Thursday, 30 April 2015

Brave hearts and chieftains… Annie Laurie (1927), Barbican with Shona Mooney Trio

Hollywood has long specialised in the cod-Celtic but Shona Mooney’s authentic, soulful folk reclaimed this one for Scotland!

Her score had been commissioned for the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema to accompany this film’s re-emergence after a crisp restoration by U.S. Library of Congress and the show came thundering down to England to strike a blow for the Highlands just a few hundred yards from where William Wallace was executed in 1305 (Smithfield, just outside Barts…).

Tha wee bonnie lassie, Lillian
The film was directed for MGM by John S. Robertson and represented an attempt to broaden Lillian Gish’s appeal. Sandwiched between her two films with the great Victor Sjöström – The Scarlet Letter (1926) and The Wind (1928) - Annie Laurie feels lightweight but it’s good to see Gish in more flirtatious mode and I don’t think I’ve seen her smile so much... That’s not to say that she doesn’t get a chance to stress-test her character and there is one extraordinary moment when her face is in open-eyed shock when, through she is able to summon forth tears - supernatural control but, in this film, from someone who is less intense than usual*.

The film is loosely based on the legendary rivalry between the Scottish clans of MacDonald and Campbell which resulted in the Massacre of Glencoe of 12th February 1692.

Some men in kilts
The feud between the clans is presented in a half-comic way here even though events kick off with the killing of one of the MacDonald’s men by the Campbells who attach a note to the body to make sure their neighbours get the message (sometimes it’s just good to talk boys…).

The MacDonald Chieftain (Hobart Bosworth) calls on his son Ian (Norman Kerry with an odd moustache and a strange shirt with plunging neckline… they did realise how cold it is in Scotland didn’t they?!) to extract revenge and heads off with his men to steal the Campbell cattle and the life of one of their men – “A Campbell for a MacDonald!” he cries as he dumps the body in the mix of their evening revels.

Norman Kerry and Lillian Gish
 The squad also takes the Campbell Chieftain’s niece, Enid (Patricia Avery) with them after she has caught the eye of Ian’s brother Alastair (Joseph Striker). She had been wandering in the castle grounds with her best friend and cousin, Annie Laurie (Gish) who desperately tries to stop the kidnap.

Negotiation takes weeks and, by the time the clans gather to return Enid, she has fallen for her handsome captor and refuses to return. The Campbell Chieftain (Brandon Hurst) curses her, her lover and their first born: feelings are running high.

Enid and Annie
Annie tries to make Enid stay and her eye is caught by that of the young “Pup” MacDonald – something stirs… which is all very frustrating for Donald Campbell (the normally likeable Creighton Hale who is here, not so much…). As Donald tries to woo Annie her thoughts begin to drift to the far hunkier Ian. As comic relief Sandy (Russell Simpson) says: these barbarians have a way with women.

Donald is not quite the lute playing fop he appears though and opinion on just exactly who is the barbarian must be suspended pending further data.

Lillian Gish and Creighton Hale
Enid invites Annie to visit and sends Ian to escort her. The two bond after he carries her across a babbling brook (see Mr Griffith, Lillian doesn’t always need to half drown in order to make a movie…) and on the return journey she receives the shock of a kiss. She runs away but they both know this is it.

As relations thaw all round, Ian and Annie dance at a coming together of the clans and Donald’s jealousy rises up a notch or three. Walking together Annie and Ian are surrounded by Duncan and his men, Ian calls on her to leave the Campbells but she isn’t ready and after she leaves, Donald’s boys subject Ian to a walk through a tunnel made by their raised swords. As he walks through they strike his back, flaying his skin and leaving deep scars, Annie runs back to intervene and there are some excellent shots of her panicked face through the steel.

Annie really likes the 'tache
Ian keeps too much of his pride and cruelly rejects Annie for not declaring her true love… Job done thinks scheming Donald.

