Saturday, March 6, 2010

Charles Emmett Mack ~ America (1924)

AmericaIn my quest to be the world renown expert on all things Charles Emmett Mack (McNerney), I have been trying to get my hands on as many films of his as I can. I had waited not-so patiently, for well over a month, for ClassicFlix to send me America (1924) (only to discover that Netflix had it as available immediately, darn!). The film overall was a bit of a disappointment. It's directed by D.W. Griffith, known far and wide as the man who created such epic and controversial films as The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. Griffith was a jerk to say the least and a racist one at that. I don't like him nor do I care to learn anything about him. However, he is an important figure in Charles Emmett Mack's life. Griffith discovered Mack when Mack was a prop boy and took him under his wing, placing Mack in several of his films. These included Dream Street (1921), One Exciting Night (1922) and The White Rose (1923). Their last collaboration was America (1924).

America would prove to be Griffith's biggest failure and it marked the beginning of the end of his career.

America tells the story of the American Revolution. Like many directors in the Silent film era, Griffith took on a big subject and focused it by telling a larger story through the lives of a few characters. The problem is Griffith got carried away with the larger story and lost focus of the smaller one and the film turned out to be a complete mess. Nathan Holden (Neil Hamilton) is a farmer and a Rebel. He's in love with Nancy Montague (Carol Dempster), a delicate British belle who sympathizes with the king. Though they are at odds politically, they fall in love. Charles Emmett Mack plays Charles Montague, Nancy's brother. He's got a dual personality. On the outside he's the epitome of British pomp and frill and privilege. On the inside, he deeply admires General George Washington and wants to fight with Nathan and the rebels, even though doing so would shame his father. Oh yeah and Lionel Barrymore is in there too as Captain Walter Butler.

It's a good concept but the story gets muddled. As a collection of American Revolutionary War reenactments, this film is superb. I was very impressed by the scenes of Paul Revere's midnight ride and the fact that they shot on location in places such Lexington, MA and Concord, MA (nearby towns for me). However, the main story gets lost in all these reenactments and the confused audience loses track of the characters and what they are doing. The title cards are horribly written, the characters hardly get any dialogue and we, as viewers, are left puzzled. Griffith threw tons of money at this movie and sincerely hoped it would be his next epic but it was cursed from the very beginning. Even his favorite actress, Lillian Gish, didn't want to be associated with the film (she was originally singled out to play Nancy Montague).

Charles Emmett Mack is only a minor character in this film and I wished his character would have been more substantial because I thought his storyline had potential. I managed to get some screen shots of him and I thought I'd share. Also, my new discovery, Neil Hamilton who was quite the looker.

Neil Hamilton

Charles Emmett Mack

Here Mack's Character Montague meets and embraces General George Washington.

Angry Face!

Fighting with the rebels!


  1. I've always wanted to see America, although I've doubted I'd like it. My opinion of D. W. Griffith is not particularly high as it is. For all the claims that Birth of a Nation was a revolutionary movie, it seems to me that even for the era it was very poorly made. As I see it, Griffith was a hack who made a few innovations. He just happened to be a the right place at the right time.

    I've known of Neil Hamilton for years now. But then, sadly, I have to say I first encountered him not in his classic films, but as Commissioner Gordon on the 60s Batman show!

  2. "he gave us the grammar of film" - Lillian Gish

    not bad for a hack.

  3. Now that I say that I'm not interested in DW Griffith, I have to backtrack. I picked up his bio at the library to look for CEM info and it turns out this hack is really interesting. Who knew!

    Mercurie - Yes! I just discovered how lengthy & varied Neil Hamilton's career was!

    Artman - I feel like that quote can be applied to other silent film directors too. There is a whole lexicon of film, of which DW Griffith is only a part.

  4. that's true Quelle, he certainly didnt "invent" cinematic storytelling, but i feel pretty strongly that Griffith's accomplishments, weather one likes him personally or not, entitle him to a bit more repsect as an artist than being labeled a "hack". just my opinion ;)

  5. This picture cost nearly a million dollars, got mixed reviews, and did not make its money back.

  6. Action Movie - Thanks for that information!

  7. Great choice of films, as usual. I wonder if you would consider Griffith a box office panderer for his choice of material, or did he really think he had something important to say about America and the American mind? Did his imagination gravitate toward epic material?


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