1926 Ten Best Movies

If the Internet Movie Database says that The General opened at the end of 1926 and belongs to that year instead of its often-cited release year of 1927, who am I to argue? It gives us a towering #1 for the year, whereas The General would need to play second fiddle to Sunrise in a 1927 accounting.

Buster Keaton’s most acclaimed feature looks as though it might have been made much earlier – not because of a lack of sophistication, but because the sets, costumes, and locations are convincingly tuned to the Civil War. It’s all so marvelously balanced, the comedy, suspense, romance, historiana; balanced like a man sitting on a locomotive gear that slowly begins to move.

1926 offers up Murnau’s ambitious Faust, an imaginative spectacle that nearly sustains its high level of invention throughout; he was certainly setting the bar for young pups like Alfred Hitchcock, who’d earlier hung around the set of Murnau’s Last Laugh and learned his lessons – Hitchcock’s third finished feature The Lodger indicated a future master stepping up. There was also an auteur waiting to emerge from spud-faced Harry Langdon’s hit comedy The Strong Man, as Frank Capra debuted with a film that in some ways weirdly looks forward to It’s a Wonderful Life. Meanwhile, Garbo was doing her thing (Flesh and the Devil was one of her defining early successes), the Soviets were doing their thing (Mother is out of the playbook on every level), and Leni Riefenstahl was kicking off her career with a death-defying role in a jaw-dropping German “mountain film” (The Holy Mountain). The ten best of 1926:

1. The General (Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman)

2. Faust (F.W. Murnau)

3. The Scarlet Letter (Victor Sjostrom)

4. The Lodger (Alfred Hitchcock)

5. The Strong Man (Frank Capra)

6. Mother (V.I. Pudovkin)

7. The Holy Mountain (Arnold Fanck)

8. Moana (Robert Flaherty)

9. Flesh and the Devil (Clarence Brown)

10. Secrets of a Soul (G.W. Pabst)

The last one sneaks in because of its zany Expressionist approach to psychoanalysis; not a great movie, but a great look at what ambitious movie-makers were interested in trying out.  It nips out some very enjoyable star vehicles: Son of the Sheik (Valentino), The Black Pirate (Fairbanks), The Temptress (Garbo). There’s much more of 1926 I have yet to see, but the #1 should be solid.