Long derided by film historians as a talented but visually unimaginative director, James Cruze made up for any and all past artistic sins with his rousing Old Ironsides. Per its title, this 11-reel silent film is set at the time of Stephen Decatur's defeat of the Barbary pirates in Tripoli. Decatur himself (played by comic actor Johnnie Walker) is a secondary character herein -- most of the screen time goes to the romantic leads, able-bodied seaman Charles Farrell and damsel-in-permanent-distress Esther Ralston. The acting honors go to those inveterate scene-stealers Wallace Beery and George Bancroft, cast respectively as Bos'n and Gunner. The film accommodates everything from outsized sea battles to a daring rescue from the clutches of the lustful pirates. A life-sized replica of "Old Ironsides" (aka the "Constitution") was built for the film; it remained a useful piece of bric-a-brac for many a subsequent Paramount seafaring epic. When originally released, the film utilized a wide-screen technique during many of the battle sequences. The videocassette version of Old Ironsides is, of course, unable to convey this, but it does have the bonus of a rousing musical score by Gaylord Carter. This print, incidentally, is crystal clear, enabling sharp-eyed viewers to spot Boris Karloff in a bit as a menacing Saracen.
by Hal Erickson synopsis