Flickchart Film School: 1921
In 1921, the United States wanted American cinema to stay American and keep foreign films out of the good ‘ol U.S. Countries like France and Germany were already cultivating an expansive catalog of groundbreaking masterpieces that were threatening to the also booming American film industry. In May, the Hollywood premiere of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (discussed in “Flickchart Film School: 1920“), was met by an anti-film importation riot. Thankfully, this response didn’t impact the future of foreign films in the United States.
Also this year one of the most famous comedies of the time came into some legal trouble. On September 11th, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, was arrested for the accused rape and accidental murder of actress Virginia Rappe. Arbuckle, who was an important influence on such comedy greats as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, would undergo three manslaughter cases and be acquitted. However the arrest led to the banning of his films for several years and Arbuckle was never able to rise to his former success again.
Finally in 1921, famous magician Harry Houdini decided to create his own film production company after producing and starring in two Hollywood films. The “Houdini Picture Corporation”, based in New York, would go on to make two films – also produced by and starring Houdini – and attempted to create a new way to develop film for movies. Houdini’s brother would quit his career as a magician to run the company. Yet in 1923, the “Houdini Picture Corporation” was closed after Houdini decided to give up on the movie business.
Flickchart readers have voted that the best film of 1921 in The Kid. The film, written, directed and starring Charlie Chaplin is one of the first major full-length productions in which Chaplin played his famous character The Tramp. In The Kid, a young woman decides to abandon her baby in a limousine with the hopes of giving the child a better life than she can give him. After thieves steal the limo and leave the child in a trash can, The Tramp discovers the child and takes care of him. For five years, The Tramp and the kid have created a meager, yet happy life for themselves. But the young woman, who is now an opera star, does charity work in the hopes of finding her child she lost years ago.
The Kid shows what makes Chaplin films great. Chaplin combines great humor with moving scenes of harsh poverty and emotional heartbreak. The kid, played by Jackie Coogan – who incidentally would go on to play Uncle Fester in “The Addams Family” TV show – is a perfect sidekick to Chaplin and matches him in every way, which is an extremely difficult task for anyone, let alone a child. Coogan’s departure from The Tramp is a heart-wrenching moment that stands out in a film packed with memorable scenes. Chaplin is able to set up a formula, which would benefit him for three decades with his Tramp character, big comedy with brash reality and important issues. In fact, Chaplin infuses levity into his conclusion, which otherwise would seem too harsh a finale for The Tramp, by creating a dream sequence filled with angels, flying and happy endings. While Chaplin would go on to make even greater films, The Kid stands as a beautiful sign of things to come.
For those interested in more films from 1921, check out these films:
- Some of the greatest directors of all time released new films in 1921. D.W. Griffith released his Orphans of the Storm, while Fritz Lang’s classic Destiny came out. Also, Victor Sjostrom – who would go on to star in Ingmar Bergman’s fantastic Wild Strawberries – directed The Phantom Carriage.
- In 1921, the highest grossing film of the year, forcing The Kid to second highest, was The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a family drama set against the backdrop of World War I.
- Finally, Douglas Fairbanks starred in The Three Musketeers. The film was renowned for its swashbuckling stunts and helped pave the way for Fairbanks to become one of the first classic action stars.