14 November 2019

Raymond Griffith

Raymond Griffith (1895-1957) was an American silent film comedian, known for films such as Paths to Paradise (1925) and Hands Up! (1926). The 'Silk Hat Comedian' was always identified with his tuxedo and top hat. In the sound era, he worked as production supervisor and associate producer.

Raymond Griffith
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 347.

An acting style uniquely his own

Raymond Griffith was born in Boston, Mass. in 1895. His parents, James Henry Griffith and Mary Guichard, were both actors, as were his grandfather, Gerald Griffith, and his great grandfather, Thomas Griffith. When he was 15 months old, Raymond made his stage debut and by the age of seven he played the lead in 'Little Lord Fauntleroy.'

He lost his voice at an early age, causing him to speak for the rest of his life in a hoarse whisper. Griffith claimed that it was the result of his having to scream at the top of his lungs every night in the  stage melodrama 'The Witching Hour' as a child actor. Others have stated that a respiratory diphtheria had permanently damaged his vocal chords.

Afterwards, he worked in a circus, was a dancer and dance teacher, toured Europe with French pantomime players and joined the US Navy for a while, before settling in California in 1914.

In 1915, he made his film debut at the L-KO Kompany, where a played in countless comedies. In 1916, he switched to Mack Sennett's Keystone in 1916, where he remained for years. At first Griffith worked mostly as gagman and scriptwriter. After interludes at Fox and Triangle, Griffith returned to Keystone in 1918.

From 1918 he worked mainly in features. In 1921 he joined director Marshall Neilan's unit. While with Neilan, he returned to acting and, it is assumed, continued writing scenarios. In the fall of 1922, he left Neilan and got a contract at Goldwyn Pictures, which eventually would merge into MGM.

Griffith's first film for his new studio was the mystery-melodrama Red Lights (Clarence G. Badger, 1923) with Marie Prevost. He appeared in Tod Browning's The Day of Faith (1923) with Eleanor Boardman and Tyrone Power, Sr.

It was here that his career as star comedian began. In his 1991 article  'Another Griffith', Davide Turconi notes in Griffithiana: "As for Griffith's Goldwyn period, however, it is worth mentioning that he introduced certain changes to the films in which he appeared between 1922 and 1923 that clearly reflect his earlier experience with Lehrman (L-KO) and Sennett."

Jon Hopwood adds at IMDb: "During his Goldwyn period, Griffith created an acting style uniquely his own that was a hybrid of the comedic and the dramatic. In his Goldwyn films he played detectives & journalists and characters not entirely on the side of the law. His characters were not explicitly comic, but the characterisations were infused with Griffith's panache, spiced with comic business that occasionally crossed the threshold into slapstick. The style often tipped the scenarios over into farce. "

At MGM, he also played in dark tales such as The White Tiger (Tod Browning, 1923) starring Priscilla Dean, in which he is searching for the murderer of his father (Wallace Beery).

Raymond Griffith
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 327.

Raymond Griffith
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 581. Photo: Fanamet-Film.

The work of an inventive, unaggressive, amiably iconoclastic intelligence

In late 1923 or early 1924, Raymond Griffith signed a contract with Famous Players, where he made five pictures. The first was Changing Husbands (1924) directed by Cecil B. DeMille and co-starring Leatrice Joy.

Then he moved to Paramount where some of his best films were made, first of all Paths to Paradise (Clarence Badger, 1925) with Betty Compson, a caper film that is in all circulating prints missing its final reel. It was highly praised when it came out and a critic predicted that he would become Chaplin's top rival.

Even more famous is Hands Up! (1926), a Civil War comedy feature directed by Clarence G. Badger, and co-starring Mack Swain, which was entered into the National Film Registry in 2005. Sennett plays Jack, a spy for the Confederate States of America, who tries to capture a Union shipment of gold. Obstacles along the way include a pair of sisters, hostile Indians, and a firing squad. In his 1975 book 'The Silent Clowns', Walter Kerr wrote about it: "Hands Up! contains some work that is daring - for its period, certainly - and some that is masterfully delicate, the work of an inventive, unaggressive, amiably iconoclastic intelligence."

His next film, Wet Paint (Arthur Rosson, 1926) with Helene Costello and Bryant Washburn, brought him more high praise from the critics. Griffith made one more film in 1926 and two in 1927. Although 1926 brought him kudos from the critics, neither of the 1927 films received positive reviews, and, according to at least one fan magazine of the time, Griffith and Famous Players brought his contract to an end by "mutual consent."

