This historical nautical drama, starring William Boyd and Elinor Fair, is little more than a run-of-the-mill adventure programmer with its high-stakes race across the globe and its ineffectual villains, but it manages to be buoyed by the likeable Boyd and an amusing performance by Frank ‘Junior’ Coghlan.
Captain Hal Winslow (Boyd) is the hope of the American President to win a lucrative Chinese tea trade agreement in a ocean-spanning race from China to Boston against the British. His new square-rigger The Yankee Clipper is, of course, the fastest sailing ship afloat but it encounters a nearly crippling typhoon once past Cape Horn. Fending off a mutiny and the British sailing ship, Winslow must also find the time to win the affections of his new love, Jocelyn Huntington (Fair, as the unwilling British passenger), from her cowardly, golddigging dandy of a fiancé, Paul de Vigny (John Miljan).
Pitchforked into the situation is the lustful ‘Iron Head’ Joe, portrayed by perpetual villain Walter Long, and the comic relief is provided by Coghlan as the scrappy juvenile misogynist, Mickey.
Produced by DeMille Pictures Corporation at the height of its brief, late-1920s run, The Yankee Clipper is a film that falls something short of its epic intent. The cast and crew spent weeks filming at sea aboard a vintage 1856 Canadian sailing vessel that was refitted to represent the story’s square-rigger, and the film features intense special effects, with the film’s relatively convincing use of miniatures and the cast enduring thousands of gallons of deck-clearing water. Yet, despite its much-ado action sequences and a DeMille-sized production budget, the cast was given a pauper-lean script to work from. Jocelyn is neither here nor there as the love interest, and villain de Vigny could have been written as a stronger, head-butting nemesis for Captain Winslow (as the British are civilly portrayed and do not but superficially figure into the dramatic conflict). Instead, the cowardly de Vigny meets an ambiguous end and is quickly forgotten.
Originally scheduled to be directed by Cecil B. DeMille, the film was instead helmed by Rupert Julian, a director known today for his paucity of talent and melodramatic blocking of action. The production lost money in wide release and may have been partially responsible for the demise of DeMille’s production company in 1929. — Carl Bennett
2009 DVD edition
Under Full Sail (1922-1933), black & white, color-tinted black & white, and color-toned black & white, 130 minutes total, not rated,
including The Yankee Clipper (1927), color-tinted black & white, 81 minutes, not rated.
Flicker Alley, FA0012,
UPC 6-17311-67439-6, ISBN 1-893967-43-3.
One single-sided, dual-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, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
Release date: 14 April 2009.
Country of origin: USA
This high-quality DVD edition features a slightly windowboxed, natural-speed digital conflation video transfer of a very-good-to-excellent 35mm fine-grain print (the ‘A’ print), a very-good color-tinted 35mm release print from 1927 (the ‘B’ print), and a good, color-tinted 16mm Kodascope Libraries reduction print from circa 1930 (the ‘C’ print). The transfer itself has been consistently color-tinted a buttery-yellow to match the 1927 release print. Night scenes are blue-tinted.
We have listed The Yankee Clipper as an incomplete surviving film for years, yet this conflation of prints appears to be virtually complete, with only the end of one scene (Mickey’s pummelling of the Chinese tattoo artist) appearing to still be lost. More footage could be missing, but it is not readily apparent. Three video-based intertitles replace missing original intertitles.
Some print flaws remain in the video master, with some very-light speckling in the finely-detailed and stable A print, more speckling, dust and some print shrinkage in the jumpy, softer-detailed and slightly-contrasty B print, and some occasional dust in the coarsely-detailed, contrasty, and sometimes jittery C print. That being said, the overall presentation still manages to be a pleasant viewing experience, with a top-notch job being done by Lobster Films’ Eric Lange at matching the color-tinting and the picture geometry of mid-shot transitions between source prints.
The film is accompanied by a music score compiled by Dennis James, performed on the Mighty Wurlitzer of the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, Washington. The recording itself is very-good, with the organ’s bass notes capable of rattling the windows at high volume. As always, James captures the feel of original silent era presentations in his score arrangement and performance. We look forward to more from him on home video.
The supplemental material includes a 2008 audio interview with Junior Coghlan on his work in The Yankee Clipper (7 minutes), and a booklet with an article on the films by John E. Stone and notes on scoring The Yankee Clipper by Dennis James.
This disc should not be thought of as a collection of five feature-length films (as possibly could be misconstrued) but as a presentation of The Yankee Clipper that is supplemented by four short nautical films. We recommend this edition of The Yankee Clipper for its assembly of the best-available footage and theatre organ score.
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.
TeleVista, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 12 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $19.95.
Release date: 7 October 2008.
Country of origin: USA
This DVD edition has been mastered from a very-good 16mm reduction print that features a broad range of greytones and reasonable image detail, but with a distracting amount of dust, speckling and scratches.
The film is accompanied by a serviceable compilation of preexisting recordings.