A Year in Books/Day 150: Classics of the Silent Screen

  • Title: Classics of the Silent Screen A Pictorial Treasury
  • Author: Joe Franklin
  • Year Published: 1959 (Cadillac Publishing Co., Inc.)
  • Year Purchased: 1990s
  • Source: Antique Barn at the Ohio State Fair
  • About: When this book was published in 1959, silent movies could still be glimpsed in the cultural rear view mirror. The childhood memories of those over 35 would likely have included going to the movies before talkies existed, when the only noise in the theatre came from the accompanying orchestra or fellow patrons’ coughing and munching. Classics of the Silent Screen is split into two parts, with the first half devoted to Fifty Great Films and the second to Seventy-Five Great Stars. The variety of  films and performers is more interesting than the standard roll call usually found in contemporary studies, as the fame of silent movies and their stars has dropped considerably in the last five decades. Franklin is  both a solid film scholar and an unabashedly passionate fan-the ideal combination for a movie writer. The stills that adorn the text are priceless, and add greatly to the book’s appeal. It is well worth the effort to track this one down.

    Betty Bronson

    Betty Bronson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Motivation: When I bought this book, I hadn’t started writing about silent movies. I was just a young old movie fan turned theatre student, still in the early stages of learning everything I could on the subject. This was one of the first volumes on silent cinema I owned.
  • Times Read: 4 or 5
  • Random Excerpt/Page 72: “Even Peter Pan seemed almost ordinary by comparison when, the following year, director Brenon and star Bronson teamed again to make this second adaptation from Barrie. One of the loveliest and most poignant films ever screened, it was, sad to relate, a flop at the box office-putting an immediate end to further follow-ups.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10

8 thoughts on “A Year in Books/Day 150: Classics of the Silent Screen

  1. Joe Franklin. His office is right my theater. Very nice man. His office is filled with treasures. Just yesterday I dropped my his office to give him some mail that was delivered to me by mistake. He called me a lovely kid and gave me a pair of earrings. He’s a trip!


    • Lucky girl! I have always admired his books (especially the one reviewed here). They are one of the reasons I fell in love with old movies (especially silent movies). By extension, I guess you could say that he is one of the reasons I got into theatre as a teenager and, from there, into film writing. Now that I think about it, I owe him a lot!


  2. You have gotten me very interested in silent films. I have never watched one! Granted, I rarely watch any television at all, and even Youtube videos–I usually just listen to them. I wonder if I would have the attention span to sit through one. How long are they usually and which one would you suggest for a total beginner?


    • Yay, I love converting people to silent films! Feature films have been around for 100 years, so the lengths of silents are comparable to modern films. You will find them to be in the 1-3 hour range, although some are a bit shorter (Sherlock, Jr. is only 44 minutes long, for instance). This was also the golden age of shorts, which are usually about 20 minutes long. I am happy to make recommendations. What genre(s) do you prefer?


      • I could recommend dozens of movies but don’t want to overwhelm you! Sunrise (1927) is one of the most visually stunning films ever. It is romance/drama. The Crowd (1928) is a pretty relentless (and realistic) drama. The Wind (1928) is a melodrama with Lillian Gish. A bit over-done in spots but still really lovely. People on Sunday, which is a German film from 1930. Romance/drama. Pandora’s Box (1929) which stars Louise Brooks. Drama. It is wonderful. She is amazing. Flesh and the Devil (1926) with Garbo and (my favourite) Gilbert. Actually very erotic. And I will stop here. I could just keep on keeping on….


      • You are most welcome! My only advice is to be open-minded. It often takes a bit of time for the true impact of a good silent movie to sink in when you are new to the medium. Once you have watched a few, you start experiencing cinema with new eyes. So, there might be a period of acclimation but, once you turn that corner, then it is like a new world. Although silent cinema gave us the film conventions and techniques we know today, in some ways it is a different art form. As with movies today, you have to be discerning. There have always been bad movies and bad performers, always will be. Not every silent movie is a Sunrise, just like not every ‘talkie’ is The Godfather. Sometimes it’s just a Jack and Jill. End rant. 🙂


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