1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

by violatorius | created - 23 Oct 2018 | updated - 1 month ago | Public

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die is a film reference book edited by Steven Jay Schneider with original essays on each film contributed by over 70 film critics. It is a part of a series designed and produced by Quintessence Editions, a London-based company, and published in English-language versions by Cassell Illustrated (UK), ABC Books (the publishing division of Australian Broadcasting Corporation), and Barron's (USA). The first edition was published in 2003; the most recent edition was published in 2015. Contributors include Adrian Martin, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Richard Peña, David Stratton, and Margaret Pomeranz.

The list had originally 1001 titles prior it's release but since then there's been other additional titles added. This list includes all of the book editions including the most recent, the 2018 Edition.


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1. A Trip to the Moon (1902)

TV-G | 13 min | Short, Action, Adventure

A group of astronomers go on an expedition to the Moon.

Director: Georges Méliès | Stars: Georges Méliès, Victor André, Bleuette Bernon, Brunnet

Votes: 40,087

When thinking about A Trip to the Moon, one’s mind is quickly captured by the original and mythic idea of early filmmaking as an art whose “rules” were established in the very process of its production. This French movie was released in 1902 and represents a revolution for the time, given its length (approximately fourteen minutes), as compared to the more common two-minute short films produced at the beginning of last century. A Trip to the Moon directly reflects the histrionic personality of its director, Georges Méliès, whose past as a theater actor and magician influences the making of the movie. The film boldly experiments with some of the most famous cinematic techniques, such as superimpositions, dissolves, and editing practices that would be widely used later on. Despite the simplicity of its special effects, the film is generally considered the first example of science-fiction cinema. It offers many elements characteristic of the genre—a spaceship, the discovery of a new frontier—and establishes most of its conventions. The movie opens with a Scientific Congress in which Professor Barbenfouillis (played by Méliès himself) tries to convince his colleagues to take part in a trip to explore the moon. Once his plan is accepted, the expedition is organized and the scientists are sent to the moon on a space ship. The missile-like ship lands right in the eye of the moon, which is represented as an anthropomorphic being. Once on the surface, the scientists soon meet the hostile inhabitants, the Selenites, who take them to their King. After discovering that the enemies easily disappear in a cloud of smoke with the simple touch of an umbrella, the French men manage to escape and return to Earth. They fall into the ocean and explore the abyss until they are finally rescued and honored in Paris as heroes. Méliès here creates a movie that deserves a legitimate place among the milestones in world cinema history. Despite its surreal look, A Trip to the Moon is an entertaining and groundbreaking film able to combine the tricks of the theater with the infinite possibilities of the cinematic medium. Méliès, the magician, was an orchestrator more than a director; he also contributed to the movie as a writer, actor, producer, set and costume designer, and cinematographer, creating special effects that were considered spectacular at the time. The first true science-fiction film cannot be missed by a spectator looking for the origin of those conventions that would later influence the entire genre and its most famous entries. In a more general sense, A Trip to the Moon can also be regarded as the movie that establishes the major difference between cinematic fiction and nonfiction. During a time when filmmaking mostly portrayed daily life (such as in the films of the Lumière brothers at the end of the 19th century), Méliès was able to offer a fantasy constructed for pure entertainment. He opened the doors to future film artists by visually expressing his creativity in a way utterly uncommon to movies of the time. CFe

2. The Great Train Robbery (I) (1903)

TV-G | 11 min | Short, Action, Crime

A group of bandits stage a brazen train hold-up, only to find a determined posse hot on their heels.

Director: Edwin S. Porter | Stars: Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson, A.C. Abadie, George Barnes, Justus D. Barnes

Votes: 15,664

Most histories regard The Great Train Robbery as the first Western, initiating a genre that was in a few short years to become the most popular in American cinema. Made by the Edison Company in November 1903, The Great Train Robbery was the most commercially successful film of the pre-Griffith period of American cinema and spawned a host of imitations. What is exceptional about Edwin S. Porter’s film is the degree of narrative sophistication, given the early date. There are over a dozen separate scenes, each further developing the story. In the opening scene, two masked robbers force a telegraph operator to send a false message so that the train will make an unscheduled stop. In the next scene, bandits board the train. The robbers enter the mail car, and, after a fight, open the safe. In the following scene, two robbers overpower the driver and fireman of the train and throw one of them off. Next the robbers stop the train and hold up the passengers. One runs away and is shot. The robbers then escape aboard the engine, and in the subsequent scene we see them mount horses and ride off. Meanwhile, the telegraph operator on the train sends a message calling for assistance. In a saloon, a newcomer is being forced to dance at gunpoint, but when the message arrives everyone grabs their rifles and exits. Cut to the robbers pursued by a posse. There is a shoot-out, and the robbers are killed. There’s one extra shot, the best known in the film, showing one of the robbers firing point blank out of the screen. This was, it seems, sometimes shown at the start of the film, sometimes at the end. Either way, it gave the spectator a sense of being directly in the line of fire. One actor in The Great Train Robbery was G.M. Anderson (real name Max Aronson). Among other parts, he played the passenger who is shot. Anderson was shortly to become the first star of Westerns, appearing as Bronco Billy in over a hundred films, beginning in 1907. In later years some have challenged the claim of The Great Train Robbery to be regarded as the first Western, on the grounds either that it is not the first or that it is not a Western. It is certainly true that there are earlier films with a Western theme, such as Thomas Edison’s Cripple Creek Bar-Room Scene (1899), but they do not have the fully developed narrative of Porter’s film. It’s also true that it has its roots both in stage plays incorporating spectacular railroad scenes, and in other films of daring robberies that weren’t Westerns. Nor can its claim to being a true Western be based on authentic locations, because The Great Train Robbery was shot on the Delaware and Lackawanna Railroad in New Jersey. But train robberies had since the days of Jesse James been part of Western lore, and other iconic elements such as six-shooters, cowboy hats, and horses all serve to give the film a genuine Western feel. EB

3. The Birth of a Nation (1915)

TV-PG | 195 min | Drama, History, War

The Stoneman family finds its friendship with the Camerons affected by the Civil War, both fighting in opposite armies. The development of the war in their lives plays through to Lincoln's assassination and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan.

Director: D.W. Griffith | Stars: Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Henry B. Walthall, Miriam Cooper

Votes: 20,891 | Gross: $10.00M

Simultaneously one of the most revered and most reviled films ever made, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation is important for the very reasons that prompt both of those divergent reactions. In fact, rarely has a film so equally deserved such praise and scorn, which in many ways raises the film’s estimation not just in the annals of cinema but as an essential historic artifact (some might say relic). Though it was based on Thomas Dixon’s explicitly racist play The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, by many accounts Griffith was indifferent to the racist bent of the subject matter. Just how complicit that makes him in delivering its ugly message has been cause for almost a century of debate. However, there has been no debate concerning the film’s technical and artistic merits. Griffith was, as usual, more interested in the possibilities of the medium than the message, and in this regard he set the standards for modern Hollywood. Most overtly, The Birth of a Nation was the first real historical epic, proving that even in the silent era audiences were willing to sit through a nearly three-hour drama. But with countless artistic innovations, Griffith essentially created contemporary film language, and although elements of The Birth of a Nation may seem quaint or dated by contemporary standards, virtually every film is beholden to it in one way, shape, or form. Griffith introduced the use of dramatic close-ups, tracking shots, and other expressive camera movements; parallel action sequences, crosscutting, and other editing techniques; and even the first orchestral score. It’s a shame all these groundbreaking elements were attached to a story of such dubious value. The first half of the film begins before the Civil War, explaining the introduction of slavery to America before jumping into battle. Two families, the northern Stonemans and the southern Camerons, are introduced. The story is told through these two families and often their servants, epitomizing the worst racial stereotypes. As the nation is torn apart by war, the slaves and their abolitionist supporters are seen as the destructive force behind it all. The film’s racism grows even worse in its second half, set during Reconstruction and featuring the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, introduced as the picture’s would-be heroes. The fact that Griffith jammed a love story in the midst of his recreated race war is absolutely audacious. It’s thrilling and disturbing, often at the same time. The Birth of a Nation is no doubt a powerful piece of propaganda, albeit one with a stomach-churning political message. Only the puritanical Ku Klux Klan can maintain the unity of the nation, it seems to be saying, so is it any wonder that even at the time the film was met with outrage? It was protested by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), sparked riots, and later forced Griffith himself to answer criticisms with his even more ambitious Intolerance (1916). Still, the fact that The Birth of a Nation remains respected and studied to this day—despite its subject matter—reveals its lasting importance. JKl

4. Les vampires (1915)

Not Rated | 421 min | Action, Adventure, Crime

An intrepid reporter and his loyal friend battle a bizarre secret society of criminals known as The Vampires.

