22 July 2021

One hundred years ago: 1921

In 'The Time Machine' section of Il Cinema Ritrovato Festival one of the yearly programs is 'One Hundred Years Ago', curated this year by Karl Wratschko and Mariann Lewinsky. They write at the festival site: "1921 turned out to be a surprising vintage, a meeting point of ‘not yet’ and ‘already’. Top directors Ernst Lubitsch (Die Bergkatze) and Victor Sjöström (Körkarlen) are still working in Europe; soon they will have left for Hollywood. Weimar Cinema (discovery: Die Ratten by Hanns Kobe) and avant-garde movements (Ruttmann and Richter) already make their mark, but Soviet production has not yet picked up. This probably explains why Gosfilmofond is able to offer us unique prints of imported films from its collection, works not seen in decades, such as Sessue Hayakawa’s The Swamp and ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle’s mythical Crazy to Marry, his last release before scandal and Will Hays abruptly transformed the popular idol into a non-person. Stars such as Alla Nazimova (Camille) and Henny Porten (Hintertreppe) not only continued their acting careers in 1921, they were also their own independent producers. When it comes to comedy, 1921 was an especially wonderful year, with extraordinary performers (Arbuckle, Biscot, Chaplin, Hardy, Keaton, Laurel, and Larry Semon) intent on making us laugh, all of us together – once again." For this post, Ivo Blom selected 21 postcards of films that premiered in 1921.

Henny Porten in Hintertreppe
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 649/1. Photo: Henny Porten-Film. Henny Porten in the classic Kammerspiel film Hintertreppe/Backstairs (Leopold Jessner, 1921).

Pola Negri in Die Bergkatze (1921)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 760/5. Photo: Alex Binder. Pola Negri in Die Bergkatze/Wildcat (Ernst Lubitsch, 1921).

Victor Sjöström in Körkarlen - The Phantom Carriage
Swedish postcard by Ed. Nordisk Konst, Stockholm, no. 1117/7. Photo: Svensk Filmindustri. Victor Sjöström in Körkarlen/The Phantom Carriage (Victor Sjöström, 1920). As he is the last one to die on New Year's Eve, the drunkard David Holm (Sjöström) is forced to take over the phantom carriage for a full year, collecting the souls of the dead.

Blandine Ebinger
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6578/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Nini and Carry Hess, Frankfurt a/M.

German cabaret singer and actress Blandine Ebinger (1899-1993) appeared in Die Ratten/The Rats (Hans Kobe, 1921). Author Erich Kästner described her as “This lisping, scrawny person with the big, severe eyes is a master of the tragic-grotesque.” Her cinema career continued for seventy (70!) years. Her more than 90 film roles were once bigger, once smaller, but all her characters distinguished through her impressive acting.

Sessue Hayakawa in The Swamp (1921)
American arcade postcard. Sessue Hayakawa in The Swamp (Colin Campbell, 1921).

Sessue Hayakawa (1889–1973) was a Japanese actor who starred in more than 80 American, Japanese, French, German, and British films. He was the first Asian actor to find stardom first in Hollywood and later in Europe. His 'broodingly handsome' good looks and typecasting as a sinister villain with sexual dominance made him a heartthrob among female audiences in the 1910s and early 1920s. 

Fatty Arbuckle
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 799/2, 1925-1926. Photo: Phoebus Film.

In 1920, American silent film actor, comedian Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle (1887-1933) signed a contract with Paramount Pictures for US$1 million. On 28 August 1921, his Crazy to Marry (James Cruze, 1921) premiered. But between November 1921 and April 1922, Arbuckle was the defendant in three widely publicised trials for the rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe. Following the trials, his films were banned and he was publicly ostracized.

Alla Nazimova in Camille (1921)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 830/1, 1925-1926. Photo: British-American Films A.G. Balag. Alla Nazimova in Camille (Ray C. Smallwood, 1921). Nazimova played the courtesan Marguerite opposite Rudolph Valentino as her idealistic young lover Armand. Camille is based on 'La Dame aux Camélias' (The Lady of the Camellias) by Alexandre Dumas, fils. The film was set in 1920s Paris, whereas the original version took place in Paris in the 1840s. It had lavish Art Deco sets and Rudolph Valentino later married the art director, Natacha Rambova.

Georges Biscot in L'orpheline (1921)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 1174/3, 1927-1928. Georges Biscot, presented in Germany as 'Biscot Meyer', in L'orpheline/The orphan (Louis Feuillade, 1921).

Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid (1921)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 665/2. Photo: Hansaleih. Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid (Charles Chaplin, 1921).

