an explosion, a number of characters find themselves trapped underground, which is the cue for a religious minister to read to his captive audience the story of Noah’s Ark, which takes up much of the second half of the film.

In the World War I section, George O’Brien and Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams (we won’t ask how he got that nickname) play two friends, Travis and Al, who find themselves in a train wreck on the night that war is declared.  They rescue a young German girl and take shelter just over the French border.  When the news reaches them that war has been declared, they take a horse and cart and escape into the night before the authorities reach them.  The narrative takes a number of unlikely twists and turns, but suffice to say that Travis marries the girl, who persuades everyone that she is American as she happens to speak English perfectly (very convenient), but Travis is made to feel guilty by Al for not helping in the war effort when Al joins up.  The (relatively small) part of the film which tells the story of Noah’s Ark itself finds the same actors playing similar roles to those in the modern day story, thus helping the audience to draw parallels between the two narratives.

The film works much better in the modern day sequences.  The story here is more compelling because, unlike the biblical narrative, we don’t know how it is going to end.  It relies a great deal on coincidence, but we care enough about the characters that it really doesn’t matter, and we are happy to just sit back and go along for the ride.  That said, the biblical section contains some great set-pieces, most notably the terrifying flood itself, and the costumes are also noteworthy – or the lack of costume in the case of George O’Brien who, as usual, takes time to show off a body that most of us can ever dream of!

The sound sequences haven’t fared as well, but must have been a logical idea at the time, as Hollywood quickly moved from silent to sound film.   This was a prestigious production, and costly in more ways than one: it is said that three people lost their lives during the filming of the flood scenes, although this remains unverified and may well have just been a story concocted as publicity.  Eighty-eight years after it was made, it remains remarkably good entertainment, and a good example of a film that you quickly forget is silent.

Michael Curtiz, who directed the film, was the directing equivalent of a chameleon, and during his fifty-year career was willing and able to direct practically anything that was thrown at him.  He directed one of the great horror films of the 1930s, The Mystery of the Wax Museum, and also one of the great adventure movies of all time, The Adventures of Robin Hood, with Errol Flynn.  A few years later, he directed the classic romantic drama Casablanca, and in the 1950s turned his hand to musicals as different as White Christmas and King Creole, the latter starring Elvis Presley.

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Carol Dempster: The Gentle Gypsy (1926 article)

 

 

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The Gentle Gypsy

Author: Gladys Hall

 (Motion Picture Classic: October, 1926)

“The Perfect Life…” we said to Carol, “what is your idea of it?  The life above all other lives you would like to live if you could wave a magic wand, say Abracadabra and presto, have it so?”

“If I had been a boy,” said Carol, “and I wish I had been a boy…I should like to have been a vagabond.  A gypsy.  A sailor sailing the Seven Seas.  I should like to have tramped the earth, to have slept under sun and stars.  I should like to have touched at strange ports…to have stayed in them just so long as I found color there.  Romance.  Adventure….then sailed on again…questing…seeking…working my way, if necessary…with just enough money to get from place to place… It seems to me that would be living at the quick of life.  Really living, you know.

“So few people really live.  So very few really live their own lives.  They live the lives of dozens of other people.  They are circumscribed by this and that, caged, hemmed in, forced to do the thing they really don’t want to do, doing it gracefully or ungracefully as they happen to be.   Poor things, most of them do it all gracefully.  After awhile they don’t care.  After awhile they become superficially content.  That is the saddest time of all.

“For me, the Perfect Life would be the life of a vagabond…roving…roaming…”

 Would Live a Man’s Life

The place was Sherry’s.  The hour was the tea-hour.  The atmosphere was one of head-waitered and hushed conventionality.  Well-groomed women sat to left and to right of us, imbibing lemon-tinted tea and nibbling at pastried flakes with well-bred indifference.  Carol herself, in dove gray, her gentle face musing, her clear eyes fired with dreams of the venturesome Might-Have-Been…if she had been a boy, with the heart of a vagabond.

We feel, now, that we did Carol some sort of injustice.  We don’t know what kind of injustice, but some kind, we are sure.  For we thought that she would say, demurely, “I should like a little rose-vined cottage in the country, with baby faces at the windows and a cow browsing in an adjacent meadow…”  Or that she would say, intelligently, as her contemporaries have impressively said before her, “I should like best of all a life of study and meditation…a life among my books.”  Or, possibly, “I live but for my Art…I wish to give to the world a Masterpiece…”

But she didn’t.  The gentle gypsy, toying with lobster salad, and fresh from The Sorrows of Satan, bespoke a life of vagabondage, a gypsy life, a man’s life…hardy and adventuresome and free….