Events now begin to broaden in scope as the Campbells look to find favour with the English King and to outmanoeuvre the MacDonalds. Annie hears of their plot to take the latter’s land with the monarch’s help if the MacDonalds refuse to sign a new agreement and rushes off to warn Ian. But will the man ever sober up enough to drop his grudge against her and in time to prevent the Campbells not only taking their land but their lives as that fateful day in Glencoe approaches…

Annie pleads with unyielding Campbells
It’s a well-made film with some interesting cinematography from Oliver Marsh especially with what looks like hand-held camera-work for the main battle and a chase sequence. The story may be less than historically accurate but it’s an entertaining ride.

The experience was elevated from an interesting to exciting one by the genuinely uplifting, intelligent and precise composition of Shona Mooney. Shona played the fiddle and was accompanied by Alasdair Paul on guitar and flute as well as Amy Thatcher in accordion and piano. This well-drilled group played very tightly along with the action with energy and invention.

Amy Thatcher, Shona Mooney + Alasdair Paul
The music worked so well with the film, matching sound effects and themes to the action to witty and winning effect; from a knock on the door to the emotional cadences of Miss Gish’s acting. I am sure Lillian would have approved whilst the rest of us were on our feet clapping for an encore!

If you get the chance to see the film with Shona’s accompaniment I wouldn’t hesitate and it is to be hoped that the combination gets more opportunities to show how the unique combinations of silent film and fresh music can move an audience.

More details of Shona Mooney’s music are on her site. She has had a very active career since winning the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year in 2006 recording numerous albums and touring the World. She specialised in Eighteenth Century Scottish music and so her affinity with Annie Laurie is not surprising: more authentic, in fact, than the Californian scenery and title card dialect used in the film…

*Off screen her mother had been taken ill and Gish confessed to being less involved in her preparation for this film than in say La Bohème (1926) or The Wind. It’s no bad thing – in terms of the film – as she gives a relaxed, naturalistic performance and is more lighthearted as a result.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Blockbuster! The General (1926) and One Week (1920) with Carl Davis and Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Festival Hall

“He seems like a modern visitor to the world of the silent clowns.” Roger Ebert

A big night for Buster as the film buffs and concert crowd gathered together to watch Carl Davis conduct the mighty Philharmonia Orchestra in playing his own scores for two of stone face’s finest. We may have clashed sartorially – and I did have visions of a potential Mods vs Rockers conflagration, though thankfully things didn’t “kick off” – but, ultimately we all grooved to Mr Davis and the band and we all laughed together, out loud and a lot.

Silent films were often shown in large auditoriums and with full orchestral backing so this grand occasion was not unbefitting especially given the scale of Keaton’s comic adventure. I hadn’t watched The General for a long time and here, presented in the recent upgrade, it was indeed re-masterful.

"If you loose the war, don't blame me..."
Having watched or rather, been assaulted by, the new Avengers film earlier in the day with my son, I thought I’d been all punched out but Keaton can still compete with the modern thriller with all of its technological advantages. In the language of that film he’s “augmented”: someone who has super-human qualities that are a special effect all of their own. Allied to this is his creative energy which ensures that not only is there always something happening it’s also funny. Other directors of the time cut very quickly and whilst he and co-director Clyde Bruckman do just that Keaton also has an action-reaction-action loop switched to fast forward.

Amidst all of this chaos, there remains that face: impassive, at peace… absorbing every blow whilst immediately figuring out a way to respond. As David Gill once said to Carl Davis, Keaton is a problem-solver and his stories are a triumph of resolute improvisations against all odds: the comedy of hope.

Buster sets off in lone pursuit
Carl Davis understands this on an orchestral scale and his compositions, which could easily overwhelm the 90 year-old subject matter, are subtle and leverage the power inherent in the film as much as any hyper-produced Danny Elfman or Alan Silvestri score. If anything the modern sonics are over-loud cheats to get a cheap animal response whereas Buster and Carl are so much smarter than that. Together they project in emphatic unison and you are drawn into rather than enveloped.

