Two Arabian Knights (1927)
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I'm not sure how this film could have beaten out Chaplin's THE CIRCUS, Keaton's STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. and Harold Lloyd's SPEEDY for the "comedy direction" Oscar. Still, it is a fun, sophisticated, and exciting film that is well written. I particularly liked the scene where they escape from a jam with a little help from God (or Allah). If you like silent films, you won't be disappointed.
Solid classic adventure story, complete with all of the key ingredients: exotic plot locations, a beautiful woman in peril, a pair of dauntless and resourceful heroes (one of them handsome, the other colorful) grossly outnumbered by badguys, sprinkled with comic relief. Great costumes and sets; as good or better than those of current movies. Surprising variety of camera craft and directorship; pans and zooms including overhead angles, and closeups of key characters and objects. In this regard again it seems like a modern movie! Actions convey the story very well; without the benefit of a soundtrack. Of course, this entails a considerable degree of live type acting (similar to that seen in plays), but I did not get a feeling of melodrama like is all too common in most silent films and early sound movies.
The most enjoyable performance is played by Louis Wolheim as the rough edged but colorful Sgt. Peter O'Gaffney, who was *perfectly* casted for the role; considering both appearance and skill.
There were at least a few peculiar facts about Muslim society that I had previously learned over the past several years, which added to my appreciation of the story in the area of historical accuracy.
My favorite scene was when the heroes are fleeing a swarm of dangerous, sword wielding Arabs through the narrow streets of a busy Muslim city. Suddenly though the chase is interrupted by an oblivious imam who pops out onto an exterior balcony to announce that it's time for afternoon prayer. Everyone out on the streets (except for the heroes) religiously obeys Islamic law and momentarily kneels down, which allows the heroes to escape. That scene was just one example of the film's many expressions of originality.
After seeing this movie I better realize how extensively modern movies contain rehashed ideas that were pioneered decades earlier.
The script is very original. The shooting is excellent for the times. And the acting is so well done, you feel what the characters feel, and can easily read the actors' lips for practically every line. Unlike many silent-era films, you get the sensation that you are in this one.
The comedy starts right from the opening scene, and I will describe it only to illustrate the unexpected silliness of William Boyd: He is in a night battle in World War I, and drops into a shell crater to avoid German gunfire. His 1st Sergeant, a bully and a brute whom he despises, had just fallen in before him, and is unconscious. Boyd tries to revive him until he sees who he is, and starts slinging mud on the Sergeant's face. He revives and they immediately jump into a fistfight in the mud. When a flare illuminates the night sky, they look up and see the hole is surrounded with numerous Germans with bayonets. The enemy was having a time watching them fight each other! It is an eye opener to see the future Hopalong Cassidy in a real cut-up comedy role, back when he looked like a very young cross between Marlon Brando and Jack Haley.
I was very impressed with the nitty-gritty reality in this film about POW's of World War I, in an era when glossed-over heroics and reality-denial dominated war films. Moreover, there is often a timeless feeling, especially during the POW camp scenes, which gives the viewer a sense of closeness to the people of that era; and the understanding that people have at all times in history been, in their own way, "modern."
The dual-based plot, (survival and escape, and later a pursuit of romance), rolls steadily through ever-changing backgrounds. The factors of comedy, action, danger, and romance blend harmoniously throughout. The relationship between Boyd's and Wolheim's characters develop from utter hatred, to enduring animosity, to forced survival cooperation, to mild mutual suspiciousness, to amorous competition, to strong friendship.
Though this is a silent film from 1927, centered on World War I in Europe and Turkey, I have never had such a modern and timeless feeling from a silent movie. This results from the cool, timeless acting and characterizations, and the excellent directing and shooting.
This is the first silent drammatic film my kids have thoroughly enjoyed, (until now only preferring silent comedic standards by Keaton, Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd.)
Producer Howard Hughes became a Hollywood power with the very successful release of this, his third motion picture. Thought lost for decades, this wonderful silent comedy has recently been rediscovered & restored and given a splendid orchestral score by Robert Israel. Directed with verve by Lewis Milestone and greatly benefiting from William Cameron Menzies' art direction, the high jinks & high adventure of this antique buddy film are once again ready to delight the viewing audience.
