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World War I Films of the Silent Era

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The astonishing films in this collection show and explain essential news and propaganda functions of the movies during the Great War of 1914-1918. In those days before television and even before radio, fiction films in movie theaters were the most widely shared public experience, while news films were the most potent and detailed public images of armament, military life and even front line action. Some news film was faked and much of it was censored, but some was authentic, obtained at great risk by daredevil combat cameramen.

FIGHTING THE WAR (1916) is the work of 26-year-old American adventurer Donald C. Thompson, who managed to get to France on Canadian credentials with English troops. He photographed some of the most amazing front line films of the entire war.

THE LOG OF THE U-35 (1917) is a totally authentic filmed account of sinkings on one Mediterranean cruise in April 1917 by a submarine commanded by Lothar von Arnauld de la Perriere, Germany's U-Boat Ace of Aces, during the period of unrestricted submarine warfare.

THE SECRET GAME (1917) directed by William C. de Mille and starring Sessue Hayawaka, Florence Vidor, Jack Holt and Charles Ogle. Reported when new as a "timely release," it's a detective story in which representatives of Japan (our ally in 1917-18) and the United States work hand-in-hand to frustrate German agents in their effort to get information about American transport sailings on the Pacific.

THE MOVING PICTURE BOYS IN THE GREAT WAR (1975) is a compilation documentary narrated by Lowell Thomas, illustrating changing attitudes toward the war and its participants, as well as toward the movies themselves. Winner, Gold Medal, 1975 Chicago Film Festival.

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The rare fiction and nonfiction films in this compilation offer a time-capsule glimpse of World War I from a variety of fascinating angles. "The Great War" (1914-18) was the first to be extensively recorded by motion picture cameras, and the societal impact of film is keenly evident throughout this international selection. It's amazing, in hindsight, to see Japanese-born Sessue Hayakawa cast as an American spy in 1917's "The Secret Game," and even the most inclusive Chaplin collections don't include the bond-drive film included here, featuring Charlie in "Little Tramp" garb, symbolically pummeling the German Kaiser with a giant war-bonds mallet! The filmed log of the German submarine U-35 (from 1917) demonstrates the sub's chilling efficiency at sinking enemy ships, while the 1975 compilation "The Moving Picture Boys in the Great War" puts everything (propaganda, newsreels, authentic battle footage) into sharp historical perspective. Rescued from obscurity, these images are as haunting as they are informative. --Jeff Shannon

Special Features

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Product Details

  • Actors: Charles Ogle, Jack Holt, Florence Vidor, Sessue Hayakawa
  • Directors: William DeMille
  • Writers: Hans Brennert, Marion Fairfax
  • Producers: Jesse L. Lasky
  • Format: NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: May 15, 2012
  • Run Time: 167 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00005TNF3
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #213,775 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "World War I Films of the Silent Era" on IMDb

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This is a very good DVD produced by David Shepard - who has given us many other excellent silent films of all sorts - and it contains four different films: a documentary, a feature film ("The Secret Game") from 1917 and two films of authentic footage from World War I. Although I usually prefer a good silent drama, I still found the first two films of actual war footage quite interesting, and no doubt they would also appeal to the general history buff. The first film, "Fighting the War" gives an overview and insight into the battles, equipment and conditions facing WWI soldiers, and I preferred this one to the second, which focuses more on the exploits of a German U-Boat in the Mediterranean. After a while it became just a little tedious seeing one cruiser, steamer or other vessel being sunk after another, but it still has its appeal and some fascination due to the authentic footage, and the film quality of both these films is very good. They also have an excellent musical score by Eric Beheim which I enjoyed, and there are some good notes on both these films as well.

The highlight of the DVD for me is the feature film, "The Secret Game", directed by William C. de Mille, Cecil's brother. It stars Japanese-American actor, Sessue Hayakawa who was popular at the time and had made a big impression in Cecil B. DeMille's "The Cheat" two years earlier. His role in "The Secret Game" is similar to that in "The Cheat" in that his motives are questionable and he attempts to take a woman by force - but only after an interesting story about espionage involving German Secret Service agents, one of them being a young woman by the name of Kitty Little.
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Having recently watched and reviewed MISS LULU BETT and being impressed with the job done by William C. de Mille (1878-1955), I went back and revisited THE SECRET GAME from this 2001 collection as it is the only other readily available film from Cecil B's older brother (Cecil was born in 1881 and died in 1959).

