I always enjoy movies about the silent era, so I recently rented a 1988 movie called “Sunset,” directed by Blake Edwards.  Bruce Willis stars as the iconic cowboy star Tom Mix, who is forced by studio head Alfie Alperin (Malcolm McDowell) to make a biopic about Marshall Wyatt Earp.  When the studio brings Earp (James Garner) in as a technical advisor, he runs afoul of Alperin and enlists Mix to help him solve a murder at a famous Hollywood house of prostitution.

James Garner and Bruce Willis

Amidst the complicated murder mystery, Garner and Willis wisecrack their way through the film.  However, the violence is very real and McDowell makes a thoroughly convincing and psychopathic villain.  The very complicated plot also includes gangsters and a very crooked police department.  Director Edwards throws in a few horse stunts, various gunfights, a steam train and a biplane sequence.

Sunset and other other films about the silent era show films being shot at the studio.  During those silent days, the notion of “quiet on the set” made no sense, so different movies could be filmed simultaneously in the same general floor space.  Sunset pans across the stage to show 5 different movies of various genres in production, while  “Singing in the Rain” (1952) also played up this phenomena.  Speaking of silent scenes, I love the “Beautiful Girl” number in Singing in the Rain, but I wonder how they snuck the tune into a silent picture.

This year, I eagerly await the arrival of “The Artist,” from 2011, an actual silent film about a famous actor adjusting to the arrival of talkies.  This French film takes place in Hollywood and also features Malcolm McDowell.  Jean Dujardin, who plays the title character, won the best actor award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.  The film should generate a lot of interest about the silent era.

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