Director: Louis Feuillade | Stars: Musidora, Édouard Mathé, Marcel Lévesque, Jean Aymé

Votes: 3,938

Louis Feuillade’s legendary opus has been cited as a landmark movie serial, a precursor of the deep-focus aesthetic later advanced by Jean Renoir and Orson Welles, and a close cousin to the surrealist movement, but its strongest relationship is to the development of the movie thriller. Segmented into ten loosely connected parts that lack cliffhanger endings, vary widely in length, and were released at irregular intervals, Les Vampires falls somewhere between a film series and a film serial. The convoluted, often inconsistent plot centers on a flamboyant gang of Parisian criminals, the Vampires, and their dauntless opponent, the reporter Philippe Guérande (Edouard Mathé). The Vampires, masters of disguise who often dress in black hoods and leotards while carrying out their crimes, are led by four successive “Grand Vampires,” each killed off in turn, each faithfully served by the vampish Irma Vep (her name an anagram of Vampire), who constitutes the heart and soul not only of the Vampires but also of Les Vampires itself. Portrayed with voluptuous vitality by Musidora, who became a star as a result, Irma is the film’s most attractive character, clearly surpassing the pallid hero Guérande and his hammy comic sidekick Mazamette (Marcel Lévesque). Her charisma undercuts the film’s good-versus-evil theme and contributes to its somewhat amoral tone, reinforced by the way the good guys and the bad guys often use the same duplicitous methods and by the disturbingly ferocious slaughter of the Vampires at the end. Much like the detective story and the haunted-house thriller, Les Vampires creates a sturdy-looking world of bourgeois order while also undermining it. The thick floors and walls of each château and hotel become porous with trap doors and secret panels. Massive fireplaces serve as thoroughfares for assassins and thieves, who scurry over Paris rooftops and shimmy up and down drainpipes like monkeys. Taxicabs bristle with stowaways on their roofs and disclose false floors to eject fugitives into convenient manholes. At one point, the hero unsuspectingly sticks his head out the window of his upper-story apartment, only to be looped around the neck by a wire snare wielded from below; he is yanked down to the street, bundled into a large basket, and whisked off by a taxi in less time than it takes to say “Irma Vep!” In another scene, a wall with a fireplace opens up to disgorge a large cannon, which slides to the window and lobs shells into a nearby cabaret. Reinforcing this atmosphere of capricious stability, the plot is built around a series of tour de force reversals, involving deceptive appearances on both sides of the law: “dead” characters come to life, pillars of society (a priest, a judge, a policeman) turn out to be Vampires, and Vampires are revealed to be law enforcers operating in disguise. It is Feuillade’s ability to create, on an extensive and imaginative scale, a double world—at once weighty and dreamlike, recognizably familiar and excitingly strange—that is of central importance to the evolution of the movie thriller and marks him as a major pioneer of the form. MR

5. Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916)

Passed | 197 min | Drama, History

93 Metascore

The story of a poor young woman, separated by prejudice from her husband and baby, is interwoven with tales of intolerance from throughout history.

Director: D.W. Griffith | Stars: Lillian Gish, Robert Harron, Mae Marsh, F.A. Turner

Votes: 13,117 | Gross: $2.18M

Perhaps in part a retort to those who found fault with the racial politics in The Birth of a Nation (1915), D.W. Griffith was equally concerned to argue against film censorship. This was addressed more directly in the pamphlet issued at the time of Intolerance’s exhibition, The Rise and Fall of Free Speech in America. Griffith’s design for this film, which he finalized in the weeks following the release of his earlier epic production, is to juxtapose four stories from different periods of history that illustrate “Love’s struggle throughout the ages.” These include a selection of events from the life of Jesus; a tale from ancient Babylon, whose king is betrayed by those who resent his rejection of religious sectarianism; the story of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of French Protestants by King Charles IX of France on the perfidious advice of his mother; and a modern story in which a young boy, wrongly convicted of the murder of a companion, is rescued from execution at the last minute by the intervention of his beloved, who gains a pardon from the governor. These stories are not presented in series. Instead, Griffith cuts from one to another and often introduces suspenseful crosscutting within the stories as well. This revolutionary structure proved too difficult for most filmgoers at the time, who may also have been put off by Intolerance’s length (more than three hours). Griffith may have invested as much as $2 million in the project, but the film never came close to making back its costs, even when recut and released as two separate features, The Fall of Babylon and The Mother and the Law. No expenses were spared in the impressive historical recreations. The enormous sets for the Babylon story, which long afterward remained a Hollywood landmark, were dressed with 3,000 extras. These production values were equaled by the sumptuous costumes and elaborate crowd scenes of the French story. Though others wrote some title cards, Griffith himself was responsible for the complicated script, which he continued to work on as production progressed. His stock company of actors performed admirably in the various roles. Constance Talmadge is particularly effective as the “Mountain Girl” in love with the ill-fated Prince Belshazzar (Alfred Paget) in the Babylon story, as are Mae Marsh and Bobby Harron as the reunited lovers in the modern story. As in The Birth of a Nation, Griffith uses the structures of Victorian melodrama to make his political points. Intolerance is examined through the lens of tragic love, which lends emotional energy and pathos to the narratives. In the Babylonian story, Belshazzar and his beloved Attarea (Seena Owen) commit suicide rather than fall into the hands of the victorious Cyrus the Persian (George Siegmann), and in the French story a young couple, he Catholic and she Protestant, are unable to escape the massacre. Intolerance is a monument to Griffith’s talent for screenwriting, directing actors, designing shots, and editing—a one-of-a-kind masterpiece on a scope and scale that has never been equaled. Meant to persuade, this film exerted more influence on the Soviet revolutionary cinema of Sergei Eisenstein and others than on Griffith’s American contemporaries. RBP

6. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Not Rated | 67 min | Fantasy, Horror, Mystery

Hypnotist Dr. Caligari uses a somnambulist, Cesare, to commit murders.

Director: Robert Wiene | Stars: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover

Votes: 51,654

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the keystone of a strain of bizarre, fantastical cinema that flourished in Germany in the 1920s and was linked, somewhat spuriously, with the Expressionist art movement. If much of the development of the movies in the medium’s first two decades was directed toward the Lumière-style “window on the world,” with fictional or documentary stories presented in an emotionally stirring manner designed to make audiences forget they were watching a film, Caligari returns to the mode of Georges Méliès by constantly presenting stylized, magical, theatrical effects that exaggerate or caricature reality. In this film, officials perch on ridiculously high stools, shadows are painted on walls and faces, jagged cutout shapes predominate in all the sets, exteriors are obviously painted, and unrealistic backdrops and performances are stylized to the point of hysteria. Writers Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz conceived the film as taking place in its own out-of-joint world, and director Robert Wiene and set designers Hermann Warm, Walter Roehrig, and Walter Reimann put a twist on every scene and even intertitle to insist on this. Controversially, Fritz Lang—at an early stage attached as director—suggested that the radical style of Caligari would be too much for audiences to take without some “explanation.” Lang devised a frame story in which hero Francis (Friedrich Feher) recounts the story—of sinister mesmerist charlatan Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss), his zombielike somnambulist slave Cesare (Conrad Veidt), and a series of murders in the rickety small town of Holstenwall—and is finally revealed to be an asylum inmate who, in The Wizard of Oz (1939) style, has imagined a narrative that incorporates various people in his daily life. This undercuts the antiauthoritarian tone of the film as Dr. Caligari, in the main story an asylum director who has become demented, is revealed to be a genuinely decent man out to help the hero. However, the asylum set in the frame story is exactly the same “unreal” one seen in the flashback, making the whole film and not just Francis’s bracketed story somehow unreliable. Indeed, by revealing its expressionist vision to be that of a madman, the film could even appeal to conservatives who deemed all modernist art as demented. Wiene, less innovative than most of his collaborators, makes surprisingly little use of cinematic technique, with the exception of the flashback-within-a-flashback as Krauss is driven mad by superimposed instructions that he “must become Caligari.” The film relies entirely on theatrical devices, the camera fixed center stage as the sets are displayed and the actors (especially Veidt) providing any movement or impact. Lang’s input did serve to make the movie a strange species of amphibian: It plays as an art movie to the highclass crowds who appreciate its innovations, but it’s also a horror movie with a gimmick. With its sideshow ambience, hypnotic mad scientist villain, and leotard-clad, heroine-abducting monster, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a major early entry in the horror genre, introducing images, themes, characters, and expressions that became fundamental to the likes of Tod Browning’s Dracula and james Whale’s Frankenstein (both 1931). KN

7. Broken Blossoms (1919)

Not Rated | 90 min | Drama, Romance

A frail waif, abused by her brutal boxer father in London's seedy Limehouse District, is befriended by a sensitive Chinese immigrant with tragic consequences.

Director: D.W. Griffith | Stars: Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Donald Crisp, Arthur Howard

Votes: 8,779

D.W. Griffith’s reputation in film studies is, if slightly overstated, nevertheless entirely unimpeachable. American (and world) cinema would surely be a different beast without his many contributions. The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance are, rightly, his most renowned films, remembered for their remarkable manipulations of story and editing. But another of his films, 1919’s Broken Blossoms, has always stood out as among his very best, and it is surely his most beautiful. Along with William Beaudine’s glorious Mary Pickford vehicle Sparrows, Broken Blossoms exemplifies what was known in Hollywood as the “soft style.” This was the ultimate in glamour photography: Cinematographers used every available device—powder makeup, specialized lighting instruments, oil smeared on the lens, even immense sheets of diaphanous gauze hung from the studio ceiling—to soften, highlight, and otherwise accentuate the beauty of their stars. In Broken Blossoms, the face of the immortal Lillian Gish literally glows with a lovely, unearthly luminescence, outshining all other elements on the screen. The beauty of Broken Blossoms must be experienced, for it is truly stunning. Gish and her costar, the excellent Richard Barthelmess, glide hauntedly through a London landscape defined by fog, eerie alleyway lights, and arcane, “Orientalist” sets. The film’s simple story of forbidden love is complemented perfectly by the gorgeous, mysterious production design, created by Joseph Stringer. No other film looks like Broken Blossoms. The collaboration between Griffith and Gish is one of American cinema’s most fruitful: the two also worked together on Intolerance, The Birth of a Nation, Orphans of the Storm, and Way Down East, in addition to dozens of shorts. Surely this director–actor collaboration ranks with Scorsese–De Niro, Kurosawa–Mifune, and Leone–Eastwood, to name a few; indeed, it is the standard by which all others should be judged. Griffith finds a perfect balance between the story’s mundanity and the production’s seedy lavishness (much of the film takes place in opium dens and dockside dives). It takes a skilled and confident director to handle a form/function split like this one; this is Griffith at the top of his abilities. It is the tension between the everyday and the extraordinary that drives on Broken Blossoms, securing its place in film history. EdeS

8. Way Down East (1920)

Passed | 145 min | Drama, Romance

A naive country girl is tricked into a sham marriage by a wealthy womanizer, then must rebuild her life despite the taint of having borne a child out of wedlock.

