The Outlaw and His Wife (1918)

The Golden Age of Swedish cinema came quickly and went away quickly. Except for Ingmar Bergman (who decades later appeared as something of an isolated phenomenon) it lasted only a very brief period of about four years, towards the end of and just after World War I. During those short years, Swedish-produced films, helmed by the directors Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller, were praised by critics and became international block busters. Time and time again. Not only that, but they became tremendously influential on contemporary film-makers all around the world.

Perhaps even more spectacular is that most of those films have withstood the test of time and still feel interesting and relevant today. They impress, both by their advanced imagery and their competent story-telling. Sjöström and Stiller worked in many different genres, and for the most part they based their films on prestigious literature.

Victor Sjöström and Edith Erastoff in Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru aka The Outlaw and His Wife (1918)

As far as I know, nothing by Stiller is available at the Internet Archive, but a good selection can be found across Sjöström’s career. One of Sjöström’s first international successes was Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru, known in English as The Outlaw and His Wife.

Sjöström often played the lead in his own films. Here, he plays the fugitive Ejvind, who falls in love with the rich widow Halla, played by his future wife Edith Erastoff, pregnant with their first child. Some have said that their real love shines through in their acting.

Unfortunately, the version at the Internet Archive has only English title cards, not the original Swedish ones.

After the peak of the Swedish golden years, Sjöström and Stiller both went on to international careers. Sjöström’s was successful but short, and he made few films after the silent era. His final one as a director was Under the Red Robe (1937), but he continued as a producer and a celeberated actor in his native Sweden for two more decades after that.

This film is best enjoyed for its use of forces of nature as an integrated story element. Sjöström was a pioneer in this.

Edith Erastoff in Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru aka The Outlaw and His Wife (1918)

The Outlaw and His Wife
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Year: 1918
Running time: 1 h 13 min
Director: Victor Sjöström
Stars: Victor Sjöström, Edith Erastoff
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Soundtrack: Poor; synthesized score partly adapted to the images
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Windows Media (939 M)

Shoulder Arms (1918)

Charlie Chaplin is uncommonly well represented at the Internet Archive. I have found no less than 68 of his films there, out of a total 85 (as an actor). Most of those 68, however, are shorts and for that reason I will probably not write about them here.

Chaplin’s early career coincided fairly well with World War I. He started out as an actor in 1914, and in that year alone made 35 appearances (more than two fifths of his total output!). 20 of those he directed himself.

Today it happens to be exactly 95 years since armistice was signed by Germany, which in effect ended WWI. Chaplin, by that time a world famous star, had released Shoulder Arms a few weeks previously. In spite of his popularity, this was a very bold move. Many advised against making fun of a war that had killed millions and caused unmeasurable suffering. In fact, Chaplin himself had his doubts, but decided to press on.

Charlie Chaplin in Shoulder Arms (1918)

The entire thing proved to be a stroke of genius. Critics and audience immediately took the film to their hearts, and it was Chaplin’s greatest success to that date. It is still today a very funny film.

Chaplin plays a grunt in the trenches. First there is a very brief section set in boot camp (a little too short; lengthening this part would have done the film no harm). A large part of the film is set in the trenches, and Chaplin really manages to act out a diverse range of situations on what would at first seem to be a very limited stage. The props seem a bit cheap at times, but since this is a comedy, that is no real problem.

Much has already been written on the subject of why Shoulder Arms was so successful, so I feel that I have very little to add. What I can say, however, is why I like it myself. Chaplin was always good at charicatures, and this film is certainly no exception. My favourite is the almost midget-like German officer who uses every trick in the book to get at least a piece of respect. But Chaplin’s charicatures are never nasty, but warm and humane. This warmth must have been felt 95 years ago as well.

While I am no expert, i believe that the version at the Internet Archive is probably the original, not the re-release edited by Chaplin himself in the 1960s.

This film is best enjoyed for what it is: a light comedy on a very serious subject.

Charles Chaplin in Shoulder Arms (1918)

Shoulder Arms
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Year: 1918
Running time: 44 min
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Stars: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (593×480, not counting black border)
Soundtrack: Good; synchronized with images
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.3 G)

Tarzan of the Apes (1918)

Tarzan is often mentioned as one of the most iconic literary characters of the 20th century, after Sherlock Holmes and maybe Dracula. But Holmes and Dracula were both created in the 19th century, so perhaps Tarzan is the most iconic literary character to emerge during the 20th, disregarding comic characters such as Superman.

Today, when you think about Tarzan on the silver screen, you probably think first about Johnny Weissmuller, who played the ape man through most of the 30s and 40s. Starting with his films, and continuing for decades thereafter, the movies were not based on any of the books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Indeed, even the characters barely resembled those in the books (Boy and Cheeta were never in the books at all).

