Danger Flight (1939)

Tailspin Tommy is pretty much a forgotten hero of the comics today. But back in the 1930s, he was big, and in fact it was the first adventure strip with an aviation theme. It was popular enough to result in a number of screen adaptations, one of which is Danger Flight.

John Trent as Tailspin Tommy in Danger Flight (1939)

In all, two serials and four feature films were made about Tailspin Tommy. Danger Flight is said to be the best of the features, and it was also the last. The only other one available at the Internet Archive is Sky Patrol (1939).

There is a nice article about the history of Tailspin Tommy, mainly focusing on the newspaper strip but also covering the adaptations to some extent.

Danger Flight features a lot of cheaply made flight scenes and a lot of talking over the radio. Still, the plot is interesting enough to keep attention up, and even the child actors are not too annoying.

The film was made for juveniles and it shows. The positive side of that is there is a feel-good undercurrent throughout the film, reminiscent of the juvenile stories I read as a kid. Danger Flight does not qualify as great art, by any stretch of the term, but it certainly is entertaining as long as you are not looking for any deeper messages.

As an interesting piece of trivia, Tailspin Tommy actor John Trent was apparently himself a pilot and went on to become a successful test pilot after his acting career.

This film is best enjoyed by model plane enthusiasts, since model planes play an important role in the plot.

Milburn Stone (Skeeter), Marjorie Reynolds (Beey Lou), Tommy Baker (Whitey) and John Trent (Tailspin Tommy) in Danger Flight (1939)

Danger Flight
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Year: 1939
Running time: 60 min
Director: Howard Bretherton
Stars: John Trent
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (704×528)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (3.1 G)

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Seven Sinners (1936)

Carnival. Nice, France. Fireworks. Drinks, costumes and wild dancing. And in the middle of it all, the American John Harwood. Dressed as a devil and somewhat drunk, Harwood stumbles upon a dead man when accidentally entering the wrong hotel room. But when he manages to convince others to come to the scene, the body is gone. Who died? And why? The plot thickens with a train crash that just may have been sabotage and the disappearance of a woman that Harwood met.

The film thus described is Seven Sinners (released as Doomed Cargo in the US), a very nice mystery thriller.

Edmund Lowe and Constance Cummings in Seven Sinners (1936)

In many ways, this film reminds of Alfred Hitchcock‘s English films from the 1930s (many of which are also available at the Internet Archive, e.g. Secret Agent (1936), which also has a train crash as an important part of the plot). Though competently made, Seven Sinners does not have the edge in composition and editing that Hitchcock does. The story and acting, however, are quite up to Hitchcock’s standards, so if you enjoy Hitchcock’s British films, there is a good chance that you will enjoy this one as well.

There is another film titled Seven Sinners (1940) with Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne. I have not seen that one, but it too is rumoured to be good. It is avaiable at the Internet Archive, but that copy appears to be dubbed in German, so no good unless you speak that language.

This film is best enjoyed if you love mysteries. This one is better than most.

Constance Cummings and Edmund Lowe in Seven Sinners (1936)

Seven Sinners
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Year: 1936
Running time: 1 h 9 min
Director: Albert de Courville
Stars: Edmund Lowe, Constance Cummings
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (816 M)

Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914)

Usually, when reviewing a film on this blog, it is because I want to recommend it for one or more of its inherent qualities. In other words, I tend to focus on good film and stay away from bad film. However, there are a handful of films that are so historically significant that they deserve inclusion even though they are not very good. One such is Tillie’s Punctured Romance, the first feature-length comedy. It was also Charlie Chaplin’s first feature film, even though it was not “his” in the sense that he neither directed or produced it, and he did not even play the leading part.

Marie Dressler and Charlie Chaplin in Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914)

Poor Tillie has never been in love, so when Charlie comes along and plays the right strings, she falls flat before him. Charlie, however, is only interested in her father’s money, and he also wants to win back his old girlfriend Mabel.

For a fact, the film is not entirely without some good qualities. Chaplin, in particular, is good, especially in the slapstick scenes. But the comedy is not enough to hold the rather convoluted plot together, and in the end you leave it with a feeling of dissatisfaction.

This film is best enjoyed as a milestone in cinematic history. The Internet Archive also houses a 1939 re-release with synchronized sound and better resolution. That version is cut down by almost half, which may not necessarily be a bad thing, since it improves upon the original’s pacing. But then you do not watch a film like this mainly to be entertained. You watch it for its historical significance. So I would be inclined to recommend the original after all.

Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand in Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914)

Tillie’s Punctured Romance
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Year: 1914
Running time: 1 h 11 min
Director: Mack Sennett
Stars: Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Low (352×262)
Soundtrack: Poor; random jazz music
Sound Quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG1 (698 M)

College (1927)

There can be no doubt, in my mind at least, that Buster Keaton was the master of comedy in the 1920s. Sure, Chaplin and Lloyd were also brilliant, each in his own way, but none of them reached Keaton’s levels in terms of perfection, athleticism and timing. He was, simply put, damn funny.

Lucky for us, then, that practically all of his best films are available at the Internet Archive. One good example, and one of my personal favourites, is College.

Buster Keaton playing baseball in College (1927)

Keaton here plays the bookworm Ronald who really wants to study to perfect his life, but the girl he falls in love with will only accept him if he joins the college with the best athletics, and proves that he can handle sports as well as books.

If you watch this film because you are interested in sports in the 1920s (not a very bad reason) then you will have to wait a while before the real athletic action starts. But it is worth the wait!

In addition to the sports, there are some absolutely wonderfully funny scenes with Keaton as a bartender. Well worth watching for those alone.

If you cannot stand silent film without a soundtrack, there is another copy with a piano score (not sure how good it is) but considerably lower image quality.

This film is best enjoyed by any fan of silent film in general or Buster Keaton in particular. Keaton really shows how to make a perfect comedy here.

Buster Keaton failing at the pole vault in College (1927)

College
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Year: 1927
Running time: 1 h 5 min
Director: James W Horne, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Soundtrack: None
Best file format: MPG4 (933 M)