Clean-cut private William Boyd and plug-ugly sergeant Louis Wolheim battle Germans, Arabs and each other across Europe, the Mediterranean and into Palestine. They make a terrific comedy duo, constantly involved in one-upmanship and dangerous exploits whether in a POW camp, on a prisoner train, aboard a tramp steamer, or in a Moslem souk and emir's palace. Wolheim, with his hilariously expressive face, has a slight advantage in the scene stealing category, while Boyd has the upper hand in the romantics department.
Mary Astor, as the endangered princess, is the willing recipient of Boyd's attentions. Her role doesn't give her a great deal to do except look lovely & alarmed, but these she carries off admirably.
In the supporting cast, Michael Visaroff is the black hearted ship's captain who comes into conflict with Boyd & Wolheim; look fast for Boris Karloff as his purser. Dashing Ian Keith nicely plays the young Arab chieftain who will stop at nothing to make Astor his bride.
At various points throughout the movie the viewer will notice the deterioration of the film stock, showing that TWO ARABIAN KNIGHTS was indeed rescued, like the princess, just in time.
If all had gone originally according to plan, we would be saying that both "Two Arabian Knights" and "Speedy" were bested in this category by Charles Chaplin's "The Circus." But the Academy decided to yank Chaplin's film from competitive consideration and instead give it a special award.
Naturally, being a Hollywood product, there is not a whole lot of realism here, but there is a whole lot of entertainment, and a whole lot of talent.
Louis Wollheim apparently never became a household name, but his performance in this film would indicate he should have.
In one priceless scene, when, without inter-titles, the Bill Boyd character whispers the explanation of a word (often found in the Bible), Wollheim's expression almost makes the whole movie worthwhile.
Lewis Milestone's direction is another plus. This was still early in his career, but his use of inventive angles and a moving camera showed brilliance.
Ian Keith made a superb suave villain in one of his best roles.
Being a silent film, "Two Arabian Knights" probably won't be shown even on Turner Classic Movies very often, but I urge film fans to grab any opportunity to watch it.
The film is very well photographed and directed; Lewis Milestone has wonderful sets, and stages scenes beautifully. Of the performances, Mr. Wolheim stands out - he creates a character so understandable you can almost hear him speak, trough the film is silent. The story isn't as strong as it could be - there are some events and sequences which had me wondering how and why the characters' locale changed. The last looks, exchanged between one of the stars and an extra, is an example of something I didn't understand. Perhaps these were comic bits which had a particular appeal for the time.
The film is damaged in several places; but there is enough preserved, in even these scenes, to allow your mind to fill in the visual blanks. Boris Karloff appears as the "Purser"; watch for his big scene on ship, when Wolheim goes into a room with him for some money (what actually happens is a mystery). Early in the film, there is a long scene with a lot of naked men shown from the waist up (or, thereabouts); they are POWs being herded to the showers. Director Milestone uses parades of soldiers moving to great effect; this "shower" scene is different in that several of the men don't look as Caucasian as you might expect.
******* Two Arabian Knights (9/23/27) Lewis Milestone ~ William Boyd, Louis Wolheim, Mary Astor
The settings really stood out for me, the icy snow of northern Germany's camp where you can see steamy breath, well done! After the unexpected nudity in the delousing station scene, I was prepared for unique little touches later on and wasn't surprised when the muezzin called the faithful to prayer and the two US Marines escaped, still with their caps after all their exploits and country- hopping, ha! Turkey looked like one could expect it to look in the period; the palace and carriages and swords adding to the ambiance.
Astor showed some spunk even though she obeyed her land's customs and seemed prepared to go through with the marriage to a not bad looking guy. But he lacked Boyd's charm and so she fled to the US, I suppose, although globe-trotting as the film was, maybe the three wound up in Timbuktou!
Quirt and Flagg types form a certain sort of war buddy movie that appeals to me greatly, so I liked this one, too. Not as much as McLaglen and Lowe, however, maybe because McLaglen is a bit more attractive than Wolheim. I liked Wolheim's character better in Danger Lights and Sin Ship.
