It’s been said (by Walter Kerr in “The Silent Clowns”) that Raymond Griffith is fifth in the pantheon of great silent film male comedians, after Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Harry Langdon. After seeing a wonderful film called “Paths to Paradise (1925),” I would agree with this assessment. Griffith plays his usual top-hatted con-man character, this time opposite the wonderful Betty Compson as Molly. Molly runs a scam to cheat tourists in San Francisco, and when Griffith shows up, she pretends to be Chinese princess. Griffith, playing The Dude From Duluth, runs his own counter scheme as they try to best each other.
Later, Molly hears of a rich businessman carrying a valuable diamond bracelet purchased for his daughter. She hatches a plan to steal the necklace, but The Dude shows up with his own plans to heist the jewelry. A detective named Calahan (Tom Santschi) runs into Molly and suspects she’s planning the caper. Eventually, everyone shows up at the businessman’s mansion as The Dude and Molly compete against each other to see who can grab the necklace. The film ends with a high-speed chase involving Calahan and dozens of police motorcycles.
Griffith plays a similar top-hatted character in “Hand’s Up,” from 1926, which I recently saw at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. He plays cunning characters with a dapper appearance, and always seems to make the best of every situation. Compson and Griffith play against each other wonderfully, and their small bit of romance is a nice touch. I don’t know why it’s called Paths to Paradise, though, unless the lost end reel refers to it. The original play is called “Heart of a Thief,” by Paul Armstrong.