So it was that The General’s true nature was revealed as an action adventure as much as a comedy. It is a great story based on William Pittenger’s book about actual events in the Civil War and it is superbly filmed. Cinematographers Bert Haines and Devereaux Jennings shot on a parallel line and the narrative is steam-powered by the constant motion of machine, men and horses.

Buster misses the Northern advance and the Southern retreat
At one point Buster is so busy trying to stoke the loco’s fires that he completely missed the mass retreat of the Confederate forces and the thousands of Unionist soldiers in pursuit – a large scale replica of Buster’s persona: calm amongst the chaos.

Then as Buster and his true love Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack) try to steam their way to safety, they start rowing as she gets over picky about which bits of wood to use and then starts sweeping the cab. Only Buster would place a domestic quibble in the middle of a war.

Marion Mack
Keaton is an equal-opportunities comedian and he always ensures that his leading ladies carry a fair share of the pratfalls and his southern belle is as daft and brave as he. Meanwhile the generals of the North are sillier still as it takes them ages to work out how to fix the tracks and their engineer a few seconds. Maybe Buster wasn’t so impressed with Generals in general?

By the mid-twenties, Buster could do pretty much what he liked, resulting in this film… one of the most expensive ever made and, at the time, a relative flop that was to curtail his creative freedom. Those guys at the top, they didn’t really have a clue.

Home sweet home...
On the under-card tonight was One Week (1920) Buster’s first solo effort after years of duetting with Roscoe Arbuckle.

Directed and written by Keaton along with Edward F. Cline the film was a smash and began his establishment as a major star in his own right and you can see why as it hurtles along with the same wit and rapid improvisations as the longer, later film.

Sybil and Buster on the swing
The film was a parody of the Ford Motor Company documentary, Home Made (1919), an educational short about prefabricated housing: it all looked far too easy for Buster who set out to show how things could all wrong so very easily…

Again he puts his female lead through her paces, this time a young Sybil Seely, who flies up in the air as their pre-fab wall spins Buster down and gets thrown in the dirt as the storm spins them round. She also gets featured in a bathroom scene so daring the cameraman eventually puts his hand over the lens.

Sybil's impressed with the man at work...
But it’s Buster who takes the big risks as he battles to erect their flat-packed house only to be flattened by the arrival of their piano, dropped from a great height and, famously, almost obliterated by an on-rushing locomotive. There was something about Buster and trains…

Before the green screen, a real train and a big smash!
By the end of the evening the taste of those digitized Avengers was washed away as the real super heroes were revealed: Buster and Carl took flight.

The General is now available complete with Mr Davis’ score on Kino Blu-ray direct or from Amazon whilst One Week is also on a Kino Blu-ray  through Amazon.   

Friday, 24 April 2015

Nice and sleazy… In the Dead of Night, Landor Theatre, London

“Will you marry me?” “No, because trusting is difficult…”

I’ve only occasionally ventured into film noir on this blog but I think the dark and sleazy expressionism of the genre appeals to silent film fans more than most. This was when cinema started dealing with Big Fear in the only way it could: a re-birth of the visual cool with films that were relatively less cluttered by the dialogue explosion of the wise-cracking thirties.

In a reaction to the – literally – Earth-shattering global war and the development of mutually assured socio-political as well as actual destruction – noir confronted the new depths to which mankind could stoop. The enemy was a much within as without as the victors were gifted with a shocked paranoia that lasted well into the fifties and beyond.