The film opens with soldiers Boyd and Wolheim jumping into a foxhole to temporarily escape certain death at the hands of the invading German army. Evidently, Private Boyd resents the treatment he's received from his Sergeant (Wolheim) and decides, given their situation, that he may as well get his licks in on his superior officer for a change. The two men fight for a while before the German troops literally surround their foxhole and take them prisoner. Still battling, they are marched through a town and then out through the snow to a remote camp for prisoners of war.
Once at the camp, the prisoners are lined up and relieved of their valuables by the German Commandant. However, unbeknownst to each other, Boyd and Wolheim pickpocket back the other's possessions taken. In the delousing station, Boyd draws a cartoon of one of the German officers which Wolheim finds amusing, but when Wolheim is about to be reprimanded by the officer, Boyd admits that the sketch was his and takes the punishment instead. Thus, the two men's bond is formed, and then solidified when they exchange each other's pilfered trinkets.
The American prisoners decide that they will work together to escape. However, when they do, and because they used white robes to avoid detection in the show, they inadvertently become prisoners again in a line of Arabs about to be transported by train to Turkey. There are a lot of comic bits sprinkled throughout their exploits. For instance, the men's robes were frozen askew at the bottom like dresses whence they were hiding in the snow. Then, when the men are being held inside with the other Arabs before boarding the train, this ice melts and a German guard, who slips on the dripping water, assumes the men have being urinating on themselves.
Like a regular comedy team, Boyd is the "brains" while Wolheim is the "brawn". After riding in the Arab prison train until they're almost to Constantinople, the men escape into a horse drawn carriage of hay, but quickly find themselves "stranded" on a cargo ship in the Mediterranean. When they are discovered as stowaways, the Greek (?) Captain demands fare and the soldiers give them all they have to stay on-board. At that moment, a small boat capsizes next to theirs and, seeing that no one else is helping them, Boyd jumps in to save its former occupants. However, he must then be saved by Wolheim, who also jumps in.
One of the persons rescued is a veiled Arabian princess (Astor), who naturally attracts the attention of the Captain and the two soldiers. There are then several comic exploits between the men who compete for her attention, with (pretty boy?) Boyd "winning" her heart. But alas, once the ship is anchored, she is retrieved by the sheik whom her father has arranged as her betrothed.
Will true love triumph? Will the Americans be able to rescue the princess from her fate? One things for sure, this is a very entertaining and amusing film.
This restored film has some spots where the images are grainy or damaged, but not enough to be annoying. And other parts of the film display really excellent image quality.
I found this film delightful. The two protagonists, who conspire and escape together, are not really friends. They rub each other the wrong way and they do not hide that fact. Still, they have a common goal and work together to escape. They tunnel, they disguise themselves, they hide. It seems like they will never achieve ultimate freedom, as something always goes wrong for them.
Along the way, they meet an Arab princess (Mary Astor) who provides some diversion from their objective.
I love the way the director framed this picture. He had a knack for zooming in close when the actors' faces are most important, and holding back when the action is most important, sometimes allowing the actors to be off-screen. The stunts are well-designed and satisfying, as if the director adhered to a strict policy of design quality. In a film from the 20s, this is a trait to be appreciated.
The humor in Two Arabian Knights is timeless, just as enjoyable today as when it was filmed.
Anyway, to get back to TWO ARABIAN KNIGHTS proper: despite the exotic title, this early Howard Hughes production and "buddy-buddy" movie is set not in a fairy-tale Baghdad but during the aftermath of WWI in Constantinople. In fact, director Milestone – one of Hollywood's premier chroniclers of men in war and best-known for his Oscar-winning classic adaptation of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930) – opens the film with a wonderful sequence in the trenches where the hierarchical friction between handsome private William "Hopalong Cassidy" Boyd and his rugged sergeant Louis Wolheim is cut short by a shell exploding around them and soon they are completely surrounded in a foxhole by the enemy, captured and imprisoned in a German P.O.W. camp. A sure measure of the movie's "Pre-Code" status here are the gratuitous scenes of P.O.W.s undressing completely for showering purposes – the protagonists, awaiting their turn, are seen having a conversation as the lengthy parade of men passes behind them!