Larry Semon
Spanish collectors card by Chocolates Amatller, Barcelona, in the 'Artistas de cine' series, no. 11: Larry Semon. Image: Martinez Surroca.

Lawrence 'Larry' Semon (1889-1928) was an American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter during the silent film era. In his day, Semon was considered a major film comedian, but he is now remembered mainly for working with both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy before they started working together.

Not in Bologna, but also from 1921

Dorothy Dalton in Fool's Paradise (1921)
American postcard by Max B. Sheffer Card Co., Chicago (M.B.S.C.Co.), 1922. Photo: Paramount. Dorothy Dalton as Poll Patchouli in Fool's Paradise (Cecil B. DeMille, 1921).

William S. Hart in White Oak (1921)
American postcard by Max B. Sheffer Card Co., Chicago (M.B.S.C.Co.), 1922. Photo: Paramount. William S. Hart as Oak Miller in White Oak (Lambert Hillyer, 1921).

Diomira Jacobini in L'isola della felicità (1921)
Italian postcard. Photo: Fert Film. Diomira Jacobini in L'isola della felicità/The Island of Happiness (Luciano Doria, 1921). Caption: Towards new happiness.

Maria Jacobini and Lido Manetti in in Amore rosso
Italian postcard by Fotominio. Photo: G.B. Falci, Milano / Fert Film. Ida Carloni Talli, Maria Jacobini and Lido Manetti in Amore rosso/Red Love (Gennaro Righelli, 1921). Caption: During the corrida. Don Alvaro gets to know Juanita.

Vera Vergani and Nerio Bernardi in Il filo d'Arianna (1921)
Italian postcard by G. Vettori, Bologna, no. 453. Photo: Renato Cartoni (who was also the cameraman). Vera Vergani and Nerio Bernardi in Il filo d'Arianna/Ariadne's thread (Mario Caserini, 1921).

Ica Lenkeffy and Emil Fenyö in A szerelem mindent legyöz
Hungarian postcard. Photo: Korona Film Ica Lenkeffy and Emil Fenyö in A szerelem mindent legyöz/Love Conquers All (László Márkus, 1921). The film was scripted by Ladislaus Vajda and based on a novel by Ethel M. Dell. The subitle of the film is Minden poklokon keresztül/Through All Hells.

Pauline Brunius and Paul Seelig in En vildfagel (1921)
Swedish postcard by Axel Eliassons Konstförlag, Stockholm, no. 291. Photo: Skandia-Film. Pauline Brunius and Paul Seelig in the Swedish silent drama En vildfågel/Give Me My Son (John W. Brunius, 1921). Adapted from the play 'Skeppsbrott' (Shipwreck) by Samuel A. Duse. The title means literally 'The Wild Bird'. On 3 October 1921, En vildfågel premiered simultaneously in five cinemas in five different Swedish cities.

Teodora (1921)
Czech postcard. Armando Brasini's gigantic set for the Italian silent epic Teodora /Theodora (Leopoldo Carluccio, 1921).

Anna Q. Nilsson in Värmlänningarna (1921)
Swedish postcard by Officin. A.-B. Svea Film Imp., no. 17. Photo: Svea Film. Anna Q. Nilsson in Värmlänningarna (Erik Petschler, 1921), adapted from the play by Fredrik August Dahlgren.

Ila Lóth in Lengyelvér (1921)
Hungarian postcard by MFSI, no 24. Photo: May. Ila Lóth in Lengyelvér/Polish Blood (Béla Balogh, 1921).

Les Trois Mousquetaires, 15
French postcard by M. Le Deley, Paris. Photo: still from Les Trois Mousquetaires/The Three Musketeers (Henri Diamant Berger, 1921), based on the famous novel by Alexandre Dumas père, and produced by Pathé Consortium Cinéma. The Gascon D'Artagnan was played by Aimé Simon-Girard. The three musketeers were impersonated by Henri Rollan as Athos, Charles Martinelli as Porthos, and Pierre de Guingand as Aramis.

And please check out our posts on L'empereur des pauvres/The emperor of the poor (René Leprince, 1921), Favilla/Love's Labour Won (Ivo Illuminati, 1921), Il figlio di Madame Sans-Gêne/The Son of Madame Sans-Gêne (Baldassarre Negroni, 1921), La nave/The Ship (Gabriellino D'Annunzio, Mario Roncoroni, 1921), Il ponte dei sospiri/The Bridge of Sighs (Domenico Gaido, 1921), La preda/The prey (Guglielmo Zorzi, 1921), and La statua di carne/The statue of flesh (Mario Almirante, 1921).

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