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Ingeniously capturing the mysteries and adventures of childhood, James M. Barrie's timeless play became one of the most popular films of the twenties. Virtually unseen for decades, Paramount Studios' 1924 production of Peter Pan has been fully restored from original nitrate materials with authentic color tints, and is presented in a deluxe edition with a new orchestral score by Philip Carli. Betty Bronson stars as Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, who charms Wendy and her brothers to fly with him to Never Never Land. On this island of dreams and magic, they struggle to resuce the Lost Boys from Captain Hook and his band of pirates, encountering along the way the delightful fairy Tinkerbell, a man-eating crocodile, and a band of valiant Indians (led by Anna May Wong). This memorable adaptation -- which in turn inspired later film versions of the story -- features a delightful cast, remarkable special effects by Roy Pomeroy, and fine photography by James Wong Howe (The Thin Man).
J.M. Barrie's play about the boy who refused to grow up has become a stage classic and a revival standard, but in the movies Disney's animated musical version remains the most famous incarnation. Nearly forgotten is the original 1924 live-action version, a lavish silent fantasy that captures the fairy tale magic of flying children, wicked pirates, and a wondrous storybook land where kids never grow up. Tomboyish Betty Bronson, with an innocent smile and a mischievous spontaneity, is the eternally adolescent boy while towering Ernest Torrence (the burly comic actor best known as Buster Keaton's gruff father in Steamboat Bill Jr.) plays a gleefully flamboyant Captain Hook. This faithful adaptation flies from the Darling nursery to the thick tangle of the Lost Boys' forest, where elaborate, cartoonishly exaggerated animal costumes wander the trails and a floating ball of fairy light reveals herself as a lovely, petite girl in a gossamer gown and glowing hair. A curious thread of American patriotism peaks in the pirate ship climax when the Lost Boys replace the Jolly Roger with the stars and stripes and fly the ship into the stars. Long thought lost, a beautiful 35mm print was recovered years ago and serves as the basis for this restoration. Anna May Wong costars as Princess Tiger Lily, and a fine new score by Philip C. Carli accompanies the film.
The DVD also features a 30-minute interview with costar Esther Ralston, an essay by film historian Frederick C. Szebin, and a treasure-trove of archival stills and promotion materials in a photo gallery. --Sean Axmaker
- New Transfer from 35mm Archive Elements
- Prchestral Score by Philip C. Carli
- Essay by Film Historian Frederick C. Szebin
- Photo Gallery: production stills & promotional materials
- Reminiscences by Actress Esther Ralston
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The picture quality, which was subtly tinted, will disappoint no one, although it looked more like a really good 16mm print than a 35mm to me. Perhaps I'm spoiled because I've never seen the film in any gauge but 35mm. A great deal of the magic in PETER PAN was supplied by cinematographer James Wong Howe. Scenes that could have been foolish in other hands became enchantment in his.
Phil Carli's score works perfectly: It had that "turn of the century, concert in the park on Sunday afternoon" feel to it. It wouldn't have worked with many silent films, but for PETER PAN it was marvelous------a tribute to Carli's ability to match a narrative theme with it's programmatic musical compliment.
PETER PAN is filled with magical touches that never seem to go too far or become foolish. Peter's heart to heart talk with the crocodile when they conspire to "get" Captain Hook was one of my favorites, as were the mermaids on the beach. The only point that has ever bothered me is at the end when Peter actually stabs and kills two of the pirates. Somehow I thought this was out of place and brought too much realism to a light hearted fairy tale. But this is very minor nit-picking of an otherwise flawless silent film.
The "value ads" are production stills from the film along with a poster and lobby card. There are also interviews with Esther Ralston (one video and three audio), who plays Mrs. Darling. The things she has to say about Louis B. Mayer are more than just interesting.
A title card at the very beginning tells the audience that the acting may seem whimsical to an adult but that "all the characters are seen with a child's outlook on life.....even to the adults in the story. Pull the beard on a pirate and you would find the face of a child." So for 102 minutes, clap your hands and pretend you believe in fairies.
Nana is played by a guy in a dog suit, but he does an incredible job. This was about 50 years before Muppets; Nana's performance in the first few scenes will make your jaw drop. Simply amazing pantomime puppetry - it couldn't have been easy to do that. There's a pack of wolves later, as well as a lion and the famous crocodile; all people in costumes.
Peter is played in a completely manic over-the-top performance by Betty Bronson. Her cocky stance, expansive gestures, wide eyes and crazy grin had me cackling with glee. I think another reviewer mentioned how weirdly sexy she is in this role, and I'd have to agree.
Speaking of sexy, Tinkerbell (in the 4 or 5 close-ups of her) looks beautiful in her diaphonous wind-blown gown. The shot of her tugging on the dresser-drawer handle has got to be among the greatest single shots in early cinema. It's an impressive effect, even today.
Captain Hook hams it up delightfully as a melodramatic villain. He is unapologetically vile ... but he has good manners!
The special effects are pretty impressive for 1924, and they hold up pretty well today. Tinkerbell's first appearance is actually startling; it took me a while to figure out how they might have done it. The kids are on wires when they fly around, but hey ... what do you expect? The director didn't try to do more than he was capable of, and the end result looks very confident.
I can't give five stars because, even though this held my attention better than some silent movies I've seen, the story still drags toward the end. Scenes on board the pirate ship after the lost boys are captured are too long, there are too many awkward cuts, and what's with the American patriotism? Sure, this movie was made by an American studio, but everybody knows it's based on a British play. Hoisting the Stars and Stripes and singing "America the Beautiful" after a victory over the pirates ... this element seems misplaced.
All in all, this is a charming film, not perfect, but definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of Peter Pan or silent cinema. An unjustly overlooked masterpiece.
The DVD print is quite good for an 87 year old original and the score is excellent.
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