Having seen over 1,000 silents, and many early sound films as well, I’m very well aware of how not everything from this classic era is particularly good. While I’d rather watch a bad or mediocre Golden Age film than a contemporary film, that doesn’t mean I can’t be bored by an old film. There were just as many bombs back then as there are today.
Midnight Faces, released 25 March 1926, stars Francis X. Bushman, Jr. (né Ralph Everly Bushman) and several other actors who never really achieved prominence. These were all character actors and B-actors, not big names or future big names. The lead actor, by the way, isn’t to be confused with Francis X. Bushman, Sr., who played villain Messala in the original Ben-Hur.
The old dark house genre, for those who might not’ve heard the term, refers to a motley crew of people (mostly strangers) summoned to a creepy, old, dark house in the middle of nowhere, often to hear the reading of a will or to attend a dinner party. Sometimes they end up in the house by happenstance and are trapped, or they’re made to spend a night there in order to get an inheritance. During this foreboding night, lots of spooky stuff happens. The house may or may not be haunted.
Lynn Claymore (Bushman) inherits a house in a Florida swamp, from an uncle named Peter Marlin, whom he’s never met. He didn’t even know he had an uncle. Claymore goes to the house with his attorney Richard (Jack Perrin), and his servant Trohelius Snapp (Martin Turner). Predictably, several strange characters are there as well, and a lot of spooky stuff happens.
This film was pretty boring and hard to follow for me. I was actually surprised to learn there was supposed to be a plot later on, since there was no hint of one earlier. It doesn’t feel longer than its 55-minute running time, but it could’ve benefitted from some fleshing-out, both plot-wise and character-wise. Director Bennett Cohen didn’t seem to know what to do with anyone.
The print I watched was rather murky, so it was hard to tell one character from the next. I could also barely read any of the words in the handwritten letter which appears in the opening shot! The soundtrack was also rather repetitive.
As a modern viewer, I was also kind of uncomfortable with how African–American Trohelius was portrayed as easily-spooked, with phonetically-rendered intertitles. I’ve seen much worse, but it’s clear this character was primarily meant for cheap, racially-motivated laughs.
I’d rate this a 2 out of 5. It wasn’t awful, but there wasn’t anything special about it, and it didn’t have any personality or great twists and turns to set it apart from all the other old dark house films.