Rethinking silent movies

In the sets of public-domain movies I’ve been exercising to (and writing about in C&I “Offtopic Perspectives”), I’ve encountered a variety of approaches to silent movies, some of which I’ll review in the next installment (probably in the May C&I):

  • Truly silent movies–no sound at all on the DVD.
  • Silent movies with wholly unrelated scores superimposed.
  • Silent movies with scores composed for the movie.
  • Silent movies in “color”–or something akin to color.
  • One “half-silent” movie: The first half silent with title cards, the second half full sound, including dialogue and dramatic sound effects.
  • And now: A silent movie with full composed score, continuous narration, and sound effects.

That’s The Iron Mask–made in 1929, starring Douglas Fairbanks as d’Artagnan, originally running 90 minutes or more, apparently with some tinted sequences, maybe with some sound sequences. Or not.

The way I just finished seeing it, the release date is 1952, it’s a lot shorter (1:12), and there’s sound throughout–a composed musical score, generally-appropriate sound effects (horses, dogs, pistol shots), and most importantly, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. does a rousing narration throughout the movie. Impressive. Although I wonder about the other 20 minutes. Maybe they were cut on purpose: One review of the full flick says it’s slowed by long flashback sequences, and there are no flashbacks in the movie I saw.

You may think of Douglas Fairbanks as “Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.”–but of course he was never billed that way!

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