Director: D.W. Griffith | Stars: Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Mrs. David Landau, Lowell Sherman

Votes: 4,735 | Gross: $4.50M

Soon after The Birth of a Nation (1915), one of the most profitable films ever made, D.W. Griffith saw his career go into decline, mostly as a result of his inability to adapt to the changing desires of the filmgoing public. Griffith had specialized in bringing Victorian melodrama, with its tales of threatened female innocence, to the screen. By 1920, however, audiences had begun to show less interest in virtue rescued or preserved. It was therefore a surprise that Griffith decided to adapt for the screen the 1890s stage melodrama Way Down East, not to mention that he was able to breathe new life into the story and make it into a very successful film. Anna Moore (Lillian Gish) leaves her small New England village to live with wealthier relatives in Boston. There she comes under the spell of an attractive young man named Sanderson (Lowell Sherman), who tricks her into sleeping with him by staging a phony marriage. He then sends her back to New England, with a command to keep silent about their nuptials. Upon discovering she is pregnant, Anna contacts him, only to learn the bitter truth. Nothing but disaster follows. Her mother dies. So does her child. She is driven away from the rooming house where she has taken shelter because the landlady suspects she isn’t married. Luckily, she finds a new position at a nearby farm owned by Squire Barlett (Burr McIntosh), but Sanderson lives not far away. At the farm, Anna meets the squire’s son David (Richard Barthelmess), and the two soon fall in love. But Anna’s past catches up with her. Dismissed from the squire’s employ, she wanders off into a terrible snowstorm and finds herself on a frozen river. Floating away on an ice floe toward huge falls, Anna is rescued at the last minute by David. Sanderson’s villainy is exposed, and Anna reconciles with the repentant squire. The film ends with their wedding. The dramatic parts of Way Down East are kept lively by Griffith’s pacing of the narrative and the affecting performances of an able cast. The film’s action conclusion, however, shows the director at his finest, both in the shooting of the sequence (parts were filmed on a frozen Vermont river) and in the editing, which is fast paced and thrilling. RBP

9. Within Our Gates (1920)

Not Rated | 79 min | Drama, Romance

Abandoned by her fiancé, an educated black woman with a shocking past dedicates herself to helping a near bankrupt school for impoverished black youths.

Director: Oscar Micheaux | Stars: Evelyn Preer, Flo Clements, James D. Ruffin, Jack Chenault

Votes: 2,020

Successful author, publisher, homesteader, and filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux is widely considered the father of African American cinema; only his second effort, Within Our Gates is one of 40 films Micheaux wrote, directed, and independently produced between 1919 and 1948. Besides its gripping narrative and artistic merits, Within Our Gates has immense historical value as the earliest surviving feature by an African American director. Powerful, controversial, and still haunting in its depiction of the atrocities committed by white Americans against blacks during this era, the film remains, in the words of one critic, “a powerful and enlightening cultural document [that] is no less relevant today than it was in 1920.” Made just five years after D.W. Griffith’s racist masterpiece The Birth of a Nation (1915), Within Our Gates follows the struggle of Sylvia Landry (Evelyn Preer), a Southern black teacher who travels north in an effort to raise money for her school. But this is only one of several stories that Micheaux (who also wrote the screenplay) weaves together in his gripping look at the physical, psychological, and economic repression of African Americans. Few people saw Within Our Gates as Micheaux intended it; the film was repeatedly edited by the censors, who found the rape and lynching scenes too provocative after the 1919 Chicago race riots. Lost for 70 years, Within Our Gates was rediscovered at the Filmoteca Española in Madrid and restored soon after. SJS

10. The Phantom Carriage (1921)

Not Rated | 100 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

On New Year's Eve, the driver of a ghostly carriage forces a drunken man to reflect on his selfish, wasted life.

Director: Victor Sjöström | Stars: Victor Sjöström, Hilda Borgström, Tore Svennberg, Astrid Holm

Votes: 9,325

A celebrated world success in its initial release, The Phantom Carriage not only cemented director-screenwriter-actor Victor Sjöström and the Swedish silent cinema’s fame but also had a well-documented, artistic influence on many great directors and producers. The most well-known element of the film is undoubtedly the representation of the spiritual world as a tormented limbo between heaven and earth. The scene in which the protagonist—the hateful and self-destructive alcoholic David Holm (Sjöström)—wakes up at the chime of midnight on New Year’s Eve only to stare at his own corpse, knowing that he is condemned to hell, is one of the most quoted scenes in cinema history. Made in a simple but time-consuming and meticulously staged series of double exposures, the filmmaker, his photographer, and a lab manager created a three-dimensional illusion of a ghostly world that went beyond anything previously seen at the cinema. More important perhaps was the film’s complex but readily accessible narration via a series of flashbacks—and even flashbacks-within-flashbacks—that elevated this gritty tale of poverty and degradation to poetic excellence. Looking back at Sjöström’s career, The Phantom Carriage is a theological and philosophical extension of the social themes introduced in his controversial breakthrough Ingeborg Holm (1913). Both films depict the step-by-step destruction of human dignity in a cold and heartless society, driving its victims into brutality and insanity. The connection is stressed by the presence of Hilda Borgström, unforgettable as Ingeborg Holm and now in the role of a tortured wife—another desperate Mrs. Holm. She is yet again playing a compassionate but poor mother on her way to suicide or a life in the mental asylum. The religious naïveté at the heart of Selma Lagerlöf’s faithfully adapted novel might draw occasional laughter from a secular audience some eighty years later, but the subdued, “realist” acting and the dark fate of the main characters, which almost comes to its logical conclusion, save for a melodramatic finale, never fails to impress. MT

11. Orphans of the Storm (1921)

Not Rated | 150 min | Drama, History, Romance

Two orphaned sisters are caught up in the turmoil of the French Revolution, encountering misery and love along the way.

Director: D.W. Griffith | Stars: Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Joseph Schildkraut, Frank Losee

Votes: 4,478 | Gross: $0.79M

The last of D.W. Griffith’s sweeping historical melodramas, Orphans of the Storm tells the story of two young girls caught in the turmoil of the French Revolution. Lillian and Dorothy Gish are Henriette and Louise Girard, two babies who become “sisters” when Henriette’s impoverished father, thinking to abandon his daughter in a church, finds Louise and, moved by pity, brings both girls home to raise. Unfortunately, they are left orphaned at an early age when their parents die of the plague. Louise is left blind by the disease, and so the girls make their way to Paris in search of her cure. There they are separated. Henriette, kidnapped by the henchmen of an evil aristocrat, is befriended by a handsome nobleman, Vaudrey (Joseph Schildkraut). Louise is rescued by a kind young man after she falls into the River Seine but, brought to his house, she is put to work by the man’s cruel brother. Adventures follow, including imprisonment in the Bastille, being condemned to death during the Reign of Terror, and saved from the guillotine by the politician Danton (Monte Blue), whose speech advocating the end of such bloodshed is one of the film’s most impassioned moments. Although Orphans of the Storm is based on a play that had been successful in the preceding decade, Griffith wrote the script during shooting. Despite the resulting complications, the film is a masterpiece of beautiful staging and acting, with the Gish sisters turning in what are perhaps the finest performances of their careers. RBP

12. The Smiling Madame Beudet (1923)

26 min | Drama

An unhappily married woman devises a scheme to get rid of her husband.

Director: Germaine Dulac | Stars: Germaine Dermoz, Alexandre Arquillière, Jean d'Yd, Yvette Grisier

Votes: 1,853

Germaine Dulac’s celebrated film is known as one of the earliest examples of both feminist and experimental cinema. The plot depicts the life of a bored provincial housewife trapped in a stifling bourgeois marriage. The most captivating aspect of The Smiling Madame Beudet, however, is composed of elaborate dream sequences in which the eponymous housewife (Germaine Dermoz) fantasizes a life outside the confines of her monotonous existence. Using radical special effects and editing techniques, Dulac incorporates some of the early avant-garde aesthetics of the times to offset the rich, vivid feminine power of Madame Beudet’s imaginary life against the dullness of the one she shares with her husband (Alexandre Arquillière). When the complex visual elaboration of her potential liberation through fantasy—the only thing that can put a smile on her face—is cut short by the appearance of her husband within her daydreams, she is left with only one possible solution: kill him. Sadly, Madame Beudet’s missed attempt on her husband’s life at the end of the film is yet again misunderstood, as she is not even rewarded with Monsieur Beudet’s acknowledgment of her protest against him. Ultimately, Dulac not only explicitly addresses the oppressive alienation of women within patriarchy, but more importantly, uses the still-new medium of film to offer her viewers a radical and subjective female perspective. This led to her picture’s inclusion in the first Festival of Women’s Films in New York in 1972. CO

13. Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922)

Not Rated | 242 min | Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Arch-criminal Dr. Mabuse sets out to make a fortune and run Berlin. Detective Wenk sets out to stop him.

Director: Fritz Lang | Stars: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Aud Egede-Nissen, Gertrude Welcker, Alfred Abel

Votes: 6,839

This two-part epic was a major commercial success in Germany in 1922, doubtless because of its everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach, scrambling thrills, horrors, politics, satire, sex (including nude scenes!), magic, psychology, art, violence, low comedy, and special effects. Whereas the escapades of Fantômas (and even Fu Manchu) belong to that netherworld between the surreal and the pulpy, Dr. Mabuse was intended from the outset not merely as flamboyant thriller but as pointed editorial, using the figure of the master-of-disguise supercriminal to embody the real evils of its era. The subtitles of each of the film’s two parts, harping on about “our time,” underline the point made obvious in the opening act, in which Mabuse’s gang steals a Swiss-Dutch trade agreement—not to make use of the secret information, but to create a momentary stock market panic that allows Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), in disguise as a cartoon plutocrat with top hat and fur coat, to make a fast fortune. He also employs a band of blind men as forgers, contributing to the feeling that German audiences at the time had that money was worthless (Mabuse sees this coming and orders his men to switch over to forging U.S. currency, since even real marks aren’t worth as much as counterfeit dollars). The film’s eponymous villain shuffles photographs as if they were a deck of cards, selecting his identity for the day from various disguises, but it is nearly two hours before his “real” name is confirmed—by which time, we have seen Mabuse in several other guises, from respected psychiatrist to degenerate gambler to hotel manager. In Part 2, he appears as a one-armed stage illusionist, and finally loses his grip on the fragile core of his identity to become a ranting madman, tormented by the hollow-cheeked specters of those he has killed and, in a moment that still startles, by the creaking-to-life of vast, grotesque statues and bits of machinery in his final lair. Director Fritz Lang, and others, would return to Mabuse, still embodying the ills of the age—notably in the early talkie Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1933) and the 1961 high-tech surveillance melodrama The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse. KN

14. Nanook of the North (1922)

Not Rated | 78 min | Documentary

In this silent predecessor to the modern documentary, film-maker Robert J. Flaherty spends one year following the lives of Nanook and his family, Inuits living in the Arctic Circle.

