Showing posts with label Charles Emmett Mack. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Charles Emmett Mack. Show all posts

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!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Old San Francisco (1927) and the Vengeful god

Fire of San Fransisco 1906

In continuation of yesterday's post... (some spoilers)

This movie isn't kidding around. A lot of folks even today consider San Fransisco a sinful city and it is portrayed that way in this film. There is a unique juxtaposition of various Biblical references peppered throughout the film alongside shots of sinful activities in the various seedy places of Old San Fransisco. You cannot watch this film and truly appreciate it without taking into account it's religious overtones. At one point in the film, Buckwell (Warner Oland) and his entourage are drinking and carousing in a dive in the Mile of Hell. A man barges in and boldly proclaims to all who will listen to him: "In the midst of thy inquities, God will punish thee! His wrath will fall from Heaven - ". This is a warning for sure.

The movie mostly takes place in 1906 and the biggest natural disaster that San Francisco (or California for that matter) has ever seen is imminent. The earthquake of 1906 was catastrophic and it's estimated that 3,000 people perished in the quake and the ensuing fires that engulfed the city. Most people were left homeless. We have the man's proclamation as well as other references to a vengeful God that lead us to this natural disaster at the epicenter of the film.

Dolores as Angel

In my opinion, Dolores (Dolores Costello) is the epitome of Christian innocence. She is a vertiable angel. She lives on the outskirts of the city and when she steps into the seedy parts of San Fransisco sticks out like a sore thumb. Buckwell's attempt to rape her just serves to show us how truly evil he is and how the city has got out of hand. After Buckwell gets caught and her grandfather dies trying to duel with Buckwell for her honor, Buckwell's true self is exposed to Dolores in a sort of godly revelation. Through the power of her Christianity, her god (and the ghosts of her ancestors!, she is given a moment of clairvoyance and is able to see that Buckwell isn't white as all the Chinamen in Chinatown thought. He's actually a Mongol. The titlecard reads "In the awful light of an outraged, wrathful, Christian God, the heathen soul of the Mongol stood revealed". Let's not get into the racist parts of this film, but this is useful information for Dolores. If she is able to reveal this to the Chinamen who are oppressed by this man who they thought was a white superior, she can stop Buckwell's reign of terror. He tries at all costs to stop her from revealing this. With the help of his sidekick Anna May Wong, he seeks his revenge by sneaking her into one of his brothels and having the madam dress her for services. This is not right and we know it. An angel cannot be sullied this way and just around the time she gets her first customer, she begins to pray the Our Father, while O'Shaugnessy is trying to save her with the help of Buckwell's now freed, but previously trapped midget brother, the earthquake starts. The walls collapse, rubble falls down on all the sinners and the whole city disassembles itself into chaos.

You Mongol!

To me this smacks of Samson and Delilah. So I pulled out my Oxford Annotated Bible and went to the Book of Judges Chapter 16 to refresh myself on the tale. The two stories are definitely parallel. Samson was born of barren parents who were blessed with the pregnancy by an angel of God if they promised not to cut his hair. Samson was born with incredible strength which he could keep unless his hair was cut. Delilah, a prositute and a spy for the Philistines, tries to find the secret of Samson's strength. In a moment of weakness, he tells her. She cuts his hair in his sleep and the Philistines capture Samson and gouge his eyes out. He is placed in between two pillars, in front of 3,000 Philistines for their amusement. He prays to God to give him one last bought of strength and he proceeds to bring down the pillars, and the building and he and all the Philistines perish in the rubble.

Dolores as Prostitute

Now back to the movie. Dolores has long hair, but her strength is really her innocence and beauty. Buckwell knows her strength is in her reputation as part of Spanish aristocracy and people believe and trust her because of her purity. Her weakness is Terrence O'Shaugnessy (Charles Emmett Mack), whom she loves. Buckwell traps O'Shaugnessy and uses him as ransom. He puts Dolores in a brothel (Delilah was in a brothel!) and the moment her innocence is at stake the walls fall down among everybody. It's not a perfect correlation but it's pretty darn close.

It's interesting that this story chose to equate the San Francisco earthquake as an act of God against the sinfulness of San Fransisco. I don't really have an opinion other than an objective one. In terms of storytelling, it's an interesting plot device to lead up to the earthquake. The event becomes part of the driving force of the storyline rather than something unfortunate that just happens.

I haven't seen any other films about the San Francisco earthquake and fires of 1906 so I'm not sure how other movies have treated the subject. Old San Francisco (1927) is a film I highly recommend to anyone with a particular interest in this important moment in US history.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Charles Emmett Mack (McNerney) ~ Old San Francisco (1927)


Actor Charles Emmett Mack (McNerney) must not have been scared to tackle heavy topics in his movies. In The First Auto (1927), the audience follows Mack's character and through him and others we see the effects that the invention of the automobile, and it's replacement of the horse-drawn carriage, has on American society and how new technology often times distances different generations. In Old San Francisco (1927), we learn about the history of the city of San Francisco through the stories of different characters.


Old San Francisco (1927) tackles the history of San Fransisco, California from the time when the Spanish established a colony there in 1776, to the Gold Rush of 1848 and on to the great earthquake and fires of 1906. The story lingers on 1906 but the city's past is just as important to the story as the city's present.

