There have been filmed Peter Pans aplenty, but Herbert Brenon's 1924 version stands out as perhaps the most charming. Seventeen-year-old Betty Bronson soars as cinema's first gendernaut, poignantly embodying J.M. Barrie's theme of the fleeting pleasures of childhood while boldly exploiting the story's gender-bending undertones in provocative scenes with Wendy.
Legendary auteur Oscar Micheaux weighs in with his second (and only surviving) feature, Within Our Gates (1919). Made in response to Birth of a Nation, Gates was widely rejected by both black and white audiences for its harrowing scenes of lynching and attempted rape, which still pack a punch even in these jaded times. On a campier note is Maciste All'Inferno (Maciste in Hell; 1926), a precursor to all those '60s Italian sword 'n' sandal epics starring musclemen in butt-thongs. Maciste looks more like an overweight janitor than a bodybuilder, but all is forgiven when he goes to hell, a fabulous comic-Boschian nightmare where he fights dragons and devils and flirts with scantily clad temptresses.
Finally, there's It (1927), the original flapper-girl flick. Clara Bow excels as the sexy-sincere shopgirl on the make for her boss. Written by Elinor Glyn, It brought wolf-whistles from F. Scott Fitzgerald and made Bow an international sensation. Her doomed-diva status (emotional problems ended her career in 1933) makes this of special interest to scandalmongers, but her freshness and simpatico make her -- and the "it" she made famous -- as captivating today as back then.