Friday, March 1, 2024

Poseidon Quickies: "Horse"-ing Around with George

I'm an old fuddy-duddy who likes vintage entertainment and personages, but even I don't usually go all the way back to 1924...! But that's exactly where the battered road has taken me today. The silent action epic The Iron Horse (1924) was a movie that truly allowed director John Ford to make a mark, which he would then build upon to staggering success. (BTW, Look carefully at the clouds in the artwork for the poster and you will see stampeding buffalo.) This film was also a key one for its newly minted leading man. The actor had served in WWI as a teen, then come to Hollywood to attempt a career as a cameraman. His physique, however, led to stunt work and bit roles in 1922 and in 1924, he'd been promoted to leads. His name? Our beloved George O'Brien!

In The Iron Horse (which refers to the locomotive, which was expanding across the U.S. at the time of the story), O'Brien is attempting to realize his late father's dream of completing the line from coast to coast.

He meets and is smitten with Madge Bellamy, who is engaged to another man. O'Brien sometimes doesn't look quite the same as he did in later films, perhaps because of some yet-to-be-done dental work or shifts in weight.

Anyway, O'Brien's father had been murdered years before by a man called "Two Fingers" and now that he's grown, he intends to see that transcontinental railroad completed.

Naturally, there are some (highly colorful!) antagonists who have no intention of allowing him to complete his task.

O'Brien really stands out as a hunk, especially when he's placed beside a gaggle of craggy, unappealing types who are working alongside him. (I try this in real life myself... always trying to be the prettiest! LOL)

He does not approve of Bellamy's fiance, nor her fiance's friend and his skepticism shows. 

Out of friendship with her, he promises not to fight with them, but...

...such promises are more easily made than kept. Here he has just finished walloping one of them. He has a bloody nose (and glistening arms!) (Bellamy, for what its worth, proceeded to become quite a handful and a headache for studio execs. She refused roles that would have catapulted her to greater stardom and she was also a highly emotional person, once taking pistol shots at a paramour who had broken up with her!)

Though he truly was rather inexperienced at this stage, and around 25, he looks good whether coming or going.

O'Brien isn't in the movie for about its first hour. Along about the second hour of the 2-1/2 hour film, he finds himself in a shootout. He's on a train that's surrounded by enraged Cheyenne. Beyond that, a sniper in a nearby shack is shooting at some of O'Brien's cohorts, including the women!

He daringly darts over towards the shack and is stunned to see that the shooter is Bellamy's fiance in an Indian disguise! Thus comes the point (you hoped I might eventually have one?) of this post.

The two men, without benefit of doubles - at least in O'Brien's case - commence with a knock-down, drag-out fight. One of the damnedest you'll see in a movie from this era.

More than once, O'Brien's belt strap flails forward, giving the silhouettes an interesting and unexpected touch.

But that's not all. As they relentlessly tussle with one-another, O'Brien's shirt becomes an increasingly tattered mess.

Next thing ya know, neither one of 'em has a shirt left.

Again, I'm sure it's unintentional, but at one point the sun peeks through the parted logs and shines its heavenly light on George's crotch!

Precious little in the movie's promotional stills (that I've seen) allowed the slightest suggestion that The Iron Horse was going to contain this much brawny, brawly beefcake!

At one point in their showdown, O'Brien takes note that his adversary is missing... "Two Fingers!" This is the man who murdered his father!

With that, he picks up the man, hurls him to the ground...

...rides him like a bull for a few moments...

Then begins to finish him off.

This entire time, nothing has changed outside either...! Marauding Cheyenne are still doing their best to kill everyone on the train. It's a remarkable sequence (and this movie was an immense hit.)

After his deadly fight, he's given comfort by a close friend.

And we can take comfort in some things as well.

O'Brien was not an actor with any reluctance to show emotion. See Sunrise (1927), for what I felt was his acting pinnacle.

I appreciated that O'Brien didn't just suddenly have another magic shirt to wear after all this, and could only cover himself with a coat.

At long last, the railroad is complete.

His father's dream is fulfilled. (And we are given something to dream about, too!) When you're done with those arms, check out his magnificent hair in this shot.

The horizon looks promising for him also.

O'Brien worked 10 times in all with John Ford. We're always glad to see him, but this unexpected bit of burly beef was especially fun. Even if you don't sit through the film in all it's silver nitrate, restored, epic glory, the fight scene is worth checking out. FF to the 2-hour mark in order to get your bearings. Free (with possible ads) on Tubi.

Want still more of Gorgeous George? Click here for additional pics.


jobj69 said...

Thanks, Poseidon, for another great post!

George O'Brien sure was purdy! I think your blog first turned me on to him...figuratively and literally!

I love some of the last shots of him at the completed tracks, in his dark outfit - he looks very contemporary! And dreamy...sigh.

And the last shot, I have always loved! I plan on doing an oil portrait of it! Who doesn't like a little homoerotic art?

Until next time, rake good care!

Dan said...

What a glorious hunk! You often hear of actors insisting they have a “best side”, but you can really see it with O’Brien. He is definitely more attractive photographed to his right.
Some of those silents are truly astonishing. Unrestrained by bulky sound equipment, they often have a remarkable freedom of scope and movement. Will have to watch for this.

joel65913 said...

Hi Poseidon!

I’ve been following the last few posts but been too busy to have a chance to comment but grabbed a few free minutes for this one!

That George was a beaut! He is also remarkably contemporary in his looks especially considering this was one hundred years ago. That shot where you pointed out his hair could have been taken yesterday. Bless him for being confident about his looks and body and comfortable with sharing it with us for the ages!!

