Recommended Reading

"Up from the Vault: Rare Thrillers of the 1920's and 1930's"

by John T. Soister (McFarland & Company, Inc., 2004, 234 pages)

I've always believed that the reader can tell if someone's a professional writer out to make a buck or if their tome is a labor of love. The reader will quickly realize which category John Soister fits into, and it's obvious where his interests lie. Just take a look at his three previous books: Conrad Veidt on Screen, Of Gods and Monsters, and Claude Rains (best remembered for his portrayal as The Phantom of the Opera in the first sound remake). Up from the Vault: Rare Thrillers of the 1920's and 1930's continues to provide us some more insight into this cinematic area that he loves so much. His very interesting introduction starts off on personal note giving credit to Famous Monsters magazine for initiating his interest over 40 years ago. This is one of those introductions that should not be passed over in a rush to get the main chapters. Soister discusses his research, the frustration (that we all know) of films that have disappeared, possibly forever, and some justification for the theme of the book and the films he chose to address. For many, it may seem rather pointless to discuss or even write a book that talks about films you'll never see, but Soister notes, "Some genre buffs have become a tad wearied by lifelong analysis of the classics and are more open to new experiences, even if said experiences may remain secondhand at present or may disappoint when circumstances change." Certainly, Up from the Vault is a very specialized book that isn't for everyone. For one thing, it was a difficult decision whether to include it in our "Recommended Reading," because, out of the 21 films discussed, only seven are silent films. However, if your interest is in "thrillers," viewable or unviewable today, and spans the silent and sound eras, this book could be for you. Soister provides lots of interesting trivia and background on each of these films. After the usual listing of cast , crew, production company, length, release date, etc., each film is given a lengthy synopsis, which is welcome for those that are considered to be "lost" films. We not only learn about the making of the films, but if they were based on books (as many were) Soister has done a good job of tracing the path the story took from publication as a book to finding its way on the screen. The same holds true for those that were birthed as a stage play. For some, such as "The Unknown Purple," copious information isn't provided because the film apparently doesn't exist, and, according to Soister, promotional material has been difficult to find. Also for some, reading about a film such as this, which may stand as the original invisible man feature, is at once intriguing and frustrating. It only whets our appetites for something we'll never be able to taste. Then there a film such as "The Sorrows of Satan," which has been available on the home video market. And, although it isn't a great film, it is intriguing to many because it is a later directorial effort of D.W. Griffith. Another is "While London Sleeps" that, believe it or not, is a Rin Tin Tin film. This, too, is a lost film, but nevertheless interesting since it apparently was a departure from the famous canine's usual type of film. "The Monkey Talks" is another title that no one other than die-hard fans of the genre would recognize. Soister says with a little "mental stretching," one could see this as a Tod Browning-Lon Chaney collaboration although it was directed by Raoul Walsh for Fox and starred Don Alvarado and Olive Borden. A print does exist at Eastman House. "The Chinese Parrot," a Universal picture directed by Paul Leni, is the last true silent covered in the book, although "Stark Mad," a 1929 Warner Brothers production was released in both sound and silent versions. There are 14 other films from the sound era - 1929-1937 - covered in the book. Credit should go to Soister that he's not rehashing what others have already done but venturing into some really heretofore uncharted territory. As already mentioned, he's done a commendable job, but you gotta really like the early stuff that is sometimes weird, sometimes spooky, sometimes mysterious and definitely obscure.

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