Judith Paris and Susannah Allman
Having previously paid splendid tribute to silent film hero William Haines with The Tailor-Made Man, writer and director Claudio Macor shifts forwards to this curious genre and takes it to places it could never have gone in the post-war, post-code world. In his version of the genre, not only are the characters insecure and untrustworthy, they also have more explicit lives and motivations: more shades of grey than the silver screen allowed… with almost all 36 rules of the Hays Code are broken in the play. They should have given us a tick sheet although I spotted the sensual dancing, crime paying and men making passionate love…

The Landor Theatre is an intimate over-pub venue just down the road from Clapham North but you’d be amazed how much dancing can be done on its strictly-limited stage area. At various points there were half a dozen dancers twirling, high-kicking and throwing themselves about with muscular abandon but with immense control. Anthony Whiteman’s choreography (to Paul Boyd’s killer score) pushed the fourth wall to its limits and created a visceral bond between the watchers and the watched – this was theatre in the raw and we were all in way above our heads.

Judith Paris
At the centre of the drama was the extraordinary Judith Paris an actress whose theatrical credits wouldn’t have filled the play’s programme on their own and who has played from the RSC to Broadway and back again via the Tardis and Tom Baker’s Doctor Who (my son recognised her picture instantly). She has great presence and dominated the stage with an energy all of her own as the former femme fatale Elvira who refuses to fade away.

Elvira runs a cat house, the Bar Tangueros, in the nowhere place of La Rocca a shanty-town port you’d think twice about in a storm, somewhere in South America. Her star turns are the strapping Massimo (Jordan Alexander) and the shapely Rita (Susannah Allman) who work hard to provide the hard-working sailors some fleeting comfort.

Ross Harper Millar and Ned Wolfgang Kelly
Elvira is starting to diversify by buying coca leaves from an unkempt freelancer, Martinez (Ross Harper Millar) who is stealing from the drug cartel that runs the area. Martinez is a man of mystery who has obscure motives and knows more than he should… he is loyal to Elvira; steadfast in a way that the majority of the more polished members of humanity are not.

Elvira has more history than the Egyptians and has a hate/hate relationship with local kingpin Falchi (Ned Wolfgang Kelly – now there’s a name to conjure with!) who rode his luck from almost assassin to presidential protector and now works on behalf of the cartel. Elvira pays him protection money but La Rocca’s card has been marked and doom permeates the air.

“Promise me one thing; let me know when you decide to play ghost again…”

Hays Code rules 4 and 36 about to be broken...
The head of the cartel’s son, Leandro (Matt Mella), had a love affair with Massimo and returns to win back his heart after a year away at sea. He manages to rekindle their relationship with the aid of a Tango (fun fact: the Tango was initially a dance between sailors and dockers – hence the battle to take the “lead”?). He and Massimo are soul mates but Leandro’s father wants to make all of La Rocca pay for his son’s life choices… a hard rain is definitely going to fall.

Then an enigmatic Frenchman, Raul (Tristan Robin) arrives and wants to become more than a customer to Rita. Is this a love we can trust for, as Elvira warns, “it takes a long time to capture a heart…” but maybe she is speaking from experience.

Susannah Allman and Tristan Robin
As both couples begin to dream of escape, the noose tightens around the town’s collective neck and the truth between Elvira and Falchi will out…

The leads are all strong with Susannah Allman impressing with her Gene Tierney cool (those dimples!) and Jordan Alexander sleekly intense as the gigolo with a heart of gold. Ross Harper Millar embraces his inner seedy as the messed-up Martinez whilst Mr Wolfgang Kelly makes his Falchi an arch anti-hero: for whom crime pays but also enslaves.

There’s excellent energy from the support including Victoria Sheffield (who puts the ah! in Victoria!), Danny Harris, Daniel James Greenway and  Joshua Clare who all dance and act with equal grace.

"I'd like your blessing..." "I'm not a priest." 

Claudio Macor fills his dialogue with some class and snap; all worthy of the name-checked Bogart and Bacall, Crawford and Gable – clearly this is a labour of love all round and the next time I watch Gilda, Laura or Casablanca it will be through new eyes. The subtext of constrained post-code noir will be that much clearer.