I go through periods where I will watch some silent films, but I must be in the mood, it requires a different type of concentration than talkies even if I’m a fan of the star of the picture. I do have a few faves-I ADORE Clara Bow above all others though Garbo is a close second followed by Lon Chaney and Lillian Gish and a few others. Mary Pickford’s charm however, totally escapes me, and while I can see how Valentino was an enormous star in his day his appeal has not translated to modern times. Joan Crawford is fascinating to watch in her silent period not so much for her acting but to see her metamorphosis from film to film from toothsome rather gawky amateur to her jazz baby emergence. It’s no wonder she succeeded in sound films, more than any other performer she was willing and eager to change with the times to stay relevant. She and Chaney costarred in the only silent that I’ve watched more than once-the strange, unsettling but fascinating “The Unknown.”

All that aside my silent viewings have included The Iron Horse when it ran on TCM on one of their Silent Sunday Nights. Even if it weren’t made so long ago the film is still an impressive achievement. Sprawling and innovative with big set pieces and plenty of action showing Ford’s command of the director’s chair and understanding of the film making process. George may not have been the world’s greatest actor, but he could hold the camera’s gaze and it certainly loved him back! I am sure Ford (who has a shockingly high number of lost films for someone of his reputation) included that shirtless fight scene as a bit of insurance to draw in the female contingent to something that seems more of a male focused entertainment never imagining the pleasure he was providing for certain others in his audience!!

Gingerguy said...

I am really impressed by the photos of this film and what a hot and modern looking guy he was. I am not a fan of silents as I find them either choppy or overacted but this could change my mind. On a recent flight I watched "Babylon" which was a movie bomb from last year set during the halcyon days of early Hollywood. There are some great scenes showing the techniques and chaos of filming the silents. I can't reccomend the movie but it did give me a feel for how insane the whole process could be. This is one hunk of man, great post Poseidon.

Poseidon3 said...

jobj69, I completely agree about George looking contemporary in his dark, short-sleeved shirt. When most people think of silents, it's with men loaded down with a ton of clothes on and old-fashioned hair tonic or curled mustaches or what have you. That's why it's really an eye-opener to come across an example where the people look just like they do (or could) now. It helps transcend that gap. Thanks!!

Dan, I have to say you're right. Any time I see GOB facing left on-screen (showing his right) it's just not quite the same. I think I agree! LOL It's gets confusing his left/our left, etc... But I prefer him either head-on (gulp!) or with his profile looking towards the right side of the screen. Very true about the whole freedom of movement with no mics to worry about also. Thanks!

joel65913, I love the pictures of GOB in thick sweaters and sportswear that can be found in image searches. He often looks very contemporary in those. His hair is AMAZING in the scene at the railroad completion. I've been stumbling upon his films lately (TCM was running some of his obscure B westerns on Saturday afternoons and I recently saw "The Johnstown Flood" as well for the first time.) In some of the things, he's no Laurence Olivier, but he usually has appeal nonetheless. He had a very open smile and broad personality that shone through. (And was, as I mentioned in the post, not put off at the idea of demonstrating emotion including tears.) You may have seen musings here and there about John Ford and how he may have been a very repressed homosexual, but - true or not - it's not that unusual for his films to spring some great male flesh on screen from time to time! :-D (I recall enjoying some of the swarthy, sweaty togetherness of a submarine thriller he did called, "Men Without Women" (1930) <--truth! one time. He liked those sort of situations, as do I.) ;-) Thank you!

Gingerguy, have you taken that trip to Japan?? I wanted to hear about the bathing. :-P I tried to watch "Babylon" but it wore me out. I just started hating it and it wasn't worth the fleeting glimpses of (possibly prosthetic and/or CGI) make frontal nudity.... In the end, I actively hated the film. LOL! But I can't deny the production design was dazzling. One thing about silents that fascinates me. When they were first released, the movement was just as we are used to now. But once sound came in, the sprockets on the projectors were altered and that's whey they were thereafter seen in that herky-jerky fast-motion way that is so off-putting or unintentionally amusing. I guess some of that has been corrected with many of the restorations, but there will never be enough time or money get them all rescued properly. Thanks!

hsc said...

Sorry to be so late to this, but I'm having to play catch-up to a bunch of your recent posts.

Thanks for giving us another piece on George O'Brien, one of my favorites from the silents!

He was an incredible (particularly for the era) piece of beefcake-- and yet he wasn't relegated to roles like that and starred in F.W. Murnau's 1927 classic SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS, which was honored at the first Academy Awards with four nominations and three wins, including the one-time award "Best Unique and Artistic Picture."

(WINGS is remembered for being the first film to win "Outstanding Picture," which later became "Best Picture," but SUNRISE actually got more nominations and wins.)

While GO'B may not have been Olivier, as you say, his performances still hold up well these days in a way that some more renowned actors of the period don't deliver, perhaps because he looks so contemporary.

One other technical note: while projectors did change to accommodate sound films, what actually causes the difference in silent films is that they were filmed at a different "frames per second" rate-- and largely were shot hand-cranked, resulting in variations in speed from film to film.

When these films are projected at what became the sound standard of 24 fps, they lose a natural sense of motion and become comically speeded up and herky-jerky. But even back in the silent era, films weren't always projected at the right speed due to variations in filmed speed, and were sometimes *deliberately* slightly speeded up by projectionists to get extra showings each day for the theater!

Thanks for yet another great post, Poseidon! I really love this site! Love to all, and be safe and well, everyone!