Director: Robert J. Flaherty | Stars: Allakariallak, Alice Nevalinga, Cunayou, Allegoo

Votes: 9,911

The history of “documentary” filmmaking—an approach generally thought to involve a filmmaker’s recording of an unmediated reality—begins really with the invention of the cinema itself, but for better or worse the nickname “father of the documentary” has generally been bestowed on Robert J. Flaherty. Raised near the U.S.–Canadian border, Flaherty loved exploring the far-off wilderness from an early age, and after his studies went to work as a mineral prospector in Canada’s Far North. Before one of his trips, someone suggested he bring along a movie camera; over the next few years, Flaherty would film hours of material of both the land and its inhabitants, which in 1916 he began showing in private screenings in Toronto. The response was enthusiastic, but just as he was about to ship his footage to the United States, he dropped a cigarette ash and his entire negative—30,000 feet—burst into flames. Flaherty took years to raise enough money to go back north and shoot again; when he finally succeeded (thanks to Revillon Frères, a French furrier), he decided to focus his efforts on filming one Nanook, a celebrated Inuit hunter. Based on his memory of the best of what he had shot before, Flaherty fashioned the events to be included in the new film, including things Nanook commonly did, some things he never did, and some things he used to do but hadn’t done in a while. The result was the deeply influential, but endlessly debated, Nanook of the North. A series of vignettes that detail the life of Nanook and his family over a few weeks, Flaherty’s film is a kind of romantic ode to human courage and fortitude in the face of an overwhelming and essentially hostile Nature. Despite Nanook getting pride of place in the title, many audiences are left with the memory of the arbitrary fury of the arctic landscape. Indeed, the film received a powerful (if tragic) publicity boost when it was revealed that Nanook and his family had indeed perished in a raging snowstorm not long after the film was completed, giving Nanook of the North’s extraordinary and already powerful final sequence—in which the family looks for shelter from a storm—a terrible poignancy. Many contemporary film students are critical of the picture because so much of it seems staged for the camera—several times you can practically hear Flaherty barking out directions to Nanook and the others—but the film’s many defenders over the years, such as André Bazin, wisely pointed out that Flaherty’s most remarkable achievement here is the way he seemed to capture the texture of their daily lives. The details of the walrus hunt, such as whether or when a gun was used, seem less important than Flaherty’s decision to simply follow in long shot Nanook’s slow crawl toward his prey; if Nanook’s beaming face as he warms his son’s hands is part of an act, then he was simply one of the great screen performers in history. Call it what you will—documentary, fiction, or some hybrid—Nanook of the North remains one of the few films that completely deserves its description as a classic. RP

15. Nosferatu (1922)

Not Rated | 81 min | Fantasy, Horror

Vampire Count Orlok expresses interest in a new residence and real estate agent Hutter's wife.

Director: F.W. Murnau | Stars: Max Schreck, Alexander Granach, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder

Votes: 82,883

Bram Stoker’s Dracula inspired one of the most impressive of all silent features. The source material and the medium seem almost eerily meant for each other. Stoker’s novel, largely written in the form of a series of letters, is light on traditional dialogue and heavy on description, perfect for the primarily visual storytelling of silent films. It is fitting that a story of the eternal conflict between light and darkness should be matched to a format consisting almost entirely of the interplay of light and darkness. Director F.W. Murnau had already established himself as a star of the German Expressionist movement when he decided to adapt the Stoker novel, renamed Nosferatu after legal threats from Stoker’s estate. In fact, the finished film barely evaded a court order that all copies be destroyed, but in the end little of Stoker’s novel was ultimately altered, save the names of the characters, and indeed the success of Nosferatu led to dozens of subsequent (and mostly officially sanctioned) Dracula adaptations. Yet Nosferatu, even so many years later, stands apart from most Dracula films. One key difference is the striking presence of star Max Schreck, whose surname translates as “fear.” Schreck plays the eponymous vampire with an almost savage simplicity. His creature of the night is little different from the rats at his command, lurching instinctively toward any sight of blood with barely disguised lust. This explains the terror of Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim), who has traveled to the isolated castle of Count Orlok (Schreck) high in the Carpathian Mountains to help the strange man settle some legal matters. The mere mention of Orlok silences the townsfolk with fear, and Hutter’s suspicions deepen when he discovers that the stagecoach taking him to the castle has no driver. Orlok himself offers little solace. He keeps odd hours and leaves Hutter locked in a tower. Fearing for his life—and specifically the bloodlust of his captor—he escapes and returns to Bremen, Germany. But Orlock follows, setting his sights not on Hutter but on his innocent wife, Ellen (Greta Schröder): “Your wife has a beautiful neck,” comments Orlok to Hutter. Just as her connection with Hutter helps rescue him from Orlok’s clutches, Ellen discovers that it is also up to her to lure the demonic creature to his (permanent) demise: to be vaporized by the rays of the morning sun. With Nosferatu Murnau created some of cinema’s most lasting and haunting imagery: Count Orlok creeping through his castle, striking creepy shadows while he’s stalking Hutter; Orlock rising stiffly from his coffin; the Count, caught in a beam of sunlight, cringing in terror before fading from view. He also introduced several vampire myths that fill not just other Dracula films but permeate popular culture as well. JKl

16. Häxan (1922)

Not Rated | 91 min | Documentary, Fantasy, Horror

Fictionalized documentary showing the evolution of witchcraft, from its pagan roots to its confusion with hysteria in modern Europe.

Director: Benjamin Christensen | Stars: Benjamin Christensen, Elisabeth Christensen, Maren Pedersen, Clara Pontoppidan

Votes: 10,747

Pioneering Danish filmmaker Benjamin Christensen’s notorious 1922 “documentary” Häxan is a bizarre silent-film oddity that explores the nature of witchcraft and diabolism from ancient Persia through then-modern times using various cinematic approaches, from still images to models to vivid, dramatic reenactments. It is a hard film to pin down, and it defies any boundaries of genre, especially those of the documentary film, which in the early 1920s was still amorphous and undefined. Part earnest academic exercise in correlating ancient fears with misunderstandings about mental illness and part salacious horror movie, Häxan is a truly unique work that still holds the power to unnerve even in today’s jaded era. To visualize his subject matter, Christensen fills the frames with every frightening image he can conjure out of the historical records, often freely blending fact and fantasy. We see a haggard old witch pull a severed, decomposing hand out of a bundle of sticks. There are shocking moments in which we witness a woman giving birth to two enormous demons, see a witches’ sabbath, and endure tortures by inquisition judges. We watch an endless parade of demons of all shapes and sizes, some of whom look more or less human, whereas others are almost fully animal—pigs, twisted birds, cats, and the like. Christensen was certainly a cinematic visionary, and he had a keen notion of the powerful effects of mise-en-scène. Although Häxan is often cited as a key forerunner of such modern devil-possession films as The Exorcist (1973), it also brings to mind Tobe Hooper’s effective use of props and background detail in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) to create an enveloping atmosphere of potential violence. Häxan is a film that needs to be viewed more than once to gain a full appreciation of the set design and decoration—the eerie use of props, claustrophobic sets, and chiaroscuro lighting to set the tone. It is no surprise that the surrealists were so fond of the film and that its life was extended in the late 1960s, when it was reissued as a midnight movie with narration by none other than William S. Burroughs. JKe

17. Foolish Wives (1922)

Not Rated | 117 min | Drama, Thriller

A con artist masquerades a Russian nobility and attempts to seduce the wife of an American diplomat.

Director: Erich von Stroheim | Stars: Rudolph Christians, Miss DuPont, Maude George, Mae Busch

Votes: 2,778 | Gross: $0.40M

Although Greed is Erich von Stroheim’s most famous film, Foolish Wives is his masterpiece. Like Greed, it was heavily reedited, but what remains (especially after a major 1972 restoration) is a more accomplished and consistent work. Stroheim himself stars as the unscrupulous Count Karamzin, a Monte Carlo-based pseudoaristocrat who sets out to seduce the neglected wife of an American diplomat. This witty, ruthlessly objective film confirms its director as the cinema’s first great ironist. The antihero Karamzin is skewered with sardonic relish—absurdly foolish, brazenly insincere, thoroughly indiscriminate in his taste in women, and, when the chips are down, contemptibly cowardly—but he and his decadent colleagues are so much more entertaining than the virtuous American hubby and his commonplace spouse. The film’s tone of cool, lively detachment is enhanced by its exhaustive elaboration of the world around the characters, articulating space through visual strategies (such as layered depth, peripheral motions, and multiple setups) that make us intensely aware of the entire 360-degree field of each scene. Stroheim stacks the deck by placing his dull, flat Americans in dull, flat spaces; otherwise, there’s hardly a shot that doesn’t dazzle the eye with rich, shimmering interplay of detail, lighting, gesture, and movement. MR

18. Our Hospitality (1923)

Not Rated | 65 min | Comedy, Romance, Thriller

A man returns to his Appalachian homestead. On the trip, he falls for a young woman. The only problem is her family has vowed to kill every member of his family.