A memorable show and a real privilege to watch in such intimacy; as we left we were already starting to miss La Rocca…

In the Dead of Night is on at Clapham’s Landor Theatre until Saturday 16th May and I would urge anyone with an interest in film and soulful, musical theatre not to miss it!

Book now!

Saturday, 18 April 2015

An Ealing epic… Jane Shore (1915), BFI with Laura Rossi and Orchestra Celeste

Recently the BBC – the BBC – carried a news story noting the centenary of “the first feature film” The Birth of a Nation which is like saying that Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the first LP… a letter was almost written to the DG.

This multi-reeler is described as Britain’s "answer" to Birth (both were released in March 1915) and so naturally we were expecting large-scale invention, historical flim-flam and a healthy dollop of deluded white men on horseback wearing sheets. But what we saw was closer to the Italian classical dramas of the time, which is unsurprising considering the film’s origins in Nicholas Rowe's 1714 play The Tragedy of Jane Shore.

An eighteenth century portrait of Jane Shore, National Trust, Penrhyn Castle
Jane Shore was the mistress of King Edward IV, who reigned on and off from 1461 until his mysterious death in 1483 – “not my period” as we historians always say but I’ll give it a go.

Jane Shore – originally Elizabeth Lambert (the Jane was added by another Seventeenth Century playwright after her given name was temporarily mislaid) – lived a long and eventful life. Many years after Edward’s passing and the defeat of his recently re-buried brother, Richard III by Henry VII, Thomas More, declared that even in her old age an attentive observer might discern traces of her former beauty.

But Jane Shore is by no means a Mantell-esque forensic historical docu-drama: it’s a romp and pure entertainment from start to finish!

Blanche Forsythe walks through the thousand extras...
Richard – here merely Duke of Gloucester (Rolf Leslie) – is a Dastardly Dick who is seemingly older than his elder brother Edward IV (Roy Travers), whilst the conniving Margaret (Dora De Winton) seems to exist purely to add more spite to proceedings forever trying to come between/revenge herself on noble Matthew Shore (Robert Purdie) and his true love Jane Shore nee Winstead (Blanche Forsythe).

It opens in grand style as many hundreds of defeated Lancastrian soldiers retreat through massive steep valleys having been routed by the army of the White Rose led by Edward. It’s a stunning shot and crystal clear in the BFI’s new restoration marking the film’s centenary. The sequence is so fine that it’s repeated later as the Yorkists taste defeat and there is a wonderful shot showing the men almost rolling down the steep hill with cinematographer Will Barker’s camera angled almost above them – take that Mr Griffith!

On the Ealing backlot
Directed by Bert Haldane and F. Martin Thornton, Jane Shore was filmed in part at Ealing Studios and produced by Will Barker, who founded the original studio in God’s own commuter-county, Hertfordshire.

The story is a truncated version of “Jane’s” life focusing on the Edward years and beefing up her relationship with Shore who it is suggested she sacrificed herself to Edward’s lust in order to protect: Laura Rossi explained that in reality she divorced him on the grounds of impotency.
Shore’s brother William (Nelson Phillips) is a Lancastrian hero and his brother comes to his rescue after he is imprisoned in the Tower.  As elsewhere in the film, Haldane and Thornton frame their static shots dynamically, creating tight-angled tension from the walls and battlements. There’s a close-up blur of battle as the rebels overcome the drunken Yorkist guards and climb down the walls to freedom.

Matthew and Jane wed as Edward looks on in disguise...
The action shifts to the domestic as the overwrought Margaret tries to turn Matthew’s head but he’s set himself on young Jane and ignores her flailing arms and over-eager elbows. But two masked playboys from the royal court come to town and one of them takes a shine to Jane before revealing himself to be Edward! Malicious Madge squeals in delight as Matthew makes one of many grabs for his blade…

Jane calms his anger by agreeing to marry him but in steps Marge again to inform on him as a Lancastrian spy. Matthew fights of dozens of royal guards and escapes to his brother’s troop leaving Jane to accept her fate as a mistress of the court.

