Harrison Ford’s 5 Best Movies to Watch Right Now

A while ago, we promised a summation of movie star Harrison Ford’s career. And promised and promised and promised, in email after email after email, if you are a subscriber. Not the “one “Harrison Ford” you’ve heard of, but the one your great-grandparents loved, a silent screen actor with more than a hundred films to his credit over a career that lasted for a couple of decades.

To the extent that he is discussed these days, it’s as a “movie star” of the silent era, based on the massive number of films he acted in, but he was really a supporting actor of the silent era, who almost never received top billing.

Still, he had an understated, subtle acting style that was unusual back then, and often criticized by critics, but which ages well today, and his straightforward sincerity could support a far-fetched romantic comedy in a way that, say, Buster Keaton could not. The New York Times film critic once sniffed that “Mr. Ford knows how to keep a straight face in the various sequences, but sometimes his expression conveys but little meaning.” Still, in spite of the critics’ scorn, Harrison Ford was never short of work, so he was certainly doing something right, and something that pleased the masses. 

So if you wish to champion the other Harrison Ford as one of the unsung heroes of early cinematic history, it would be contrarian, but not unsupportable. And since many of his films are lost, you can read about them and insist that if one could only see them all, your opinions about the other Harrison Ford would be judged indisputable. 

So here they are, his five best, sometimes with a link where you can stream them. 

Shadows (1922).

Lon Chaney stars as a gentle Chinese immigrant in a New England town who uncovers a vile plot to blackmail two townspeople; Ford is the villainous blackmailer, the town’s new minister. “Worth seeing,” wrote Motion Picture Magazine upon the film’s release. “Don’t be ashamed of your tears.” And from Harrison’s Reports, a weekly motion picture trade journal published weekly from 1919 to 1962: “Now and then a picture is produced that stands out above the others, just as the Woolworth building stands out above all the buildings that surround it. It is such pictures as these that prove beyond any doubt that picture-making is an art. Such a one is Shadows — a picture that stands out above all others. With a worth-while theme as its foundation, masterfully directed and artistically acted, with its setting and general atmosphere realistic, the story creates in the mind an impression that lasts many days and weeks after one has seen the picture.” Based on a short story by Daniel Steele, which has a very unfortunate title, one that we won’t repeat here. 

The Primitive Lover (1922).

Directed by Sidney A. Franklin, based on a novel, The Divorcee. Talmadge, married to gentle Ford, dreams of her prior fiancé, a dashing and adventurous explorer and novelist, who died on an expedition in South America – or so she thinks! When her old fiancé returns, she obtains a quickie divorce, and Ford determines to win her back. When the film premiered in New York at the Strand, the New York Times called it “especially dull and pointless.” But the film has aged well. Silent Era film critic Carl Bennett calls the film “enjoyable fluff and puff … Constance Talmadge is so pleasantly cute in this film, it is easy for the uninitiated to understand her popularity with filmgoing audiences of the silent era,” and modern audiences have rated the film favorably on various review websites.

A Blonde for a Night (1928)

After an argument with her husband on their honeymoon in Paris, a wife disguises herself as a blonde woman to test her husband’s fidelity. At the time of the film’s release, Photoplay wrote, “Do you remember Up In Mabel’s Room? Again, we have a domestic comedy starring Marie Prevost and Harrison Ford, directed by E. Mason Hopper. Added to this, we have T. Roy Barnes (delightful as ever) and Franklin Pangborn, doing all the mischief possible, with some of their antics verging on to slapstick. Lucien Littlefield enjoys ‘Learning about marriage through a keyhole’ and you will like Marie.” The film’s conceit is especially hard to believe, even for a light romantic comedy, but it’s funny and offers a good vehicle for Ford’s lowkey, naturalistic acting style. 

Up In Mabel’s Room (1926)

The lightest of lightweight plots: Harrison Ford buys lingerie as a present for his wife, Marie Prevost again, and his wife catches him at it, assumes he is having an affair, and divorces him! The film draws disparate reactions from modern audiences; those willing to overlook the plot itself and to focus exclusively on the execution have a rollicking time. When this movie premiered, the New York Times wrote, “Judging by periodical explosions of laughter and significant chuckles, the screen version of the stage farce, Up in Mabel’s Room, afforded some enjoyment to an audience in the Mark Strand yesterday afternoon…. The principal asset in this comedy is the appearance of Marie Prevost, whose attractive face and clever acting put Harrison Ford, her hero, somewhat in the shade… Garry Ainsworth (Ford), who was looked upon by his pretty wife as far too good to be a husband, finds himself divorced in a Paris court. The next thing he knows is that some fair creatures think him a wonderful catch. And Mabel Ainsworth, after dwelling upon the life of a divorcée, discovers that Garry is not so good after all. She eventually insists that the one thing that will stop, her from remarrying Garry is the idea of ‘some other girl beating her to it.’ This picture is nicely staged and cleverly photographed. Sometimes one wonders how the camera man was able to picture the feverish action. Phyllis Haver fills the part of an affectionate blond who is not backward in approaching Garry. Harry Myers, who has given the screen some excellent performance in a minor role, adds to the entertainment value of this production.” Available on DVD, not streaming.

