Tuesday, March 12, 2019

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

It has been a strange day.  It is overcast and dismal here, so unlike yesterday when the world was sunny and brilliant blue, today is a day for indoors.

So I got my cup of coffee this morning and checked out the internet.  I clicked on a link - The Archive, and, through there went to this story about "Mad Jack" Churchill, which instantly intrigued me.  I began to see if there were any life stories about him.  You see, he captured 42 Germans in WWII with a broadsword.  You read that right, and if you click the link above you can read the story for yourself.  Then I went to Wikipedia - and I began to read his life story, but stopped as soon as I saw that "Mad Jack" Churchill, in 1924, had a bit part in the silent film, "The Thief of Baghdad."

So after I read that "Mad Jack" Churchill had also been a male model when he was young and needed to see photos of said model:

I wondered about the last name.  There is a far more famous Churchill (Winston, of course), which, it turns out, WAS NOT Jack's brother. The picture above certainly shows a better looking man than Winston's brother Jack (yes, Winston had a younger brother, Jack)!  I will definitely be doing more research on Jack Churchill (not Winston's brother), including trying to find books about him, internet articles, etc.

The real reason for this post today?  Well, the title tells you a little.  Since Jack had a bit part in the silent film, "The Thief of Baghdad", I wanted to watch the movie to see if I could find him;  to see if his part was not so tiny as to be unidentifiable.  For me, it was.  For a true researcher, with untold hours and a huge screen, perhaps they could find him. 

In any case, the FABULOUS film, "The Thief of Baghdad", distracted me enough for me to watch it's entire 2 hours and 28 minutes.  That is what "they don't make like they used to" - films.  Well, perhaps they do sometimes, but usually it is a foreign film, or an indie film, not popular and not well known.  "The Thief of Baghdad" was a blockbuster in it's time and evidently, the favorite movie of it's star, Douglas Fairbanks.

Watch the trailer above to see what I am rhapsodizing about.

The film is magic.  Douglas Fairbanks is magic.  The epic size of the sets are over the top and remind me of the flights of imagination I experienced while being read to as a child.  They are luminous, impressive, wonderful.

And yes, there are special effects.  And I loved them.  Douglas Fairbanks has to charge through fire, ride a magic white horse through the sky and, the best, at the end, ride the Magic Carpet through the city of Baghdad and off to the sunset with his love, the Princess.  The monsters that Fairbanks has to kill are pretty convincing for 1924, and I love his invisibility cloak.

The music in the background, as for all silent films, sets the mood for each scene.  The magnificent music of "Scheherazade"  by Rimsky-Korsikov is the basis of the sound track, which adds to the feeling of a lovely, exciting and above all, wildly romantic story.

I had read that Douglas Fairbanks was quite the swashbuckler, kept himself in shape and loved to do his own stunts, but I had never watched one of his films.  His acting was transcendent.  Yes, one must overact in silent films, but it made the entire presentation a ballet.  His grace, his movements were so fluid.  The underwater scene is not done closeup like the special effects in modern films, but it is from a distance so that you see the entire set and all the many actors on all their levels, as the Thief swims to his destiny.  It is enchanting and I found myself wondering how they did that particular part.

I got tears in my eyes when the Thief first meets the Princess and he realizes he cannot be carefree anymore.  I laughed when the princess wakes from her death, and about four dancing girls appear next to her bed in belly dancer array, smiling and waving their hands.  The actors' faces were so emotive and at the same time subtle.

I have to admit I love silent films.  They embody a type of story telling that no longer exists, a mime almost by the actors to get the pathos of the story across.  The days of huge stage sets and sets being built out in the California countryside, along with thousands and thousands of extras are rare, if not passed completely.  I encourage you to watch "The Thief of Baghdad", any Charlie Chaplin silent film you can, and study the look of the women, their hair, their radiance;  the men, the look of bygone days.  I can't do these experiences justice.  They open a door to a world long past, they are as relevant today, if not more, than ever.  

In our world today, weary with evil, death and human misery, we need beauty, magic, a story well told with a brilliant ending.  We don't need to be reminded that life is blood and guts and no one gets out alive, although there is a place for truth telling in films absolutely. 

If you long for beauty, magic and goodness, then watch this film in its' entirety - take an afternoon to be carried away to a wonderful land.

I'll be back after I find out more about the original point of my searches today - "Mad Jack" Churchill.


Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

I watched a PBS special about Dick Van Dyke over the weekend. He said that he only made what was considered "family films" except for one, where he played a silent movie comedian.

He had such respect for the comedians in those early films, that he jumped at the chance to act in it.

Patti said...

I saw your blog title on someone else's blog, and I just connected and had to stop by. You see...I used to write a classic film blog called "They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To." I abandoned the blog about 4 years ago, as writing about classic films had snuffed the joy out of watching them. But I love the films of yesteryear, and I don't think films of today can hold a candle to them.


Carla said...

How nice it was to find someone else who appreciates old movies. Truly old movies. It niggles me when I say that I love old movies and the other person responds that they love movies from the 90s. (1990s, not 1890s)

Several years ago, the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth featured a Sunday afternoon series of silent films, complete with piano accompaniment. Once they showed "Greed", which was marvelous; another day was snippets of the oldest bits of film they could find. Some no longer than a few seconds. It was extremely interesting.

Since I've never seen The Thief of Bagdad, I'll look for it and my husband and I will make an evening of it.

Very nice post!

SophieMae said...

In case you pop back in, Mad Jack Churchill was in the 1940 version. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033152/