Like in The First Auto (1927), Old San Francisco tells a big story through the lives of a few people, thus giving us insight on a meaty topic through a microcosm. We follow the story of the Vasquez family, aristrocratic Spaniards who reside in a mansion in San Francisco. They hold very strongly to the ideals that they inherited from their Spanish ancestors and the family's downfall starts as they resist the overwhelming influence the Gold Rush of 1848 has on the town. At the point the story really starts, 1906, we are introduced to Dolores (Dolores Costello - how fitting!) an amazingly beautiful young Spanish-American woman who lives with her grandfather and strives to maintain the old Spanish customs. Their dilapidated mansion and the land it sits on, is lusted after by various potential buyers. One day, two irishmen show up at the mansion offering to buy it from the proud grandfather who obviously refuses. One of those irishmen is Terrence O'Shaugnessy (Charles Emmett Mack) who falls head over heels with Dolores. But he's got competition. There is another old-fashioned Spaniard in the neighborhood, nipping at Dolores' heels. There is greedy Czar Chris Buckwell (Warner Oland - the Swede of Charlie Chan fmae) who corruptly rules all the chinamen in Chinatown with his iron fist. Dolores' beauty is like a dazzling jewel that he must possess and Buckwell will do so by any means possible. O'Shaugnessy has a chance because Dolores is smitten with the senor, but he gets sidetracked with the prostitutes and booze on Cocktail Route. Will he be able to save Dolores from Buckwell's attempts to rape her and to coerce her grandfather out of his home?



Charles Emmett Mack is again his charming loveable self in this film. The moment his character lays eyes on the beautiful Dolores, he stops, stares and drops his briefcase with important documents into the carriage. You just know that at that moment he leaves his business behind to concentrate on falling in love and pursuing Dolores. My heart just melted when he says (through title cards since this is a silent picture) "Sinful ye are - hiding your beauty from a starvin' world." His character gets sidetracked a lot. Even when he is living it up with the prostitutes on Cocktail Route, you still have the feeling that he is a genuinely good guy, just misguided by all the sinfulness that San Fransisco has to offer him. He plays the most real and mult-dimensional character in the movie. Everyone else seems to be one-dimensional. Dolores is pure and good, the grandfather is proud, Buckwell is greedy and evil, etc. Yet Terrence O'Shaugnessy waivers between good and bad and grows as a person as the story develops. He comes through at the end and you find yourself rooting for him all along the way. Don't let the other big stars Anna May Wong, Warner Oland, Dolores Costello, dazzle you away from the genuine charms of Charles Emmett Mack.


I hope you'll take an opportunity to watch this film. It's available to buy in the Warner Archive collection or to rent on Classicflix. Next up is an examination of the religious overtones of the film. I thought it would be too much to put it in my general review so I separated it into another post.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Charles Emmett Mack (oh and me too)

Today is my birthday. It falls so close to Thanksgiving that it often gets overlooked which suits me just well because as I get older these anniversaries get more and more depressing. So today I decided to honor someone other than myself who was born on November the 25th.

I first discovered Charles Emmett Mack when I was watching the Norma Shearer film The Devil's Circus (1926).  In researching the film for a post I have yet to write, I discovered that Charles Emmett Mack lived a tragically short life. He died in a car accident while shooting the film The First Auto (1927) (See my review of that film). I wondered what his career could have been had he lived longer. Mack had quite a dynamic onscreen presence. He had a kind countenance with a sort of playfullness in his eyes. His face seemed finely sculpted out of stone and he had the most amazing dimples that I'm sure had the ladies swooning.

There is very little to no information on this actor online. Below is what I could gather from various sources. If you have any information to add, please let me know!

Charles Emmett Mack

B. November 25, 1900 Scranton, Pennsylvania
D. March 17, 1927 Riverside, CA

~ Real Name: Charles Emmett McNerney or Charles Stewart McNerney (most sources list the first one)
~ Discovered by D.W. Griffith who put him in several of his movies.
~ Had a contract with Warner Bros. was being set-up for major stardom.
~ "Mack" seemed to be a popular name in early Hollywood. In addition to Charles Emmett Mack there was also Johnny Mack Brown, Helen Mack, Charles E. Mack, Charles Mack, Wilbur Mack, etc.
~ One source claims that his stage name was Charles Montague at first, but really that was his character's name in the film America (1924)
~ Died on the way to the set of The First Auto (1927) - It was a car accident which is ironic given the topic of the film he was shooting.
~ Buried in Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles

Dream Street (1921) as Billy Mcfadden
The Daring Years (1923) as John Browning
Driven (1923) as Tom Tolliver
The White Rose (1923) as Guest At Inn
Youth for Sale (1924) as Tom Powers
America (1924) as Charles Philip Edward Montague
The Sixth Commandment (1924) as Henry Adams
Down Upon the Suwannee River (1925) as Bill Ruble
Bad Company (1925) as Dick Reynolds
Down Upon the Swanee River (1925)
A Woman of the World (1925) as Gareth Johns
The Devil's Circus (1926) as Carlstop
The Unknown Soldier (1926) as Fred Williams
Old San Francisco (1927) as Terrence O'Shaughnessy
The Rough Riders (1927) as Bert Henley
The First Auto (1927) as Bob Armstrong


Dream Street (1921) ~ The Directors: Rare Films Of D.W. Griffith As Director Vol. 1
The White Rose (1923) ~ The Directors: Rare Films Of D.W. Griffith As Director Vol. 4
America (1924) also on ClassicFlix
A Woman of the World (1925)
The First Auto (1927) ~ Warner Archive also on ClassicFlix
Old San Fransisco (1927) ~ Warner Archive also on ClassicFlix

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

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