The Epic of Everest (1924)
Another BFI restoration masterpiece, The Epic of Everest is a tribute to both documentary film-making and human endeavor. Made at a time when the world sorely needed an example of heroism that didn't involve the protracted, wholesale slaughter of 20-year-olds, the film documents the third attempt of a British climbing expedition to scale Everest.
It takes for effing ever for the team to even get to the base of the mountain, because they're trekking through parts of Tibet only a handful of white dudes have ever been. This is involves lots and lots of yaks and lots and lots of porters, a veritable wagon train of supplies and gear for a small group to attempt to reach the summit.
I realize that by 1924, cameras had gotten slightly less bulky, but honestly, how lightweight could they have been?! The camera gets within telephoto-lens distance of the final attempt to ascend, giving us (90 years later) a breathtaking, humbling, devastating view of four or five men (dots) making their way up a snowy pass.
It was on this trip that explorers George Mallory and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine disappeared within 800 (vertical) feet of the summit. Mallory's body was eventually found in 1999, but Irvine's has not yet been recovered.
Like South (1920), this documentary is both tragic and awe-inspiring, with gorgeous imagery you won't soon forget.
Two men independently meet and fall in love with the same woman one day on the the London Underground. She, Nell (Elissa Landi), is a sales clerk at an accessories booth, and returns the affections of the subway guard Bill (Brian Aherne), but rebuffs roughneck power plant worker, Burt (Cyril McLaglen).
Burt is not the kind of guy who likes to be turned down. He contrives to get Bill in hot water with Nell by asking the woman with whom he has been having a fling to pretend to have been assaulted by Bill in an alcove of the station. Kate (Norah Baring) is uneasy about this, but agrees on the promise that Burt will start treating her right and because she is inexplicably and hopelessly in love with him.
I thoroughly enjoyed Underground. Everyone in it seems like regular people. The fight scenes work, all the subway irritations are spot on, and the conflict is nicely set up and thrillingly resolved.
Under the Lantern (1928)
There's only one guy in this whole picture who isn't a jerk, and that's the one who plays the back end of a horse. Under the Lantern is the story of a young girl's descent into prostitution. Else (Lissy Arna) lives with her overbearing, tyrant of a father and is not allowed to go out in the evenings because he things she enjoys fun too much. In spite of this, Else has a boyfriend, Hans (Mathias Wieman), who seems genuinely fond of and concerned about her.
One evening, against her father's wishes (he has actually locked her in her room) Else goes out dancing with Hans, thinking she'll be able to sneak back in before her father finds out. Of course, he comes home early, finds her missing, then locks her out of the house so that she will have to stay out all night. Not knowing where else to turn, and being continually accosted by drunken men, Else goes to Hans's flat, where she meets his roommate and best friend, Max (Paul Heidemann), a trinket salesman and would be vaudevillian. Hans tries to pass off Else as his sister, but Max figures it all out. They all remain friends.
Meanwhile, Else's father has put the cops out looking for her, because she is not yet 21 and therefore belongs to him. The boys and Else have formed a nightclub act involving a dancing horse with a lady trainer. The nightclub owner, Gustave Nevin, casts a leering eye on Else, much to the chagrin of his current girlfriend, who hates Else thereafter.
Things go south after Hans interrupts the nightclub owner's attempted rape of Else, not realizing she was being attacked. The misunderstanding is epic and leads to their estrangement. Else winds up begrudgingly as Nevin's kept woman and enjoys the high life for a short time until he is indicted for fraud and kills himself. It's a quick trip to the streets from there.
This is not an upbeat picture, but it illustrates the particular difficulties women faced at a time and in a place where women's lives were not their own and the code of moral behavior was impossible to flout without dire consequences.
The nicest people in the film are prostitutes and their drunken clientele. Plus Max, the horse's ass. I kept hoping there'd be a way for Else to wind up with him.