Directors: John G. Blystone, Buster Keaton | Stars: Buster Keaton, Natalie Talmadge, Joe Keaton, Joe Roberts

Votes: 9,352

Arguably as great a film as the better-known The General (1927), Our Hospitality— Buster Keaton’s masterly satire of traditional Southern manners—kicks off with a beautifully staged dramatic prologue that establishes the absurdly murderous parameters of the age-old feud between two families. By the time the main story takes over, Buster’s Willie McKay is a twenty-something innocent, raised in New York but returning (thanks to a wondrously funny odyssey involving a primitive train) to his familial town, where his courtship of a girl met en route—the daughter, as it happens, of the clan still sworn to spilling his blood—places him in deadly peril, even though Southern hospitality dictates his enemies treat him properly as long as he’s in their home. Much of the humor thereafter derives from a darkly ironic situation whereby Willie determines to remain a guest of his would-be killers while they smilingly try to ensure his departure. Keaton’s wit relies not on individual gags but on a firm grasp of character, predicament, period, place, and camera framing (see how he keeps the camera moving after he’s fallen off the ludicrous bicycle it has been tracking alongside); the result is not only very funny, but also dramatically substantial and suspenseful—nowhere more so than the justly celebrated sequence when Willie saves his beloved from plunging over a waterfall. Never was Keaton’s sense of timing so miraculous, his ability to elicit laughter and excitement simultaneously so gloriously evident. GA

19. The Wheel (1923)

Not Rated | 418 min | Drama

Sisif, a railwayman, and his son Elie fall in love with the beautiful Norma (who Sisif rescued from a train crash when a baby and raised as his daughter), with tragic results. Originally ... See full summary »

Director: Abel Gance | Stars: Gabriel de Gravone, Pierre Magnier, Georges Térof, Séverin-Mars

Votes: 1,679

Visionary French filmmaker Abel Gance’s The Wheel opens with a spectacular fast-cut train crash, as revolutionary to spectators in 1922 as the Lumières’s train arriving in a station in 1895. Railwayman Sisif (Severin-Mars) saves Norma (Ivy Close) from the crash and brings her up as his daughter. Both he and his son Elie (Gabriel de Gravone) fall in love with her, so Sisif marries her off to a rich man. She and Elie eventually fall in love; both her husband and Elie die after a struggle. Sisif goes blind and dies, after being tended by Norma. Then, as now, opinions on what was originally a sprawling nine-hour film are divided. The Wheel’s melodramatic plot was combined with wide-ranging literary references, including Greek tragedy, as is suggested by Sisif’s name (Sisyphus) and his blindness associated with incestuous desire (Oedipus). These “pretensions” were seen by intellectuals to conflict with the film’s extraordinary cinematographic techniques (such as the accelerating montage sequences based on musical rhythms), which related the film to avant-garde preoccupations with a “pure” cinema and Cubist concerns with machines as the emblem of modernity. The film’s contradictions are admirably brought together in the central metaphor of the title: the wheel of fate (Sisif/Sisyphus ends up driving the funicular railway up and down Mont Blanc), the wheel of desire, the wheel of the film itself with its many cyclical patterns. PP

20. The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

Not Rated | 155 min | Adventure, Family, Fantasy

A recalcitrant thief vies with a duplicitous Mongol ruler for the hand of a beautiful princess.

Director: Raoul Walsh | Stars: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Snitz Edwards, Charles Belcher

Votes: 5,141 | Gross: $4.36M

The Thief of Bagdad marked the culmination of Douglas Fairbanks’s career as the ultimate hero of swashbuckling costume spectacles. It is also one of the most visually breathtaking movies ever made, a unique and integral conception by a genius of film design, William Cameron Menzies. Building his mythical Bagdad on a six-and-a-half-acre site (the biggest in Hollywood history), Menzies created a shimmering, magical world, as insubstantial yet as real and haunting as a dream, with its reflective floors, soaring minarets, flying carpets, ferocious dragons, and winged horses. As Ahmed the Thief in quest of his Princess, Fairbanks—bare chested and with clinging silken garments—explored a new sensuous eroticism in his screen persona, and found an appropriate costar in Anna May Wong, as the Mongol slave girl. Although the nominal director was the gifted and able Raoul Walsh, the overall concept for The Thief of Bagdad was Fairbanks’s own, as producer, writer, star, stuntman, and showman of unbounded ambition. (Side note: the uncredited Persian Prince in the film is played by a woman, Mathilde Comont.) DR

21. Strike (1925)

Not Rated | 82 min | Drama

A group of oppressed factory workers go on strike in pre-revolutionary Russia.

Director: Sergei M. Eisenstein | Stars: Grigoriy Aleksandrov, Maksim Shtraukh, Mikhail Gomorov, I. Ivanov

Votes: 6,435

Sergei M. Eisenstein was a revolutionary in every sense, forging a radically new breed of montage-based cinema from an unprecedented merger of Marxist philosophy, Constructivist aesthetics, and his own fascination with the visual contrasts, conflicts, and contradictions built into the dynamics of film itself. Strike, his first feature, was intended as one installment in a series of works about the rise of Marxist-Leninist rule. Censorship by the new Soviet government thwarted many of Eisenstein’s dreams in ensuing years, and this series never got beyond its initial production. Nonetheless, the feverishly energetic Strike stands on its own as a tour de force of expressive propaganda and the laboratory in which seminal ideas for his later silent masterpieces—The Battleship Potemkin (1925), October (1927), and Old and New (1928)—were first tested and refined. Strike depicts a labor uprising in a Russian factory, where workers are goaded toward rebellion by the owners’ greed and dishonesty. We see simmering unrest among the laborers, an act of treachery that pushes them into action, the excitement of their mutiny followed by the hardships of prolonged unemployment, and finally the counterstrike of the factory owners, abetted by troops who engage in wholesale slaughter of the workers. The film ends with an electrifying example of what Eisenstein called “intellectual montage,” intercutting the massacre of strikers with images of animals being slain in a slaughterhouse. The acting in Strike is as unconventional as its editing techniques, mixing naturalistic portrayals of the workers with stylized portrayals of the owners and their spies. The film illustrates Soviet theories of “typage,” calling for actors who physically resemble the character types they play, and the “collective hero,” whereby a story’s protagonist is not a single individual but rather all the people standing on the correct side of history. The political imperatives of Strike have dated since its premiere in 1925, but its visual power has not waned. “I don’t believe in the kino-eye,” Eisenstein once remarked, referring to a catchword of Dziga Vertov, his colleague and rival. “I believe in the kino-fist.” That hard-hitting philosophy galvanizes every sequence of this unique film. DS

22. Greed (1924)

Not Rated | 140 min | Drama, Thriller, Western

The sudden fortune won from a lottery fans such destructive greed that it ruins the lives of the three people involved.

Director: Erich von Stroheim | Stars: Gibson Gowland, Zasu Pitts, Jean Hersholt, Dale Fuller

Votes: 8,439 | Gross: $0.16M

The first movie ever shot entirely on location, Greed is notorious as much for the story behind its making as for its considerable artistic power. Director Erich von Stroheim wanted to make the most realistic movie possible with his adaptation of Frank Norris’s novel McTeague, about the rise and violently murderous fall of working-class San Francisco dentist John “Mac” McTeague. But his creation, originally commissioned by the director-friendly Goldwyn Company, was destroyed when the studio became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), with von Stroheim’s nemesis Irving Thalberg as the new General Manager. MGM wanted a commercial film, and von Stroheim wanted to create an experiment in cinematic realism worthy of the 1990s Dogme school. During the two-year shoot, he rented an apartment on Laguna Street in San Francisco that became the set for Mac’s (Gibson Gowland) dental parlors. Many of the scenes there were shot entirely with natural light. Von Stroheim also insisted that his actors live in the apartment to help them get into character. One of the fascinations in watching Greed is seeing all the historic San Francisco locations as they were in the early 1920s. When it came time to shoot the film’s final climactic moments in Death Valley, von Stroheim shipped his whole crew out to the 120°F desert location, where the cameras became so overheated they had to be wrapped with iced towels. The director’s first cut was nearly nine hours long. It was a painstaking reenactment of Norris’s novel, which itself was a re-creation of an actual crime that took place during the early 1880s. After a quack doctor helps Mac escape the Northern California mining town of his childhood, he becomes a dentist in San Francisco. There he meets Trina (Zasu Pitts), with whom he falls in love during a memorably creepy tooth-drilling scene. His best friend and rival for Trina’s affections is Marcus (Jean Hersholt), who grants Mac permission to marry Trina but changes his mind after she wins a lottery. Using his connections in local government, Marcus manages to put Mac out of business and send his former friend into a free fall of back-breaking day labor, drunkenness, and wife beating. Trina turns to her lottery winnings as a source of satisfaction, hoarding her thousands in gold coins while she and Mac starve. One of Greed’s most famous scenes has Trina climbing into bed with her money, caressing it, and rolling around with erotic abandon. Shortly thereafter Mac murders her, steals the money, and heads out to Death Valley where his life comes to a bitter end when Marcus hunts him down. Only a small handful of people ever saw the original nine-hour version of Greed. After von Stroheim’s friend helped him cut the picture down to eighteen reels, or about four hours, the studios took it away from him and handed it over to a low-ranking editor who reduced it to 140 minutes. This version of the film, which von Stroheim called “a mutilation of my sincere work at the hands of the MGM executives,” is nevertheless stark, captivating, and genuinely disturbing. In 1999, film restorer Rick Schmidlin released a four-hour version of Greed that was reconstructed from original production stills and von Stroheim’s shooting script. AN

23. Sherlock Jr. (1924)

Not Rated | 45 min | Action, Comedy, Romance

A film projectionist longs to be a detective, and puts his meagre skills to work when he is framed by a rival for stealing his girlfriend's father's pocketwatch.

