Tuesday, July 02, 2019


This late-silent youth-rampage melodrama was released by Pathe in 1928, the last year when silent films dominated the cinematic marketplace. Seeing it today, you can realize how many of the 1930’s exploitation films which followed in its footsteps basically added a little flesh and perhaps some dope, and perhaps a tragic ending, but were cut from the same cloth, except on a z-grade level.

The film starts off with a bang, with an odd montage that goes on for a few minutes, starting off with the “cosmic jazz” (paging Sun Ra!) of the universe, then flowing into all kinds of 1920’s images of hedonism and excess, mixed with some World War I footage! After this dizzying montage (kind of like a 20’s version of the montage at the beginning of the 1936 Frankie Darro/Kane Richmond film ANYTHING FOR A THRILL, which is also highly recommended), we then cut to two cars full of wild and crazy teens (probably actors in their mid to late 20’s) careening down some rural road, passing around bottles of hooch while swerving, the characters necking and howling, and one of them strumming a ukulele. One of the cars is wrecked, plunging off the road into a ravine. This does not faze this crew, as they see a farmer’s truck, full of hay and farm implements, and then steal it, gradually throwing all of his supplies out of the back and onto the road. Gee, you’d think you were watching Herschell Gordon Lewis’s JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT or the scene in BLACKBOARD JUNGLE where the delinquent students break the math teacher’s Bix Beiderbecke 78’s! This anarchic action is punctuated by title cards that ask questions like “Godless—or just graceless?” They then all pull into a roadhouse called “Ptomaine Charlie’s—Leap In, Limp Out!” where they drink more and dance the Charleston. A motorcycle cop on the trail of the stolen farm truck, pulls into the roadhouse, the manager calls out for all the customers to beat it, the cops are here, and the young revelers basically trample down the cop as they are exiting, and he is trying to enter. Next thing we see is the middle-class home of lead hooligan “Smoke Thatcher,” and the “plot” begins. And we’re only six minutes into the film!

The parents are what you’d expect from any exploitation melodrama or DRAGNET episode, the Dad out of touch and somewhat pompous with his waxed moustache, the Mom much closer to the boy, but naive and easy to take advantage of and spoiling him (Smoke barely keeps his half-pint flask hidden as he hugs and dances with Mom).

His girlfriend, Patsy Schuyler, is played by the film’s above-the-title star, Sue Carol, who had a good career in the late silent era, but moved into talent management and became one of Hollywood’s top agents, and eventually Alan Ladd’s wife, living into the 1980’s. She plays a flapper in the Clara Bow or silent-era Joan Crawford vein, and she’s really a charismatic dynamo. In real life, Carol was wise enough to realize that the real security in show business was in management—then you’re never between acting gigs yourself and you get a 10% cut of all your clients who are working.

In her brief starring career as an actress, Sue Carol was a protégé of Cecil B. DeMille, who produced this film and also allegedly directed the climactic street-race scene. We tend to think of DeMille today in terms of Biblical epics and spectacles….and of course, Gloria Swanson’s famous line in SUNSET BLVD, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.” However, in the 1920’s, DeMille’s bread-and-butter product as producer and/or director was sensationalized melodramas such as DON’T CHANGE YOUR HUSBAND, WHY CHANGE YOUR WIFE, FORBIDDEN FRUIT, THE GODLESS GIRL, and VANITY. These paid the bills in between the Biblical epics!

I won’t give away the “plot” of this film, which is jaw-dropping in its distance from any “reality” on any planet I’m familiar with, and the outrageous ending would not satisfy anyone’s sense of “justice,” except for those who feel that connected, upper-class people in their 20’s should get off with a slap on their wrist whatever crimes they commit, while the rest of us should face the expected consequences. Probably no one in the Hollywood community would have found any problem in that! But hey, it’s only a movie!

And as a movie, it’s a wild ride, packing lots of action and drinking and necking and live-fast-die-young youth speeding toward oblivion (but being saved in the final moments with no consequences for their behavior) into under an hour. The editing is fast-paced and has a dizzying rhythm when it needs to, and director Rupert Julian (originally a New Zealander) knows how to create atmosphere and to force you to “see” a scene in an unexpected way. His best-known credit was the silent version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with Lon Chaney Sr. His final directorial effort was the early-sound creepy old-dark-house thriller THE CAT CREEPS, which unfortunately is considered lost.

If you like Sue Carol in this, you can see another late-silent of hers, CAPTAIN SWAGGER with Rod LaRocque, on You Tube. Carol also made a number of early sound films and was still fairly active as an actress through 1933. She later appeared as herself in a 1950’s I LOVE LUCY episode.

If a silent 1920’s version of RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP set in some anonymous Midwest town is what you’re craving, you could do worse than to spend 56 minutes of your life watching this for free on You Tube. It’s also available on video, but the You Tube version has the advantage of an excellent soundtrack of 1920’s dance-band 78’s which really help to put the viewer in the same party-fueled world as the characters (all we need as a half-pint flask of bathtub gin!)—much more than the organ score on the DVD that’s available. You’ll feel like shouting “Doo Wacka Doo!”

“Vicious—or just wild?” YOU decide!

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