Under Full Sail: Silent Cinema on the High Seas

(Flicker Alley) 1927-1933, Not Rated

Jun 3, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Flicker Alley, a leading curator, restorer and distributor of lost and forgotten cinema gems, digs up a particularly niche bunch for its latest collection. Under Full Sail: Silent Cinema on the High Seas details early celluloid depictions of the grand vessels that sailed the world’s waterways at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. The five films (one full-length and four shorts, all excellent transfers) are snapshots of a forgotten time when mammoth ships with masts to the heavens took seafarers to adventure, danger and romance — both idealized and real. The flagship feature, The Yankee Clipper (1927), has a deep pedigree. Produced by Cecil B. DeMille and directed by Rupert Julian (fresh off of The Phantom of the Opera), it’s a big-budget mix of history and romantic melodrama about the political race between Britain and the U.S. to dominate Chinese tea trade routes and their respective clippers’ literal race from Foo Chow to Boston. The nautical sequences are thrilling, but otherwise Yankee sails tepidly around a young American captain (a pre-Hopalong Cassidy William Boyd) and a British society lass’ romance and a sprite stowaway’s comic relief. The bonus shorts are valuable primary documents and often surprisingly amusing — the toned, sun-drenched singing sailors rhythmically working away in The Square Rigger (1932) look straight from a Kenneth Anger flick. The 10-minute extract from Down to the Sea in Ships (1922) proves the most exciting, though, following with intimacy an authentic, brutal whale hunt conducted old-school Moby Dick style. Grade: B