Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Modern Musketeer

Nykyajan muskettisoturi. US 1917. PC: Douglas Fairbanks Pictures Corporation/Artcraft. P: Douglas Fairbanks; D+SC: Allan Dwan, based on the story “D’Artagnan of Kansas” by E.P. Lyle, Jr.; cin: Hugh McClung, Harris Thorpe, asst: Glen MacWilliams; ed: William Shea; gen. mgr: John Fairbanks; cast: Douglas Fairbanks (Ned Thacker/d’Artagnan), Marjorie Daw (Elsie Dodge), Kathleen Kirkham (her mother), Frank Campeau (Chin-de-dah, a Navaho), Eugene Ormonde (Forrest Vandeteer [Barris]), Tully Marshall (James Brown), Edythe Chapman (Mrs. Thacker); Zasu Pitts (Kansas Belle), Jim Mason (bandit), Charles Stevens (Indian); 1333 m /16 fps/ 73 min; print: DFI. Digital 2K restoration by DFI in 2006 from a complete 35mm duplicate negative held at DFI and an incomplete 35mm duplicate negative held by MoMA. Original in English with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Ian Mistrorigo. Viewed at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, Cinema Verdi, 7 October 2008.

Thomas Christensen: "(...) long thought to survive as a fragment (only the first 3 reels were preserved by the MoMA), but a complete version was eventually located with the DFI. The DFI restored the film in 2006, with the kind assistance of MoMA and Lobster Films, Paris. In the last part of the film, the intertitles are translated from the extant Danish titles. The typeface has been maintained, and an attempt has been made to maintain the tone of the first 3 reels. Nevertheless, a keen eye will notice slight flaws, such as the character Vandeteer’s name changing to Barris." – Thomas Christensen

Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta: "This restoration is a major event in silent film scholarship. As the first Douglas Fairbanks-Allan Dwan collaboration for Artcraft Pictures, A Modern Musketeer (1917) proved to be significant as the link between Fairbanks’s contemporary comedies and the later costume films."

A flamboyant action comedy-adventure based on E.P. Lyle Jr.’s story “D’Artagnan of Kansas” (... 1912), A Modern Musketeer winningly combines elements of comedy and melodrama. Moreover, as the title suggests, it was the harbinger of the great things to come, for in it Fairbanks dons the cloak and sword of the legendary fourth musketeer for the first time. Fairbanks was testing the waters of public acceptance of himself in a costume film. Appearing as d’Artagnan in early sequences, Fairbanks is wonderfully acrobatic as the Gascon swordsman, particularly in his first sequence, in which his chivalrous nature is showcased as he slays a tavern full of adversaries to obtain the lost handkerchief of a damsel in questionable distress. However, most of A Modern Musketeer is dedicated to exploring the exploits of Ned Thacker (Fairbanks), who emulates d’Artagnan as a result of his mother’s prenatal influence. (His romantic mother read the Dumas novel incessantly during her pregnancy with Ned, resulting in his being instilled with the spirit of the Gascon hero.) The Kansas community can barely contain the frustrated young man, who literally climbs the steeple of a nearby church to vent his pent-up energy. His father takes a page from Dumas’s novel and provides Ned with the 20th-century equivalent of d’Artagnan’s plug horse: a Model T Ford. As the irrepressible young man makes his way across the dusty prairie, he happens upon a trio whose transcontinental auto tour has been disrupted by a washed-out bridge. He is immediately enamored of the youngest member, pretty Elsie Dodge (Marjorie Daw), who is accompanied by her 45-year-old suitor, Forrest Vandeteer (Eugene Ormonde), and her mother (Kathleen Kirkham). Ned comes to their rescue by ingeniously adapting his Model T to maneuver on the nearby railroad tracks, and effortlessly conveys them to the El Tovar Hotel near the rim of the Grand Canyon."

The chivalrous spirit of d’Artganan is quickly called into service at the hotel as Ned discovers that the respected Vandeteer is in actuality a bigamist and embezzler. Further, he finds that a Navaho chief, Chin-de-dah (Frank Campeau), intends to abduct Elsie and make her his latest “bride.” The exciting climax of the film finds Ned literally scaling down the walls of the Grand Canyon on a rope to vanquish the evil Navaho, rescue Elsie, and elicit a full confession from the villainous Vandeteer. The tableau of the Grand Canyon serves as a stunning backdrop for Ned and Elsie to embrace at the film’s happy conclusion."

The breathtaking scenery of the Grand Canyon, superbly photographed by cinematographers Hugh McClung, Harris Thorpe, and Glen MacWilliams, under Dwan’s direction, helped to make A Modern Musketeer an outstanding artistic achievement. Cast and crew went on location in October 1917 to the Grand Canyon and the Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, where they camped in tents during the 3-week location shoot. Fairbanks was in his element on location with the stunning landscapes, distinctive rock imagery, and the community of Hopi and Navaho people. “I was disappointed in the Grand Canyon,” he joked. “I couldn’t jump it.”"

(...) The film was a great commercial success. The New York Times proclaimed that A Modern Musketeer was “quite the most amazing of any which have yet come from the Fairbanks laboratory,” and Variety declared that the film “ranks with the best” of the Fairbanks Artcraft series of films. A great sadness for film history is that six subsequent Fairbanks comedies made for Artcraft are unavailable for reappraisal: (...) and The Knickerbocker Buckaroo from the following year, are lost. This makes the restoration of A Modern Musketeer – available on DVD in a high-definition transfer, with a musical score compiled by Rodney Sauer and performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra of Boulder, Colorado – an achievement all silent film enthusiasts can celebrate." - Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta

A successful digital restoration, digital artefacts hardly evident. A funny intro. Before he is born, there is the spirit of d'Artagnan loved by his mother and the cyclone raging over Kansas. Always chivalrous, always misunderstood. Incredible sequence where Ned climbs to the top of the town church tower. - The witty intertitles have the same style as Anita Loos with several Fairbanks films such as Wild and Woolly of the same year. - I saw the first half only, having to rush to the rare Griffith screening.

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