Forgetting their differences, they eventually manage to escape by disguising themselves as Arabs and end up being shipped off to Turkey; the scene where they sport white robes which have been bent into dresses by the snow and the dripping, melting flakes make them look they are urinating is hilarious. Aboard ship, they bond in one front against the shady Greek crew (including purser Boris Karloff) and engage in friendly rivalry while attracting the attentions of exotic shipwrecked princess Mary Astor, whom they had saved when her boat capsizes. The latter is unwillingly betrothed to Turkish Bey Ian Keith and our central odd couple decide to follow her to Constantinople and alter the fate that had been planned for her since childhood; the closing shot of Wolheim mimicking the serious countenance of Astor's eunuch is again priceless.
Having now watched it, on this one preliminary viewing, I cannot say that the film is a masterpiece or even a lost gem – especially knowing that it competed directly against Ted Wilde's SPEEDY (1928; one of Harold Lloyd's best-ever vehicles) and Charles Chaplin's THE CIRCUS (1928; a nomination which was subsequently retracted) – as was Chaplin's one for Best Actor, in lieu of the Academy bestowing an Honorary Award on the British comic "For versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing THE CIRCUS"!
"What Price Glory" released the same year was a huge success with it's realistic depiction of war and the endless bickering between it's two main characters, Flagg and Quirt. All studios then wanted to hop on the "buddy" bandwagon. Boyd and Wolheim made a terrific team and it is a pity they didn't make more together although Wolheim was re-united with Astor and Ian Keith for the 1931 "Sin Ship" in which, unbelievably, he ended up with Astor - although Mary could make you believe anything!!!
Together they escape the camp by masquerading as two Arabs. One comic adventure follows another until they find themselves on a ship bound for Turkey (with Boris Karloff as a purser) where they make the acquaintance of Mirza, a beautiful Arabian princess whom they rescue from an overturned boat. Mary Astor considered a lot of her silent roles "drivel". Her father, only interested in how much she was worth, pushed her into whatever film came her way, he wasn't interested in the quality of the script so neither was she but she very much liked "Two Arabian Knights". Even though Mirza spends quite a bit of time veiled Astor managed to give her a personality but, for me, Louis Wolheim was the film's big plus. Madly mugging for the camera -his expressions just broke me up, especially when he finds out what a eunuch is!!! (and for the questioning reviewer that was who Wolheim's pitying expression was for at the film's end). Another favourite scene was when the boys are about to "get theirs" from two bands of marauding Arabs but a call to prayer has the whole street on it's knees, so our heroes can escape. Another was the fight in the dugout and in a super piece of cinematography, the outline of the hole becomes framed with muskets!!
Fortunately the film was caught just before deterioration set in, although some of the scenes are very spotty. Last but not least the film is help immeasurably by the stirring score by Robert Israel. His use of the plaintively popular song "My Buddy" adds a lot to the comedy moments.
The only reason these two are walking around in their Marine uniforms with little notice by anyone. There's also a bit of romance involved for Boyd who if this sound and he could sing would warble a tune like Bing Crosby with Louis Wolheim doing the heavy lifting for the comedy.
The romance comes with Arabian princess Mary Astor, but she has herself Ian Keith of the Turkish army interested and besides that it's dad who negotiates the marriage deals.
The recent troubles stemming from the Middle East kind of puts a damper on a film like Arabian Knights. The film also plays a lot like the Errol Flynn World War II era film Desperate Journey where the Nazis are so colossally stupid it's pathetic as well as a Bing&Bob road fest.
The humor is the rough house kind and Wolheim is a master of it. Boyd is your All American hero with the firm jawline. It did get an Oscar nomination for director Lewis Milestone in that first year of the Oscars.
A good opportunity to get acquainted with Louis Wolheim who died too young and to see Bill Boyd as something other than Hopalong Cassidy.
