Tuesday, June 4, 2013

THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN (1922)

Grey and lifeless with only fleeting, brief periods of interest.  Is this is a description of Washington Irving's literary """classic""" Sketch Book or this HEADLESS HORSEMAN, an adaptation of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", one of Sketch Book's two bright spots?  OR DOES IT DESCRIBE THIS VERY BLOG, SIRRAH?


Will Rogers plays Ichabod Crane and I am unexcited.  Given Rogers's status as a legend of aw-shucks comedy, I expected a super-silly Hee-Haw Sleepy Hollow with lots of gentle yokel-ribbing.  That's not what happens.  If anything, HEADLESS HORSEMAN goes a little too far the other way.  The comedy that's here is easily the best part of the show, from the pompous title cards ("Katrina van Tassel coquettes with everybody!") to the rib-tickling scenes like the too-long sermon ("—and, fiftiethly, Brethren").  Alas, HEADLESS HORSEMAN apparently believes that the workdays and stuttering romances of country teachers are more fascinating than comedy or headless horsemen, despite its title.


So much of this focuses on Crane, boringly instructing children or crowning them with dunce caps.  Rogers's Ichabod is pretentious and unclownlike and says things like, "I enjoy imparting knowledge to rural people."  He's highly unlikable, which should not be a problem in art.  He sets his sights on the constantly-coquetting Katrina van Tassel, who is also unlikable and who is being pursued by the unlikable jock Brom Bones.  ALL OF THESE PEOPLE ARE VERY UNINTERESTING, which is the big problem here.  I certainly have nothing against the grindhouse approach to characterization, which is, concisely, "make them all dicks", but "make them all boring" is a recipe for disaster.  ATTN: JANE AUSTEN.  Then there's this...


I don't go to movies to read!!! is something that stupid people love to say, but it's hard to lose yourself in a film when you're continuously being presented with this wall of explanatory text and fall before the girth of it.  It reminds me of those dingbats on Facebook who can't grasp the point of memes (get to the point!) and instead make these pictures with Faulkner-sized sentences slathered all across them.  HEADLESS HORSEMEN title cards are the very sincere-Jon Stewart pictures of the 1920s.


It can't rain all the time.  I dug the scenes in which townspeople started assembling riding rails and immolation pyres for Crane, whom they suspect of witchery.  And the final scene, in which the superstitious Crane finally meets the Horsemen (in! a! way!) is pretty solid.  But HEADLESS HORSEMEN only has perhaps seven minutes of Horseman time, probably because no one would go to see a movie called THE PODUNK SCHOOLTEACHER, not even in Prohibition Days.


I expected a goofy comedy riff on "Sleepy Hollow" and got a dull and professional exercise.  Yay?  Not excruciating, but pretty far from "great", this floats somewhere around WOLF BLOOD's orbit of forgettable mediocrity and scrabbles with that fine film for last place on the current Top Ten...


RATING: 5/10

TOP TEN OF THE 1920S:
1.  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
2.  The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
3.  The Unknown (1927)
4.  Maciste in Hell/Maciste all'Inferno (1925)
5.  The Wind (1928)
6.  A Page of Madness (1926)
7.  The Cat and the Canary (1927)
8.  Genuine: the Tale of a Vampire (1920)
9.  The Magician (1926)
10.  The Headless Horsemen (1922)

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