Sunday, September 08, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Peter Pan (1924) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The silent film PETER PAN (1924) has been released on Blu-ray in a new 2K restoration by Kino Lorber.

The restoration, from 35mm elements, is presented with an orchestral score by Philip C. Carli. It was filmed by James Wong Howe with lovely amber and blue tints. The director of this 102-minute film was Herbert Brenon.

This presentation of PETER PAN is, in a word, captivating. It successfully combines a "theatrical" presentation, feeling rather as it might have if seen on stage, with effective special effects which one could only find in a movie.

I suspect my readers need no introduction to this very familiar story of the Darling children's adventures in Never Land with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. What makes this particular film special, in part, is that playwright James M. Barrie was closely involved in the presentation of the story and the casting, which is, in a word, perfect.

Betty Bronson is one of a long line of women who have played the title role; I've always found that odd, but she brings a convincing tomboy nature to the part. Mary Brian as Wendy, Anna May Wong as Tiger Lily, and especially Esther Ralston as sweet Mrs. Darling are all perfect.

Philippe deLacy is an adorable Michael, with Jack Murphy as John, Cyril Chadwick as Mr. Darling, and Virginia Brown Faire as Tinker Bell. Unlike some productions which have the same actor play both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, the villain here is portrayed by a completely different actor, Ernest Torrence.

Nana the dog nursemaid is also quite effectively done despite being a man (George Ali) in a dog costume; Nana is amazingly expressive and a joy to watch.

The special effects for the miniature fairies are quite remarkable for 1924, and I was also quite taken with the mermaids, particularly the scene where they all crawl into the water and swim away. The flying scenes are excellent.

Although Disney's 1953 animated version is one of my favorite cartoons, this silent version has a mystical, sweet quality which is very special. Indeed, the movie being silent, with all the actions pantomimed, adds to the magic. The actors are of such caliber that truly, no sound is needed to tell the story.

This is a special film, and especially considering that it was lost for decades, what a joy to experience it thanks to this lovely release. Very much recommended.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes a commentary track by Kat Ellinger, an essay by Frederick C. Szebin., and a 30-minute audio interview with actress Esther Ralston.  The interview with Ralston covers multiple topics and is a bit indistinct in spots, with some static; there's also a much shorter separate little clip where she discusses the first times she saw and met PETER PAN's Mary Brian.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


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