A Pair of Silk Stockings (1918).

Said Variety, in 1918: “Breezy, whimsical story from Cyril Harcourt’s play of the same name in which Constance Talmadge is starred. …  It gives her the opportunity to play a style of role which suits her best, that of an attractive young married woman who inadvertently is always getting herself into compromising positions and coming out of them flying. A Pair of Silk Stockings is English, very English, and is funny…. As a production it leaves little to be desired. The photography, done by James C Van Trees, is clear and sharp, and the locations are good, the exteriors appearing English. Director Walter Edwards seems to have caught the atmosphere of the British country house with its gay week-end parties.”

Honorable mentions: The Nervous Wreck (1926); The Girl in the Pullman (1927); The Average Woman (1924); The Rush Hour (1928); Rubber Tires (1927). 

And one other thought. Harrison Ford was in so many movies that have since been lost, little bits of history that people loved at the time. Movies like Three Weekends (1928), a Clara Bow vehicle designed for the “It Girl” by none other than Elinor Glyn, which, according to the Times, was something to see: “Miss Bow once again reveals her ability to express herself before the camera. Whether she wishes to spread cheer by her vivacious antics or let a tear or two drop from her large, long-lashed eyes, she is always attractive. She is kept busy throughout this affair and you may see her in one scene covering up her polka-dot bathing suit with a modest but abbreviated garment, and in a later chapter, to carry out the plot, she does her best to tear off her dress. Gladys O’Brian (Miss Bow) is one of those hard-working cabaret girls who is sorely tormented during the daylight hours because she can’t sleep in the tenement in which she lives.… Harrison Ford, who has deserted leading male rôles for those of a sedate fun-maker, is not without merit during some of the feverish instants in this photoplay. He affects a vacant stare and, for the nonce, little control of his facial muscles. Neil Hamilton (Ford) is the sturdy, handsome young man (whether Gladys realizes it or not), who is totally devoid of a sense of humor.”

Or Hawthorne of the U. S. A. (1919), of which only one print is said to exist, which has not seen the light of day in decades. “It is a bright and merry farce,” wrote the New York Times when the film was released, “and will undoubtedly be enjoyed by anyone who likes farces bright and merry. It is not, as its name might suggest, a jingoistic flag-waving parade of provincialism. It might have been, and once in a while is in danger of trying to be, but trust Wallace Reid and James Cruze to turn any attempt at strutting into a joke. And trust Tully Marshall, Charles Ogle, Theodore Roberts, Robert Brower, and Harrison Ford to help them do it. These are some of the exceptional cast, and without them Reid and Cruze would have been unable to make Hawthorne of the U. S. A. what it is. Marshall and Ogle are revolutionists in the mythical kingdom of Bovinia. Roberts is a United States Senator suffering from a mythical attack of rheumatism, and Brower is His Royal Highness, the mythical King. They are a merry company, and mixing agreeably with them are Harrison Ford, Guy Oliver, Edwin Stevens, and Lila Lee. Miss Lee is somewhat too slow for the rest of the company, but, although she is the Princess and heroine, the main business of the farce has to do with revolutionists, rheumatism, 2,000,000 francs from a ‘busted’ bank at Monte Carlo, a hungry army, and the King’s passion for nuts—vegetable, not animal—and these things are taken care of by the male members of the cast.” 

Or a little film called Just Married (1928)of which not even a single print exists, and of which the Times wrote, in 1928, “Ruth Taylor, who won favor by her impersonation of Lorelei Lee in the pictorial version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, is appearing at the Paramount in a story that is ‘really nothing,’ but quite amusing. This film adventure … is saved chiefly by the diligent manner in which at least two of the characters disregard the Eighteenth Amendment. What with the hiccups and staggering of the night before and the headaches and mishaps of the morning after, the audience yesterday afternoon was frequently stirred to loud laughter. The two bibulous characters, who have evidently resolved that leaving Paris sober isn’t done, are played by James Hall and Harrison Ford.… Mr. Hall gives quite a vivid and absurdly humorous impression of a young man trying to drink a French town dry. Mr. Ford is equally mirthful through his stoicism when under the influence of whatever these two found to drink.”

Rave reviews for Harrison Ford from the Times!

Or the hilarious and “splendidly photographed” film, The Night Bride (1927), also lost. Or the lost, supernatural thriller, The Mysterious Mrs. M., with a movie poster so mysterious that it brought the other Harrison Ford to our attention for the very first time, and in which he co-starred with Mary MacLaren, who loved pumpkin pie.

They all sound like a good time. 

^^^

Content by Oblivioni Magazine. Image design by Kalyee Srithnam. 

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