Rolf Leslie's vicious Richard
Enter Richard hobbling with intent, stage right… After trying it on with Jane himself and being shooed away by Lord Hastings (Thomas H. MacDonald) he tells the Queen (Maud Yates) of the King’s affair (in reality Edward was rather active in this respect although he retained respect for Jane right up to his untimely death).

From now on it’s Dick’s tricks that drive the narrative and with such a villain smiling at the heart of great misfortune, you have to hope for some kind of happy ending…

Jane greets the sunrise in this risque moment...
Laura Rossi’s score was expertly judged and one of the best ensemble accompaniments I’ve seen for some time. She played piano alongside an electronic backdrop and was accompanied by a top-notch trio: Sophie Langdon (Royal Philharmonic, BBC Symphony etc) on electric violin, Bozidar Vukotic (Tippett Quartet, English Chamber Orchestra and more) and Mike Outram on guitars who in addition to being a professor at The Royal Academy has also played with Steven Wilson and the great Robert Fripp.

Together they produced an engaging sonic narrative of some depth and invention. It was a Friday evening after a long working week and this was instantaneously engaging, welcoming music which greatly enhanced the cinematic experience. A true soundtrack that was melded to the century-old “text” and which helped the audience connect…

Laura Rossi and Orchestra Celeste
In her introduction Laura explained how her composition tracked Blanche Forsythe emotional shifts and the music was such a disciplined servant to the action throughout. In one scene after a confrontation between the King and Matthew the monarch stomps through a crowded room followed by the angry insurgent: the music builds with the rhythm of the extras’ movement as they hoard towards the centre of the screen crushing round Matthew to prevent his taking the matter further. Such diligence rewards with a seamlessly-sympathetic score.

There’s more about Laura’s extraordinary music on her site and don’t miss this show if you can: a precious example of early British cinematic sophistication. Not quite up there with Griffith or the most advanced Europeans but brilliantly British all the same!

The Jane Shore tour continues into May - details are on Laura's site here.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The importance of being earnest… Where Are My Children? (1916)

Lois Weber’s work is always an interpretive challenge for the modern viewer but her films are precious primary evidence: gobbets of accepted wisdom and contemporary morality frozen in celluloid as surely as mosquitoes captured in amber. Our mission, should we chose to accept it, is to understand the reasons why by examining the historical context rather than taking a quick look through the prism of hind-sight.

Having read a number of reviews and comments many, for example, cannot avoid mentioning Eugenics and then making a direct link to its interpretation and implementation in Germany in the late 20’s and beyond.

Admiring a product of eugenics
There were different strands to this line of thought and many liberal-minded people, Sydney and Beatrix Webb and other members of the early UK Fabian Society included, felt that controlled breeding could help to improve society and lessen the level of suffering amongst the poor. That doesn’t make them right nor does it make them signed up members of a fascist movement that was not fully formed for over twenty-thirty years in another culture. Socially interventionist, “negative” eugenics, is abhorrent to most modern minds but you can see its origins in the context of the morals, medicine and poverty of the day.

Souls await the birthing call behind the pearly gates
Also, in an age of more fragile mortality there were many, many more who believed in Christianity in a literal sense and for whom the idea of pearly gates was very real. For these people a film that starts with the unborn souls of children descending from heaven was reassuringly-believable and not a source of mirth. Weber’s use of this device is especially effective when contrasted to the very modern attitudes of the self-serving socialites who spend the film avoiding responsibility in order to extend their leisure time… Not very “sisterly” you might think but these people were being dishonest and Miss Weber had a low tolerance for hypocrisy as established in one of her previous films.

This film is pro-choice but of a different kind. Amazingly abortion wasn’t outlawed in the USA until the 1860s and two generations down the line back-street terminations came with no guarantee of medical competence. Weber’s film is firmly against these practices preferring instead the kind of education about and practice of birth control as espoused by Margaret Sanger who was her inspiration here and specifically for one of the film’s two court room scenes.

