Peter Pan is such a well-known story that most English-speaking 20th-century people know it by heart. Well-known motion picture and television productions have helped keep the James Barrie story alive. But it was in December 1924 that the first big-budget Peter Pan classic was released by Paramount Pictures. All of the necessary elements were there, the flying Pan, the Darling children, Tinker Bell, the pirates and indians, Captain Hook, the crocodile, even Nana the nursemaid dog. And it all came together admirably.
Betty Bronson turns in a charming performance as Peter Pan, holding her own in cinematic history against other Pans including Mary Martin’s. One of our favorite character actors, Ernest Torrence, excels in a comparatively low-key performance as Captain Hook (that is, low-key when compared to latter-day Hooks such as Hans Conreid and Dustin Hoffman). And a young Mary Brian shines as Wendy. Animal impersonator George Ali is a standout as Nana. And we suspect that it also is Ali as the crocodile that terrorizes Hook. The film’s cinematography by James Wong Howe is also very good. The film gives the viewer the impression that it is somehow a result greater than the sum of its parts. So many things could have gone stale, so many aspects could have gone wrong in the translation of a beloved stage play to a motion picture. But the film comes off well, with a glow and a spirit that extinguishes cynical expectations. — Carl Bennett
Kino on Video
1999 DVD edition
Peter Pan (1924), color-toned and color-tinted black & white, 102 minutes, not rated.
Kino International, K140, UPC 7-38329-01402-5.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in windowboxed 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 10 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $29.99.
Release date: 23 November 1999.
Country of origin: USA
This DVD edition transferred the archival 35mm print from the George Eastman Museum film archive, and it is a wonderful print that is marred with light speckling and very minor flaws. The transfer is color-tinted and toned in sepia and blue. And the transfer image is generously cropped with nearly all of the full-aperture image available to all television monitors, regardless of their overscan cropping. Some televisions will reveal that the image has been slightly windowboxed, with the print’s rounded frame corners visible in the overscan area, allowing the maximum viewable image.
This edition, produced by David Pierce of Sunrise Entertainment, is well done on nearly all counts. The DVD features a wonderful new orchestral music score by Philip Carli recorded with the Flower City Society Orchestra. The music is tasteful, entertaining and well-recorded.
A minor complaint is that the Szebin essay “Peter Pan Escapes Cinematic Neverland,” reprinted from the October 1995 issue of American Cinematographer, is set in a typeface size that can be too small to read on smaller televisions. The section of Esther Ralston reminiscences is compromised of a 2 minute informal videotape interview transferred from a low-quality VHS videotape, and two audio sections on meeting Mary Brian (10 minutes) and the Robert McKay interview (31 minutes) all in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound. An intriguing tidbit from the supplementary section informs us that both May McAvoy and Lillian Gish were considered for the role of Peter Pan.
We admire this edition of Peter Pan for its overall quality and for its attention to production details. The combination of a film that has a winning charm and an above-average home video presentation makes this DVD a must-have for silent film collectors. We highly recommend this disc.
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.