One of the very best silent films I've ever seen is 'Puritan Passions'. Several of the people involved in that film worked together a year earlier on 'The Cradle Buster', so I screened this movie with high hopes. Serves me right: I was disappointed.
Glenn Hunter (age 28 at this time) stars as Benjamin 'Sweetie' Reed, who has just turned 21 and is eager to assert his manhood. (Stand well clear, please.) He's a spoilt mama's boy, and his mother (played by Beatrice Morgan) still thinks of him as a child. There's an amusing trick-dissolve shot: a subjective view of Benjamin from his mother's viewpoint, in which Glenn Hunter (in adult clothes) suddenly morphs into a Little Lord Fauntleroy get-up.
To prove his manhood, Benjamin runs off to a travelling carnival and promptly gets romantically involved with a cootch dancer with the unfortunate name of Gay Dixon. (She's portrayed by Marguerite Courtot, slightly younger than Glenn Hunter but playing older here.) Gay is assisted in her carny turn by 'Spoony', a dim-witted comedian played by Osgood Perkins. Perkins was brilliant in 'Puritan Passions' as the Devil: here, he gives an astonishing and impressive performance as Spoony. Osgood Perkins (father of Anthony) has impressed me in every one of the (very few) films in which I've seen him, but his virtuoso performance in 'The Cradle Buster' is far outside of the range in which I've previously seen him. Perkins skilfully combines pathos and comedy here. What a great actor he was!
There is some really beautiful exterior photography in this movie, especially during the carnival sequences. But the movie is much too long, and made worse by far too many intertitles ... most of which are unfunny, or too long, or both. There's just enough plot here for a three-reeler, but even at that shortened length this story wouldn't be very good. In 'Puritan Passions' Glenn Hunter gave one of the most impressive acting performances I've ever seen, full stop ... but you'd never know it from his overacting in 'The Cradle Buster'. There are some nice things in this movie, but overall 'The Cradle Buster' is a disappointment. I'll rate this movie 4 points out of 10, mostly for Osgood Perkins's splendid acting.
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