Director: Buster Keaton | Stars: Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Joe Keaton, Erwin Connelly

Votes: 35,145 | Gross: $0.98M

Sherlock, Jr. is Buster Keaton’s shortest feature film, yet it is a remarkable achievement, possessing a tightly integrated plot, stunning athleticism (Keaton did all his own stunts, unknowingly breaking his neck during one of them), artistic virtuosity, and an avant-garde exploration of the perennial dichotomy of reality versus illusion. Keaton here plays a projectionist and detective wannabe falsely accused of stealing from his girlfriend’s father. Framed by a rival suitor (Ward Crane), the young man is banished from the girl’s home. Dejected, he falls asleep on the job. In his dream state, he transcends into the screen (in a brilliant sequence of optical effects), where he is the dapper protagonist Sherlock, Jr.—the world’s second greatest detective. Unbelievable stunts and complicated gags move this 44-minute film along at a fever pitch. At first, the cinematic reality refuses to accept this new protagonist and the tension between the two worlds is magnificently presented via a montage of spatial shifts that land our bewildered hero in a lion’s den, amid roaring waves, and in a snowdrift. Gradually, he assimilates fully into the film world. In the mise-en-abyme storyline, the villain (also played by Ward Crane) is trying to kill the hero in vain, before Sherlock, Jr. solves the mystery of the stolen pearls. Sherlock, Jr. not only features the incredible stunts for which Keaton is famous, but also poses a number of issues. From a social perspective, it is a commentary on the fantasies about upward mobility in American society. On a psychological plane, it introduces the motif of the double striving for fulfillment in imaginary spaces, as the protagonist is unable to achieve it in ordinary, tangible reality. Above all, the film is a reflection on the nature of art, a theme that resurfaces again in The Cameraman (1928), when Keaton’s focus shifts from medium to spectator. Keaton’s films remain interesting today, in part due to the director-star’s almost otherworldly stoicism (compared to Chaplin’s pathos), and in part due to their occasionally surreal nature (admired by Luis Buñuel and Federico García Lorca) and their delving into the nature of cinema and existence itself. Chuck Jones, Woody Allen, Wes Craven, Jackie Chan, and Steven Spielberg are among the filmmakers to pay homage to Keaton’s irresistible mischief, and his films remain perhaps the most accessible of all silent movies. RDe

24. The Last Laugh (1924)

Not Rated | 90 min | Drama

An aging doorman, after being fired from his prestigious job at a luxurious Hotel is forced to face the scorn of his friends, neighbours and society.

Director: F.W. Murnau | Stars: Emil Jannings, Maly Delschaft, Max Hiller, Emilie Kurz

Votes: 11,368 | Gross: $0.09M

Despite a ludicrously unconvincing happy ending grafted on at the insistence of UFA, F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh remains a very impressive attempt to tell a story without the use of intertitles. The plot itself is nothing special—a hotel commissionaire, humiliated by his loss in status when he is demoted to lavatory attendant because of his advancing years, sinks so low that he is tempted to steal back his beloved uniform (the symbol of his professional pride). In some respects the film is merely a vehicle for one of Emil Janning’s typically grandstand performances. Above and beyond this somewhat pathetic parable, however, exists one of Murnau’s typically eloquent explorations of cinematic space: the camera prowls around with astonishing fluidity, articulating the protagonist’s relationship with the world as it follows him around the hotel, the city streets, and his home in the slum tenements. Some of the camera work is “subjective.” as when his drunken perceptions are rendered by optical distortion; at other times, it is the camera’s mobility that is evocative, as when it passes through the revolving doors that serve as a symbol of destiny. The dazzling technique on display may, in fact, be rather too grand for the simple story of one old man, yet there is no denying the virtuosity either of Murnau’s mise-en-scène or of Karl Freund’s camera work. GA

25. Seven Chances (1925)

Passed | 56 min | Comedy, Romance

A man learns he will inherit a fortune if he marries by 7 p.m. that same day.

Director: Buster Keaton | Stars: Buster Keaton, Ruth Dwyer, T. Roy Barnes, Snitz Edwards

Votes: 8,412 | Gross: $0.21M

Every kind of cinematic gag gets worked out in Seven Chances, engineering laughter from an astonishing interplay of time, space, and physicality. Take the famous camera angle inside a church—Buster asleep in the front pew, invisible to the hundreds of grotesque women who completely fill the space behind him. (This is really all that remains in the film’s woeful 1999 remake, The Bachelor.) The serene nuttiness of Keaton’s gag concepts buoyed the hearts of the surrealists who were his contemporaries: the plot’s irrational fixation on the number seven (seven chances for Buster to be married on his twenty-seventh birthday by seven o’clock); or the wondrous gags that make complete nonsense of any fixed human identity—as in the sequence where a bunch of supposedly white, all-American, adult women turn out to be (respectively) a little girl, Jewish, black, and male. Keaton’s best and most extended gag sequences are dynamic and transformative. The whole world seems to unshape and reshape itself before our eyes. In the climactic chase sequence, Buster is pursued by an enormous pack of vengeful women. After he trips on a few rocks, suddenly Earth itself is after him, in the form of a huge avalanche. AM

26. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Passed | 93 min | Horror

A mad, disfigured composer seeks love with a lovely young opera singer.

Directors: Rupert Julian, Lon Chaney, Ernst Laemmle, Edward Sedgwick | Stars: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe

Votes: 15,502 | Gross: $3.75M

This 1925 silent remains the closest adaption of Gaston Leroux’s trash masterpiece of the same name, a novel that has a terrific setting and a great central figure but a plot that creaks at every turn. The film is a strange combination of plodding direction (mostly from Rupert Julian, though other hands intervened) and incredible Universal Pictures set design, so that stick-figure characters—weedy hero Norman Kerry is especially annoying—pose in front of incredibly impressive tableaux. The Phantom of the Opera delivers a series of masterly moments that cover up its rickety structure: the masked ball (a brief Technicolor sequence), where the Phantom shows up dressed as Edgar Allan Poe’s Red Death; the chandelier-dropping where the Phantom lets the audience know what he thinks of the current diva; various trips into the magical underworld beneath the Paris Opera House; and—best of all—the unmasking in which the tragic villain’s disfigured skullface is first seen (so shocking that even the camera is terrified, going briefly out of focus). The reason this film is a classic is that it enshrines one of the greatest bits of melodramatic acting in the silent cinema—Lon Chaney’s impeccably dressed, lovelorn, violent ghoul-genius. Favorite intertitle: “You are dancing on the tombs of tortured men!” KN

27. Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Not Rated | 66 min | Drama, History, Thriller

In the midst of the Russian Revolution of 1905, the crew of the battleship Potemkin mutiny against the brutal, tyrannical regime of the vessel's officers. The resulting street demonstration in Odessa brings on a police massacre.

Director: Sergei M. Eisenstein | Stars: Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barskiy, Grigoriy Aleksandrov, Ivan Bobrov

Votes: 49,229 | Gross: $0.05M

The sailors of the Battleship Potemkin are fed up with their diet of rotten, maggoty meat and refuse to eat their borscht. The officers threaten to kill them for insubordination and the sailors revolt. The citizens of Odessa rise up in support of the rebel sailors and are slaughtered on the Odessa steps by tsarist soldiers. The rest of the squadron closes in on the Potemkin and the crew gets ready to fight. At the last minute, victory! The sailors on the other ships allow the Potemkin to pass safely.

While this movie does not exactly make my heart sing, there is no arguing that it taught the world a lot about how to tell a story and manipulate audience emotions through editing. The famous Odessa steps sequence is still one of the most powerfully horrific scenes in film history. This time around I noticed some pretty exquisite cinematography in this film at well. The restored print brought out the ethereal ships in the harbor when Vakulinchuk’s body is brought by boat to the docks at dawn. The sequence of the fleet of little sailing boats taking provisions to the battleship is also lyrical and quite lovely. It is easy to forget such interludes in a film that seems to determined to brand shocking images on the brain.

28. The Gold Rush (1925)

Not Rated | 95 min | Adventure, Comedy, Drama

A prospector goes to the Klondike in search of gold and finds it and more.

Director: Charles Chaplin | Stars: Charles Chaplin, Mack Swain, Tom Murray, Henry Bergman

Votes: 91,980 | Gross: $5.45M

The Gold Rush affirmed Charles Chaplin’s belief that tragedy and comedy are never far apart. His unlikely dual inspiration came from viewing some stereoscope slides of the privations of prospectors in the Klondyke Gold Rush of 1896–98, and reading a book about the Donner Party Disaster of 1846, when a party of immigrants, snowbound in the Sierra Nevada, were reduced to eating their own moccasins and the corpses of their dead comrades. Out of these grim and unlikely themes, Chaplin created high comedy. The familiar Little Tramp becomes a gold prospector, joining the mass of brave optimists to face all the hazards of cold, starvation, solitude, and the occasional incursion of a grizzly bear. The film was in every respect the most elaborate undertaking of Chaplin’s career. For two weeks the unit shot on location at Truckee in the snow country of the Sierra Nevada. Here Chaplin faithfully recreated the historic image of the prospectors struggling up the Chilkoot Pass. Some 600 extras, many drawn from the vagrants and derelicts of Sacramento, were brought by train to clamber up the 2,300-foot pass dug through the mountain snow. For the main shooting, the unit returned to the Hollywood studio, where a remarkably convincing miniature mountain range was created out of timber, chicken wire, burlap, plaster, salt, and flour. In addition, the studio technicians devised exquisite models to produce the special effects that Chaplin required, like the miners’ hut, which is blown by the tempest to teeter on the edge of a precipice, for one of cinema’s most sustained sequences of comic suspense. Often it is impossible to detect the shifts in the film from model to full-size set. The Gold Rush abounds with now-classic comedy scenes. The historic horrors of the starving 19th-century pioneers inspired the sequence in which the Little Tramp and his partner Big Jim (Mack Swain) are snowbound and ravenous. The Little Tramp cooks his boot, with all the airs of a gourmet. In the eyes of the delirious Big Jim, he is intermittently transformed into an oven-worthy chicken—a triumph both for the cameramen, who had to effect the elaborate trick work entirely in the camera, and for Chaplin, who magically assumes the characteristics of a bird. The lone prospector’s dream of hosting a New Year’s dinner for the beautiful dance-hall girl (Georgia Hale, who replaced sixteen-year-old Lita Grey when Lita became pregnant and married Chaplin) provides the opportunity for another famous Chaplin set piece: the dance of the rolls. The gag had been seen in films before, but Chaplin gives unique personality to the dancing legs created out of forks and bread rolls. Today, The Gold Rush appears as one of Chaplin’s most perfectly accomplished films. Though his affections for his own work changed over time, to the end of his life he would frequently declare that this film was the one by which he would most wish to be remembered. DR

29. The Big Parade (1925)

Not Rated | 151 min | Drama, Romance, War

A young American soldier witnesses the horrors of the Great War.