But that it is not an easy matter to achieve because, besides classic Teutonic gravitas, there are no insignificant silent films in Germany. Thus it is necessary to turn to developing cultures, particularly Amerika, where there are many light hearted films that can occasionally be enjoyed even by a strict German count.
"Two Arabian Knights" is one such Amerikan film and was directed in the silent year of 1927 by Herr Lewis Milestone. The film tells of the complicated relationship between two Amerikan soldiers as they travel across Europe; an enmity and rivalry that will traverse frontiers and take those strange comrades from France to Northern Germany and then to Turkey and finally to Arabia. In this latter place they will, after being rescued from a shipwreck, fight each other for the favours of Dame Mirza, a mysterious Arabian lady.
As this German count mentioned before, the only purpose of the film is to entertain and certainly that intention is achieved in this conventional adventure silent film that includes the necessary ingredients of those commercial and popular films; that is to say, exotic settings, some action and funny situations. Herr Milestone has not made a milestone silent film though there is some clever camera-work, particularly at the beginning of the film where, from different angles ( up and down ), we see the two men battling each other in a foxhole while astonished German soldiers look on.
The film intertwines World War I sequences (light hearted rather than dramatic)as well as exotic adventures in the East, an East of course that is seen through Western eyes and one that is deliberately frivolous and cliché ridden. It is the perfect fictional setting for these two strong personalities who, in spite of their rivalry, can't live without each other ( or Dame Mirza, natürlich!.)
And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must continue with the exclusive and aristocratic art of being bored.
Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien http://ferdinandvongalitzien.blogspot.com/
It's a solid mix of comedy and action. With some different camera angles that would have been quite fresh in those days and keep it fresh even today. Some very funny scenarios, including one attempt to milk a goat. Ahem.
It's a tragedy Louis Wolheim lived only to 1931, dying of stomach cancer. He was an educated, cultured man with a face of a street-fighting pug that probably would have kept him in movies for decades. Some of his pantomimes in this movie are as good as anything from silent-era comedies.
As for Mary Astor. Watch her eyes in the scene where she's being courted by William Boyd, then Wolheim slides up to them, then her servant interrupts them all. She doesn't say a word (her face other than her eyes is covered in a veil) and there are no cards. She accomplishes more in a minute or two on screen than most contemporary actresses do in an entire movie. And how about the seduction scene with her veil. Wowza.
As far as the film goes, it was a rather funny script and despite being a silly plot, it worked rather well. The chemistry between Boyd and Wolheim worked and the film managed to be quite entertaining. Oddly, however, the film managed to beat out Harold Lloyd's film, SPEEDY, for an Oscar for Best Direction for a Comedy (a category no longer used)--as SPEEDY was a superior film in most ways (it's one of Lloyd's best films). Still, it's well worth a look--especially if you love silent films.
By the way, director Milestone and Louis Walheim would team up just a few years later for another WWI picture, the great ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT--a film that is definitely NOT a comedy.
So I was apprehensive about this one, and humor is often difficult to appreciate (uh, enjoy) decades later. I did like the lead actors, but thought little of the film.
One intriguing sequence. Early on, the guys are supposed to get "de-loused" and for about three minutes, fully dressed, do some schtick. In the background, perhaps three dozen men pass by, all naked, white and black (WWI ?), and for most, their butts, part or full backside, are shown. Was this an early variation of beefcake courtesy of Howard Hughes?
Louis Wolheim and William Boyd have the kind of chemistry on display decades later in buddy films like BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID--and it is this element of the film that makes it watchable today.
Otherwise, much of it is pretty dreary stuff--the high point for me being the prison camp scenes in the mud. Surprising to find that this light romp was directed by the heavy-handed Lewis Milestone who later did grim war films like A WALK IN THE SUN.
Only fanatic silent film fans will thoroughly enjoy this one. Photography is surprisingly good considering how vintage the whole production is. Mary Astor makes a wide-eyed ingenue and was indeed a youthful beauty at the time.
Acting honors go to the two leads--especially William Boyd's carefree soldier who shows a real flair for "buddy" comedy.
I thought the musical score became a bit irritating after awhile. Hard to picture this in the Best Film category when today it seems like no more than a pleasant trifle.