13 March 2002 | Ron Oliver
Tragic Wallace Reid In DeMille Comedy
THE AFFAIRS OF ANATOL, which are really only his attempts to help unhappy or wayward women, has left his own marriage in a very precarious predicament.
During the 1920's, director Cecil B. DeMille became famous for two types of film - the lavish historical spectacle & the elaborate, somewhat salacious, social comedy. ANATOL is an example of the latter. While its plot is insignificant (and faintly ludicrous), it is still quite enjoyable to watch, and can boast of fine performances & superior production values.
In the title role, Wallace Reid acquits himself very well as the hapless rich chump whose noble deeds always seem to backfire. Good-natured & affable, he is only too susceptible to damsels in distress. But even this worm can turn, and his violent scenes - laying waste the apartment of a mendacious maiden, crashing into his wife's locked boudoir - show the energy & passion of which this nearly forgotten star was capable.
Gloria Swanson, as Reid's lively spouse; Wanda Hawley as a millionaire's courtesan; Agnes Ayres as a duplicitous country wife; and diabolic Bebe Daniels as the ultimate vamp, all add greatly to the enjoyment of the proceedings, slinking about in fashions (all except Miss Ayres) only crazy movie folk of the 1920's could ever truly get by with.
Movie mavens will have no trouble spotting the irrepressible Polly Moran as a zany nightclub orchestra leader.
A Wallace Reid film is a rather rare & wonderful thing now, as most of them seem to have vanished long ago. Reid, immensely popular in his day, was the epitome of the American Hero. Tragically, his story became a living nightmare. Injuries received while on location in Oregon in 1919 left him seemingly unable to complete his role. The Paramount Studio doctor was dispatched to plug him full of morphine and put him back in front of the cameras. It worked, but already weakened by alcoholism, Reid now became a helpless morphine addict. His problem was an open secret in Hollywood, but instead of the real help he desperately needed, he was given more of the deadly drug. His box office returns were considered too valuable, and the Studio pushed him through an insufferable number of films - 7 in 1921, 8 in 1922. After ANATOL, in which it was becoming obvious that his good looks were beginning to decay, Reid made 11 more films in increasing agony. His death on January 18, 1923, was officially attributed to the influenza which finally overcame the body debilitated by alcohol & drug addiction. Wallace Reid was only 31 years old.