“But as you were not born a boy,” we persisted, never knowing when to let well enough alone, “as you have to be a girl in this incarnation at rate, what then?”

“I’d still like best of all to be a vagabond,” smiled Carol.  “I suppose I’m not inherently domestic.  Not yet at any rate.  I wouldn’t want to do anything unconventional, however, being a girl.  I’m no an admirer of unconventionality.  It’s usually a pose – or worse.  But if I could, even being a girl, I’d love to be a vagabond…”

Just a Care-Free Girl

“I seem to have no possessive instinct.  I mean, I don’t care a bit about having things.  I head girls say ‘Oh, I’d give my life to have this…or that…’  I never feel like that.  I’m not crazy about clothes.  I don’t care a bit about jewels.  I haven’t the slightest desire to own cars or houses or anything concrete.  That may be a part of my vagabonding instinct.  Perhaps it is.  The thought of owning things, possessing things, tires me.  Bores me.  The fewer possessions I have to think about, the more care-free I feel.  I never want to have anything really desperately.  The instinct of possession is simply left out of me…”

 Romantic Musings

“I think The Sorrows of Satan will be a great picture.  I’ve seen some of the rushes and it looks wonderful.  I’m extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to play in it.  Ricardo Cortez does the most splendid work…I don’t think he’s ever touched this standard before…and Mr. Menjou is marvellous, of course.  He is, too, very lovely to work with.”

“What do you think about Platonic friendship?” we asked.  “We talked to John Gilbert on the subject quite a while ago, and he said that such a state is not possible between an attractive, unattached man and an equally attractive, unattached woman.”

“I’m not qualified to speak in the way Mr. Gilbert is,” Carol said.  “I never like to make a definite answer to any broad question, because I feel that I don’t know.

“Life changes so.  People change so.  What is true for you today is not true for you today.

“Besides, I’ve had so very little experience in the – well, the romantic way.  I really feel unable to speak on that subject.  But I don’t know why there shouldn’t be Platonic friendships between men and women.  I can’t imagine any good reason why not.  After all, every man doesn’t fall in love with every woman, nor every woman with every man.  That element doesn’t always enter in, I’m sure.  I know quite a few men I enjoy talking with, but wouldn’t even think of falling in love with.  I’ll have to wait, tho, to deliver my final pronunciamento (sic) on that score.”

Her Secret of Happiness

“I’ve bought a little farm up in the country…outside of Brewster, New York.  It’s an old house with old things in it…big trees…a swimming hole…I’m going up to it when I’m not working.  When I am working I’ll live in hotels…Perhaps when I retire from the screen I’ll live there permanently…unless I go a-vagabonding…I’d rather like to retire in about two years.  I know no one ever has retired when they have said they would – but I hope I do.  I think it’s such a sad mistake to linger on after your pinnacle is reached.  It’s a form of death and I am too keen about living…

“Then, perhaps, I might marry…have children…I realize that, for a woman, is the only real life, the only satisfactory life, especially after your first youth is gone.  It’s a matter of making choices, always, isn’t it?  We usually want two things very much.  To do two things.  We’ve got to take one or the other, never both.  Alternatives.  I think I’m a bit of a fatalist.  I believe in living each day as it comes along…doing the best you can…waiting for the next day to turn up.  It seems to me that that is about all a person can do, really.  If we plan – well, most of us know what becomes of plans.”

Obeys Her Hunches

“If I have one talent about another, it’s that of being instinctive.  Or, in the vernacular, I have ‘hunches’.  If I obey my hunches I come out all right.  If I dont (sic) – the reverse.  Even in the smallest matters…I’ve come to trust my hunches…”

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Over the last year or two I have been slowly working on editing together a collection of vintage articles from fan magazines and newspapers of the 1910s and 1920s that are written by – or interviews with – silent film personalities.  It’s been an on/off affair, and there was one point when I abandoned the idea completely and so published a handful on this blog.  But now it’s all but finished, and the final product (in paperback and Kindle format) will have twenty-five articles in total, covering eight stars/directors: Renee Adoree, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Theda Bara, Clara Bow, Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, F. W. Murnau, and Jack Pickford.  The hope is that further volumes will follow, but we shall see how it goes.

The above Carol Dempster article was intended for the project, but ultimately hasn’t made the grade.  As it was already typed up, I thought I would share it here.