'Fragments' sets out a robust spread of restored movie tidbits

TCM gives new life to glittering rareties of the silent and early-sound eras

  • A 1928 color shot of the original “it” girl, Clara Bow, is featured in "Fragments" on TCM.
A 1928 color shot of the original “it” girl, Clara… (Handout photo, Handout…)
March 31, 2011

"Fragments" is a movie-lover's feast made up of hors d'oeuvres.

This hour-and-50-minute program, airing on TCM at 8 p.m. Sunday, showcases restored fragments of lost movies — or restored trailers — that are sometimes amazing, frequently amusing and rarely less than fascinating.

The best parts of "Fragments" make most contemporary movies seem pale and timid by comparison.The original "It Girl," Clara Bow, in the ruddy palette of circa-1928 Technicolor, is almost alarmingly alluring. In a 1924 comedy clip, Charlie Chase falls into a water-filled street hole, emerges with golf pants filled out like balloons — and reminds you that low comedy can be a thing of beauty. In the super-grand finale to the 1929 color musical "Gold Diggers of Broadway," one hoofer after another pulls off moves as wild as hip-hop and as elegant as ballet.

The hosts hype some grotesquely melodramatic footage, from the 1922 "The Village Blacksmith," simply because it was directed by John Ford, who went on to win a record-breaking four Oscars.

Far greater are the subtle yet overpowering fragments from "The Way of All Flesh" (1927), featuring Emil Jannings, who won an Oscar for his performance in this film and in "The Lost Command." He plays a chief cashier and family man who falls from grace and becomes one of the anonymous urban poor. In the two fragments here, set years after his fall, the protagonist notices his name on a marquee — and realizes that his grown son, a star violinist, is giving a recital.

Every stroke of his son's bow registers like a dart through his heart, but Jannings expresses grief with expressive eyes and fingers, not big, mawkish strokes. Jannings' farewell to Donald Keith, as his son, has a pure emotion that's a triumph of acting and directing. But, true to conventional wisdom, Ford is praised to the heavens in "Fragments" and the director of "The Way of All Flesh" isn't mentioned. He was Victor Fleming, who also directed "Red Dust," "Bombshell," "Captains Courageous," and "The Wizard of Oz." Unlike Ford, he won only one Oscar — for "Gone With the Wind."

Michael Sragow

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