Although clearly made as propaganda after America's entry into World War I, THE SECRET GAME is a well made little espionage feature with solid performances from the principals in the cast. Top acting honors go to Sessue Hayakawa which is not surprising as this film was made as a star vehicle for him. He was at the height of his U.S. stardom at this time having created a sensation in brother Cecil's THE CHEAT two years earlier. Veteran silent performer Charles Ogle (he was the monster in Edison's 1910 version of FRANKENSTEIN) is fun to watch as the German agent Dr "Smith". He chews the scenery but does it in a restrained and dignified manner. The direction of William C. de Mille can be described exactly the same way, restrained and dignifed especially when compared to his more famous sibling. This is probably due to the fact that William was an established playwright before becoming a film director and was more aware of the subtle nuances of performance and of letting the story tell itself. It's a real shame that more of his films aren't available as it's fun and instructive to compare them with Cecil's whose frequently over the top style would become forever associated with Old Hollywood.

Some interesting biographical trivia on the two romantic leads: Jack Holt had a long and successful career in silents and early talkies.
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By Andy on March 6, 2010
Format: DVD
Sessue Hayakawa was nominated for an Academy Award for Colonel Saito in 1957's The Bridge on the River Kwai. 40 years earlier he was one of the great Hollywood stars, often playing dashing romantic forbidden love, including the 1917 spy drama here, "The Secret Game". This DVD is one of the handful of ways to see an English-language Hayakawa movie. In 1918 he started his own very successful production company in Hollywood. Haworth Pictures released 23 movies, Asian themed for Western audiences, that weren't so deeply stereotypical. The finest might be The Dragon Painter, available on its own DVD.

The other reviewers here accurately reflect on the other three films on this one disc. I can only add that Donald C. Thompson's filming Verdun and, in the air, the slow death of a German plane is beautiful, awful and hypnotic. (22 minutes).

The U-Boat film is actually part of a "jaw dropping" 1917 German film (25 minutes). The award-winning 1975 documentary (50 minutes) on Movies and WWI includes real news and faked news.

This is really a very special DVD.
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Format: Amazon Video Verified Purchase
An important film to see from a propaganda standpoint as the U-boat stops all targets, removes captain, crew and passengers and only then sinks the ship. A "gentlemen's war" which later turned savage.
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This DVD is packed with incredible footage documenting the strife and horrors of World War One; and there is a feature film entitled The Secret Game starring Sessue Hayakawa, Charles Ogle and other marvelous actors. Some of this battle footage is definitely hard to take; therefore this is not geared toward sensitive people. In addition, the quality of the print varies from terrific to below par for several portions of "The Secret Game;" the wartime footage is in remarkably good shape considering it was filmed at or near the front and then rushed back to American theaters to tell the public what was going on--along with a side dish of propaganda, of course.

The part I liked best would have to be the forty-five or fifty minute segment entitled "The Moving Picture Boys in the Great War." This adroitly depicts how Hollywood helped the American government give out the "official" message as to whether or not Americans should want peace or war; and we also see actors including Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford giving what must have been very passionate speeches at war bond rallies. There is brief footage of Douglas Fairbanks doing his usual "macho man" stunts to razzle-dazzle the crowd to get them interested in buying war bonds, too.

The segment that gives us the film "The Secret Game" is wonderful. Parts of this film are predictable and other parts are embarrassingly dated; but it still provides us with a good look at how Hollywood wanted Americans to think about the war after we entered it. In addition to excellent acting by Sessue Hayakawa and Charles Ogle, look for fine performances by Jack Holt as the stoic Major John Northfield; Florence Vidor as Kitty Little and Mayme Kelso as Miss Loring.
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