The slums and their consequences
Sanger was a member of the Women's Committee of the New York Socialist party who took part in strikes and social activism in addition to her work as a visiting nurse in the slums of New York City’s lower East Side. She saw the impact of unwanted pregnancies on women who could barely feed themselves and yet information on contraception was prohibited on the grounds of obscenity by the federal Comstock law of 1873 as well as state law. Sanger vowed to change the laws and in 1914 launched The Woman Rebel newsletter to promote contraception using the slogan "No Gods, No Masters". She popularized the term "birth control" and proclaimed that each woman should be "the absolute mistress of her own body." In 1914 she was indicted before fleeing to Canada whilst her estranged husband was jailed for 30 days for passing on copies of her Family Limitation… which brings us back to the film…

Dr Homer tries to make his case
The campaigner is represented in the film by a man, Dr Homer (C. Norman Hammond), who is being prosecuted for the indecency of distributing a book on contraception. As our nominal hero, District Attorney Richard Walton (Tyrone Power Snr) reads out more from the book the more he can see the connections between birth control and eugenics. For himself he has always longer for children and yet to his great regret his wife (Helen Riaume, Mrs Power at the time) has yet to be blessed… He cannot understand why anyone would not want to have a family whilst at the same time believing that society would be better served if not everyone who can do should do.

Mrs Walton and her dog
He hears compelling evidence from Dr Homer about his heart-breaking experiences in the slums: families at war with themselves in a nightmare of poverty and alcoholism with violence and crime driven by the need to provide for more mouths than can be afforded and children who are malnourished and genetically disadvantaged…

Richard’s sister (Marjorie Blynn) has contracted an “eugenics marriage” and her off-spring will be inevitably fit, healthy and well-provided for. Cursed be those who pass up this opportunity and Weber is relentless in her disapproving view of the lounging classes, one dog for every aborted child and a relentless round of coffee mornings at each other’s opulent abodes.

Dr. Malfit's malpractice
Mrs Walton arranges a quickie abortion for her best friend Mrs. William Carlo (Marie Walcamp) with one Dr. Herman Malfit (Juan de la Cruz). She seems totally at ease in his forbidding surgery smiling knowingly at another woman who tries to hide her face in shame and yawning at the everyday inconvenience of having to be there.

"...bold methods..." in action
But such complacency cannot last as her brother Roger (A.D. Blake) comes to stay and takes an immediate shine to the housekeeper’s daughter Lillian (Rena Rogers). Weber is no less forgiving of his attitude as a title card sneers: “Practice teaches men of this class, the bold methods that sweep in-experienced girls off their feet”. And so he does but not without consequences that will have a devastating impact on all concerned.

No spoilers: The film is still hard-hitting and the final sequence is a poignant one… dear reader, a handkerchief may well be required.

The souls of the newly-conceived appear on their mothers' shoulders...
Weber marshals her cast well and Power is especially impressive as the man with the firmest of backbones. The story flows well and you can see why Weber was so well regarded – it is a fact universally utilized that she was the highest paid director of the day.

The film caused some controversy but broke records in such places as New York and Atlantic City (was that you Nucky?I). A comparison could be drawn with Birth of a Nation which was banned in Boston on the grounds of its depiction of the races whilst Pennsylvania banned this film on the grounds that it was “filth”… things were obviously moving too fast for the Quaker State but these issues remain controversial in some sections of society.

Marie Walcamp and Tyrone Power
I watched the 2000 renovation on the Treasures From American Film Archives 3 box set which comes with Martin Marks' marvelous modern score skilfully orchestrated by Allen Feinstein. It's a bit collectable I'm afraid but still good value. More details on the NFPF site.

Postscript: The film was *almost* shown in London recently but cancelled the day before screening… does controversy linger still over Lois Webster’s work? Hopefully it can be re-scheduled...

Helen Riaume