Stellan Windrow as Tarzan in Tarzan of the Apes (1918)

The first Tarzan movie Tarzan of the Apes, on the other hand, is very faithful to the original story. Perhaps too faithful, which may have been the reason why it was cut heavily, apparently from three hours originally, and even then they only did half the book. (The rest was adapted into a second film, The Romance of Tarzan (1918), which was thought lost until a partial print was discovered recently.)

But the existing film of only an hour is too short. You can feel the incoherence caused by the heavy cutting. Some films really deserve to be restored to their best possible versions. But restoration is expensive and time consuming, so for now we will have to settle with the butchered version.

The one-hour version at the Internet Archive is the longest extant version known to me (there are commercial releases with better music and image quality, but the same content). Yet, it can be assumed that other surviving versions contain material not used in this one. The best example is a 1937 cut of the first half of the film (Tarzan’s childhood) titled Tarzan the Boy, which was up for sale a while ago on eBay. Then there are rumours about a 73-minute version, and there are probably others. Even though a complete version may never be found, it should be possible to do considerably better than what exists at present.

The casting in the film is not exactly great. Even Edgar Rice Burroughs himself was said to be dissatisfied with Enid Markey as the young and beautiful Jane, and while Elmo Lincoln is certainly muscular enough, he does not exactly look like he could suddenly jump into a tree and start swingning away. Rather, he is lumbering around in the jungle. In fact, another actor, the Swede Stellan Windrow, was originally cast for the role, but he was drafted when shooting had only just begun. It is him we can see in some of the scenes where Tarzan swings through the trees.

The film was shot in the swamp jungles of Louisiana. A documentary was recently made about the filming. I have not seen it, but it is said to be very good.

This film is best enjoyed if you are unfamiliar with the original. It really is a great story, and this first filming tells it better than most later ones even though some liberties have been taken.

Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan holding Enid Markey as Jane in Tarzan of the Apes (1918)

Tarzan of the Apes
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Year: 1918
Running time: 60 min
Director: Scott Sidney
Stars: Elmo Lincoln
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Soundtrack: Poor, random music
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: DivX (426 M)

The Bell Boy (1918)

Poor Roscoe Arbuckle! Not only did he have to live with the screen name “Fatty,” which he hated, he was also falsely accused of causing a woman’s death by raping her. And even though he was completely cleared of all charges, his acting career was in ruins. In the end, of course, he did not live at all. He died about 80 years ago from a heart attack, only 46 years old.

Before that fateful rape trial, Arbuckle had been the leading comedian in Hollywood. He had acted against both Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton before either of them was famous. In fact, he was the one who discovered Keaton and made his career.

It is easy to understand how he came to be known as “Fatty”. His bulk was considerable, but in spite of it he was extremely agile and athletic. These were the days when stuntmen were very rare indeed (in comedies, they almost did not exist). In fact, some of the stunts that were made back then could probably not be duplicated today. They were simply too dangerous.

Roscoe Arbuckle in The Bell Boy (1918)

Arbuckle mostly made short films. Today’s offering was his second longest at only 28 minutes. The Bell Boy is typical of the kind of comedies that Arbuckle produced. Fast slapstick without too much story or character development to get in the way of anything important. The slapstick is often extremely well timed, and partly because of that most of the humour has survived the test of time and still feels fresh and alive today. There is also a fair amount of crazy humour that you would perhaps not expect in a film from this period. A few jokes do fall flat before a modern audience. But almost 100 years later, that is easy to forgive.

Apart from the comedy, the main reason why I enjoy watching these old films is that they allow you a quick trip back in a time machine, letting you see things like horse-drawn trams filmed at a time when they were actually in use. Wonderful stuff!

This film is one of about ten that Arbuckle made together with Buster Keaton and Al St. John. This was a very well-matched trio, not least because all three were excellent at making acrobatic and difficult stunts. See in particular the magnificent “dinner table vault” at 13:10. Keaton, of course, became one of the best comedians of the 20s (some say the best). St. John never went on to stardom, but had a decent career as a B western sidekick in the 30s and 40s. Many of his westerns can be found at the Internet Archive. Billy the Kid in Santa Fe (1941) is a typical example.

The Bell Boy lets you enjoy this magnificent trio doing what they do best. If you want an introduction to silent slapstick comedy, then this is it! The Internet Archive version, unfortunately, contains no soundtrack. This may deter some, but I actually prefer no soundtrack to a poor one.

This film is best enjoyed whenever you feel depressed. Or happy. In fact, anytime.

Al St. John, Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle, and Buster Keaton in The Bell Boy (1918)

The Bell Boy
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Year: 1918
Running time: 28 min
Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle
Stars: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Al St. John, Buster Keaton
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×480)
Soundtrack: None
Best file format: DivX (185 M)