Like many silent comedians, Griffith had a traditional costume; his was a top hat, white tie and tails, often augmented by a cape and/or walking stick. Unfortunately, many of Griffith's starring feature films have long since been lost, or have not been re-released.

The coming of sound ended Griffith's acting career, but he did have one memorable film role before retiring from the screen, In the classic anti-war film All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone, 1930) he plays the French soldier who takes cover in the same shell crater as German soldier Lew Ayres, who stabs him with a bayonet and is then forced to spend the night watching him die.

It was a small but pivotal role. Jon C. Hopwood: " Because of his wounds, the French soldier cannot speak above a whisper, which enabled Griffith to play the role. The scene, in which the French soldier slowly dies, is made harrowing and haunting by Griffith's performance."

Griffith then retired from acting, but not from the cinema. He continued to work at Twentieth Century Fox as a production supervisor and associate producer.

In 1957, Raymond Griffith choked to death at the Masquers Club in Los Angeles, California, aged 62. His asphyxia was due to partially masticated food. Griffith was married to stage and film actress Bertha Mann between 1928 and his death. They had one adopted daughter and two children of their own (one was stillborn).

Raymond Griffith
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 346.

Sources: Jon C. Hopwood (IMDb), Tim Lussier (Silents are Golden), Wikipedia (English and German; actually, the German version gives much more information) and IMDb.

13 November 2019

Herbert Rawlinson

Herbert Rawlinson (1885-1953) was a British actor who knew a rich career in American silent cinema, and less so in sound film. He began his film career as a star of the pioneering Selig company. Rawlinson played all in all in some 400 films.

Herbert Rawlinson
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 551/1. Photo: Roman Freulich / Unfilman.

Herbert Rawlinson
French postcard in the Les Vedettes de Cinéma Series, by A.N., Paris, no. 8. Photo: Roman Freulich / Universal Film.

The original Sea Wolf

Herbert Rawlinson was born in Brighton, UK, in 1885. According to English Wikipedia, he sailed on the same ship to the US as Charlie Chaplin (Chaplin sailed to the US for the first time in 1910, on his first US tour with the Fred Karno theatre company).

German Wikipedia adds that Rawlinson began his show career in the circus before he made his film debut in 1911 as the male lead Hank Gibson opposite Tom Mix in a supporting part as the sheriff in the short film The Cowboy and the Shrew, produced by Selig Polyscope and released in April 1911. Mix was already one of Selig's leading men from 1909 onward. In The Cowboy and the Shrew, Rawlinson plays a good-hearted cowpuncher who is tied up on instigation of a rancher's daughter who scorns his love, but he manages to escape and convince the girl.

Rawlinson became one of Selig's main actors, and had an enormous output of shorts there, already some 33 films in 1911 and some 40 titles in 1912. He alternated starring roles with major supporting parts, opposite such actors as Hobart Bosworth, Tom Santschi, and Sydney Ayres.

In 1913 the output slowed down to some 17 titles, as of late 1913 he appeared in his first feature, The Sea Wolf, produced and directed by, and starring, Hobart Bosworth, based on a Jack London novel, and now a lost film. Between the notoriously cruel captain, Wolf Larsen (Bosworth) and a shipwreck survivor, the gentle Humphrey Van Weyden (Rawlinson), a bond is created, against all odds. Jack London collaborated on this production and played a sailor in the film. After this first version, many other adaptations would follow in 1920, 1926, 1930, and 1941, plus TV versions.

Rawlinson's performance in The Sea Wolf didn't mean he stopped acting in shorts. Between 1913 and 1917 he continued to act in short films at Selig but also at other smaller companies such as Bison. In addition to 22 shorts Rawlinson did in 1914, he also acted in five features: four were directed by Otis Turner and produced by Universal: The Spy, The Opened Shutters, Damon and Pythias, and Called Back, while the fifth was again a Bosworth production: Martin Eden. Rawlinson had the male lead in The Spy and Called Back and major supporting parts in the other three.

Based on a James Fennimore Cooper novel, The Spy is about an American agent working for General Washington during the War of Independence, who pretends to be a British spy and eventually trades places with a condemned British officer, risking the gallows. According to Moving Picture World (see IMDb), he is rescued in the nick of time. In Called Back, Rawlinson plays a blind man who is the witness of murder by two Italian anarchists on a young, rich man. The victim's sister (Ann Little) who also witnesses the murder, faints and loses her mind. Years after, the formerly blind man and the sister meet and together they unravel the devious plot of the two murderers and their aids.

