April 16, 2009
Nautical by Nature -- Under Full Sail: Silent Cinema on the High Seas
Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***½
It starts off with the rousing feature The Yankee Clipper (1927), directed by Rupert Julian (of Phantom of the Opera fame) and produced by Cecil B. DeMille. The plot is pretty creaky stuff, but the incredible high seas footage elevates the picture to an astonishing new level. (The film cost nearly half a million dollars to produce and flopped.) The film centers around the new high speed American ship the Yankee Clipper as it enters into a race with an equally fast British ship, from China to Boston. The winner gets exclusive rights to China's tea trade, but the captains wager each other's ships as well. The make matters more difficult, the American Captain Hal Winslow (William Boyd, later known as "Hopalong Cassidy") has fallen in love with Lady Jocelyn Huntington (Elinor Fair), who is engaged to the cowardly cad Paul de Vigny (John Miljan). By a twist of fate, both Lady Jocelyn and Paul de Vigny wind up on the American ship, rather than the English ship where they're supposed to be. During the long race, the Americans endure storms, thirst and a near mutiny, and Paul de Vigny's true colors come out. Perhaps the oddest addition is that of child actor "Junior" Coghlan as a stowaway who mostly provides some ill-fitting comic relief, but also helps out in the end. There is one heart-stopping sequence atop the ship's rigging, and the great bunch of salty character actors add to the film's flavor.
Flicker Alley's transfer is clearly excellent, with the exception of a few brief moments that turn faded and muddy (although, by comparison, it's easier to tell just how great the restored stuff looks). The gifted Dennis James provides a new Wurlitzer pipe organ score, and Coghlan -- still alive today at 93 -- contributes a brief audio interview about his experiences at sea during the movie.
The disc also includes four non-fiction short films, produced between 1922 and 1932, all with amazing sea footage. They are: Around the Horn in a Square Rigger (1933), The Square Rigger (1932), Ship Ahoy (1928) and Down to the Sea in Ships (1922). The latter documents an "authentic" whale hunt.
Posted by cphillips at April 16, 2009 11:27 AM