Author: Ray Olson


Classic French Silent Films

For cinéastes of a historical bent, Kino Lorber’s 3-disc set Gaumont Treasures 1897–1913 is a pearl almost beyond price. It showcases the earliest development of narrative cinema in one of the most fertile of its seedbeds.


Ray Olson’s History of Film:  Silent Cecil

Clad for work in campaign hat and jodhpurs, flicking a riding crop, Cecil B. DeMille (1881–1959) was D. W. Griffith’s peer in the early American commercial cinema. He’s said to have made the first feature-length film in Hollywood, The Squaw Man (1914), a year before Griffith’s Birth of a Nation,


Silent Movies–Four Big Swedes

Very early in the history of movies, Sweden produced a couple of directors of the first rank, Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller, both of whom were brought to Hollywood, where each made a handful of features with major stars, most notably including Great Garbo, who came to America with Stiller, who had discovered her.


Western Silents

America’s movie industry committed to the western almost immediately, what with the sensational success of The Great Train Robbery (1903). Feature-length westerns came about a decade later, thanks to the nascent star system


Introduction to The Silents: The Classics

Calling the best silent films classics seems both humdrum and pretentious. Humdrum, because we tend to call any old thing classic, regardless of its quality. Pretentious, because what are most often called classics are the literary works of ancient Greece and Rome that modeled for subsequent Western literature its genres, forms, and techniques. Old movies just don’t seem analogous in quality, at least, to the epics of Homer and Virgil, the dramas of Aeschylus and Sophocles, the picaresques of Apuleius and Petronius.


Gregory La Cava–“The Best Mind in Hollywood”

Then, in 1936, comes My Man Godfrey, a romantic comedy of near-Shakespearean richness that turns around speculator-turned-bum-turned-butler Godfrey Parke. My touchstones of comparison are As You Like It, Measure for Measure, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, all of which resonate in this marvelous movie.


The Ealing Comedies

Will Barker, a commercial traveler with a passion for photography, bought “the Lodge” overlooking Ealing Green in West London in 1902 for the purpose of making movies. Cinema–very often television programs rather than movies–has been made there ever since. Recently, a couple of its studios hosted the servants’ quarters of Downton Abbey. The place reached its perihelion after World War II, when the production company, Ealing Studios, made a string of 17 comedies, from Hue and Cry in 1947 to Davy in 1958.  Those films brought British cinema to world consciousness as few never before, pleasing critics as well as...


Reading for the Movies 3:  Lavender Blue

Twenty years before Rascal (1963), one of the true masterpieces of American children’s literature–heck, of American literature, period–Sterling North gave us Midnight and Jeremiah, a beautifully illustrated (by Kurt Wiese; I’m trying to figure out the media, guessing pastel crayon and brush and ink on textured paper) novella that I suppose would be called a “chapter book” for young readers in today’s market. It’s a honey of a story, about an orphaned little boy in rural southern Indiana, circa 1903, who persuades his grandmother to let him bottle-raise a black lamb rejected by its dam.  The boy is Jeremiah Kincaid,...


Real-life Work in the Movies by Ray Olson

Real-life Work in the Movies By Ray Olson Since my post on William Wister Haines, I’ve seen the 1937 adaptation of his novel (first and best of the four of his I’ve read), Slim (1934), about a young electric lineman; his sweetheart, Cally; his mentor, Red; his friend, Stumpy, a grunt or ground worker; and the foreman of his line crew, Pop. I’m exceedingly happy to say that it’s a minor classic. Reducing the novel to a screenplay, Haines conflates several incidents in the book; for instance, Slim is injured twice in the novel, only once on screen, and Cally nurses him...