Herbert Rawlinson
British postcard in the 'Pictures' Portrait Gallery by Pictures Ltd., London, no. 82.

No longer solely a tough action hero

In 1915 Herbert Rawlinson again did a string of shorts but only one feature, The Black Box, again an Otis Turner film, this time a Sci-Fi drama about a private detective (Rawlinson) who investigates a bizarre murder case involving mysterious messages delivered in a small black box by the killer. Again, Ann Little and William Worthington were co-actors.

In 1916, in addition to some 14 shorts for Universal, often directed by former actor William Worthington, Little Eve Edgarton (Robert Z. Leonard, 1916) was the only feature. While doing his last shorts at Universal in 1917, Rawlinson mainly focused on features. In 1918 he only did features at Universal, such as Smashing Through (Elmer Clifton, 1918) and The Flash of Fate (Elmer Clifton, 1918), and alternated Western and mountain dramas with comedy.

During 1918, though, Rawlinson stopped his intense career with Universal, and started freelancing, hopping from one company to another. He no longer was solely a tough action hero, but also paired with leading ladies such as Mabel Normand, Marguerite Marsh, and Catherine Calvert. Several of his films were directed by film pioneer J. Stuart Blackton, such as A House Divided (1919), Man and his Woman (1920), and the class conflict-driven Passers-By (1920).

In 1920 Herbert Rawlinson launched onscreen the character of detective Craig Kennedy in the 15-episodes crime serial The Carter Case, which would have many remakes on the big and the little screen. In 1923 Blackton, who had gone independent in 1917, would return to his old company Vitagraph. Herbert Rawlinson himself, after making films for Famous Players, First National and many small companies, and not always in the lead anymore, returned to Universal in 1922, where he got star billing again and films were draped around his persona.

His first film was Tod Browning's Man under Cover (1922), a crime film that still survives and deals with a crook who makes good, and sets up a trap to outwit two crooks who have gained thousands from a fake oil well (the plot reminds a bit of The Sting). Barbara Bedford is his love interest. In subsequent films, Rawlinson was paired with actresses Virginia Valli, Lillian Rich, Eileen Percy, Katherine Perry, Claire Adams, and Helen Ferguson.

Herbert Rawlinson in The Black Box
British postcard by The Trans-Atlantic Film Co., 1915. Photo: Universal. Herbert Rawlinson in The Black Box (Otis Turner, 1915). Transatlantic was Universal's European film distribution branch in the 1910s, settled in London.

Herbert Rawlinson in The Black Box (1915)
British postcard by The Trans-Atlantic Film Co., 1915. Photo: Universal. Herbert Rawlinson in The Black Box (Otis Turner, 1915).

Directed by the worst director of all time

Herbert Rawlinson started to do more comedies and mystery films in the mid-1920s. After the mystery film Dark Stairways (Robert F. Hill, 1924), Rawlinson mingled Universal again with other companies such as MGM and Fox. In The Adventurous Sex (Charles Giblyn, 1925), he plays a sweetheart who spends too much time obsessed with his aeroplane, so his neglected girlfriend (Clara Bow) begins to enjoy a flapper lifestyle and soon an adventurer (Earle Williams) becomes a competitor.

In the years 1925-1927, Rawlinson's female partners were Madge Bellamy, Alma Rubens, and Betty Compson, while he played opposite Priscilla Dean and the famous comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in Slipping Wives (Fred Guiol, 1927). He was also Claire Windsor's love interest as a widower cavalry lieutenant, who remarries but his son (Jackie Coogan) opposes the new stepmother.

In the same year 1927, Herbert Rawlinson took a break from the film sets. From 1929, he performed on Broadway, and this for several years, returning to Hollywood only by 1933, when the sound film had become well established.

Rawlinson transformed himself into a character actor but acted mainly in supporting roles. Only in smaller films such as Enlighten Thy Daughter (1934), Hitch Hike to Heaven (1936), and Blake of Scotland Yard (1937), he still had the male lead.

In his last years, Rawlinson worked for radio on such programs as 'Cavalcade of America' and 'Escape'. In 1950-1951 Rawlinson also worked as a presenter and narrator for the CBS radio show 'Hollywood Star Playhouse'.

