Thursday, 19 July 2012

Edward Sloman + Mary Miles Minter… The Ghost of Rosy Taylor (1918)

Edward Sloman films are as rare as hens’ teeth as, indeed, are those of Mary Miles Minter. According to Grapevine Video (who’s print I watched), MMM had four extant whilst Sloman only five.

Whilst both figures have been revised upwards in recent years, there’s very little left from a combined total of over 150 films made by both and when you hear the debate about how much silent film has been lost, it’s people like these that keep the ratio tragically high.

But at least we have something. I enjoyed watching Sloman’s 1926 film Surrender with its inventive direction and a DVD release is rumoured – something worth re-watching in hopefully superior quality.

According to Kevin Brownlow, this earlier effort from 1918, showed similar evidence of Sloman’s vision and editing skills. Sloman himself professed it one of his “less mighty” works… he may have left Britain far behind but he retained the endless self-depreciation of the true English gentleman.

The Ghost of Rosy Taylor is indeed well-crafted light entertainment, featuring an interesting narrative structure and some state-of-the-art cross-cutting and parallel story telling. It makes a mystery out of a melodrama and retains your interest through deft marshalling of an effective cast and smooth storytelling: it’s very well-paced.

The film begins with the well-off Mrs Jeanne Du Vivier (Helen Howard) discussing how pleased she has been with her new housekeeper, Rosy, with the woman who placed her in their employ. The latter is suddenly shocked as she reveals that Rosy died shortly after she gave her the letter of appointment and couldn’t possibly have been at the house.

A practical woman, no doubt used to taking charge, Mrs Du Vivier sets off with friend Mrs Herriman-Smith (Marian Lee) to de-bunk the idea that a ghost has been responsible. Yet, when she arrives, there’s a mysterious floating white figure at the window, the rattling of chains and a ghostly voice singing Rosy’s favourite song… The two women flee.

We flash-back to France some year’s earlier where an exiled American businessman Joseph Sayles (George Periolat ) lives with his pretty young daughter Rhoda (Mary Miles Minter). Their life is happy if impoverished and Rhoda dreams of one day returning to America. But her father cannot return and, upon his sudden death, she discovers that he had to leave following a financial scandal.

With no means of support she works her way back to America where she finds streets that are paved with hard, barren concrete… She has barely enough money to stay for a while in the modest lodgings of the Mrs Sullivan (Kate Price) and is on the verge of being thrown out when she comes across a letter addressed to Rosy Taylor with the key to the Du Vivier house and an initial payment for new role.

The house is occupied by Du Vivier’s brother Jacques Le Clerc (Allan Forrest) who immediately takes a shine to Rhoda but believing her to be a thief, sends her to a women’s reformatory for help. This is the last thing she gets though and, being described as a “menace to society”, she is locked away by the centre’s manager, Charles Eldridge (also played by George Periolat…).

As Brownlow notes, this section intercuts between Mrs Sullivan cleaning her room and Rhoda’s encounter with Jacques… Sloman’s experience with DW Griffith in full display!

She manages to escape and returns back to Mrs Sullivan, who sends the reformatory lady away with a flea in her ear. With no place left to go she returns to the Du Vivier house where she finds - a present left for her by Mrs Du Vivier’s daughter. It is a dress and she puts it on in delight – her first decent break!

Spoilers ahead: But Rhoda has been followed by the woman from the reformatory who calls in the police…it’s looking bad but … Jacque senses that there’s more to this girl than meets the eye and he arrives at the Reformatory to see Rhoda identify herself to Mr Eldridge, the man she now realises is her uncle.

She explains what happened to her father and that he was the innocent party, his brother to blame… Eldridge accepts this and asks her for forgiveness. A happy ending will ensue.

A fairly typical tale of its time, Rosy is never-the-less well told and pretty well acted by the cast. Sloman was none too impressed by Ms Miles Minter describing her as the most beautiful youngster he ever saw but the worst actress.

This is a frankly *challenging* print but you can still see the truth of at least half of that sentence. MMM is indeed very pretty but she does act pretty well too. She’s no Pickford in terms of dramatic ability, but she’s good in this role…as far as the eye can see through the fog of the multiple-copies. This may well be attributable to her director, who knew what he was dealing with.

The Ghost of Rosy Taylor
is out of print and you will need to search hard for it. There is an excerpt on which is in better quality than the Grapevine Video so, here’s hoping that one day we’ll see Rosy with greater clarity!

In the meantime, it’s worth the effort to see The Other Girl with the Curls as well as one of the under-stated masters of early Hollywood film-making.


  1. Very nice presentation and wonderful screen dumps that capture very well this sweet movie's atmosphere. I only wish one could read the letter wrote to Rhoda by her father for one doesn't know exactly what happened between him and his brother... Do we? (Maybe I missed something!)

  2. Thanks Caroline - I couldn't work out the letter either nor why it was that Rhoda's father was innocent and his brother in the wrong! Maybe we'll get an official release some day!

  3. This sounds like a wonderful film. I hope TCM someday adds it to their line up of films. I would like to see it.

    1. It'd be great to see a decent print, until then we have to make do... One day!