Monday, 24 October 2011

King Vidor & Queen Eleanor… Wine of Youth (1924)

It’s one of the main missions of this blog for me to discover (or rediscover) the talent and creativity of (mostly) silent film. Before I started this exercise I knew, what I thought, were the main players but... it seems I didn't.

Silent film when viewed monolithically appeared simple and homogenous. From a distance you couldn’t see the immense variety and invention or the modernity. Frankly, you had every right to expect more from an historian!

So, the closer I got to the subject, crossing the flat, desiccated earth under the burning yellow sun of Greed…the more I started to see and the broader the appreciation that this was a multifaceted medium with many outstanding talents. King Vidor was certainly one of this number as was his wife, the extraordinary naturalistic actress, Eleanor Boardman.

I watched her spellbinding performance in Vidor’s famous The Crowd as well as the lesser known Souls for Sale. In the former she is the emotional anchor and her range of expression gives the story an edge of realism it might otherwise lack. In Souls she is shown training to become an actor and gives a very brave and believable performance as a bad actress: who else would risk reputation in this way?

Wine of Youth is maybe not of the same calibre as these two films but it still has merits of its own - it's a sophisticated story that is surprisingly hard to pin down. A 1924 feature directed by King Vidor it shows how three generations of the same family encounter romance. It is fascinating in its portrayal of the “new” types of behaviour of “modern” youth, who deal with issues of choice in different ways from their parents and grandparents.

Eleanor plays Mary and her mother and grandmother are shown at the start of the film meeting their matches in strictly-controlled social circumstances in which the dominant male generally gets his woman. But, in the same way that Mary’s mother had more freedom of action than her grandmother, Mary has seemingly even more liberty and freedom of choice.

Mary isn’t even convinced about the idea of old-fashioned marriage let alone monogamy – ah youth! So much so, that unable to chose between two suitors, Mary agrees to spend two weeks away with the men to make her choice. Her grandmother is appalled but her mother feels the stirrings of sympathy... does she perhaps regret a decision she made in the past?

Mary sneaks off accompanied by her men, Hal played by the always excellent William Haines and Lynn (Ben Lyon), along with their group of friends who continue their ongoing mobile party at their campsite. Mary is put off by her friends' behaviour... drinking, swimming and generally fooling around. She has an attack of conscience and feigns illness so she can be returned home.

Once home the story takes an unexpected turn as Mary's disappearance sparks a row between her mother and father. She listens intently, hiding with her brother, as the whole basis of her family life is torn apart... Has she sparked off the end of her parents' marriage? Is a life of acceptance and unhappy subjugation the truth of things and how will this affect Mary's own choices - is this what her future holds?

Vidor keeps us guessing right till the end and it's a compelling story. My copy is a ropey nth generation VHS and I would love to see this is better quality. Even so, it's an enjoyable film and another silent gem. The supporting cast are excellent and, the wonderfully named, Eulalie Jensen is particularly good as Mary's mother.

But it's Eleanor Boardman who dominates and it's good to see her glammed up in the stylish designer dresses she was so famous for.

Who wouldn't want to party like it's 1924?


  1. Again a great comment about a director who I revere.I did not know the fact that his wife was an actress.All I know Vidor silent film, it refers: The Crowd, The Big Parade, Hallelujah and The Patsy. Since 1928, backwards, I have not seen any of his films.
    Thank you for discovering the movie. I try to find it.


  2. Gracias de nuevo Roy - que es frustrante que no hay más disponible en DVD a partir de Vidor - lo que hay es muy bueno!

    Esperamos que os gusten Bardleys también!