Directors: King Vidor, George W. Hill | Stars: John Gilbert, Renée Adorée, Hobart Bosworth, Claire McDowell

Votes: 5,840 | Gross: $11.00M

Based on a story by Laurence Stallings, who wrote the Broadway smash What Price Glory?, King Vidor’s epic film about the American experience of World War I traces the adventures of three soldiers from different backgrounds who find themselves in France. Rich boy Jim (John Gilbert), whose fiancée had encouraged him to join up, meets a beautiful French woman (Renée Adorée) in the village where their unit has been assigned lodging. In one of The Big Parade’s most tender scenes, she clutches the boot he has left with her as the soldiers make their way to the front. Once they arrive at the trenches, the battle of Belleau Wood commences. Attacking a machine gun nest, Jim’s two buddies are killed and he is wounded. Seeking refuge in a shell hole, he discovers a dying German soldier already occupying it and the two share a cigarette. Eventually, he is found and then taken to a field hospital. His attempts to reach the farmhouse fail as he falls unconscious. Back in America, Jim is reunited with his family, but is bitterly unhappy because he has lost a leg. His fiancée, in any case, has now fallen in love with his brother. Finally, Jim accepts his mother’s advice and returns to France, where in the film’s most moving scene he locates his lost love as she is helping her mother plow the fields. With its expert mixture of physical comedy (particularly in the French farmhouse scenes) and well-staged action, The Big Parade proved an immense success—a testimony to producer Irving Thalberg’s oversight of the project—and counts as one of the triumphs of the late silent era. Gilbert turns in a fine performance as Jim, showing the box-office appeal that made him one of the era’s biggest stars, and Adorée is appropriately appealing as his love interest. Because it shows the horrors of war, The Big Parade has often been thought a pacifist tract, but in truth its politics are muted. As Thalberg wanted, the film is much more of a comedy romance, with the war serving as the means through which Jim becomes a man and discovers the kind of life he really wants to live. RBP

30. Metropolis (1927)

Not Rated | 153 min | Drama, Sci-Fi

98 Metascore

In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences.

Director: Fritz Lang | Stars: Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge

Votes: 148,431 | Gross: $1.24M

Originally clocking in at over two hours, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is the first science-fiction epic, with huge sets, thousands of extras, then-state-of-the-art special effects, lots of sex and violence, a heavy-handed moral, big acting, a streak of Germanic gothicism, and groundbreaking fantasy sequences. Bankrolled by UFA, Germany’s giant film studio, it was controversial in its day and proved a box-office disaster that nearly ruined the studio. The plot is almost as simplistic as a fairy tale, with Freder Fredersen (Gustav Frölich), pampered son of the Master of Metropolis (Alfred Abel), learning of the wretched lives of the multitude of workers who keep the gleaming supercity going. Freder comes to understand the way things work by the saintly Maria (Brigitte Helm), a pacifist who constantly preaches mediation in industrial disputes, as well as by secretly working on a hellish ten-hour shift at one of the grinding machines. The Master consults with mad engineer Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), who has created a feminoid robot he reshapes to be an evil double of Maria and unleashes on the city. The robotrix goes from dancing naked in a decadent nightspot to inciting a destructive riot, which allows Lang to get the most value out of the huge factory sets by blowing them up and/or flooding them, but Freder and the real Maria save the day by rescuing the city’s children from a flood. Society is reunited when Maria decrees that the heart (Freder) must mediate between the brain (the Master) and the hands (the workers). Shortly after its premiere, the expensive film was pulled from distribution and reedited against Lang’s wishes: this truncated, simplified form remained best-known, even in the colorized Giorgio Moroder remix of the 1980s, until the twenty-first century, when a partial restoration—with tactful linking titles to fill in the scenes that remain irretrievably missing—made it much closer to Lang’s original vision. This version not only adds many scenes that went unseen for decades, but also restores their order in the original version and puts in the proper intertitles. Up to that point rated as a spectacular but simplistic science-fiction film, this new-old version reveals that the futuristic setting isn’t intended as prophetic but mythical, with elements of 1920s architecture, industry, design, and politics mingled with the medieval and the Biblical to produce images of striking strangeness: a futuristic robot burned at the stake, a steel-handed mad scientist who is also a fifteenth-century alchemist, the trudging workers of a vast factory plodding into the jaws of a machine that is also the ancient god Moloch. Frölich’s performance as the hero who represents the heart is still wildly overdone, but Klein-Rogge’s engineer Rotwang, Abel’s Master of Metropolis, and especially Helm in the dual role of saintly savior and metal femme fatale are astonishing. By restoring a great deal of story delving into the mixed motivations of the characters, the wild plot now makes more sense, and we can see it is as much a twisted family drama as an epic of repression, revolution, and reconciliation. KN

31. Sunrise (1927)

Passed | 94 min | Drama, Romance

An allegorical tale about a man fighting the good and evil within him. Both sides are made flesh - one a sophisticated woman he is attracted to and the other his wife.

Director: F.W. Murnau | Stars: George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston, Bodil Rosing

Votes: 44,318

Trivia buffs might note that although many history books often cite Wings (1927) as the first Best Picture recipient at the Academy Awards, the honor actually went to two films: William Wellman’s Wings, for “production,” and F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise, for “unique and artistic production.” If the latter category sounds more impressive than the former, that explains (in part at least) why Sunrise, and not Wings, remains one of the most revered films of all time. William Fox initially drew Murnau to America with the promise of a big budget and total creative freedom, and the fact that Murnau made the most of it with this stunning masterpiece ratified his peerless reputation as a cinematic genius. Sunrise itself is deceptively simple. Subtitled somewhat enigmatically A Song of Two Humans, the film focuses on a country-dwelling married couple whose lives are disrupted by a temptress from the city. But Murnau draws waves of emotion from what could have been a rote melodrama, further enhanced by a bevy of groundbreaking filmmaking techniques. Most notable is the use of sound effects, pushing silent cinema one step closer to the talkie era—an achievement unfairly overshadowed by The Jazz Singer, released later in 1927. Murnau also creatively manipulates the use and effect of title cards (three years earlier, he had directed the title-free The Last Laugh). The most striking aspect of Sunrise is its camera work. Working with a pair of cinematographers, Charles Rosher and Karl Struss, Murnau borrowed from his own experience in the German Expressionist movement as well as from the pastoral portraits of the Dutch masters, particularly Jan Vermeer. Linked with graceful and inventive camera movements and accented with in-camera tricks (such as multiple exposures), each scene of Sunrise looks like a masterful still photograph. As magical as the imagery may be, the very simplicity of the story lends Sunrise a formidable dramatic weight. George O’Brien, pondering the murder of his innocent wife Janet Gaynor, is wracked with guilt, and his wife responds with appropriate terror once his intentions become obvious. The boat trip leading to her intended demise is fraught with both suspense and an odd sense of sadness, as the good O’Brien struggles to bring his monstrous thoughts to their fruition. Margaret Livingston, as the urban seductress, in many ways seems like the feminine equivalent of Murnau’s vampire Count Orlok (from the 1922 film Nosferatu), relentlessly preying on poor O’Brien’s soul. In one scene he is even beset by spectral images of her, surrounding him, clutching at him, and provoking him with her murderous desires. Alas, the film turned out to be a box-office flop, and Murnau died in a car accident a few years later. But Sunrise remains a benchmark by which all other films—silent or not—should be measured, a pinnacle of craft in a more primitive age whose sophistication belies the resources at the time. Its shadow looms over several subsequent great works, from Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) to Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946), yet at the same time its own brilliance is inimitable. JKl

32. The General (1926)

Passed | 67 min | Action, Adventure, Comedy

When Union spies steal an engineer's beloved locomotive, he pursues it single-handedly and straight through enemy lines.

Directors: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton | Stars: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender, Jim Farley

Votes: 73,759

Keaton made several films—Our Hospitality (1923), Sherlock, Jr. (1924), Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)—that may be counted among the finest (and funniest) in cinema’s entire comic output, but none is as strong a contender to the title of the greatest comedy ever made as this timeless masterpiece. It isn’t merely the constant stream of great gags, nor the way they derive wholly from situation and character rather than existing in isolation from the film’s drama. Rather, what makes The General so extraordinary is that it is superlative on every level: in terms of its humor, suspense, historical reconstruction, character study, visual beauty, and technical precision. One might even argue that it comes as close to flawless perfection as any feature ever made, comic or otherwise. Much of the pleasure derives from the narrative itself, inspired by a book about the real-life exploits of a group of Northern soldiers who during the Civil War disguised themselves as Southerners to steal a train, which they drove north to rejoin their Unionist comrades until they were caught and executed. Keaton, understandably given that he was making a comedy, dropped the executions and changed the heroic perspective to that of a Southerner, Johnny Gray, a railway-driver who stoically if somewhat absurdly goes in solo pursuit of Unionist spies when they steal both his engine—“The General”—and, inside it, Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack), the other love of his life. The film’s first half follows Johnny’s rejection by the army with his chase after the train, which he recaptures behind enemy lines; the second half depicts his flight (with Annabelle) from the Union troops to his hometown where—after handing over the Girl, The General, and a real Northern army general inadvertently brought along for the ride—he is acclaimed as a hero. This elegant symmetrical story line is both formally pleasing and the source of suspense and gags; but the voyage also lends the film an epic tone which, combined with Keaton’s customarily meticulous historical detail, transforms it into perhaps the finest Civil War movie ever made. Then, finally, there is Buster’s Johnny: unsmiling yet beautiful in his brave, faintly ridiculous determination—the epitome of this serio-comic masterpiece, and as deeply human a hero as the cinema has given us. GA

33. The Unknown (1927)

Unrated | 63 min | Drama, Horror, Romance

A criminal on the run hides in a circus and seeks to possess the daughter of the ringmaster at any cost.

