Feature The Clown (Klovnen) 1917

In this love story, set in Paris, the successful circus clown Joe falls in love with Daisy, a dancer.

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Essay by Shari Kizirian

Alone in the center ring, a white-faced clown sings. Rather than making the crowd laugh, he draws tears. This trope is as familiar today as it was in cinema’s earliest days, when the circus and the cinema were more closely linked. According to Italian scholar Carlo Piccardi, “In its first decade the cinema had installed itself in carnivals, sharing its wonderful performances with the coarse spectacles presented by jugglers, acrobats and clowns. It was an often vulgar spectacle among even more vulgar spectacles….”

But unlike cinema, the clown’s lineage is ancient. Since ridiculing humanity’s foibles in Greek, Roman, and medieval literature, the clown has diversified into several distinct stock characters whose origins have been subsumed over time. From Pagliacci to Chaplin’s Little Tramp, from Bozo to Crusty, the clown in all its variety continually pops up in our literature, on our stages, and in our moving images. The white-faced version was first introduced as Pedrolino, in the Italian commedia dell’arte, and popularized in France in the 16th and 17th centuries as Pierrot. At Paris’s Théâtre des Funambules, an innovative Bohemian émigré with the naturalized name of Jean-Gaspard Deburau dressed in baggy white clothes and silently, sometimes violently, mooned over Columbine, introducing mid-19th century Europe to the lovesick clown. The absinthe-soaked poets of the Romantic period like Verlaine transformed him from pathetic to demented in a few stanzas. Russian playwright Leonid Andreyev set the 20th century bar to the grotesque with 1919’s He Who Gets Slapped, about the slighted clown out for revenge. Victor Sjöström and Tod Browning via their changeling Lon Chaney brought the new, mad clown to an international audience.

A.W. Sandberg’s The Golden Clown fits somewhere between the lovelorn and the macabre, its story mirroring in many ways that of the real-life Deburau, or at least his myth. Working the hinterlands in a tight-knit, family-owned circus in France, Joe Higgins (Gösta Ekman) plays a version of Pierrot, surprising the local crowd with his talent by singing a sad and beautiful song inspired by his love for the circus owner’s daughter. A Somebody from the Big City happens to be in the audience and the clown goes from sideshow to star in an instant, changing the entire family’s fate. They are thrust into the high life of Jazz Age Paris. Swanky hotels, fine dining, and all the couture money can buy are not enough, and the clown’s once easy-to-please girl, finally his wife, seeks out other urbane pleasures. (The real-life Deburau’s trouble began when he murdered a man who insulted his wife. Crowds turned out for his trial to hear the great mime finally speak. Marcel Carné later told a version of his story in 1945’s The Children of Paradise.)

Shot in Denmark and France, the film is beautifully photographed by Chresten Jørgensen, with imagery ranging from naturalistic landscapes in the countryside to stunning modernist sets on the Paris stage. But The Golden Clown might owe its visual flair more to its director, a former press photographer who started at Nordisk as a cameraman in 1914. Anders Wilhelm Sandberg’s career then followed the highs and lows of the Copenhagen-based studio where he worked most of his professional life.

During the years from 1910 to 1916, Nordisk produced 736 fiction films and Danish movies became synonymous with the salacious—and box-office gold. Beginning with The White Slave and Asta Nielsen’s racy star turn in Afgrunden, Danish exports kept movie censors busy around the world. “From no other country is there sent out such a dung-heap of improper and morally damaging film as from Denmark,” one small-town editor complained in 1913.

Similar films were fertilizer for Nordisk’s fortunes and, before World War I, the studio had a sales presence on every continent and began spending money on higher production values, location shoots, big-name actors, and literary adaptations. In July 1918, the Danish author and screenwriter Aage Barfoed exhorted the film industry to follow a neighbor’s example: “Sweden has accomplished the feat of creating a distinctive film genre. Now it is our turn, if we want to make our mark in the world market. And what is to be done? One thing! We must imprint our films, like all art, with Danish distinctiveness … Our literature, our painting, our music has a rich, a deep and genuine cultural tone. Seize that and make it come alive on the screen!”

Sandberg soon became Nordisk’s leading director, having come up on comedy shorts and detective serials (five installments of The Man with Nine Fingers). His breakthrough film, 1917’s Klovnen (The Clown), starred Denmark’s renowned Valdemar Psilander, whose prodigious output totaled 83 films before he committed suicide at age 32. Released two months after Psilander’s death, the original Klovnen was an enormous hit. The studio then gave Sandberg free rein to adapt Dickens novels, which film historian Graham Petrie says were the director’s true passion. He made Our Mutual Friend (1921), David Copperfield (1922), Great Expectations (1922), and Little Dorrit (1924). Britain’s Pall Mall and Globe Gazette called Our Mutual Friend “worthy representation of one of our best classics,” but the cost of these faithful screen versions became too much for the now ailing studio. A world economy, crippled in the aftermath of war, coupled with disappointing receipts ended Sandberg’s run of lavish adaptations.