In 1953, Herbert Rawlinson died of lung cancer. Just one day before his death in 1953, he finished the film Jail Bait with the "worst director of all time", Ed Wood. Rawlinson was married to Roberta Arnold in 1917 but they divorced in 1922 or 1923 (sources differ). Rawlinson also was married to Loraine Abigail Long in 1924 (divorced in 1947). They had two children, David and Sally, who both had a short film career in the 1940s.

Herbert Rawlinson
American postcard. Photo: Albert Witzel.

Herbert Rawlinson
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 86. Photo: Roman Freulich.

Sources: Wikipedia (English, Portuguese, and German), and IMDb.

12 November 2019

Der alte Fritz (1928)

The German silent film Der alte Fritz/The Old Fritz (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1928) was one of the 16 films in which Otto Gebühr interpreted Friedrich II (Frederick the Great). It was the last of the Frederick the Great film cycle of the silent film era of the Weimar republic.

Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 87/1. Photo: National Film. Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz/The Old Fritz (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1928).

Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 87/2. Photo: National Film. Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz/The Old Fritz (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1928).

Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 87/3. Photo: National Film. Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz/The Old Fritz (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1928).

Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 87/4. Photo: National Film. Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz/The Old Fritz (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1928).

The Old Fritz

Der alte Fritz/The Old Fritz was a two-part German historical film, made in 1927 and released in January 1928 in Germany. It was the last of the Frederick the Great film cycle of the German silent film era - several sounds films would follow still.

Star Otto Gebühr was a look-a-like of king Friedrich II (1712-1786), and ‘Friedrich dem Großen’ would become his role of a lifetime. Introduced by his colleague Paul Wegener, director Carl Boese cast him as the king of Prussia in the silent film Die Tänzerin Barberina (Carl Boese, 1920). The role would become his breakthrough and he would play the role again and again, both on stage and on the screen.

Der alte Fritz/The Old Fritz was produced and directed by Gerhard Lamprecht, while the script was by Lamprecht, Luise Heilborn-Körbitz, and Hans Torius. Karl Hasselmann was the cinematographer, while Otto Moldenhauer took care of the art direction. National Film distributed the film.

In Part 1, the Seven Year War (1756-1763) has ended and Frederick has decided to restore his damaged country, but troubles pester him. His nephew, the Crown Prince Friedrich (Heinz Klockow), a persistent skirt-chaser, is married to Elisabeth von Braunschweig (Charlotte Ander), but the marriage is an unhappy one, while the prince courts a commoner, Wilhelmine Enke (Dina Gralla).

The King raises new taxes on alcohol, spices, and coffee. He only cares about war invalids and compulsory education. When he finds out about his son's affair, he expels the mistress. Frederick's friends are appalled, as he treats his son like once his father did to himself. Wilhelmine stands on her rights by claiming she is getting a child from the prince. The prince is separated from his wife, as not only he but also she has had several extramarital affairs. The King now marries his nephew to Friederike Luise von Hessen-Darmstadt (Renate Brausewetter).

Part 2 takes place in 1777. The young Emperor Joseph II (Peter von Hahn) wants to annex Ansbach-Bayreuth, because he thinks the Prussian king is already too old and too ill to lead another campaign anyway. Angered about this, Friedrich returns to the battlefield. But there is no battle, the war is undertaken and finished with treaties.

From now on, the king has to deal only with small stuff. He helps the miller Arnold to his right, because the latter is about to lose his mill to the Court of Appeal, so the King dismisses all the judges. Frederick is now despised by many because of his severity but also loved because of his care for his subjects. Lovingly and mockingly at the same time, they now call him "Old Fritz". He dies on 16 August 1786, seriously ill and bitter. Hardly anyone mourns for him.

Apart from the actors mentioned above, Julia Serda played the Queen in both parts, Berthold Reissig played Prince Heinrich, Wilhelm Hertwig played Prince Ferdinand, and Elsa Wagner played Princess Amalie. In Part 2, the Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm was played by Anton Pointner.

Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 87/5. Photo: National Film. Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz/The Old Fritz (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1928).

Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 87/6. Photo: National Film. Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz/The Old Fritz (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1928).

Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 87/8. Photo: National Film. Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz/The Old Fritz (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1928).

Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3185/1. Photo: National Film. Otto Gebühr in Der alte Fritz/The Old Fritz (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1928).

Otto Gebühr in Der Alte Fritz (1928)
German postcard by WJ Morlins, Berlin / Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 647/11. Photo: Karl Schenker / Cserépy-Film Co. Otto Gebühr as Friedrich II in Der Alte Fritz/The Old Fritz (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1928).

Sources: Wikipedia (English and German), and IMDb.