Director: Tod Browning | Stars: Lon Chaney, Norman Kerry, Joan Crawford, Nick De Ruiz

Votes: 6,657 | Gross: $0.41M

Best known for directing Bela Lugosi in the 1931 Universal horror classic Dracula (1931), and most notorious for his 1932 oddity Freaks, circus performer-turned-filmmaker Tod Browning’s all-around greatest film is The Unknown. The film is an under-appreciated silent-era gem starring the writer-director’s favorite (and most famous) actor, the so-called “Man of a Thousand Faces,” Lon Chaney. Well known and greatly admired for the physical pain he would regularly endure playing physically disabled antagonists or antiheroes, Chaney here outdoes himself as Alonzo, a criminal with an extra thumb on one hand who seeks to avoid capture by pretending to be an armless knife-thrower in a gypsy-run circus. The armless gig at first has an additional benefit, as Alonzo’s beautiful assistant Nanon (Joan Crawford in one of her earliest leads), daughter of the circus owner, cannot stand being embraced by men—in particular the chief competition with Alonzo for her affections, weight-lifting strongman Malabar the Mighty (Norman Kerry). After Nanon’s father accidentally sees his arms, Alonzo murders him in order to keep the secret from getting out. Nanon, meanwhile, catches a glimpse of the killer’s double thumb without seeing his face. Obsessed with Nanon, distraught over the possibility that she will eventually discover his true identity, Alonzo dismisses the objections of his dwarf assistant Cojo (John George) and has his arms surgically amputated. But in one of The Unknown’s most delicious and disturbing ironies, when Alonzo returns to the circus after a lengthy convalescence, he finds that Nanon has gotten over her phobia of being held, and has fallen head over heels for Malabar. Seeking poetic justice (or just garden-variety revenge) for this ultra-cruel twist of fate, the now truly armless Alonzo attempts to rig Malabar’s latest circus act—in which the strongman ties his arms to a pair of horses, each one pulling in the opposite direction—so that his rival will end up armless as well. However, his scheme is foiled at the last second, and Alonzo himself gets killed saving Nanon from being trampled by one of the horses. Drawing a remarkable and haunting performance from Chaney and filling the plot with striking twists and unforgettable characters, Browning here creates a chilling masterpiece of psychological (and psychosexual) drama. As Michael Koller writes, “The Unknown is a truly horrifying film that takes us into the darkest recesses of the human psyche.” SJS

34. October (Ten Days that Shook the World) (1927)

95 min | Drama, History

A large-scale view on the events of 1917 in Russia, when the monarchy was overthrown.

Directors: Grigoriy Aleksandrov, Sergei M. Eisenstein | Stars: Boris Livanov, Nikolay Popov, Vasili Nikandrov, Layaschenko

Votes: 6,452

In 1926, Sergei M. Eisenstein went to Germany to present his new film The Battleship Potemkin. He left a promising young filmmaker, but he came back an international cultural superstar. A series of major film productions was being planned to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevik victory. Eisenstein eagerly accepted the challenge of presenting on screen the revolutionary process in Russia—literally, how the country went from Aleksandr Kerensky’s “Provisional Government,” installed after the Czar’s abdication, to the first victories of Lenin and his followers. No expense was spared. Massive crowd scenes were organized, and city traffic was diverted so Eisenstein could shoot in the very sites where the depicted incident occurred. Contrary to popular belief, the film contains not one meter of documentary footage. Every shot was a re-creation. Working feverishly, Eisenstein finished just in time for the anniversary celebrations, but the reactions, official and otherwise, were less than enthusiastic. Many found the film confusing and difficult to follow. Others wondered why the role of Lenin was so greatly reduced (the actor playing him, Vasili Nikandrov, appears only a handful of times on screen.) Several critics who had supported Potemkin suggested that Eisenstein go back to the editing room and keep working. There is no denying that October is some sort of masterpiece, but figuring out what kind is a real challenge. As a didactic tool, a means of “explaining” the revolution to the masses at home and abroad, the film is simply ineffective. For many audiences, sitting through it is a real chore. The characterizations are all paper thin, and anyone with even a smattering of historical knowledge can see right through its crude propaganda. Yet what is perhaps most powerful and touching about October is simply its level of ambition. Sergei M. Eisenstein was surely the cinema’s most remarkable personality for the first 50 years of its existence, impossibly erudite, with an unlimited belief in cinema’s potential. At his most delirious, Eisenstein imagined that cinema could represent “visual thinking”—not just arguments, but the process by which the mind constructs arguments. Photographic images, the raw material of cinema, had to be “neutralized” into sensations and stimuli so that a film could reveal concepts and not just people or things. The real engine that would drive the cinema machine as Eisenstein saw it was montage, editing: the “mystical” interaction that occurs when two separate pieces of film are joined together. October is the purest, most cogent example of Eisenstein’s theory and practice of cinema. There are several absolutely breathtaking sequences: the toppling of the Czar’s statue, the raising of the bridge, and especially the frequently cited “For God and Country” sequence. Evidence of the cold engineer that Eisenstein originally trained to be might be found in the cathedral-like intricacy of its editing. However, scratch just below the film’s surface and you can feel the exhilaration—and the touch of madness—of an artist standing on the I threshold of what he believes will be a brave new world. RP

35. The Jazz Singer (1927)

Unrated | 88 min | Drama, Music, Musical

66 Metascore

The son of a Jewish Cantor must defy the traditions of his religious father in order to pursue his dream of becoming a jazz singer.

Director: Alan Crosland | Stars: Al Jolson, May McAvoy, Warner Oland, Eugenie Besserer

Votes: 8,373 | Gross: $7.63M

Throughout film history, certain movies have been the center of special attention, if not for their aesthetics, then for their role in the development of cinema as we know it. Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer is undoubtedly one of the films that has marked the path of motion pictures as both an art form and a profitable industry. Released in 1927 by Warner Brothers and starring Al Jolson, one of the best-known vocal artists at the time, The Jazz Singer is unanimously considered the first feature-length sound movie. Although limited to musical performances and a few dialogues following and preceding such performances, the use of sound introduced innovative changes in the industry, destined to revolutionize Hollywood as hardly any other movie has done. In its blend of vaudeville and melodrama, the plot is relatively simple. Jakie (Jolson) is the only teenage son of the devoted Cantor Rabinowitz (Warner Oland), who encourages his child to follow the same path of generations of Cantors in the family. Although profoundly influenced by his Jewish roots, Jakie’s passion is Jazz and he dreams about an audience inspired by his voice. After a family friend confesses to Cantor Rabinowitz to having seen Jakie singing in a café, the furious father punishes his son, causing him to run away from the family house and from his heartbroken mother Sara (Eugenie Besserer). Years later Jakie, aka Jack Robin, comes back as an affirmed Jazz singer looking for reconciliation. Finding his father still harsh and now sick, Jack is forced to make a decision between his career as a blackface entertainer and his Jewish identity. A milestone in film history representing a decisive step toward a new type of cinema and a new type of entertainment, The Jazz Singer is more than just the first “talkie.” As Michael Rogin, the famed political scientist, has argued, The Jazz Singer can be cited as a typical example of Jewish transformation in U.S. society: the racial assimilation into white America, the religious conversion to less strict spiritual dogma, and the entrepreneurial integration into the American motion picture industry during the time of the coming of sound. CFe

36. Napoleon (1927)

240 min | Biography, Drama, History

A film about the French general's youth and early military career.

Director: Abel Gance | Stars: Albert Dieudonné, Vladimir Roudenko, Edmond Van Daële, Alexandre Koubitzky

Votes: 6,383

At 333 minutes in its longest extant version, Abel Gance’s 1927 biopic is an epic on a scale to satisfy its subject. Although it follows Bonaparte from his schooldays in 1780—marshalling snowball fights—through to his triumphant Italian campaign of 1796, by contemporary standards the film lacks depth. For Gance, Napoléon (played by the appropriately named Albert Dieudonné) was a “man of destiny,” not pyschology. His paean to the French Emperor has something in common with Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky (1938), both thrilling pieces of cinema in the service of nationalist propaganda. If Gance is more of an innovator than an artist, it’s a measure of his brilliance that Napoléon still brims with energy and invention today. None of his contemporaries—not even Murnau—used the camera with such inspiration. Gance thought nothing of strapping cameramen to horses; he even mounted a camera on the guillotine. In one brilliant sequence, he captures the revolutionary spirit of a rousing (silent) rendition of “La Marseilles” by swinging the camera above the set as if it were on a trapeze. His most spectacular coup, though, is “Polyvision,” a split-screen effect which called for three projectors to create a triptych—nearly three decades before the advent of Cinerama. TCh

37. The Kid Brother (1927)

Passed | 82 min | Comedy, Drama, Family

A sheriff's milquetoast son has a chance to prove himself when a medicine show run by con artists comes into town.

Directors: Ted Wilde, Harold Lloyd, Lewis Milestone, J.A. Howe | Stars: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Walter James, Leo Willis

Votes: 3,541 | Gross: $1.55M

Harold Lloyd is often regarded as the “third genius” of silent American comedy, his 1920s’ work often considerably more successful with the public than that of Buster Keaton, and even Charlie Chaplin. Often directly associated with the Zeitgeist of the Jazz Age, Lloyd’s screen persona is routinely noted for its “speedy,” can-do optimism and his films singled out for the audacious, often dangerous stunts and acrobatic feats that they contain. In many of his films the wonders of modernity and their embodiment in the teeming city itself are chief preoccupations. The Kid Brother, Lloyd’s second feature for Paramount, is often considered to be the bespectacled comic’s best and most holistic film. In many ways it deliberately turns its back on the 1920s, returning somewhat to the rural “idyll” of the 1922 film Grandma’s Boy. The film’s two most startling sequences provide a kind of essay in contrast, illustrating the combination of both a delicate and somewhat more rugged athleticism that marks Lloyd’s best work. In the first sequence, Lloyd is shown climbing a tall tree to attain a slightly longer look at the woman he has just met (and fallen for). This sequence illustrates the often meticulous and technically adventurous aspects of Lloyd’s cinema—an elevator was built to accommodate the ascending camera—and the ways these are intricately connected to elements of character and situation (also demonstrating Lloyd’s masterly use of props). The second extended sequence features a fight between Lloyd and his chief antagonist, and is remarkable for its sustained ferocity and precise staging. Both sequences show Lloyd’s character transcending his seeming limitations, moving beyond appearances, and traveling that common trajectory from mama’s boy to triumphant “average” American. AD

38. The Crowd (1928)

Not Rated | 98 min | Drama, Romance