In an attempt to resuscitate Nordisk’s former vitality, the studio reverted to the tried and true. Remakes now filled Sandberg’s schedule, including Klovnen, this time with Swedish import Gösta Ekman in the lead role, Danish diva Karina Bell as his sweetheart, and, playing her father, Maurice de Féraudy, who had made his name in Comédie-Française, cast, no doubt, with an eye to the French market. The film itself is steeped in nostalgia, eulogizing in sweet, reverent tones the tranquil days of touring the French countryside in a horse-drawn wagon. Success and city life tear all that asunder, of course, and the parallel to Sandberg’s own rise and fall must have added some personal poignancy to what turned out to be the director’s last Nordisk film.
He left for Berlin, making a couple films there for Terra, working again with some of his old colleagues: cameraman Jørgensen, scriptwriter Poul Knudsen, and stars Bell and Ekman. Talkie assignments came in stutters, his directing career petering out in 1937. According to the biography provided by the Danish Film Institute, he died in 1938 at a spa in Bad Nauheim, Germany, after a long illness. Assessing Sandberg’s films in 1944, critic Harald Engberg surmised that the director’s style had served him well in Nordisk’s heyday but it might have kept him from greatness. While praising him for his craftsmanship, sensitivity, and “photographic superiority,” Engberg thought he simply did not have the stuff of fellow Danes Carl Dreyer and Benjamin Christensen. “He was not a rebel and experimenter,” concluded Engberg, “and altogether prey to the tastes of his time.”

The white-faced clown, on the other hand, has endured, albeit as permutations that suit the time and the creator. Marcel Carne politicized him in The Children of Paradise. Jean-Luc Godard modernized him in Pierrot le fou. Christopher Nolan eulogized him in The Dark Knight. But we’ve not seen his end—his appeal at once his venerable ancestry and his eternal capacity for renewa

Director: A.W. Sandberg
Writers: A.W. Sandberg, Laurids Skands
Stars: Valdemar Psilander, Gudrun Houlberg, Peter Fjelstrup


or with added English subtitles

Rips and Rushes 1917

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A dancing class features a group of girl students and one blonde favorite, who’s got three men vying for her love, played by fat Hughie Mack, oily, villainous Jimmy Aubrey and handsome (but short) young man Joe Rock, the one she cares for. Her father prefers Aubrey, and Rock is thrown out. The three rivals get into an on-running berserk chase through the house compete with clothes shredding and enough smashed crockery to make the floors look like a beach.


Director: Larry Semon
Production company: Vitagraph Studios
Screenplay: Larry Semon, C. Graham Baker

Stars: Hughie Mack, Jimmy Aubrey, Alice Mann

The Merry Jail 1917

Das fidele Gefängnis (original title)

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A neglected wife disguises herself in order to lure her wastrel husband into a compromising position.

The Merry Jail is my favorite feature-length (just barely) film of the 1910’s so far, the only one I actually enjoyed. As can be told from the title, everyone in this film is just so gay and giddy no matter what debacles they get into. The three acts were all zippy, zany, and zesty, filled with dramatic and situation surprise, but the gem was the central, second act. All the side characters, were assembled marvelously in one of the most fun parties I’ve seen on screen. They rollicked among zany symmetrical sets in faux European countries complete with lobby boys wearing cocked hats. Surely an inspiration for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Even the quirky graffiti in the prison resembled Anderson’s doodles. The Merry Jail is a dapper, dandy, and dashing film bubbling with drunken laughter and filled with gusto and appetite. Lubitsch’s touch gets touchy-feely here, and the lust of every single character including those in the background is clearly also a lust for life….Review by Ledi

Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Producer: Paul Davidson
Cinematography: Theodor Sparkuhl
Screenplay: Ernst Lubitsch, Hanns Kräly

Stars: Harry Liedtke, Emil Jannings, Paul Biensfeldt

To view just click on YouTube lower bottom right


Bobby Bumps and the Stork 1917

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Silent cartoon. Like Max Fleischer’s “Out Of The lnkwell” series, this film features various interactions between cartoon characters and a human hand

Director: Earl Hurd


Can also be viewed on https://movieo.me/movies/bobby-bumps-and-the-stork-jmbcxl


Bobby Bumps’ Fourth 1917

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Holiday-themed cartoons were a staple of the industry for many decades, particularly Hallowe’en, but Independence Day had a few — OLD GLORY, Chuck Jones’ first Porky Pig short was released on July 1, 1939, in time for the holiday. However, this is the oldest surviving and quite possibly the oldest Fourth of July cartoon produced.

For the era, it is pretty good. Bobby and his dog, Fido, let off some fireworks and Fido gets into a fight with a foul-mouthed parrot. It won’t strike modern viewers as particularly good, but given its era it is quite striking, with some good visual gags. Tom Stathes, who is doing so much to preserve and make available these rare early Bray cartoons, has posted this to Youtube ninety-five years after its premiere. It’s definitely worth a look for anyone interested in the history of animation…. by boblipton

Director: Earl Hurd
Writer: Earl Hurd

El ultimo Malon 1917

Also known as The Last Malon or The Last Indian Attack (1917)

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“El Último Malón” it is one of the early Argentinean silent films that has survived until today. It was the only film that was directed by Herr Alcides Greca, a man with many cultural interests as a journalist and writer and with other more useful interests as a lawyer and politician.

The film El ultimo malón which was made in Santa Fe, Argentina, in 1917 is about the uprising of the Mocovi Indians
Writer: Alcides Greca

Production Company – Greca Films
Stars: Mariano López, Salvador López, Rosa Volpe

The Musical Marvel 1917



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The piano player falls in love with the wife of the bad man. The bad man meets the piano player and tells him that his wife is in the east; and so they decide to go and find her, the pianist not realizing who the girl is. Later Ben, the pianist, becomes the leader of the orchestra and gets into a fight with the violinist. The comedy ends with a chase, a wrecked theater and a bomb explosion which sends them all sky high.

—Moving Picture World synopsis

Directors: Ben Turpin, Robin Williamson
Stars: Ben Turpin, Gypsy Abbott, Edward J. Laurie |