June 19, 2017
The First Auto.
Review #949: The First Auto.
Charles Emmett Mack (Bob Armstrong), Patsy Ruth Miller (Rose Robbins), Russell Simpson (Hank Armstrong), Frank Campeau (Mayor Jim Robbins), William Demarest (Dave Doolittle), Paul Kruger (Steve Bentley), Gibson Gowland (The Blacksmith), E. H. Calvert (Elmer Hays, the inventor), and Barney Oldfield (Himself - The Master Driver) Directed by Roy Del Ruth (#395 - The Maltese Falcon (1931), #432 - The Babe Ruth Story, and #807 - The Alligator People)
The transition of technologies is always a strange one for certain types of generations to handle, whether from transitioning from landline phones to cellphones, or horse carriages to automobiles; the latter is featured here, and while the movie isn't anything too great it is at least acceptable entertainment. Contrary to the promoted billing, Barney Oldfield (pioneer automobile racer who also served as the technical coordinator for the movie) is neither the main star nor does he have too much on screen, aside from a scene where he drives an automobile at one mile a minute, which is quite fast for the time depicted in the film (1904); in real life he was the first to reach a speed of 60 mph (97 km/h). The film mostly revolves around Mack and Simpson and their conflict over the transition from horses to "horseless carriages", which works alright for the 75 minute run-time. Miller is fairly alright, though nothing too special. The rest of the cast is fairly decent in their roles. Mack was killed in a car accident while driving to work, which occurred near the end of filming, with the movie premiering three months later.
What is interesting about this silent film is that it has a Vitaphone sound-on-disc soundtrack, complete with a musical score and sound effects (synchronized to the movie) that also contains spoken words (three) and laughter at some points. This is a fairly adequate comedy-drama, having a few tidy gags while also being relatively serious enough without going too overboard; the climax has a few thrills, even if it sounds a bit odd: Simpson and Miller are attempting to get to the automobile race before Mack's car (filled with sulfur) explodes, while they are on horse carriage. The automobile action (such as the race against a horse and the races at the end) is neatly executed, and I imagine this will appeal to fans of old automobiles (one particular photo of Oldfield and Henry Ford is shown near the end, featuring the Ford 999). The whole transitioning technologies aspect of the plot is still fairly applicable now, albeit with a few changes (such as the climax). On the whole, this is a mildly entertaining movie that works best alongside other silent movies of the time while not requiring too much to invest in. It's not hard to recommend, if you're looking for a movie with some old-fashioned automobiles.
My condolences go out to the families of the seven members of the USS Fitzgerald who were killed in a collision this weekend. This especially hurts to write considering that Noe Hernandez, one of the men that died, came from my home city of Weslaco. No one should have to go through a saddening tragedy like this. They will be missed and they will never be forgotten; may they rest in peace.
Overall, I give it 7 out of 10 stars.