A few more of the random movies I have seen from the dusty depths of the 1930s. I haven’t had a lot of luck with them of late, finding most of them a little dull or incomprehensible. But we can’t love everything we watch all the time, especially if, like me, you are purposefully not being picky about what you watch.
LACPLESIS (1930) — 3 Stars
The film takes place in two eras – the mythical world of Lacplesis, Laimdota and the Black Knight and the Latvian War of Independence of 1919 during which the love story between Janis Vanags and Mirdza Saulite unfolds. – From IMDB
The first act or so, which takes place in the fantasy world of Lacplesis is a wonderful example of the kind of surreal fantasy that was being made around this time. All of it rather dark and abstract, full of nefarious characters etc. This portion of the film I really enjoyed. I wished they would have stuck with this setting for the entire time. Once the story switched to the wartime storyline I quickly lost interest, and was confused how the two storylines were meant to be connected. It felt like two entirely different stories to me.
I was having to use Google translate to read the Latvian title cards, so this may have only added to my confusion and frustration with the film. Either way this one felt far too long, and couldn’t really hold my attention for that long.
TONKA OF THE GALLOWS (1930) — 3 STARS
A prostitute in an act of pity is keeping chaste company with a condemned man through the night before he is to be hung. – From IMDB
The first ‘talkie’ from the then ‘Czechoslovakia’, the majority of this film is silent, with a few songs and sound effects thrown in. Overall this one was fairly good. As with a lot of silent movies, to really get the emotion across without dialogue, the acting and storyline really does tend to lean towards the melodramatic, but that is a side-effect of the limitations of the era, and shouldn’t really be seen as a negative the way it would be today.
It was a little drawn out, especially the second half, where we see Tonka’s past revealed and her subsequent fall from grace. The ending of course is utterly predictable, as these kinds of romantic dramas always are, for a guy with such strong morals, he sure did change his mind quickly.
BREAD (1930) — 2 Stars
A demobilized Red Army soldier returns to his village. Inspired by the spirit of collectivism, he plows a field so that the kulak’s portion now belongs to the community, and sows it with grain confiscated from the ‘philistines’. His father, a man of traditional world outlook, lives in a pantheistic world of the Ukrainian ethos, where sin has a physical dimension. He does not believe that the stolen grain will sprout on the stolen land. When the grain finally sprouts, the old man admits that his son was right; for the sake of building a new world, the old laws of the universe should be broken. – From IMDB
OK, so that synopsis makes this film sound a lot more interesting than it actually is. What this film really is, is a forty five minute, silent film, full of Soviet propaganda, and reminders of the might of Soviet power. Now, nearly 100 years later, with a whole bucket of hind sight, we can see how ridiculous these messages were, and we know that it all ended in tears. But in the thirties, if these were the films that were being shown to soviet citizens, it is easy to see how so many bought into the idea.
The acting is pretty terrible, even for a silent film the melodrama here goes a little too far. But there are some really great shots in this film, and some really interesting editing, that make the film a lot more interesting to look at than a lot of the films I have seen from this era.
Hopefully my further excursions into the world of films from the thirties won’t be quite so average as this one. I have found some real gems recently, sadly these three were not doing it for me.