Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Phantasmagoria of Nonsense: Tom Mix's Improbable Iron Horse and Other Bad Film Faults


Critics have never hesitated to express their displeasure over a bad film.  W. Stephen Bush, a critic with Moving Picture World, didn't hold back his feelings in regards to a 1915 embezzlement melodrama called The Running Fight. The man devoted the first two paragraphs of the review giving vent to his unhappy feelings.  He wrote:
A hypercritical person may find flaws in every film and it is no credit to a reviewer and certainly no service to an exhibitor to go searching for imperfections. The average audience is not hypercritical though it is by no means willing to overlook glaring faults. A few faults must be condoned, but when they crowd upon each other making confusion worse confounded, when the picture degenerates into a phantasmagoria of nonsense and the best of us are unable to distinguish the head from the tail, the feature becomes impossible as an entertainment except perhaps for the flashes of involuntary comedy, of which there were not a few in the last three thousand feet of this production.

I always knew that autos were liable to "skid," but this is the first feature I have seen "skid."  There is a plot in this story; we are assured of this by the synopsis, but the trouble is to find it.  It's like a string of eels, you can't get a good hold of it at any point. The space of this paper is too valuable to point out the irreconcilable improbabilities of the story, to enumerate all the instances of a lack of coherence and a lack of dramatic purpose. At some points the film is overcharged with action and at other times there is no action whatever.  The most dramatic thing in the last two reels was the fugitive criminal going to a barbershop and getting shaved.  It would serve no purpose to trace all the inconsistencies of the play, one might as well try to take a census of mosquitoes on a moist evening along the shores of the Hackensack. They obtrude themselves upon even the most unsophisticated of patrons.  The feature is padded and badly assembled, but these are curable faults and might easily be removed.  The defects in this picture I regret to say lie much deeper.

A print of the film has preserved by the Library of Congress.  London After Midnight is lost and yet this film has survived.

A Film Daily critic complained about the improbability of the action in a Tom Mix western called The Cyclone.  He wrote, "Another [scene] that for sheer improbability rivals even the wildest slapstick trick is the climax scene where hero rides his horse up to the roof of a gambling and opium joint and then crashes through its three stories to the basement below, still remaining in the saddle.  The funny part about this is that the horse is just as good as new when it's all over. No beast but a stallion made of iron could stand that drop and still count no broken legs when the trick was over."

This scene could have been no worse than the highly implausible bus crash sequence in this year’s Terminator Genisys.  A school bus does a triple flip in mid-air, crashes back down to the ground, rolls over several times, and finally smashes into a heavily fortified bridge railing.  The passengers emerge from the bus as if they had merely hit a small bump in the road.

My final message today, I am sorry to say, is that the film industry has always produced its fair share of turkeys.

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